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”.
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!
Happy Autograph Hunting!
[Written for the weekly Family History Through the Alphabet challenge]