June 4, 2011


Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 11:50 am by chavisory

While it may sound like an appeal to emotion and romanticism rather than practicality to protest at the decline of cursive that kids won’t be able to read their grandparents’ diaries, I can’t help but find it a compelling appeal.  Recently, my dad, knowing that I’ve become interested in digging into and preserving family history, sent me a box of stuff that someone found in someone’s basement.  Paperclipped inside a typed and 3-ring-bound collection of stories and autobiographies was this little envelope.

It’s a letter from my great-great-great-grandfather Albert Darius, who served as an army nurse and then hospital steward during the Civil War, to his son Edward.  After the war, as he was finishing medical school, struggling to set up a practice, and being divorced by his wife, Albert Darius was unable ever to keep all of his children with him, and they were fostered out to various neighbors and friends.  (Clarence, mentioned in the second paragraph, was my great-great grandfather.)

I would scan it in its entirety and make you all try to read it, but my scanner is broken, so I transcribe it here….

                                                                                                        Winona Min
                                                                                                        May 27th 1869

My Dear Son,

      I have been so very anxiously awaiting a letter from you for some time; at last Mr. Wilson wrote me that you had gone to live in Shelbyville with Mr. O. A. Andrews so now I can know where to write you and I hope you will write me as soon as you get this.

      I want to know how you like living in the country–what you do–and all about the people you live with–how many in the family, and their names–and how far you live from the post office and which way.  And all about your place there–and how you like it.  Mr. Flowers writes that Miner has gone to live with Mr. Evans at Garden City.  I hope you and Miner will write to each other and to me often.  I expect Clarence will stay with me.

      I hope Eddie you will not form bad habits, use no profane language.  It is very foolish and wrong and no one will ever use in good society.  Don’t use tobbaco (sic) in any form.  Shun it as you would poison.  And remember to be true and faithful.  Ask advice of older persons on all subjects which you may be undecided upon.  Strive to please, but act true to principles of right, whether it pleases or displeases, and you will be respected for it.

      O Eddie I am very sorry we cannot all be together in our own home.  It is almost killing me to think of you and Miner and Clarence and little Eva being scattered so but I know sometime we will be together, if we live, but where I know not.  Oh how much I think of you every day and every night.  And wish the good angels to watch over you and help you always, and I know they will if you are true and good.

      I want you to keep all my letters.  You will want them sometime.

      I send you Harpers Monthly and in this I send you one dollar, to buy stamps and paper or anything you may need, and I do wish Eddie you would write me when you need money, and I can send you some, a little most any time but remember it is for yourself and no one else–write me if the folks will get you some clothes for summer, and all about everything–write a long letter a whole sheet-full anyway–and then I will be so happy.

From Your Affectionate
Father, A. D. Ballou


Yes, the Constitution has been propagated endlessly in print and online, but stuff like this has not.  Our own emotional and personal history, not just the stuff that’s in textbooks, is written in cursive, and risks being lost by a generation who is simply incapable of reading it.


  1. Amy said,

    Wow…that is such an awesome letter. That is timeless advice.

  2. Anonymous said,

    Beautiful letter. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    Still the devil’s advocate here:
    For my part I haven’t had need to read anything in cursive in probably years. Even my students write in print.
    But more to the point, I wouldn’t think it would be that difficult for people to figure out how to read cursive. It’s not that different from print.

    • Emma said,

      oops, I didn’t mean to post anonymously. Anonymous = Emma

      • chavisory said,

        Ha ha, it’s okay. 🙂 I’ve done it on my own posts when wordpress logged me out without notice.

  3. JM Ruby said,

    Thank you for bringing this up!

    In contemplating skills I intend students to build in my history classroom, I had overlooked cursive reading as an essential skill for working with primary sources.

    Although I don’t believe cursive *writing* is necessary, cursive *reading* makes primary source documents so much more organic. In a certain sense, every 12 point Times New Roman printout I give to a high school student is just another damned piece of paper, another authorized text from History Class, Inc. This year I’ve been working with students on developing personal, neighborhood, or ethnic histories by looking at primary sources on Ancestry.com. The connection to history students build with this practice is amazing, but right now it relies on my presence as translator from 1930 script (or much earlier) into print or spoken word.

    How do you think you would lesson plan for this skill? I’ll be considering that too.

  4. loritiar said,

    Thank you for sharing and taking the time to transcribe your letter. That piece of the past will live on and reach a wider audience than the author could have imagined.

    I’ve been reading some of my grandmother’s old journals, pages and pages of spidery cursive. I am so grateful that she kept a diary. And grateful that I can read it!

  5. What a precious heirloom. The writing reminds me of letters my grandfather sent home to my grandmother when he was overseas with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces in WW I.

    I researched some family history back to 1830 in Nova Scotia and all the online records of births, marriages and deaths were of course in cursive.

    Seeing this makes me want to get out my pen and ink, which I put away years ago when ink became difficult to get in this rural area. There is nothing like the feel of writing with real ink flowing off the nib.

    When I was in elementary school in the early/mid 1950’s we actually had inkwells in our desks and dipped our pens in to get a refill every few strokes. And we had blotting paper to soak up the blobs (which we weren’t supposed to be making!).

  6. Brent Hooton said,

    Thank you for posting this letter. My wife is actually a descendent of Eddie (Edward Lull Ballou) to whom the letter was originally written, making you her cousin. I would very much like to have a scan of the letter itself at your convenience, as I have become, through interest in my own ancestry, the de facto family historian.

    I do have additional information about Albert and Addie and all of their children. I am in Northern California and my father-in-law actually still owns, along with his two cousins, the Ballou homestead in Igo. There are no longer any buildings or structures there, so it’s just bare land, but we do plan on driving up there soon (about 3 hours away) to take some photos. I’d be happy to send copies your way when we have them.


    • chavisory said,

      Hi Brent! So happy you found me. I’d be happy to send you a scan, though my own scanner is broken right now–I’ll try to get to one before long.

      My dad just sent me a big box of stuff, including some photocopies of poems by Addie, which I haven’t had a chance to read yet, and a short autobiography that Albert wrote.

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