"If only the typewriter had been invented a few centuries earlier!" That's often the cry of people trying to read older records. Old fashioned handwriting often gives older documents charm, but it also can be difficult to decipher. Below are a few clues that may help you out.
First, read slowly and with care. Make sure that the words make sense, and don't assume anything.
Watch out for double S's. The first S in a pair was often written to look like a lower case F.
The following capital letters often look the same: I and J, L and S, L and T, M and N, T and F, and U and V.
Don't forget the possibility of abbreviations. Names were abbreviated quite often, as well as common words. For example, you may find "sd" for "said," "decd" for "deceased," "do" for "ditto," "chh" for "church," and "rect" for "receipt." Double letters were often written as single letters with a line or tilde above them. Name abbreviations usually consist of the first three or four letters plus the last letter. Both name and word abbreviations are normally written with the last letter of the abbreviation raised.
If you're having trouble deciphering a word, try saying it out loud in several different ways.
If you can, read the remainder of the sentence and try to figure out what word would make sense.
Find other words in the document that you can read, and use the letters in those words to piece together the letters in the words that you can't read.
Use a handwriting book to help piece the letters together. Two books that you can use are The Handwriting of American Records for a Period of 300 Years, by E. Kay Kirkham and Understanding Colonial Handwriting, by Harriet Strykker-Rodda.
If all else fails, you may need to consult a handwriting expert.