How Did Your Ancestors Sign Their Names?

Occasionally we come across a signature of an ancestor during our genealogical research. There are many things you can observe from them, one being the status of one’s literacy ability. Some ancestors simply left their “mark”, as indicated in their wills.  Others  signed their  own names, on draft cards, citizenship forms, marriage certificates, etc.    A signature is also useful for determining an original and/or former spelling of  a family name.  To me it is fascinating seeing a signature penned with a quill and ink on parchament.  Here are a few samples from the documents of  a few of my family’s early New England relatives:  Joseph Bolles,  John Howland,  William Bradford.

“Whether or not your ancestors could read and write, you’ll learn a thing or two about them through the “signatures” they left on old documents.

It is an exciting moment to look at an ancestor’s original signature on a document. For a moment in time, it is as if we are standing there with them, pen in hand, imagining the land to be bought or sold, the will and the properties to be divided, the marriage that will join two lives. Even when their signature is only a mark, it represents an expression of their will and offers us a glimpse into their lives and their literacy—if we know what to look for. Even when we find our ancestor’s signature recorded in a deed book by a clerk, there is much that we can learn from the clerk’s facsimile signature of that ancestor.”

Read more from this interesting article at on the topic of ancestrial signatures.


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