In 2012 at http://www.lonetester.com/2012/10/family-history-through-the-alphabet-challenge-x-is-for-signatures/ Alona Tester blogged about ‘X is for signatures’. She included examples of certificates where ‘X his mark’ showed that someone could not sign his name.
|Informant’s details from the birth certificate of Alice Young. Birth registered in Victoria number 4807 of 1859. Caroline was also the informant on John Young’s birth in 1856. She signed with her mark on that certificate too.|
When she registered the birth in 1864 of Henry Dawson at Corby, Lincolnshire, Eliza Dawson née Skerritt, his mother, could not sign her name. Her husband Isaac was able to sign his name when they married in 1855. She signed the marriage register with her mark.
These are the only examples I could find in my family documents of people who could not write their own name. All three women were great great great grandmothers of my husband. Eleven of his other great great great grandparents could sign their name.
These women were all born in the first half of the nineteenth century. All their husbands could sign their own names. In the next generation, their children, both girls and boys, could write their own name.
Some demographers have argued that illiteracy is linked to the size of families, in particular that education diminishes fertility. For example, a study of demographic changes in Britain from the 1850s to the early twentieth century found that “the extension of basic literacy is related to increases in female labour market participation, which is in turn related to fertility reduction”. (Newell and Gazeley) The data from my family does not support this hypothesis. None of the women in the table below were ever in paid employment. I cannot see any link between the literacy of my own and my husband’s great great great grandparents and the size of their families.
|Name||Ahnentafel number||literacy||number of children||age at marriage||age when first child born||age when last child born||age at death||lived||Notes|
|Caroline Clarke||33||no||13||18||18||43||44||1835-1879||Includes one set of twins.|
|Ellen Murray||37||passenger list stated she could read and write||11||19||20||41||64||1837-1901|
|Margaret Smyth||39||passenger list stated she could read and write||7||21||19||38||63||1834-1897||had a child before she married|
|Eliza Sinden||43||signature appears on birth and death certificates||8||25||26||41||85||1823-1908|
|Eliza Skerrit||45||no||10||21||24||38||65||1834-1899||Includes one set of triplets. This is the only English family. The last child was born at the time Eliza’s husband, Isaac Dawson, died.|
|Caroline Ralph||47||signature appears on marriage certificate||10||20||21||43||46||1850-1896|
|Annie Frances Chauncy||49||yes||2||20||21||24||25||1857-1883||died young|
|Ellen Jane Mainwaring||55||yes||10||20||20||37||75||1845-1920|
The women in this table were Australian, with the exception of that of Eliza Skerrit, wife of Isaac Dawson, who was from Lincolnshire, England. I have not included my German great great great grandparents as I do not have the relevant data.
A graphical representation of the above data for our great great great grandmothers
|click to enlarge|
- Newell, A. and Gazeley, I. (2012) The declines in infant mortality and fertility: Evidence from British cities in demographic transition, Economics Department Working Paper Series, University of Sussex, No. 48-2012 retrieved from http://ftp.iza.org/dp6855.pdf 27 April 2014