On civil registration documents in the UK, the informant of the event was required to either make their mark (a cross, X), or sign their name. A lot of information in the chart I prepared is taken from birth, marriage and death certificates from my own family
The 1911 census returns were the first to be filled in by each head of the household, and so this is often be the first time someone will see their ancestor's full signature. If the head of the household was not able to write, then someone in the family, a friend or a neighbour was allowed to fill in the form on their behalf.
First things first, obviously I can read and write. My parents can, my grandparents could, and so could all of my great-grandparents.
|Ticks denote they could read/write.|
Crosses denote they could not.
I have somewhat neglected looking for my ancestors in school records, so I'm not sure if they will exist in places. A fairly recent record set published on Find My Past were the National School Admission Registers & Logbooks from 1870 - 1914. I found a lot of relatives in those records, but not many direct ancestors.
One I did find was my great-grandmother, Minnie Metcalf (written above as MM 1893 in the fourth column), who attended the Crofton Temporary Infants School in Blyth, along with her younger sister Nellie.
My great-great-grandfather, Adam Storey (written above as AS 1853), could read and write. He probably attended the Church of England school at Newbiggin, as did his siblings. I know Adam was a highly intelligent and educated man, who aspired to become a solicitor. He was an apprentice to a solicitor in Morpeth for a short while after leaving school. Adam's wife Jane Mavin (written above as JM 1853) could also read and write.
As an added extra, I also coloured the boxes to show where my ancestors were born. Red for England, Dark Blue for Scotland, Green for Ireland etc. The Orange is for my paternal grandmother, born in Australia, and the Light Blue is for my great-great-grandfather, William James Rudd, who was born in Virginia, USA.
Looking at my paternal grandfather's side of the family, it is clear that the previous few generations were all born in Scotland. Charles Leslie and Agnes Carroll, my great-great-grandparents (written above as CL 1858 and AC 1865, respectively), were not able to write. They were both children of Irish immigrants, so it is not a big surprise to me at all.
My other great-great-grandfather, William McLean (written above as WM 1874) could not write. He signed with an X on numerous civil registrations, and so was obviously unable to even sign his own name. Interestingly though, his wife Marion Richmond (MR 1878 above) could sign her own name. In the early years of her marriage, Marion could be found signing her name as "Marion McClen."
My two great-great-grandparents born in Ireland could not read or write either. Martin Quinnin and Barbara Coyle (MQ c.1838 and BC c.1841 respectively) were both born in Co. Sligo, and came to England during the potato famine. It is no surprise to me that they were illiterate, as they were the children of impoverished labourers. They both signed their marriage certificate with an X.
Similarly, my maternal grandmother's grandmother's were illiterate also. Matthew Taylor and Isabella Errington (MT 1838 and IE 1841 above) were both born long before education was made compulsory in England, and so I never expected them to be able to read and write.
As for two of my great-great-grandmothers, I just don't know if they were literate. I can guess that Ann Jane Knox (written above as AK 1874) could write, as I have found school records for some of her siblings. As for Jane Barrass (JB 1853), I just don't have any evidence. I believe one of her brothers wrote and signed his own will, so I could maybe guess that she could, but I'm just not certain.