01 November 2012

Treasure Chest Thursday: Autograph Book

Sometimes a treasure is simply meant to be passed along. I've signed wedding books and funeral registers. More than a few of my friends’ high school yearbooks bear my signature and more! But this was the first time I had seen a birthday autograph book.

Autograph books have been around a long time, the earliest date from the mid-1500s functioning much the same way as college yearbooks do today.(1) Princeton University has a collection of autograph books of their graduates (1825-1884). The collection includes Charles P. Stratton's autograph book.(2) (No known relation.) The books capture the essence of a student’s college life with an emphasis on their social activities. Autograph books were popular in the 1800s, ultimately being replaced by yearbooks.

The social microcosm revealed by anecdotes in autograph books (and, later, yearbooks) is a subject for historians. As genealogists, our ancestors’ recollections of college life provide a glimpse into their personalities. They also include the names of the people who may have shaped our ancestor’s life after college - the sweethearts who became wives, the roommates who became business partners, the friends from afar who inspired a move to a new state....

I doubt that Charles P. Stratton’s autograph book much resembles the one owned by Charles W. Stratton. Charles W.’s book was received as a 6th birthday present in 1882.(3)  The book omits the amusing commentary that might appear in a graduate’s book.  Nevertheless each signature is a treasure to someone who has never seen the scrawl of their 2nd or 3rd or 4th great grandparent.

Charlie W. Stratton
Harry Mallory
Lee May 1, 1882 
  [Harry Mallory was Charlie's 1st cousin.]

Your Sincere Friend
Alice L. Fallon
Nov. 19th 85

Aunt Minnie's best
wishes for "Charlie Boy."
May 1st, 1882.
[Probably Aunt Mary Couch (Baker) Mallory]

Sincerely yours
Mollie A. Herrick

Very truly -
C. E. Cooper -
Dec. 1884

Always our friend
Stella Decker
Lee, Nov. 26th 1884

Your school-mate,
Robert Cheney
Jan 21st. 1886.

Jennie W. [H.?] Hunter
Glendale -
May 1st 1882.

Harry J. Mallory

Always your friend
John McDermott
Lee Nov 26.

Sophronia McCartney.
Nov. 26th 1884.

Carrie E. Rising
Nov. 26, 1884.

Bridget Conroy
Dec 5th 1884.

Carrie W. Graves.
Nov. 25th 1884.

Compliments of
Mr. and Mrs. H. P. Whipple
Dec 1st 1884

Florence H. L[?]nes
Lee Mass 1885.

Always your friend
Mary M. Mansfield
Lee Mass.
Nov. 3d 1884

Always your friend.
Alice Videtto.
Lee Mass.

Your friend
Carrie O. Sedgwick -
Lenox, Mass. '85

Yours sincerely
Mary E. Washburn
Lenox. Feb 1885 

"Hold on to that. You have an autograph. I'm going to be famous some day."
Haywood Nelson

If you notice anyone famous, infamous or near and dear to you, please post a comment and tell us all a little more about them.
(1)    Wikipedia. "Autograph Book."  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autograph_book#Autographs: 10 August 2012 at 11:12.
(2)    Princeton University, Princeton University Library Finding Aids, “Autograph Book Collection 1825-1884 (mostly 1848-1882)” http://findingaids.princeton.edu/collections/AC040 : 22 October 2012.
(3)    Stratton, Charles 'Charlie' W., II. Autograph Book. MS. Lee, Massachusetts. Stratton Family Papers. Privately held by Liz Stratton [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Cincinnati, Ohio, 2012. Liz Stratton is the wife of Charles' grandson.


  1. You have thought more deeply about the importance of an autograph book than I have. But my sister and I both treasure an autograph book that belonged to our mother because it contains some of the silliest rhymes ever penned.

  2. Like Wendy, we also have an autograph book in our family from the late 1800s filled with funny poems. I remember having one when I was young, too. Not sure what happened to it, though!

  3. Wendy and Heather, Oh do tell more!!

  4. The autograph book belonged to my great-great grandfather. It is currently at my grandmother's house so I can't quote from it, but I will definitely scan it in next time I visit and write a blog post about it. I just remembered that I also have an autograph book that belonged to my great aunt. Her's is hard to read because her friends wrote over original signatures to save paper!

  5. Heather,
    I can't wait to see them. It is amazing how much we take paper for granted!

  6. This truly is a treasure! There's something special about seeing our ancestor's signatures. Thanks for posting this.

    And Wendy, as Liz said, please do tell more!

  7. Just wanted to let you know that this blog post is listed on today's Fab Finds list at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2012/11/follow-fridayfab-finds-for-november-2.html


Comments welcome!