Saturday, January 7, 2017

Now Indexing:
The Lovely Handwriting Enigma

Have you ever seen handwriting so beautiful, it was impossible to read it?

It's a new year—you know, that time when people turn their thoughts to resolutions about how they can better themselves. Time for a fresh start to projects I've made a habit of continuing from previous years.

I'm not one for making resolutions, but a long time ago, I decided that "giving back" was always a good policy. Indexing genealogical records is just one of those ways I've learned to give back to our research community. Old year or new year, I'll keep at it. Labeling that intention a "resolution" would only become the kiss of death for what I hope is actually a good habit to form.

This weekend, I took a look at the available records at, and discovered the project I had a hand in last month—death certificates for Cook County, Illinois—was still on the list needing more indexers. Why not give it another whirl? I already am familiar with the fields that needed completion.

Although the header this month was for Cook County deaths 1949-1958, the file I opened happened to be for deaths in the year 1928. The reason I remember that is I found one of them—an unfortunate young man dying on February 3, 1928—which reported a burial date listed as 1927.

Hmmm. I won't make any comments. But it was tempting.

Yes, the date was clearly written out. In an exquisite hand. In fact, for some of the certificates—they advanced in number only one at a time, giving me a great overview of everyone who died in Chicago on precisely February 3 of that year—the handwriting was so elaborate as to actually make it difficult to determine what was being conveyed.

Handwriting, when done well, can have a mesmerizing effect on me. The rhythm of undulating ups and downs of Ms and Ns, combined with the hypnotic swoops and swirls of rounded letters, can hold me in awe when well executed. I only run into trouble when it gets so swoopy and swirly that it stops me, dizzied, cold in my path. Those flourishes and curlicues start to get in the way in a string of initials, and my progress slows to zero.

There is something about indexing—even those royal specimens so excellently executed—that allows me to see the other side of the situation. When I'm researching my own family history and pulling up documents on FamilySearch, I confess to snappish thoughts like, "How could she ever have thought that entry said that?" It clearly said nothing of the sort! When I'm on the other side of the story, though, I cringe while tormented by worries over whether it's a Z I'm looking at, or a Y. Or M? Or N? Or is this even the English language I'm reading?!

Volunteering to index records not only imbues character qualities such as patience or endurance, but it imparts a certain grace nurtured by that growing empathy for the poor souls who, going before us, meant well—just as much as I meant well before arriving at the end of my rope while reading what once appeared to be reasonably executed handwriting.

Sometimes, things can get too beautiful, especially in the eyes of the (indexing) beholder.


  1. I am a big fan of "lovely handwriting" - mainly because I've no ability at all and nearly have to print to make things legible!


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