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Banburyshire Family History

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The whys and wherefores!

Have you ever returned to information that you are familiar with, to have a flash of illumination and see it with new eyes? This happened to me this week, and I feel that I have gained some fresh insight into this area.

I had been looking into the earlier history of my PARRITT family and to my bemusement had found the name spelt every which way; differing within siblings of the same family, or in various documents naming the same person. All the vowels had a turn and the Rs and Ts could be single or double. Even my grandfather was PARROTT at his baptism, but had become PARRITT at his marriage!


That led me to wondering why this was so, and I concluded that the vicar, curate, parish clerk or census enumerator had often to rely on what they heard, spoken in the prevailing local dialect. Not easy for a relatively well educated person to penetrate the local burr! And as for the parish clerk his spelling may not have been equal to it!

Now why didn't the person concerned object to the mis-spelling? Unfortunately It was almost certain that he/she had no literacy skills --- and couldn't read or write; and few could write their own name. So any spelling changes stood, because they were undetected.


We find it hard to envisage a society where very few were literate. I am talking about the lowest strata of society, and my Ag. Lab. forebears came from the bottom of the heap. You wonder at the lack of curiosity and inability to recognise the "pattern" of your own name, but when sheer survival is the most urgent thing on your mind, there is no room for mulling on such matters. A full belly, and a roof over your head is of more importance! Even after attendence at school was a requirement, for many rural families attendance was very patchy.

As I see the very little ones in my family spontaneously recognising alphabet letters, or their own names, at a very early age, I marvel at the illiteracy of the poorer classes in earlier times. That is, until I remind myself that poor nutrition and constant deprivation would certainly dull their minds. The potential was there but the conditions were against any development.

Our modern children have everything in their favour for absorbing information as they are well nourished ------- surrounded by books, various media and have interesting environment/experiences. In the past children were often required to weed, pick up stones and perform other menial tasks in order to appease the farmer landlord. A tired child would have little energy left to show interest in learning and in books!

It is a situation which I found hard to fully appreciate, but since I have thought more about it, so many reasons for the way things were have become apparent.

I hope that I now view my family history with a little more sympathy and understanding. Certainly, I appreciate my good fortune in being a child of the 20th century, as I was born a "bookworm", and had the facilities to feed my addiction!

Contributed by Muriel Wells