Signatures on Early Records

Signatures on Early Records

You've got questions about discovering, preserving and celebrating your family history; our experts have the answers.

Q. When early wills (1600s, 1700s) were recorded by the court, was the record copy transcribed by someone (clerk, etc.) or were they the person’s own hand if they were able to write? Also, is the signature in the record copy the individual’s signature? If a mark, is it the individual’s? This is perplexing me as I have seen some beautiful writing in a hand that resembled the signature.

A. Official (court) record copies of wills (and deeds) from early days to today are transcriptions of the originals. The “signatures” you see on the wills and deeds in the record books are the clerk’s handwriting or his rendering of the mark the individual made. Clerks made facsimile copies of the marks as the original documents showed them. My book Unpuzzling Your Past, 4th edition (Genealogical Publishing Co.), has examples of such marks.

These are additional clues that the record copy is a copy: In the record books, you often see L.S. in a circle beside the individual’s name or the word signed preceding the name. The L.S. stands for the Latin locus sigilli or “the place of the seal,” indicating that the person had signed and sealed (stamped with a wax seal) the document. 

Also, you often see the word teste along with the clerk’s name at the bottom of the document copy, certifying that it is a true copy of the original. 
See old handwriting examples and get tips for reading old records in our Old Handwriting Cheat Sheet, available as a digital download at Family Tree Shop.

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