Ascension Parish Genealogy, Assumption Parish Genealogy, Military Records, pensions

The plight of an ancestor who couldn’t read or write

Reading through War of 1812 pension records, I came across an interesting saga.

Rosalie Euphrosine Naquin applied for a pension after her husband, Louis Oncal died. The problem with her application was that she had no idea how to spell her maiden name much less her married surname. She was illiterate.

This was a problem for Rosalie because the war office in Washington, D.C., insisted on a precise spelling of her late husband’s name in order to check the war rolls. The name in the marriage record she sent apparently didn’t match any of the names on the war rolls.

The Ascension Parish clerk of court tried to explain to D.C. just how things worked in Louisiana. In a nutshell, the priest decided what the spelling of your name was – and it would be recorded different ways depending on who the priest was. Thus, Rosalie’s husband went by one spelling and his sister went by a totally different spelling.

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D.C. wasn’t swayed. At this point, the clerk got a bit exasperated and wrote another letter. It’s faded so I’ve transcribed it:

In the pension claim of Rosalie Oncal, the claimant has not yet obtained her Bounty Land. There is no evidence to show that said claimant and her deceased husband did ever know how to write or spell their names; on the contrary, the records of this case show that the claimant can not write her name though I know personally that she is as strong and healthy as a person of her age can be. At the time of the War of 1812, there was not one soldier out of ten in the country parishes who could sign or spell his name.

The name of Oncal being of French of Spanish origin can be written with the same pronunciation in many different ways as follows: Uncal, Uncale, Uncalle, Oncalle, Oncale, Unkal, Unkall, Oungcal, Honcal, Huncal, Huncalle, Ouchal, all sounding as Ongkal would do in English.

Got that? Not one soldier in 10 from the Louisiana countryside could sign or spell his name.

Rosalie never did get her pension or bounty land. From reading her file, it appears that D.C. didn’t have rolls for every Louisiana company. So Louis might indeed have fought under Uncal/Uncale/Uncalle/Huncalle/Ouchal/Oncal, and his commander neglected to file the mandatory paperwork.






1 thought on “The plight of an ancestor who couldn’t read or write”

  1. Enjoyed this! Rosalie and Louis were my fifth great-grandparents. Thanks for this neat piece of history!

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