Using handwriting samples of our ancestors to find out who they were (and who we are)

Molly O'Shea wanted to learn about her dead father, but she didn't turn to a Ouija board. Instead, she took an old letter to a graphologist. Analysis of 550 different handwriting variables showed a man who was straightforward, diplomatic and intelligent but had problems with anger. "It really helps me get a handle on who Dad was," says O'Shea.

Slants, loops and spacing are providing info from beyond the grave. According to Barbara Vines Little of the National Genealogical Society, family-tree enthusiasts are using graphology as "one more building block in the whole picture of the past." Old papers and diaries are interesting not for what they say but for how they say it. Irene Lambert, graphoanalyst, says casual scribbles can "unlock puzzles and mysteries" that would otherwise remain unsolved.

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