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    In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” It is the goal of The Family Curator to inspire, enlighten, and encourage other family curators in their efforts to preserve and share their own family treasures.

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    « Princess Diaries: Looking for Answers in the 1940 US Census | Main | Resource Roundup for the 1940 U.S. Census »

    Meet Mr. Palmer: A Very Excellent Reason to Index the 1940 U.S. Census

    Example of Palmer Penmanship

    1940 marked the end of the era of academic penmanship instruction in most American schools.

    Instead of learning the long-taught Palmer Pensmanship Method perfected by Austin Palmer which engages the entire arm and shoulder to form smooth, fluid pen strokes, students were taught the simpler block manuscript alphabet, otherwise known as "printing," followed by cursive handwriting when they reached mid-level elementary grades.

    Beginning in the 1940s, simple "Ball and Stick" manuscript printing
    replaced basic Palmer penmanship instruction in many U.S. schools. 

    Today, many schools have dropped all pretenses at formal penmanship or handwriting instruction. Students learn to print and are taught basic cursive, but there is little reinforcement or training as a follow-up. The emphasis has shifted from handwriting to keyboarding, and basic computer skills. But all is not lost!

    Although 1940 rang the death knell for Palmer Penmanship in the academic curriculum, the adult enumerators of the United States Census of that very year were, no doubt, previously prepared for their particular temporary vocation by the standard penmanship instruction of their youth -- the Palmer Method.

    Your participation as an indexer for the 1940 U.S. Census will give you a rare opportunity to personally examine remnants of past perfect Palmery with surviving examples of exemplary embellishment as exhibited throughout the 1940 U.S. Census by enumerators who were surely schooled in the standard of their time. This alone is reason enough to offer one's services in the indexing project. When one considers the added benefit of contributing one's time and talent to a most worthwhile project, it's the biggest no-brainer in the history of volunteerism.

    Until the pendelum swings back perfecting personal penmanship, we will have to enjoy such random glimpses of the past as demonstrated in the careful lines of the 1940 Census Ennumerator.


    Austin Palmer

    Ode to the Palmer Method

    Perfectly practical Palmer, master of muscular movement

    A classic style, a business skill that always paid the rent.

    We wrote with ease and speed, accuracy, endurance

    Lessons and drills were our employment assurance.


    And then came 1940, a new month, a new year,

    Progress marched in, Palmer's out on his ear.

    Block-letter Manuscript was the chime of the hour,

    Smooth cursive followed, nothing like Palmer Power.


    Dick and Jane were the model, for perfecting one's script

    Alas, Granddad Palmer was cut free and adrift

    To float away on the tide, proud, straight, and strong,

    Until April 2, 1940 at last rolled along.


    Then the world knew, saw with its own eyes

    The delightful legacy of the Palmer Penmanship Prize.

    Page after page in the United States Census

    Bore witness to Palmer and his good senses.


    Remarkably legible, long line after line

    The ennumerators handwriting could not be more fine.

    [well, mostly :>)]

    Sign up now to index the 1940 U.S. Census when it's released April 2, 2012, and enter the community project indexing practice contest for a chance to win a VISA Gift Card. No poetry required! It's easy and fun. Don't delay, this contest ends March 30, 2012.

    1940 U.S. Census Project Website -- Sign up to help index the census, participate in contests, learn more about the 1940 U.S. Census

    Gear Up to Index Game (March 19-30) -- Practice indexing a simulation census and you will have a chance to win a VISA Gift Card. Rules and registration information here.


    As part of the ambassador program this blog post enters me into a drawing for weekly prize.

    Copyright, 2012 Denise Levenick

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    Reader Comments (5)

    OMGosh I'm sorry to say that the Texas Takers were behind the times in knowing and practicing the Palmer Penmanship. Most of the records I have done have been an eye/mind boggling decipher nightmare. After every batch I expect a message from the 'Arbitrator' saying..."R U wearin' your glasses?" So far though, I'm at 100% AOK!!!

    Great post and Perfect Penmanship! Best of Luck in the Ambassador Contest....Sue

    March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSue

    Great post. Cursive writing and penmanship may have gone out of style due in part to the electronic age and social media. My daughters who are still in school only get a very small amount of time in grade school devoted to learning to write in cursive.

    Regards, Jim
    Genealogy Blog at Hidden Genealogy Nuggets

    March 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJim Sanders

    I never knew that school systems gave up penmanship practice in 1940, because, growing up in Massachusetts public schools during the 1940's, we had daily cursive penmanship practice using the Rhinehart System, similar to Palmer. We never, ever did printing. We used pencils until 4th grade when we began to use penholders with nibs and had inkwells in our desks. I recall making chamois penwipers for ourselves and as presents for parents! At home our family desks were covered with blotters and we also had smaller hand-held blotters. Our parents used fountain pens and I got my own Schaefer or Waterman as a gift when I was twelve.

    March 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnne

    I always loved penmanship and was sad to see it dropped in California schools.

    March 30, 2012 | Registered CommenterFamily Curator

    I've never heard of the Rhinehart System. You mist have some great inky memories. Those old Waterman pens might be collectible now. I remember how I longed for a Cross pen and pencil set.

    March 30, 2012 | Registered CommenterFamily Curator

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