I Sign, Therefore I Am

A signature is a personal stamp of existence. Whether a simple “x” or an embellished autograph, each mark is the creation of its maker and documents his/her presence on earth.

Sadly, I do not have pictures of my Spartan ancestors. Cameras were simply not part of a village household in the early-mid 1900’s. I have only photos of my two great-grandmothers: Stathoula Zaharakis Eftaxias and Afroditi Lerikou Aridas.

But, thanks to my research trips, I do have photos of documents. And some of those documents have signatures of the men in my family.

I am spending hours extracting information from civil birth and death records which I obtained from the Lixarheion in Magoula in July 2019. Lixarheion offices were created in the 1920’s as the repositories of civil records of birth, marriage and death. As men came to this office and registered the vital events of their families’ lives, their names were recorded as the declarant, and they signed each document to witness that the information they provided was correct.

This is the death record for Ioannis Panagiotis Lerikos, who is Afroditi’s brother and my great granduncle. His Male Register (Mitroon Arrenon) gives his birth year as 1875; and his civil death record, below, gives his death date as June 11, 1937. The declarer is his uncle, Aristedes Aridas, whose signature is on the bottom left.

Ioannis Panagiotis Lerikos, died June 11, 1937 in Agios Ioannis

As I work my way through civil birth and death records, I use Snag-It, a snipping tool, to capture signatures which become substitutes for photos. Although they are not portraits, they are valid representations of each person. Every autograph is as unique as its author.

As a Christmas gift, my nieces gave me this unique bracelet. It is my mother’s handwriting. Look closely and you can read “Love You, Mom.”

Our signatures may not be famous, but they are uniquely ours and wise genealogists use them to distinguish people of the same name. When we sign, we attest that we lived. And sometimes in our research, that’s as close as we can get to visualizing those who came before us.


8 thoughts on “I Sign, Therefore I Am

  1. Wonderful article, Carol! And what a loving present that bracelet is. I’ve tried to collect the signatures of my family and their ‘associates’ – witnesses, guarantors, etc. but as yet haven’t done anything much with them. And like you, for most I have no photographs. Another idea for my to-do list.

  2. Beautifully said, Carol. Tracing my ancestors’ handwriting has always been an emotional exercise, as those signatures bring them closer than before. I love the way you posted several samples of your family’s handwriting.

  3. I loved this post. I remember finding my great-great-grandfather’s signature on a marriage record. He was a witness for the marriage at 11 a.m. By 6 p.m. he had died. It gave me goosebumps to think this was maybe the last time he held a pen in his hand.

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