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16 October 2013

Does a Mark Mean Illiterate?

Do not assume because your ancestor made his mark that he was illiterate. Deathbed wills frequently contain "marks" made by people who before their final illness were capable of reading and writing. Even for those in good health, they may have made their "mark" instead of signing because that was the custom or what they chose to do.

Even someone who signed their name may not have actually been literate. It is always possible that they knew how to "make" their signature and not much else.

And never assume that your ancestor was a "few bricks shy of a load" just because they were illiterate.


  1. Some people made their mark and let their superiors sign. Some years ago, I saw a query for the "Herxmark" family. I advised the sender to rethink that surname.

  2. Courthouse copies of documents, copied by a clerk, could not make a seal. Were some documents sealed? Might an X be a replacement for a seal instead of a signature?

    1. The record copy contains a "copy" of the seal, if there was one on the original document in addition to the signature.