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Help for Reading Faded Handwriting

Help for reading faded handwriting is as simple as the yellow legal pad you probably have already brought to the archives.

Today’s tip is simple but effective. When archivists encountered faded or difficult-to-read documents at work, it could be a challenge to photocopy or even read the text or handwriting.

To increase the contrast on a faint or faded document, place it inside a yellow-tinted sheet protector when photocopying. (If the sheet protector you buy is only open at the short ends, slit the one of the long sides so that you won’t abrade your documents sliding them in and out of the sheet protector. And never, never store documents in this kind of plastic over the long term.)

The same principle works when you’re working at a downward-projecting microfilm reader. I always carry a sheet of yellow legal pad paper with me on trips to the library. Placing it the bottom of the microfilm reader increases the contrast on the image. And that not only helps you decipher handwriting, but also doesn’t fatigue your eyes as quickly.

And if you no longer have access to the originals, try using a yellowish filter in your image management software to increase the contrast on your existing scans and downloads.

Help for reading faded handwriting works – and preserves aging eyesight like mine!

I don’t know about you, but I got almost no research done in December and January’s been busy too, so I’m eager to get back into the genealogical swing. Happy searching to all my readers in 2012.

About the Author:

Nancy Loe has an MA in American History and an MLS in Library Science and Archives. She has appeared on PBS’s American Experience, at Rootstech, SCGS Jamboree, and state and regional genealogy conferences. Her website was featured in Family Tree Magazine's “Social Media Mavericks: 40 to Follow.”


  1. Cassmob (Pauleen) 24 January 2012 at 5:22 AM

    Great tip, thanks! I’ve used the change of colour background from photos taken of microfilms but never these strategies…I’ll be trying them for sure.

  2. Judy Webster 24 January 2012 at 5:29 AM

    Thanks for sharing this advice. I have learnt so much from your blog posts and your e-book.

  3. Michelle Goodrum 24 January 2012 at 5:53 AM

    I’ve used the yellow sheet tip but not the change of color background as Pauleen suggests. Thanks to both of you!

  4. Sassy Jane Genealogy 24 January 2012 at 12:55 PM

    Hi Pauleen: You change the background color on a digital scan from microfilm? I never thought of that!

    Judy, I want to thank you for all the nice things you say in your blog about mine.

    Hi Michelle! Did you go to Mesa Expo this year?

  5. Greta Koehl 24 January 2012 at 6:34 PM

    I’ll have to try this one. I remember on FamilySearch there used to be a “negative image” option – that often worked well, too.

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