Saturday, April 9, 2016

A to Z April Challenge: H is for Handwriting

Genealogists and family historians get a lot of satisfaction from chasing their ancestors’ stories. Finding a diary, a message on a postcard, or a photo with a name attached is like the sun coming out after a storm. One day we will be somebody’s ancestor. We need to leave our descendants a little bit of sunshine too. So here is my story told alphabetically, not chronologically: Growing Up in Cradock.

is for Handwriting.

At James Hurst Elementary School, cursive writing was taught in the third grade. From third grade on, I practiced beautiful penmanship. Neat and precise formation of letters with the proper slant and appropriate loops took practice. We were given special paper designed to encourage the best habits. Two solid lines separated by a dotted line marked the boundaries of parts of both capital and lower case letters.
 
from wikimedia commons
To say I enjoyed our lessons in writing cursive is an understatement. I absolutely LOVED it. My heart raced when Mrs. Daughtry came around with the practice paper. I was determined to learn to write well.

For some strange reason, my mother saved this page from a fourth grade history assignment. 

Wendy Slade history assignment example of cursive http://jollettetc.blogspot.com

I don’t know whether it was because of the beautifully phrased answers to my teacher’s questions or pride in my pencilmanship. After all, I had been writing in cursive less than a year.

Looking at the page from my Nifty notebook (see the holes at the top of the page, not the side), I can only bemoan the loss of control over pen and paper. I managed to produce lovely writing all through public school, but when I went to college, my handwriting deteriorated rapidly. I blame my professors. Taking lecture notes furiously day after day completely undid all that good practice.

Now educators are debating whether to even bother teaching cursive since no one writes anymore. Schools are equipped with computers and iPads. Credit cards and debit cards have erased the need to write a check. I have made purchases by signing my name on a vendor’s phone. The signature might look nothing like my real signature, but apparently it does not matter.

If cursive writing goes the way of the slide rule, how will our descendants read documents we leave behind and those of ancestors before us? They are hard enough for us who are used to cursive to read right now.

Here are just a few samples of the handwriting of some of my ancestors:

A letter from my great-grandmother
Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh
to her daughter Helen

My great-grandmother Sudie Rucker
signed my mother's autograph book

from a letter from my 2X great grandfather James Franklin Jollett
to his daughter (my great-grandmother) Mary Frances Jollett Davis

"Good by your father J F Jollett
Mrs. Mollie Davis"










Hop, hurdle, or hustle to the A to Z April Challenge for Hundreds and Hundreds of posts on the letter H, and that’s no hyperbole!

© 2016, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved

29 comments:

  1. Fortunately most schools in our area (NY) continue to teach cursive handwriting. Future generations will be able to read their ancestors' documents as well as your very nice report. ha. Nice post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I hope they do read it! HA HA

      Delete
  2. I too was taught cursive writing, but then we moved cross country and my new school did not like it, favouring a straight up and down style with no loops. My writing never recovered from having to change styles! Of course it was using computers suddenly made me realise that I hardly did any handwriting, except on greeting cards or for my signature, and it was deteriorating quickly. I have letters written by my parents, both of whom had very different but distinct styles, that conveyed something of their personalities. We are about to lose all that which will be a pity for future family historians.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When we first got a computer, I still composed on paper. It took me awhile to get used to writing rough drafts on the computer.

      Delete
  3. I was taught cursive writing in the third grade as well (just 13 years ago), but by the sixth grade, I'd given it up altogether. It was discouraged for most assignments since it was usually messier, and we were doing a lot of math and computer work anyway. I can't say I particularly regret not perfecting the skill, but my signature is still pretty awful to this day!

    Hillary | www.flinntrospection.com | Visiting from the A to Z challenge!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My daughters were taught cursive, but apparently there was not much practice or emphasis on neatness. Both have terrible handwriting. In my day (when dinosaurs roamed), you could always tell girls' handwriting from that of boys because girls wrote neatly and boys left chicken-scratch.

      Delete
  4. I suspect that the genealogists from future generations will have the same sort of determination to interpret challenging writing by or about ancestors as we do.
    The type of cursive taught in schools has varied significantly over the years. My mother and grandmother were taught a more elaborate form than was in vogue when I went to school, yet I can probably interpret old writings better than either of them simply because I have access to digital copies of documents from the other side of the world - and the need to do so!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I guess there will be some sort of app that can transcribe script.

      Delete
  5. Beautiful handwriting. I used to love handwriting classes in school. Unforutnately I don't write cursive anymore. I don't really know when that stopped...hmm.. Great post. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When I do write, it looks different every time. I'm so out of practice too!

      Delete
  6. I was taught to write Italic and I had an ink pen (cartridge filled) and a special nib to do the strokes. I think males are quite lazy writers but they always have an excuse - my father's writing is illegible and my mother says it is because he always wrote his homework on the school bus. My husband can only print and he says it was from years of writing things on triplicate report forms or even more duplicate sheets. I don't know what my son's excuse is - probably laziness but the women in the family, my mother, myself and my daughter all have reasonable handwriting. It's shame it is being lost along with spelling!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My mom and dad both had beautiful handwriting. Dad's especially was quite distinctive. I think Daddy just wanted to be sure no one missed what he had to say. HA

      Delete
  7. Was on another blog this morning that also featured hand writing. You made a good point about teaching it that I hadn't thought of before; how can people in the future read from the past if cursive is not taught. I commented on the other blog that cursive had its advantages but I thought it would become obsolete; now I'm hoping it won't be.

    I do remember practicing for hours in school making circles; probably to strengthen our finger and hand muscles :)

    betty

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You might be right that cursive will become obsolete, but I'm pulling for its future.

      Delete
  8. I talked about cursive on my blog some time back and speculated that they younger generation may have to take paleography just to read the things we have written! I know that some of the teenagers who have indexed rather recently have not been able to read things written in cursive.

    My handwriting has gotten much worse over the past few years and I have blamed the fact that we use computers and cell phones for most of our communication and signing the signature pads at the stores hasn't helped either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sure the computer is another reason my handwriting is so poor. When I write a thank-you note or anything with any length at all, invariably I make some ridiculous mistake in forming a letter or in anticipating how much room a word will take when I get near the edge of the paper. Awful!

      Delete
  9. You have such nice handwriting. I have and always did have crappy handwriting!! Take after my Mom. Dad and his father had beautiful handwriting, Pop would make his S all fancy like calligraphy. BUT - I can read just about any handwriting hahaha.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Make that HAD. That was 4th grade. My handwriting in high school was not quite that neat but still "pretty." I can read a lot of handwriting, which comes in handy when I'm indexing for FamilySearch.

      Delete
  10. I think it's very sad that handwriting is going by the wayside. It is a beautiful art. That said, my handwriting is terrible and I wish it were lovely. I spend my time working on penmanship while others are working on adult coloring books! It seems to be kind of the meditative experience.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I never thought of handwriting as meditative, but I suppose if I were to sit and practice, concentrating on the strokes, it could be.

      Delete
  11. I love your post about handwriting. I, too, liked writing in cursive. Our 5th grade teacher thought we couldn't write well and re-taught us cursive writing. I remember making lots of huge circles on our paper. I have also collected signatures of my ancestors. Found some last week in the Land Entry files from NARA.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You have given me an idea. I have signatures of ancestors on documents, but it would be fun to isolate them.

      Delete
  12. I too wonder how our descendants are going to read the records that are handwritten. They no longer teach handwriting in the schools my grandchildren attend. A few of them wanted to learn just because, but most don't bother.

    I still write my notes and sometimes my rough drafts in notebooks by hand before I type them into the computer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My 9-yr old granddaughter is teaching herself cursive but her teachers don't want her submitting any schoolwork in cursive.

      Delete
  13. Like you I worry about how our grandchildren, and descendants generally will find cursive as obscure as I find old German writing. I guess if we're willing to pursue that learning they may also.

    @cassmob from
    Family History Across The Seas

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your analogy gives me hope. Yes, a niche expertise is the answer. I am going to stop worrying about this.

      Delete
  14. 3rd grade was such an exciting year as we were finally taught cursive writing. And I remember that each day we learned a new letter - probably upper (or capital) and lower (or small) letter at one time.

    My 14 year old granddaughter can sign her name but I don't think she can do much else in cursive. I think our descendants will have to be quite skilled at reviewing facebook, instagram, and twitter to learn about us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 14 - ouch. This cursive business is losing ground faster than I thought.

      Delete
  15. My mother (at 90) and my eldest daughter have copybook writing. LIke yours mine went steadily downhill as my education advanced and was finished off by signing off on innumerable invoices and forms at work. I hate the thought that kids won't be able to read cursive...perhaps we need to make a stand with our own families,

    ReplyDelete