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Family History & Genealogy Research

T4G: Type and Fonts

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Since Patricia Law Hatcher’s Producing a Quality Family History was published in 1996, there have been some major changes in the way typography and publishing affect genealogists. Some of the changes are style matters and others are publishing-oriented. In this article, I’d like to survey some of the changes and improvements available to us.

One major change is the improvement of the fonts and typefaces we use to produce and publish our books and reports. In the early days (1990s), we were limited to, at most 256 characters in any one font. Now we have at most a possible 65,536 characters in each font. The largest font I’m aware of at the moment is Quivira, which has 10,000 characters in it.

Most of the additional characters are additions of support for non-Latin languages, such as Cherokee, Canadian Aboriginal Syllables, Greek, Hebrew, and Thai. For the Latin languages, features such as an improved set of Latin characters, diacritics, true Small Caps, true super- and sub-scripts, Old Style numbers, and ligatures are available. Not all modern fonts have these features, however, so I’ll demonstrate some and at the end of the article, give you a list of fonts that you can use.

The difference between the common word-processor version of Small Caps and true Small Caps is that the characters are specially designed to match the rest of the text instead of being scaled-down by some percentage. The same is true for true super- and sub-scripts.

Illustration of True versus Fake Small Caps

Illustration of True versus Fake Small Caps

and

Illustration of True versus Fake Superscripts

Illustration of True versus Fake Superscripts

Old Style numbers are the style traditionally used in professionally printed, or fine typesetting. The difference is that the numbers have descenders, instead of standing upright on the base-line, like in the following illustration.

Old Style (or Lining) Numbers

Old Style (or Lining) Numbers

Ligatures are those characters which close up space between certain letters to make a better looking line of type. A few examples are found in commonly used genealogical materials, like the “ae” combination “æ”. Others, like the “fi”, combination aren’t readily noticeable. The first line in the illustration is regularly typed characters, and the second is the ligature version of the paired characters.

Illustration of English Language Ligatures

Illustration of English Language Ligatures

Which is nicer looking? The dots on the i and j are specially combined with the top of the f and the collision of the l with the top of the f, is also an improvement. Other ligatures such as in the Germanic languages are possible, too.

The “thorn,” a combination letter representing the word “the,” has almost always been impossible to create in type. A common mistake is to call the character a “thorn” character but it is actually a “wynn” character. A couple of fonts offer alternatives. One such iss Cardo, a scholarly font, and another is Quivira, a general-purpose technical font.

Illustration of Ye (or Wynn) Characters

Illustration of Ye (or Wynn) Characters

There is a larger repertoire, or number of characters, available today, some of which are below, including other symbols not commonly seen today such as: typographers quotes (“ 66 / ” 99) and primes (feet: ′ inch: ″ or minute / second).

Several other fonts are good for presenting transcriptions or quotes: The typefaces below are from the I. M. Fell collection.

Illustration of I.M. Fell English Pro typeface

Illustration of I.M. Fell English Pro typeface

The following illustation shows two typefaces designed specifically to be fleurons, also known as dingbats. These fleurons can be used as section dividers or other marginal decorations in reports and books.

Illustration of I.M. Fell Flowers Typefaces 1 & 2

Illustration of I.M. Fell Flowers Typefaces 1 & 2

This post is the second in a series of “Typography for Genealogists” or “T4G” posts. I’ll continue with more on a weekly basis, and/or as time allows, over the rest of the year.

NPM

© 2012 N. P. Maling

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Written by N. P. Maling

25 January 2012 at 00:01

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