Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Reading and Writing

Looking at recent college records got me wondering about the other side of the educational equation, i.e. how many of my ancestors could in fact read and write.  Even when schools were present in the rural South, many children did not attend or only attended a few years. Looking at this had me thinking about some of my ancestors.

It is interesting when only one child of a family cannot read or write.  I am assuming that Washington Becham could not since he also could not sign his name.  He signs all records with his mark, not a signature and its hard to believe he could write other things.   Yet his confederate contract proves that at least two of his brothers could write at least their names.   The 1900 census indicates that Washington could read and write but 1910 says he couldn't.  The difference - Ann had died between the two censuses.  She could at least sign her name, leading to speculation that he, she or they didn't want to admit that he couldn't.  It didn't matter once she had died.  

One ancestor, Nancy Whitaker Horne, is of interest because she could in fact write.  She could certainly sign her name, and in a way that did not indicate hesitancy.  If in fact she also wrote out the property inventory that she signed, then she could actually write well.  In addition, one of the items that she purchased from her husband's estate was his writing desk.  Nancy would have been unusual for her time, place and social status, which leads to more curiosity about her background.

None of this changes any of the research on the family but looking at these small things enables me to complete the picture and learn a tiny bit more about people who were not prominent and lived a life where little paperwork was created.   One has to be careful to not read too much into sparse records, but this has lead me to look more closely at things like signatures.

1 comment:

  1. I've wondered about those things, as well. I know my great-great-great grandfather could read and write, which is kind of odd since he grew up on a farm in very rural northern Wisconsin. But, I have a book that belonged to him and is signed as such with his name and where he lived...and given the topic of the book, I'd assume it was his.