Minims Minimize Confusion
October 23, 2013
Look at the writing example above. Beginning with a ‘c’ and ending ‘r’ or ‘n’ and a count of five minims, the word could be: copper, coffin, captain, castle, or cotton. Can you think of other possibilities?
When reading modern text, we generally identify whole words at a glance. Look at this sentence:
The human mind deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe wouthit any porbelm.
This trait doesn’t help when we come across cursive handwriting in documents that hold the secrets of our family heritage. One technique to help us is to count the minims in a word. A minim is a single, downward stroke of the tip of a pen or quill. An 'i' is therefore one minim; an 'n' or 'u' is made up of two minims; and an 'm' has three. The word minim has eleven minims. You have to interchange letters until you get a word you recognize. Something that looks like “pmch” is really “pinch”.
In modern handwriting, where each letter and word is individually formed and the 'i's are dotted and the ‘t’s are crossed, these words don’t cause any problems. But in old records, particularly where the writer was in a hurry and possibly not forming full strokes, words can be very hard to tell apart. Did you know that at one point, written words were not separated by a space! There were no capitals to distinguish sentences! No punctuation! Oh, my!
Until you are familiar with the clerk’s handwriting, you have to use any means possible to decipher the document. So, what word did you chose from the list above? Another tool that helps us is context. So let me give you the rest of the sentence:
“??? Briggs of the volln teers home Guards will take charge of Post.” (Always transcribe a document exactly as written.)
Counting minims and using context are tools in our arsenal against bad handwriting!
Midwest Genealogy Center