Willennar Genealogy Center’s collection is full of Throwback Thursday potential, so let’s get our #TBT on!
Do these symbols look familiar? Are they some kind of code? Letters from a foreign language?
Neither, actually. This isn’t really a code, created with the purpose of obscuring or hiding a message, and these particular symbols could be adapted to many different languages. This is an example of shorthand—Pitman Shorthand, to be specific.
Most of us, when we write or type, write in longhand—a form of writing where every word is fully spelled out, like in the diary entry above. Shorthand is longhand’s counterpart, a method of writing quickly that uses symbols or abbreviations to replace sounds or words.
There are a couple different schools of shorthand, but one of the oldest is the Isaac Pitman method, first published in 1837. It’s a phonetic approach that uses combinations of thick and thin pen-strokes to represent the different sounds that make up words.
For example, the word “diary” is represented by a thick downward stroke connected to a thick curve to the right, representing the sounds for “d” and “r.” The upside-down caret at the top sounds like “eye,” and the large dot at the bottom represents an “ee” sound.
These particular samples are all from the 1855 diary of Chester P. Hodge, a resident of DeKalb County and son-in-law of the Hon. Egbert B. Mott. While most of his journal is written out in longhand, the first 18 pages or so are filled with what appear to be Pitman shorthand symbols, as seen below.
Though shorthand is not as common today as it used to be, you will still find journalists, students, and stenography enthusiasts who use it to take speedy (but accurate) notes.