Copies of Anne Frank’s diary are photographed in Amsterdam. She kept a handwritten diary while in hiding from the Nazis during World War II. (AP)

Copies of Anne Frank’s diary are photographed in Amsterdam. She kept a handwritten diary while in hiding from the Nazis during World War II. (AP)

Naturalist John Muir wrote this January 11, 1902, letter to Emily Pelton. “I've never forgotten you—never forget any of my old friends, but I’m usually in the wilderness all summer and in my study all winter so I seldom make visits.” (AP/Andy Manis)

Naturalist John Muir wrote this January 11, 1902, letter to Emily Pelton. “I've never forgotten you—never forget any of my old friends, but I’m usually in the wilderness all summer and in my study all winter so I seldom make visits.” (AP/Andy Manis)

This is a handwritten letter of composer Leopold Mozart and his son Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. (AP/Diether Endlicher)

This is a handwritten letter of composer Leopold Mozart and his son Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. (AP/Diether Endlicher)

The original manuscript of Abraham Lincoln’s sad farewell to the people of Springfield, Illinois, as he departed to take over the presidency (AP)

The original manuscript of Abraham Lincoln’s sad farewell to the people of Springfield, Illinois, as he departed to take over the presidency (AP)

This handwritten letter by Paul McCartney, dated August 12, 1960, invites an unknown drummer to audition for The Beatles. (AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

This handwritten letter by Paul McCartney, dated August 12, 1960, invites an unknown drummer to audition for The Beatles. (AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Breaking the Cursive Code

Posted: March 1, 2021

These days, people type more and write less. That means cursive handwriting can look like a hard code to break. But learning the cursive code is important. It connects us to our history!

In early United States history, the government paid people to copy official documents. That was necessary to preserve the important content about founding the new nation. There were no scanners or printers. Those people wrote in cursive. They had to do so carefully and clearly. Ben Franklin in the mid-1700s wrote that young men who wanted to attend the Academy of Philadelphia had to “write a legible hand.”

People recorded everything in cursive. That included personal signatures, family recipes, letters, land grants, baptism records, and other valuable documents. Even the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution are written out in cursive.

The United States’ National Archives holds billions of handwritten documents. The Library of Congress started the By the People project a few years ago. Volunteers sign up to read and transcribe (copy) handwritten words. There are Civil War documents written in cursive, plus letters to Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, and other historical leaders. These treasures are waiting to be read!

Project volunteers read the cursive, type what they read, and share it on the Library of Congress website. The cursive decoders help connect us with history. Who is qualified to volunteer? People who know how to read and write in cursive.

Sadly, more and more kids aren’t being taught cursive handwriting. Professor Audrey Van der Meer says, “We risk having one or more generations lose the ability to write by hand.” She explains, “Learning to write by hand is a bit slower process. But it’s important for children to go through the tiring phase of learning.”

It takes time, focus, and practice to master cursive. But handwriting has huge rewards. Its impact on the brain is powerful. Its connection with history is not replaceable.