The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


July 8, 2012

Frankie Meyer: Websites available to help interpret old handwriting

JOPLIN, Mo. — After researching family history for a few months, most genealogists discover they need to learn the art of palaeography -- the reading of old handwriting. This week I found a website which has a free online tutorial for reading English documents that were recorded between 1500 and 1800. The site, sponsored by the National Archives of England, is found at

The tutorial includes sections about old style letters, money, measurements and numbers, as well as the difference between the Julian Calendar and Gregorian Calendar. The site notes that the old style letter for 'th' is called a thorn and was written like a 'y.' The thorn is pronounced 'th' not 'ye,' as some researchers think.

To learn about other Internet sites that will be helpful in deciphering old documents, check Cyndi's List found at When the site opens, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the category H. The next screen notes that the site has links to 85 sites about handwriting.

A major change in handwriting is sweeping our nation. Within the next ten years, most public schools will be graduating students who will no longer be able to read the common form of communication that you and I take for granted. Children will no longer be able to read or write cursive writing. Old documents such as letters, Bible entries, wills, marriages licenses, land records, cemetery records, mortuary records and diaries will be like foreign languages to them.

More than 40 states have now adopted the “Common Core State Standards for English” which outline what students need to learn. Those standards, which do not include the use of cursive writing, are set by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. Each state is given the choice of whether to teach cursive writing or not.

The imperative need for keyboard skills has led to the decision by most public schools to drop cursive writing. How do you feel about this decision?

Suggestions or queries? Send to Frankie Meyer, 509 N. Center St., Plainfield, IN 46168, or contact:



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