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(16,266 posts)
Fri Jan 27, 2023, 04:53 PM Jan 2023

I am going blind after deciphering old cursive writing.

I have been reading some journals and letters to and from family members from the 1830s through about 1918. If I stick with one author, I can begin to read the cursive writing fairly well, but each time the author changes, it is like trying to learn a new language. Some of the letters have beautiful script and are totally unfathomable, others are rough but readable. I watched one author over a period of may years and as he ages, his script gets really bad. (probably having something to do with failing eyesight; cataracts and glaucoma are still big in the family.)

The journals, more of a diary than a financial journal, are interesting reading as the author talks a lot about the weather, as farmers will, I can tell you this, in Jan. of 1917, it rained a lot in Northern Alabama; he was happy to see two sunny days so that he could work in the garden. Still, in '17, one of the kids is just starting electrical engineering classes out of state, You can tell how proud Papa is about it. Of course I know what Papa didn't, that next year, he will be in the Army headed to France where he would fret for some time later... (spoiler: he ends up coming home from the war in one piece)

Another letter from 1864 is from a family member who was captured in the war and was in a Yankee prison camp in Ohio. He is asking for warm clothes and Confederate postage stamps to be sent to him. He says he nearly froze last Winter. He suggests that his health had improved some; probably referring to an earlier letter. Another letter is about a family member who has gone to the hot springs hoping to improve his health. So far he has bathed three times and is not appreciably better, but he is no worse.... I don't know which hot springs spa he was at, could have been Georgia, Arkansas or closer to home. Another letter, pre-Civil War, is a communication between the Governor of Alabama and the family concerning compensation for a horse and saddle that was lost when the family member was killed fighting Seminole Indians in Florida. Officers provided their own mounts and saddles. Two hundred bucks were due! Big money in the day.

One letter was described as an angry letter from the sender, but he was so angry I can't read a word.

My claim to fame is that Francis Scott Key, who was working as a Federal government district attorney in D.C. was suing one family member for reneging on some part of a mail carrying contract on his stage coach line. Not enough information in the single letter to determine the actual problem, but I am sure it was just a misunderstanding.

As big a struggle it is to get past the writing, it is a great deal of fun to me to be able to read this moments that were saved through time. How I wish I could sit on the front porch and have a cup of coffee and conversation with some of these folks. I hope that they would be interested in hearing about my life too.

I am going blind after deciphering old cursive writing. (Original Post) Chainfire Jan 2023 OP
It is great that you are doing this. Every time I hear someone telling me that hlthe2b Jan 2023 #1
How great to have the window into the past of your family. Srkdqltr Jan 2023 #2
Very cool! I trust you used a magnifier. Quakerfriend Jan 2023 #3
I have a merlin system enlarger dembotoz Jan 2023 #8
Gorgeous stuff & often frustratingly indecipherable UTUSN Jan 2023 #4
I can read cursive fine GenThePerservering Jan 2023 #5
I love cursive writing Raine Jan 2023 #6
Cursive is cursed. Wolf Frankula Jan 2023 #7
Very cool! intheflow Jan 2023 #9
For a real challenge, try documents written in blackletter. malthaussen Jan 2023 #10
Blackletter is why I have abandoned research on the maternal side of the family! ;) Chainfire Jan 2023 #11


(99,823 posts)
1. It is great that you are doing this. Every time I hear someone telling me that
Fri Jan 27, 2023, 05:07 PM
Jan 2023

no kid needs to learn cursive, I become very sad. Not only will they be unable to read old documents and letters from their older family and ancestors, but even more important is that the neurologic connection developed early in life from the hand-to-brain activity is not readily replaced by other activities--yes, including video games.

I cannot imagine not teaching my kids or grandkids how to read cursive. Just as I cannot believe allowing them to write in non-grammatical and non-punctuated 140-character formats only.

But we should not let cursive become our hieroglyphics.


(5,618 posts)
2. How great to have the window into the past of your family.
Fri Jan 27, 2023, 05:17 PM
Jan 2023

Cursive isn't always easy even if one writes it.
Anyone in the future who needs to read it will.


(5,243 posts)
3. Very cool! I trust you used a magnifier.
Fri Jan 27, 2023, 05:20 PM
Jan 2023

I have done some of the same & I must admit it made me feel close to some very distant family that I, of course, had never met.

Found a book on eBay written by a man who I knew had been a dear friend of my great, great grandfather.
The book was written in the early 1800s and was not in great shape. However, it had a note on the inside cover signed by the author. So, I bought it & low and behold this first edition copy had been given as a gift to my great, great grandfather. The note was to him “as acknowledgement of our friendship so long enjoyed by me- and of my appreciation of your high attainment in science, and vast experience in practice”. Etc.


(16,611 posts)
8. I have a merlin system enlarger
Sat Jan 28, 2023, 08:00 AM
Jan 2023

my mom had failing eyesight due to macular degeneration and a relative dropped it off.
Its an amazing device


(30,201 posts)
6. I love cursive writing
Sat Jan 28, 2023, 01:09 AM
Jan 2023

very sad that some think it unnecessary to learn. I don't how they'll be able to read old letters and journals. I love to write cursive, it's so much faster then printing and much more attractive.


(28,164 posts)
9. Very cool!
Sat Jan 28, 2023, 09:38 AM
Jan 2023

My mom has old letters from the Civil War, too. My family was in Maryland at the time. My favorite letter is when they tell about Confederate troops using their house as an HQ. As Yankee sympathizers, they were terrified, but concluded all soldiers were civil and respectful to them. (Obviously, I’m white.)


(16,627 posts)
10. For a real challenge, try documents written in blackletter.
Sat Jan 28, 2023, 02:50 PM
Jan 2023

Several early PA colonial documents use blackletter, which is beautiful but wholly illegible.

-- Mal

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