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John Hilyard Family ca. 1909

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Mark of Thomas Hilyard (1789-1853)

I enjoy collecting the signatures of my ancestors. All of my 20th century ancestors were literate, and I can find at least some small samples of handwriting for each of them.

Delving back to the 19th century and beyond, I find a lot of this, however:
Typical "X" mark of illiterate

This "mark" most often meant that an ancestor was unable to write. This usually meant unable to read as well, though not always. One other possibility is that the person was no longer able to write due to illness or infirmity. The cross, or X, was the most common way for a person who could not write to sign a document.  I found an interesting article on Ancestry titled How Did Your Ancestors Sign Their Names? Click through to read if you are interested in more information.

One ancestor's mark caught my eye. Thomas Hilyard, born July 12th, 1789 in Pennsylvania, was a blacksmith. He and his wife Elizabeth nee Haught produced a family of at least 19 children (possibly two others stillborn). On a side note, I would like to point out that at age 33, Elizabeth gave birth to healthy twin girls, already having nine other children, then less than one year later had another healthy girl.

Back to Thomas Hilyard. When my cousin and I looked over his probate packet in Fairfield County, Ohio, we found he made his mark, but it was not the typical X. We photographed it in addition to photocopying the pages.
Signature Mark of Thomas Hilyard born 1789, made in 1851

Looking over other documents, I was able to find further examples of Thomas Hilyard's signature mark. In his application for bounty land for his War of 1812 service, it is rather cramped but now I see it:
Signature mark of Thomas Hilyard from 1850

I hadn't even noticed this unusual mark when I received these papers many years ago. It never hurts to look back over the original documents with a fresh eye to see what you might have missed.

As I wrote this post, I knew I had seen his signature in one other place but couldn't call to mind where. I finally located this example, from much earlier in his life, about 35 years old.
Signature mark of Thomas Hilyard from 1824
It isn't the exact same as the signature from his later years, but still a distinctive curve as opposed to the usual X. What this reminds me of is a horseshoe! I wonder if the blacksmithing Thomas thought of it that way.

If I am fortunate enough to find more documents for Thomas Hilyard, I will surely know I have the right man by this unique signature mark.

1 comment:

  1. Not get political, but here goes: next time we dis the public schools, it's good to remember that the commitment to public education that took root strongly in America in the 19th century is one of the great legacies of American civilization. That most of us Hilyards-Hilliards can read and write now is a tribute to that proud legacy. We advanced and grew as our nation did. Most gratifying and worth remembering.