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A Genealogist In The Archives: Autograph Books, The Social Media of Yesterday

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Autograph Books, The Social Media of Yesterday

Many of us enjoy Facebook or Twitter everyday to keep up with our family and friends. Connecting with others by social media has become the norm today.

Autograph books at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Our ancestors used different mediums to connect with friends and family. One of those mediums were autograph books. Many of our ancestors had these types of books and filled them with signatures of friends, family, schoolmates and other people they came in contact with on a daily basis. Sometimes there was just a signature and other times there was a short message of encouragement, a poem or a pleasant greeting.

Inside of Autograph books at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Autograph books come in all shapes and sizes. Some were leather bound and others had different colored pages. These books were a type of "social media" back in the day and were very popular.

Autograph book page for Ruth McAuley dated 1893 at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Autograph books were very popular with school children, especially graduating seniors or college graduates. These students used autograph books to capture their final year of school and to record memories from their school friends.

Autograph book page for Shirley (Unknown) dated 1938 at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives 

Some of you may have an autograph book that belonged to your ancestor in your own personal genealogy collection. If you don't, it's possible there could be one located in a local archive collection, historical society or genealogical society collection.

Autograph book page for Ludelia Marable, Senior at Erin High School 1934-1935 at Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Autograph books are usually located in the Manuscript Collection of an archive. They will probably be part of a larger collection of records. You will need to check the Finding Aid to the individual collection to see if an autograph book is listed as being in the collection.

Next time you are researching in an archive, ask if they have autograph books and maybe they will have one for your ancestor. Or maybe they will have one for someone your ancestor knew and your ancestor signed it. Autograph books are a great genealogical resource to find information or just a signature to document your ancestor's life story.



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  1. Great analogy of autograph books to social media. I'm lucky to have my mother's HS autograph book as well as my grade-school autograph book. But I didn't realized that archives might have (or want) these items. Thank you so much for the reminder.

    1. Marian, yes archives have these type of autograph books. They are usually donated with boxes of records from an individual and will be located with the Manuscript Collections. They are such treasures! Thank You for reading my blog!

  2. I'm lucky to have my mother's autograph book, as well as my husband's grandfather's. It's great seeing their signature.

    Don't forget that later many friends signed our yearbooks.

    1. Lisa, you are so lucky! I don't have any personal autograph books of my own. Ans YES! Yearbooks is another great source for signatures, notes, etc. Thanks for reading my blog!

  3. I had several of those growing up, from school and day camp. I wish I still had them, but they are long gone.

    1. Hey Linda! I wish you still had them too, they are such treasures! Thank You for reading my blog!

  4. I have autograph books from both my grandmother and great grandmother for the late 19th and early 20th century. Not only did their friends sign them, but their family members (i.e. parents) as well. My great grandmother's future husband (my great grandfather) also signed hers. What a treasure to have the original signatures of ancestors up to my 2x great grandparents.

  5. Debi, you do have true treasures! Not all genealogists can say they have signatures of their ancestors! Thank You for reading my blog!