S is for Signatures

Continuing the Family History Through the Alphabet series… S is for Signatures! Yes, my name is Donna, and I am an Ancestor Autograph Collector. Other than a photograph, nothing makes an ancestor seem “real” to me like seeing their names written in their own handwriting. A signature is very personal – from the cautious, large, sprawling script of someone just learning to write to the stronger, more defined flourish of an adult to the smaller, diminishing scribble of the elderly, our signatures, though changeable with time, are unique.

For ancestors living in the 20th Century, there are multiple documents that they may have signed such as marriage licenses, social security applications, passports, and insurance applications. Immigrant ancestors may have signed declarations of intention, naturalizations, or alien registration forms. Male ancestors may have signed draft registration forms or military service forms. I assume you can find signatures on wills or estate files, but I have no experience with these records.

Prior to the 20th Century, my ancestors were either in Bavaria or Poland. In Bavaria, couples signed the civil marriage record similar to marriage licenses today. In Poland, signatures of the relevant parties or witnesses were often annotated on the church books, which doubled as civil records, for births, marriages, and deaths. However, nearly all of my Polish ancestors were illiterate – including those that came to the United States, but they eventually learned to write by evidence of their signatures later in life. The oldest signature I found was from my great-great grandfather, Stanisław Piątkowski, from his marriage record in 1863. I am still curious to know why he, among all of my ancestors, was literate. His occupation was “private official”.

Signature of my 2nd great-grandfather on an 1866 baptismal record from Warsaw: Stanisław Piątkowski, ojciec (father)

In order to display my ancestor autograph collection, I put together the following charts to show my great-grandparents and grandparents on both sides. I’ve been wanting to do this since footnoteMaven posted something similar back in 2008 in Sign Here Please!  As she so astutely points out, signatures have a way of making genealogy “interesting” to family members not usually interested in family history! Case in point – I showed my mother these images, and she asked if she could have a copy!

My paternal signature family tree (click image to enlarge)

My maternal signature family tree (click image to enlarge)

 Happy Autograph Hunting!


[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet challenge]


8 thoughts on “S is for Signatures

  1. This is so cool . I would even include the X’s that my women ancestor’s signed with as it give them a MARK in the tree of signatures . The article from FootNote Maven is informative too . Thanks for this original idea.

  2. Nice article. Love the signature trees!

    I admired Footnote Maven’s signature presentation years ago, too, Donna. I still have that project on my personal to do list!

    One thing I noticed – Josef and Maria Bergmeister’s signatures from their marriage record look a little too similar. Do you think that Josef signed for both of them? If not, maybe they had the same handwriting teacher in their Bavarian elementary school. 😉

  3. Pingback: Family History Through the Alphabet - S is for ... | Genealogy & History News

  4. Recently I’ve been fascinated by signatures, but haven’t yet sorted through those that I have. It’s definately on my to-do list though.

    And I totally LOVE your signature chart too, it’s beautiful.

  5. What a marvellous collection. I am so proud of my two historic singatures, but yours is outstanding and I like the way you have added them to your family tree.

  6. Thanks for the kind comments, everyone!

    Lisa, I didn’t notice the similarity until I went to copy the signatures. Next to the large, loopy writing was a completely different script that said “geboren Echerer” or born Echerer, her maiden name. I’m not sure if she signed that part either because it was similar to the witness signature, Karl Echerer, who was either her father or brother (both had the same name).

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