Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, October 11, 2010

A lost art -- writing in cursive

I had a very well prepared and attentive group of teenage boys in a genealogy class recently. They all had a Spanish speaking heritage. They all came prepared to the class with information about their grandparents who were born in Mexico. With the new records on FamilySearch's Record Search, we were able to find some of their family records right online. As I showed them the records we had found, one of the boys raised his hand and said, "Mr. Tanner, we can't read cursive." This was not just one of the boys, none of them had ever been taught to read or write cursive!

I soon learned that writing in cursive, for anyone younger than twenty years old, is fast becoming a lost art. News articles from major news sources like, USA Today, have headlines that read, "Schools debate: Is cursive writing worth teaching?" In another article in the NYDaily News, the questions is asked, "Cursive writing is a fading skill, but do we care enough to save it?" There is a real debate about whether or not cursive writing has a place in the "modern" school curriculum. (Hmm, there are those of us who wonder if anything is taught in schools today at all, but that is another issue).

Think of impact the lack of cursive skills will have on genealogy. Every one of the old letters and documents I have in my huge collection is in cursive. Typewritten documents and letters are almost non-existent. Are we moving towards a time when the handwritten past will be closed to nearly all of the younger people? Family Tree Magazine ran an article recently about Closing the Generation Gap, about younger genealogists. What if the five examples given were all cursive handicapped? How many of them would have maintained an interest in genealogy?

Many genealogists have to become conversant in one or more foreign languages to make progress in their research, what if you had to learn cursive writing, just to read your grandmother's letters? I hope I am not alone in seeing this as a major obstacle to a acquiring an interest in genealogy by the upcoming very young generation. I am certain that reading handwriting may become one of the fundamental classes that will have to be taught in the future to unlock the records to those who missed learning who to write in school.


  1. Cursive is an art. I was taught lovely cursive and also calligraphy in grade school, as well as computers and programming (along with typing/keyboarding). In teacher college I was taught how to write properly on a black board in cursive, too. Now student teachers look at me sideways when I ask if they've practiced handwriting on the black or whiteboard. But I also student-taught for four years, starting Freshman year, and they only student-teach senior year and heaven help them if they don't like the classroom by that stage (but that's another topic!) It's a whole new world. *sigh* Being well rounded no longer counts when the schools have to "teach to the tests".

  2. I was taught cursive and have used it as far back as I can remember. I'm nineteen and still use it. Depending on if I'm trying to take fast notes or if I have a little more time, of if I'm writing a litter or a card, most of the time I use cursive. For one thing it just looks much nicer than regular print. And even then, today, most peoples' print style is even hard to read than cursive.

    For a genealogist, learning to read cursive is vital to your research. If you want to be frank about it, you really can't do much research if you can't read cursive. Since I was taught it at a young age, it's been second nature to me, and going back into 1600s Mexico has been a piece of cake (reading the records, that is).

    Anyways... that's my take on this subject

  3. Being from the younger generation (but I was taught cursive in school), I see little point in teaching cursive. I barely write at all anymore - I mostly type. There are a lot of other more important things people can learn instead of cursive.

  4. I love writing in cursive. It's so much faster because you don't have to pick up the pen after every single letter, and it's easier to see the spaces between words. I don't see a problem with continuing to teach cursive. It's not that hard of a concept if you just practice it. Just like anything else worthwhile, it takes some effort and thought. If students are lazy then they're not going to learn it.

    I doubt that schools are using the time that was previously spent on cursive to teach how to use technology. It's not that hard for a teenager to learn how to send a text message or use the internet for facebook or email, and that's all most of them use it for. They don't know much about making good spreadsheets or even using the more advanced and useful tools in a Word document. I'm not sure what they're teaching instead, but it's not technology. And even if we are continuing to increase our use of technology, I don't think writing by hand will ever completely disappear. Some things are just more convenient to write out by hand, and when that happens, people need to be able to write legibly (although some may say that last statement is an argument for printing).

  5. I'm a paleographer (one who reads old handwriting; my particular specialty is 16th- to 18th century Spanish). I smell job security!