Monday, December 6, 2010

Lists and Illiterate Ancestors

I'm thinking about my ancestors who were illiterate and wondering what that would have been like. I'm thinking about the lists I make so I won't forget things.

What would I do if I couldn't read or write?! How did they manage without those skills? Did they have exceptional memories? Did they have fewer things to keep in mind? Were their days so very routine that each day was like the next and once they knew the schedule they just followed it?

If more of my ancestors had been literate would I now have a diary or journal written by one of them? How I wish!


  1. Nancy,
    I'm a total list maker too and I've never thought about that tool in terms of my ancestors. Part of the answer is, yes, they did have exceptional memories because they worked at it. Oratory skills were valued and story-telling was an art. Things were passed down through oral tradition. Thanks for sharing your musings.

  2. Fascinating thought! As I think about it their lives were more proscribed and probably simpler in terms of choices available to them. If there were no stores to go to, no errands to run then those lists weren't needed. Their lives were no simpler in terms of human relationships and experiences, of course.

  3. I have heard that members of societies without a written language tend to have much longer memories and can memorize and relate extremely long and complex stories. So maybe they were able to keep large amounts of information in their memories.

  4. Wow, I don't know what I'd do without my Franklin Planner. But I'm guessing our ancestors probably had pretty routine lives and did the same things each day, week, month, etc. Probably not many appointments to remember, meetings, trips for mani/pedis, etc. Or maybe they just had really good memories.


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