Genealogy and Family Culture

The Example of Illiteracy in Charleville Families (1740–1859)


  • Cécile Alexandre Centre Roland Mousnier, Sorbonne Université, Paris



family culture, genealogy, family history, transmissions, illiteracy, Charleville


This article aims to explain how reconstructing genealogies and analysing generations are necessary to understand family cultures. For this purpose, it examines the inability to sign in some families over several generations from 1740 to 1859 in Charleville (today Charleville-Mézières in north-east France), an industrial town specialized in metallurgy, where the great majority of the population was able to sign during this period. The genealogical reconstruction of two families from a similar social background over three generations allows us to consider the social, economic, and familial factors that may have been at work in the reproduction of the inability to sign. Both male and female branches are taken into account to understand family dynamics. Beside this qualitative analysis, the observation and measurement of transmissions from genealogies require a reflection on the methodology for a quantitative analysis, in particular on the search for a threshold that permits to comprehend family transmissions as a real family culture.