X marks the spot

28 April 2016

This was always destined to be one of the more challenging letters of the A-Z blog list. X can always revert to the lazy X…. along the lines of eXtinct, eXhaustive/eXhausted etc. EXhausted would be a very relevant X for today. A required appearance in court in London meant an earlier start than I am used to, by a long chalk…. 4:30am is not a time I am used to seeing on an alarm clock. Ever. [Well, possibly sometime before in my life, but not for a very long time!]

However, for A-Z blogging purposes, X marks the spot. There are many documents which (historically) needed to be signed by our ancestors, from marriage registers to various parish chest documents, and a whole host in between. Tracking back in time, schooling has not always been compulsory and so, not all individuals who were required to sign documents were able to do so. And hence, X marked the spot. Someone – usually a churchwarden, parish clerk, etc. – would write for the illiterate individual and they would put their mark (X). But how would the illiterate one be able to know what they were actually signing?! In some cases, they did not.

Marriage registers are less of a concern as, one would hope, the two parties consented to marry, whether they could physically write their names or not. I often refer to those who appear regularly as witnesses on marriage certificates as ‘professional witnesses’. They are, occasionally, known to be parish clerks and such like…. people of a certain standing within the community. Does X mean that the person whose name was recorded couldn’t write? Frankly, more often than not, yes! Not only could they not write, but they could not have explained how their name was written to a parish clerk, vicar, rector, etc.

Parish chest records are available across the nation in county record offices (use the Discovery Catalogue to find relevant records and their location), as well as baptisms, marriages and burial registers (parish registers). There is so much more to discover than just the birth, marriage and death indexes (and certificates) …. the world is your oyster with regard to documents relating to individuals within a parish.

X marks a number of spots – how many can you find? [Did your ancestor sign the record or put their mark?]

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