From the Ancestry
Ancestral Signatures: Part II
Many readers responded to the recent column on ancestral signatures. Readers who missed this column can view it here. Additional sources of signatures were mentioned, including declarations of intent and autograph books. In a nutshell, any paper your ancestor might have written on could contain his signature. The difficulty is in finding that paper!
It was noted that your ancestor's occupation may have resulted in numerous examples of his signature. Census enumerators, county clerks, record keepers, justices of the peace, judges and others may have left their signature (and numerous examples of their handwriting) in many permanently recorded materials.
Uses of Signatures
There are other ways to use ancestral signatures. From a research standpoint, signatures are often used to distinguish between two individuals with the same first and last name. The difficulty lies in obtaining information on your ancestor where the actual paper he signed was retained instead of being transcribed and recorded in that fashion by the clerk. In locations and time periods where it is impossible to obtain a precise date of birth for an individual, linking a "name" to a physical signature may be one way to separate out two seemingly indistinguishable people.
Our Ancestor's Handwriting
Time Plays a Role
According to Black's Law Dictionary, idem sonans means, "sounding the same or alike; having the same sound." A term applied to names which are substantially the same, though slightly varied in the spelling.
Your ancestor (unless he had a legal background) did not know what idem sonans meant. But idem sonans is why there was no problem when a man is deeded land under the name of James Ramply and sells the same land under the name of James Rampley.
Today most of us are pretty obsessive about having our names spelled correctly on various documents and in various databases. Our ancestors were not as concerned and even their own spelling might have reflected it.
I have encountered this more than once. There are two separate occurrences of the signature of my ancestor Sarah (Gibson) Rampley in Harford County, Maryland, and several different instances of her husband James' signature. On a document where both sign, Sarah makes her mark and James signs his name. On an earlier document involving Sarah's inheritance, Sarah's signature appears. Interestingly enough, the "Rampley" Sarah made on the inheritance paper looks very similar to the "Rampley" James wrote on the document where Sarah made her mark. I am now wondering if the signatures were made by the same person. At any rate, they are extremely alike.
Remember that interpreting handwriting also requires you to know your ancestor's ethnic background. A native born German was taught a different style of writing from his contemporary growing up in rural Kentucky. Readers who would like to try their hand at reading handwriting can view twenty samples (with answers) that have been posted on my site.
Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is currently a member of the board of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (www.fgs.org) . He conducts seminars and lectures nationally on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.rootdig.com, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.
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