Author Topic: Inconsistent literacy  (Read 1862 times)

Offline mijath

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Inconsistent literacy
« on: Friday 26 January 18 23:36 GMT (UK) »
Has anyone had any experience of an a person appearing to be literate at one point but illiterate at a later date?

A twice-married woman in the 1790s - in the register for the first marriage she signs her name, for the second there is only a mark. If you take my word for it that a multitude of circumstantial evidence points to this being the same person...what would you make of it?!

Did she forget after not having to write for six years? Did the clergyman presume she couldn't? Had she hurt her hand?!  ;D

Or do I need to go back to drawing board after all...
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Offline andrewalston

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Re: Inconsistent literacy
« Reply #1 on: Saturday 27 January 18 00:47 GMT (UK) »
It could be that the clergyman expected her to be illiterate, and so rather than asking her to sign asked her to "make her mark".

It would be unusual for anyone to disobey someone in authority.

That said, my mum was surprised to find that one of her great grandmothers had used a big X on one document. My aunt then commented that she could read perfectly well, but "Don't you remember? She'd lost her fingers in the mill."
Looking at ALSTON in south Ribble area, ALSTEAD and DONBAVAND/DUNBABIN etc. everywhere, HOWCROFT and MARSH in Bolton and Westhoughton, PICKERING in the Whitehaven area.

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Offline Jon_ni

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Re: Inconsistent literacy
« Reply #2 on: Saturday 27 January 18 01:22 GMT (UK) »
yes on quite a few occasions, especially when looking on Irish records as they are Free to view so can get births for all the children/siblings. The question was also specifically asked on the 1901 & 1911 Irish census.

seen a mother signing X on some earlier births and not on next ones in Belfast city then signed name again when back home in more Rural area for others. Perhaps the Registrar was a bit stern and intimidating. Seen Census marking the inhabitants as literate 1911 when 1901 & all the BMD said illiterate, when looked at the writing it was the same on the Cover sheet ie the enumerators or a family friend there was a big X at signature of Head of House.

Image below is from the GRO Registrars Report of 1850 for England & Wales.
Ok is now 1918 from Ireland (as only saved a few odd snippings to computer a year ago) but by then compulsary State Education and rules restricting working ages of children had raised the figure to 96.2% male & 97.6 female for the island of Ireland. These were from http://www.histpop.org/ohpr/servlet/

I would think that in the 1790's most were illiterate so suggests a more middle class background and with that in mind whats the point of a headstone inscription if you have no idea what it says


Offline wivenhoe

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Re: Inconsistent literacy
« Reply #3 on: Saturday 27 January 18 03:33 GMT (UK) »

How do both parties record consent on the two marriage certificates, 1790s?

Sometimes a literate person would make a mark as a consideration to the partner who cannot write.
So that they do not feel awkward.

Offline Wiggy

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Re: Inconsistent literacy
« Reply #4 on: Saturday 27 January 18 04:03 GMT (UK) »
Speaking from experience here   ::)

 - maybe the person developed a shake in the hand making it almost impossible to write hence the easy way out - make a mark.     ;)

Wiggy
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Offline Guy Etchells

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Re: Inconsistent literacy
« Reply #5 on: Saturday 27 January 18 08:37 GMT (UK) »
It is a common misconception that a person who makes a mark on a register cannot write.
I have personal experience of well educated young men in the 1960s making a mark because that is what they were instructed to do rather than signing their name and before anyone says the were taking the Mickey; they were not, they thought they were doing what was required.
I have often wondered what the “higher RAF echelons” thought if they read the documents “signed with an x” by pupils from a highly thought of Scottish Academy.

However back to census and registers, much would depend on the position of the person making a mark or even making an x instead of their mark (many tradesmen used individual marks in the daily life rather than signing their work)
In many situations employers frowned upon servants who could read and write they were considered “above their station”, in other situations a person may be able to sign but not read.
In an authoritarian society (as my example from the 1960s) a literate but subservient person would simple follow the instruction given, if told to sign their name they would sign, if told to make their mark they would make their mark and if told to put their cross on the line they would put their cross on the line.

Cheers
Guy
http://anguline.co.uk/Framland/index.htm   The site that gives you facts not promises!
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Offline Jon_ni

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Re: Inconsistent literacy
« Reply #6 on: Saturday 27 January 18 10:30 GMT (UK) »
perhaps minister 1 was a jovial chap who drank down the local and had a few cheap quills like the ones she had used (occasionally)
minister 2 was older, stern and she feared blotting the book or breaking his favourite feather, the nib looked very delicate

Offline Gillg

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Re: Inconsistent literacy
« Reply #7 on: Saturday 27 January 18 11:06 GMT (UK) »
My ancestor, an ag lab all his working life, signed the marriage register for both of his marriages (1798 & 1811) with a good clear hand.  I have always wondered whether this was the only thing he could write or whether he had somehow received an education which enabled him to read and write.

There are many reasons why people made their mark rather than sign a register.  In a marriage register a woman who could write and who was marrying an illiterate man might not want to appear superior to him.  A clergyman might assume that people were illiterate or appear intimidating when he asked them to make their mark. 

It is interesting to examine an old prison register, where one of the columns entered by the governor or clerk asked whether the prisoner was literate.  A surprising number of them were, yet even today there are still many illiterate prisoners.

 
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Offline MagicMirror

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Re: Inconsistent literacy
« Reply #8 on: Saturday 27 January 18 11:21 GMT (UK) »
My 4xgt grandfather signed his apprentice indenture, the administration papers for his father's estate and his own will, but marked an x in the marriage register.  11 couples were married on the same day, all by the same clergyman. Four grooms and one bride early in the sequence signed their own names. One witness appears on every record and the last 5 records have the same 2nd witness too. The phrase "conveyor belt" springs to mind.

eta: this was in Sheffield in 1828