See this item, “Researchers create tool to automatically search handwritten historical documents.” Here’s a useful quote about all this from the lead researcher, R. Manmatha:
“Right now, searching a scanned handwritten document is very hard to do. Scanned historical documents are basically images, or pictures, and currently can only be searched if someone manually transcribes the documents or creates and index of their contents. This is time consuming and expensive to do. Given the cost, most handwritten documents are never transcribed or indexed,” Manmatha says. “But there is an enormous amount of handwritten, historical material.”
Pretty neat. There is a more detailed explanation and demonstration here.