Genealogy Friday: X Marks the Spot

posted in: Genealogy, Land Records | 0



Have you ever viewed old wills, land records or other records and seen an X in the signature?

Have you wondered what this meant?

Well, this meant one of two things more than likely.

  1. The individual was illiterate and unable to write their name.  They would write an X to denote their signature, on the Xdocument.
  2. The individual was able to write, but due to illness or injury were incapacitated and unable to sign their name.   I found this in one instance, where I found my ancestor’s signature on land records and numerous other records.  However, on his will he just wrote an X.  Most likely he had a deathbed will and was too weak or delirious to sign his name.

When finding an X for the signature, you can know if they were illiterate or not by searching for other documents in their name and checking the signature.  Before the early 20th Century, over half of the population were unable to read and/or write.  On some of the census records in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, there is a question stating if they were able to read or write.

One issue I found on one family line, is that an ancestor signed his name X.  Above his name is the word “Mark.”  This is very common, and was the standard practice to denote the mark.  However, one researcher saw this and read the name as Shark.  S/he then shared this information with a number of other researchers.  I often see his name with Shark in the middle.   A number of researchers on that line have tried to fix this error, but it has been with great difficulty.

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