Monday, March 30, 2009

Your Ancestors’ Signatures

No doubt all involved in genealogy research seek to find photos of their relatives. But how many think to seek out copies of their signatures at the time periods corresponding with those photos. What is the purpose you ask? To see what might be learned about the ancestors from those signatures.

In an article “Understanding Your Ancestors’ Autographs,” Linda Jean Limes Ellis notes that she had not given much thought to her ancestors’ handwriting until she found a document showing her great-great-great grandfather’s signature in connection with his swearing in as Justice of the Peace in 1846 when he was nearly 55 years of age. When she compared this particular signature with one that she had on a copy of his Last Will and Testament signed one day prior to his death (when he was 69 years, 3 months and 15 days) as well as a signature that she had on a copy of a marriage document signed when he about 21 years of age, she realized that signatures can reveal a lot about someone. By the pitch of a particular letter, she could satisfy herself that he personally wrote each of the signatures but the scrawling of the letters allowed her to detect how weakness and illness had evolved during his life.

Her advice is “Whenever you look at a beloved ancestor’s photograph, ask yourself, ‘Do I have his or her signature from the same time period?’ If not, begin your search for it...An ancestor’s name, written by his or her own hand, is as unique as a fingerprint. Thus, understanding what your ancestors’ signatures are trying to tell you augments whatever else you already know about them. Autographs, and we can think of them as such, are among the many gifts our ancestors gave to us.”

Ms. Ellis’s article appeared in The Ohio Genealogical Society’s December 2007 edition of the “Ohio Genealogical Society Quarterly,” Volume 47, Number 4.

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