Monday, March 3, 2014

Will Our Grandchildren Need Paleography?

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Sign found in the mountains of Colorado.
Taken and shared by Trena Ganus

Have I saved letters and handwritten treasures from my childhood for nothing?  Will they be readable and hold any value to my descendants?  I used to think so, but now  I'm not so sure.

I can’t help but notice that as my keyboarding skills and texting speed have increased (no thanks to auto-correct!)  that my handwriting seems much less legible than it used to be. Not only is typing quicker, but as a society we seem to be gaining speed in our efforts to become paperless. While discussing this issue recently with some of my friends, one friend indicated that many public schools no longer even teach cursive handwriting!  I had no idea and initially found it hard to believe, but after a few simple Google searches, I discovered that it is actually true.

While reading more recent handwritten material sometimes presents a challenge due to individual styles or sometimes even the lack of style, we nonetheless are able to read the majority of the handwritten material of more recent times because we are familiar with cursive, which was the accepted standard for many many years.  What will happen when cursive is no longer familiar to those living?  An instructor who works with groups who index documents recently shared with me that many young people actually need a website that shows cursive letters in order to read cursive writing even now.

Paleography, or the study of old handwriting has long been important to the serious genealogist, but it has traditionally been a study of writing from a much earlier time. When I took a Paleography course, I was surprised to see just how much handwriting has changed and evolved over the years, but will paleography eventually have to include what many of us older folks consider simple common cursive writing?

And here comes the troubling part.  Will my descendants even one generation away need a paleography course just to read my handwriting? As I think of  the letters that I have saved over the years such as choice letters from my parents during their missionary service in Papua New Guinea,  letters from my grandmothers and  letters from the boyfriend whom I eventually married, I wonder, will they hold any value to the generations that follow?  Will they be too difficult to read, the writing too foreign to be worth the effort for others to try and wade through them?  I find myself wondering if our grandchildren and their children can't read our precious keepsakes then just what will happen to our letters?

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014