News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 12, 2013

Genalogy: Handwriting in 1700s-1800s Copperplate or English Round Hand

Tamie Dehler
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The primary style of old handwriting in the mid 1700s through the 1800s is sometimes called Copperplate or English Round Hand. This style of writing is much more recognizable and readable than the older Secretary Hand style discussed last week, and it is much less ornate as well.

The style is characterized by an open, flowing hand, with ovals and sloping, slanted letters. The pen strokes were both thick and thin (sometimes called shaded strokes) that were a result of how the writer held the quill or nib of the pen and the pressure being used. Ascending strokes could end in a flourish, especially on capital letters. All letters were connected. Examples of this style are the Declaration of Independence and much of the writing used by census takers in the federal censuses. A style called Italian Copperplate was more delicate and used by well-bred and educated women of the times.

The Copperplate or English Round Hand script technique still used the long and short s that were discussed last week. The long s is often mistaken for an f in the older styles of handwriting. But a closer look shows that the top (ascendant) half looks like the top of a cursive f, but the bottom half (descendent) goes in the opposite direction and looks more like the bottom of a cursive g, j, p, or y. So the whole form of the cursive long s resembles a slanted, elongated figure 8. The printed long s survives today as the calculus symbol ∫.

Long s (∫) was used at the beginning of words and in the middle of words. Short s (s) was used at the end of words. To illustrate this, see “success” as it was written then: “∫ucce∫s.” Short s was used in the middle of words having an s either before or after the letter f to avoid confusion. Thus, the word “transfer” would have appeared as we know it today and “transfuse” would appear as “transfu∫e.”  

While a short s was used before the letters b and k in books published during the 1600s and early 1700s, a long s was used before these letters in books published in the last half of the 1700s. Thus “husband” became “hu∫band” and “skin” became “∫kin.” Double s in the middle of a word started out being written with two long s’s (as in “po∫∫e∫s”), but by the beginning of the 1800s a long s followed by a short s was used in a double s in the middle of a word. Thus, the word “Mi∫si∫sippi” that we all have seen.

Getting to know and become familiar with earlier handwriting styles is a skill that every family researcher will need as he/she discovers old original documents that must be transcribed. Visit for an online tutorial.


The Wabash Valley Genealogy Society will present an all-day seminar “On-Line Genealogy: Tracking Your Ancestors Through Cyberspace, Using the Internet as a Genealogy Research Tool” on Saturday, May 18, 2013, from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.  Featured speakers will be Dan Poffenberger of and Thomas MacEntee of High-Definition Genealogy. Topics include FamilySearch 2013 and Beyond, They’re Alive: Searching for Living Persons, Getting the Most out of the Family History Library Catalogue: Tips and Tricks from a Pro, and A Pro’s Strategies for Mid-19th Century U.S. Research: A Case Study.

The Seminar will be held on the campus of IVY Tech Community College. Fees for the seminar are $30 for a WVGS member and $35 for non-members. Register at or call Linda at 812-238-2415 or Jennifer at 812-235-9762 for more information.