Family History and the Lost Art of Cursive

Does the old-fashioned cursive writing bring any sort of advantage in our modern age? Why are the schools not teaching it anymore? Is it true that no reason exists to continue learning it? Although some experts believe that cursive should be taught in the schools, Dr. Morgan Polikoff, an expert in K-12 education policy states, “The fact is that cursive isn’t used in the vast majority of professions or day-to-day activities for the vast majority of people, so it’s hard for me to see how learning cursive conveys any sort of advantage.”

While the conventional methods of printing or keyboarding are more popular in our schools today, children should first learn cursive handwriting for various reasons, but before going into the rationale, consider a compelling reason for learning cursive. In the recent 2018 Rootstech Conference in Salt Lake City, one of the popular speakers discussed the long-term risks of not teaching cursive in our public schools. Cursive is like a passenger train traveling into the vast and exciting unknown, it connects the dots for transcribing historical records. With the advance of technology, along with an army of indexers spending nearly 15 million hours in 2016 alone, full-time missionaries and volunteers indexed 274.8 million records.  The key to indexing is understanding how to read in cursive. For centuries the vital records have been completed in cursive handwriting. Anyone interested in their family history will encounter the cursive writ in cards and letters, marriage licenses, birth certificates, draft records, pensions, diaries, etc. Even the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are written in cursive. How will people understand the documents if they never learned cursive? Cursive is the connecting key to unlock the mystery of genealogical records.

Before learning to print, school children should first learn cursive handwriting for three reasons, it is easier to learn than print, can be more legible than print, and especially, for the purpose of this article, grown children can eventually interpret and be inspired by centuries’ worth of historical documents to not only further the cause of family history, but gain a sense of family unity.

Schools and parents should be teaching their children the art of cursive from the beginning stages of education simply because it is far easier to learn than printing. Only three main strokes make up the letters, whereas print requires six.  Writing in cursive implements skills and patterns since each lowercase letter begins at the bottom line and moves upward while printing is more chaotic. In printing, one must start at different points depending on the letter.

Additionally, cursive writing can be more legible than print. In cursive, the pencil flows continuously and orderly and leaves less chance for errors, including too much spacing between letters or no distinction between the end of a word and the beginning of the next.

The most compelling reason for learning cursive, however, is to read, understand, and interpret historical documents, which lead to a deeper understanding of familial bonds. As family history research is becoming more popular among the millennials, they and subsequent generations will face cursive writing in the profusion of vital documents needed to verify their research. Researching family documents are an important part of gaining self-confidence. The youth in families who enjoy meals together and who research and discover their family stories have more confidence to face adversity and misfortune. A New York Times article stated, “The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.” Family stories give individuals a sense of being part of a larger family. Imagine the confidence gained in reading about both the joy and the sorrows in the journals of ancestors who crossed the Atlantic, served as indentured servants and crossed the plains to come west.

In a changing world that demands new methods and styles, and while it is necessary to keep up with the times, it is not a good idea to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The knowledge of cursive is to the historical records as pepper spray is to the Doberman Pincer. Children ought to be learning the art of cursive at the beginning of their education and contrary to popular opinion, cursive is easier to learn, can be more legible than print, and most importantly, is essential for reading, understanding, and connecting with family through historical documents. It matters to each and every one of us particularly in the current age of broken homes, broken souls, disharmony and disunity. The study of our heritage empowers us to connect, and cause us to have, as Mormon said, “many mighty miracles” among men.


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