Thursday, December 26, 2013

SIGNATURES and HANDWRITING–What they tell us


In fact, John Hancock’s signature was so famous that we still use it as an acronym for signing our name.  “Please put your John Hancock here.” 

As genealogists we process, review, copy, scan, download and analyze many documents.  These can date back to several centuries ago, or be as current as last year.  

What can signatures mean to us as researchers?
  • It certainly personalizes your connection with that particular ancestor.  You are looking at a document that was probably handled by your ancestor. 
  • It can tell you if your ancestor was actually able to sign his or her name, or did they have to leave a mark?
  • It can be an indicator whether you ancestor was left handed.  Left handed people often times write back handed.  However, this is not a “set in stone” rule.  There are right handed people who will also write and sign in a back handed slant.
  • If you have more than one sample of the signature, depending on how many years apart they are, you might be able to tell if the ancestor has a shaky hand or has perhaps become ill.   Has the signature changed?  If so, how?  Did the ancestor sign his or her name before and now can only leave a mark?  Or just the opposite.  Did they leave a mark in an earlier document and later signed their name?
We certainly aren’t (at least most of us), hand writing experts.  Nor, will we become experts by examining our ancestors signatures. 

It is possible, however, to do a brief study on handwriting and perhaps learn a little more about our ancestor.  The study of handwriting is call Graphology.

I did a search in Google “the study of signatures.”  Here are some sites that came up that may help us learn a little more.  These are certainly not all-inclusive, but can still give us some good information.

Maybe you are fortunate enough to have a larger exemplar of your ancestor’s handwriting.  Perhaps letters, land documents or hand-written wills.  These items are certainly treasures.  But, the truth is that for most of us, we are lucky if we have a signature.

Here are a few ideas

Marriage records
Land records
Birth records
Baptism & Christening records
Probate records
Draft registration records
Social security application (SS-5) records
Social security cards
Affidavits of various sorts
Driver’s licenses
Cemetery or funeral home records

There are more places to find signatures and I’m sure you can add to this list. 

Now, what do we do when we do find one a signature?

Once the document has been scanned or saved to your computer, you can use your favorite photo editing software to crop and capture the signature.  I use Microsoft Office 2010 Photo Editor, for it’s ease of use.  But any editor will work.  Here is an article I posted not long ago about using Microsoft Office Photo Editor for EASY DOCUMENT EDITING.

Now, go and look at all those documents you have and find those signatures. 
I have posted a few of my family’s signatures in a “signature” tab at the top of this blog.

Thanks for stopping by today.
Happy hunting,

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I look forward to reading your comments. If you have any connection to the people mentioned in this blog, please let me know. I write about mine and my husband's ancestors and would welcome new information or meeting a new cousin or two. Thanks for visiting and come back soon.