Member of the National Genealogical Society 2018
Member of the New Mexico Genealogical Society 2018

His Mark - Your Family's Ability To Read And Write

There were two instances whereby people marked their documents - illiteracy, and extreme illness.

If one was on their death bed, they may have been to the point whereby a signature was impossible. The person holding the paper witnessed the mark.

On the other hand, the percentage of illiterate individuals was high! In the 18th and 19th century, children had a function in life, and it wasn't sitting behind a desk in a schoolhouse. Boys as young as 10 years of age were already in the coal mines and definitely in the fields.

Children were often taught the little bit of reading and writing that their parents could provide, and if that was little to nil, that's what they received. After all, many parents thought education was a waste of time and money. Food and survival were everything; "book learning" was frivolous.

If you want a hint into your ancestors' education, look at their documented reports you may find. If the signature is accompanied by "his mark", you will know that illiteracy surrounded him. There is an excellent chance that their parents were as well, and they may have passed it onto their children (but not necessarily). You may find it interesting to discover which ancestor stopped the tradition and allowed education to be a part of their family line. It will give you a hint into that parent's personality.

Photo: John Ruddy Signature, Looking Into The Face of a Dying Irish Soldier, Retrieved January 7, 2018 from

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