By Eilene Lyon
Reading handwritten documents is a critical part of genealogical and historical research. The debate about teaching children to write cursive is ongoing. The question for me is, “Can you read cursive writing without learning how to do it yourself?”
I believe the answer is “Yes.”
I quit writing cursive as soon as I was allowed to do so. I think my cursive writing looks horrible. My parents and grandparents all have/had beautiful penmanship. Good for them. I can print very nicely, thank you. But is my ability to write cursive key to being able to read it?
When I look at handwritten documents and see the huge variety in penmanship, I’d have to say that reading it is an acquired skill separate from learning to write. The first time I look at something written by a particular individual, I can sometimes have a hard time deciphering it. It’s only after getting used to a person’s individual style that I can read it with ease.
There are some arguments in favor of continuing to teach cursive (14 states have laws mandating cursive be taught).
- It’s awkward not being able to sign your name and printing it instead.
- It’s beneficial for developing motor skills, like playing the piano.
- Some studies have shown that children using cursive (and printing, too) write more words, and with better comprehension and cohesive construction, than when using a keyboard.
So, if you were not taught cursive, see if you can read the samples here, and let me know how it goes!
From an estate inventory record:
From a personal letter:
From a lawsuit:
From a personal family history:
From Quaker meeting minutes:
From a deed record: