Deciphering what's been written in the U.S. Federal Census or any document can be a huge block for someone doing family history. You may even dismiss a name as your ancestor simply because the author misspelled his or her name or used shorthand.
If there's a letter I'm unsure of, I'll compare it to another name or word nearby to see if I can confirm what it is in a different place, with a name or word I'm certain of. It also helps to bring in an extra pair of eyes. Someone else might see what you're looking at differently, sort of like the old ink blot tests.
Here are some great resources I've used to help understand what I'm looking at when it comes to these old handwriting techniques:
I figured this out on my own but only recently learned it's a "thing." Many times, the first "s" in a double "s" word is written as a lower-case "f". Mind blown. If only, they had these back in the day...