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A Genealogist In The Archives

Friday, September 16, 2016

Constitution Day, Your Ancestors and Their Signatures

Constitution Day will be celebrated Saturday, September 17, 2016. On September 17, 1787 the Founding Fathers signed this important document in American history, the United States Constitution. The original U.S. Constitution is on display in The Rotunda at the National Archives in Washington D.C. along with the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.

One of the most significant parts of the Constitution are the 39 signatures that grace the parchment that was signed at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Each signature was unique and historic.

Signatures on the United States Constitution, ca. 1787

As genealogists, we scour genealogical records to find the signatures of our ancestors. Like the descendants of the signers of the Constitution, documenting our ancestor's signature can be the highlight of our family history research. But sometimes it's hard to find those signatures.

Once you have sifted through your own genealogical records for signatures, where do you go next?

As an archivist, I have seen thousands of signatures on thousands of documents in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives. When I see those signatures, I think to myself "That is someone's ancestor that signed that document."

Letter and Signature of H.H. Hilman of Danville, TN. ca. 1929, Houston County, TN. Archives

The local archives where your ancestor's lived is the best place to start when looking for signatures. Just like the U.S. National Archives where the Constitution is located, our local and state archives are full of documents with signatures on them.

Signatures on a Request to Pardon Morris Dillard, ca. 1919, Houston County, TN. Archives

Maybe the local records are located at the historical society, genealogical society or in the Special Collection department of the local library. Anywhere that historical or genealogical records are stored and preserved is where you will find signatures of your ancestors.

"But my ancestor couldn't write, his signature was only an X". Many of us have ancestors that couldn't read or write and when asked to sign a document they could only mark it with an "X". That "X" is important, your ancestor drew that "X" and stated they agreed with the document that was presented to them.

Whether it's the United States Constitution or the land deed for the family farm, our ancestor's signatures are something to search for and treasure.



Need some tips on researching in libraries and archives, get my Legacy QuickGuide:


"Researching in Libraries and Archives" 

Amazon Kindle EBook 

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