Ancestors' Signatures

Just like famous celebrities’ signatures can be worth a good deal of money, to you and your family your ancestor’s handwritten signature can be just as valuable.

Of course, the famous Babe Ruth’s signature depending on condition, date and what it was written on (baseball, card, photo) can have a value of a couple hundred to several thousands. Only if your ancestor was a notable individual would such money be paid by a collector for a signature by your ancestor.

However, for your family members and future descendants having your ancestor’s signature will be priceless. Even if you can locate one or two, it greatly adds to your family history and story. So locate that signature, look in these places.

Any legal documents (originals) you have that a signature was required. That includes Wills, deeds, probate records, marriage certificates / bonds, letters (some may only have the first name), petition forms, social security applications, military records, passports & applications, and citizenship applications. /also check with all relatives to see what they may have with a signature.

You do have to be careful of facsimiles of signatures. If your ancestor was illiterate, a clerk may have written your ancestor’s name out. Those who didn’t know how to write also just placed an ‘X’ or ‘+’ – which is still good to add to the family collection of signatures.

Do a high-resolution scan (200-300 dpi) of the signature for your collection. With the digital images, place a note in the photo’s properties, the date and where the signature was written on (letter, Will, military record, etc.).

Besides keeping for the family history the ancestor’s signature, you can place them on a family tree, in a wall display, or even if the signature is part of an interesting document, such a military record or special receipt, display a copy of the whole document with the signature. An example is the January 13, 1789 receipt for the purchase of a wagon.

Locating these signatures or ‘marks’ can really be exciting, so start if you haven’t yet.

Photos: Signature display; Mid-1750s probate in White County, Indiana-Malinda’s ‘mark’; signed agreement in Harford County, Maryland in the early 1800s by James; and Jacob Bixler 1789 receipt.

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