When I became interested in genealogy, I soon encountered my Great-grandmother's handwriting. Mary Ann Linton Morgan (b. 1865, d. 1951) had very good handwriting and I soon got extremely good at reading everything she wrote. Here is a sample:
Just like with my father, if I wanted to know what my Great-grandmother had to say, I had to learn to read her handwriting. I was wondering what the attitude of my new state of Utah was towards implementing teaching cursive in the schools. I found the current policy on the website for the Utah State Office of Education. Here is what they had to say:
Utah studied cursive writing during the 2012-2013 school year. A committee of classroom teachers, university faculty, and literacy specialists met to look at the relevant research and data. This committee created language for the Utah Core Standards that was presented to the Utah State Board of Education (USBE) in April, 2013. Public comment was requested during April and May, 2013, and a summary of the comments was presented to the Board on June 7, 2013.
The State School Board voted to approve the additions to the Utah Core Standards that include teaching manuscript and cursive writing and also include building fluency in reading cursive writing.
Handwriting (both manuscript and cursive) is an important skill for students to learn. Teaching and practicing writing allows students to write letters correctly and efficiently. Fluent writers are able to focus on generating idea, producing grammatically correct text, and considering audience. Even when a student moves to a computer or other device, that writing fluency is important to the composing process.Compared to the attitude towards teaching cursive in many other areas, this shows a very positive position. It is very obvious to anyone beginning research in genealogical sources that one of the real challenges is deciphering handwriting. The further we go back in time, the more difficult the challenge in reading the handwriting.
|George Bickham's Round Hand script, from The Universal Penman, c. 1740–1741.|
Of course, my examples are from English-based writing. There are a whole different set of challenges if the manuscript is in a non-English language. Quoting from Wikipedia:George Bickham the Elder:
George Bickham the Elder (1684–1758) was an English writing master and engraver. He is best known for his engraving work in The Universal Penman, a collection of writing exemplars which helped to popularise the English Round Hand script in the 18th century.Bickham and others popularized a style of writing called Roundhand. In the 17th and 18th Centuries, this form of writing spread across Europe and into America. A good example of the influence of Roundhand in America is the U.S. Declaration of Independence which is believed to have been written by Timothy Matlack. See History of penmanship.
As we move back into the 16th Century, we find that handwriting is becoming less and less recognizable from our "modern" perspective. Here is an example:
|Script type based on the hand of its cutter, Robert Granjon|
|William Shakespeare and unknown scribe|
|Geoffrey Chaucer by Thomas Hoccleve (1412)|
We could keep going back in time indefinitely. When we get back into the 14th Century and even further, we find "Blackletter" which is also known as Gothic script. Here is an example from 15th Century:
|Calligraphy in a Latin Bible of AD 1407 on display in Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, England.|
Whan that aprill with his shoures sooteAnd if you are still not convinced, here is an example of an Old English text with a transliteration:
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
[I thank the almighty Creator with all my heart that he has granted to me, a sinful one, that I have, in praise and worship of him, revealed these two books to the unlearned English nation; the learned have no need of these books because their own learning can suffice for them.]
Of course I have an ulterior motive for giving all these examples. In the last two related posts and with this one, I am illustrating the effort that is needed for a genealogist to do research before 1500 A.D. I am reasonably certain that most of those genealogists who brag about how far their pedigrees extend into the past have never dreamed about reading any of these old scripts. Copying an old pedigree out of a book or from a website is not doing genealogy. It is nothing more or less than fiction writ bold in an online family tree. If you had the knowledge to read these old documents, you wouldn't be stupid enough to believe them as a basis for a pedigree.