When I was cleaning out my parents’ house, in a drawer wrapped in cloth and tied with pink ribbon, I found three old books—one of those books was Gertrude Richards, my grandmother’s, autograph book from the 1880’s. After looking though the book, I decided that I need to do a little research on autograph books in general. I found that they were common in the 1700’s in Europe among students to collect signatures and information about their friends and teachers. Autograph books were introduced in the United States in the 1800's by immigrants and became particularly popular during and after the Civil War. The owners of the book gave them to their friends, relatives and schoolmates, who in turn might only sign their name, write a poem, or draw a picture.
I went back then and looked more closely at Granny’s book. The first thing I discovered was that it was given to her by her Aunt Emily for Christmas in 1884. I also found that the contents of the book were pretty typical of what I had read about. There were several pages of drawing—a girl by a fence, a fan with the message to stay cool, and this my favorite—a dog and cat. You can see that it was drawn in 1885 by Florence Marvin.
There were also pages that came with pictures already on them. Granny’s cousin, Walter, signed this one. By the way, he was the only male to sign the autograph book.
I am not sure that Agnes Nightingale picked this page because of the bird on it or not, but I thought it was a rather appropriate choice.
There were many poems—which in my research I discovered were available from books, magazines, etc. Here are two.
Other people just signed their names with the date.
As I looked through the pages, I found two pages signed by women who I knew. They were my Granny's friends her entire life. In fact, I can remember visiting both of them, when I was a little girl. Lillie wrote a very brief poem,
while her sister, Floyd, signed one of the pages with a picture on it.
While I never really thought about autograph books as a source of information for genealogy, this one definitely was. First, I found that Granny's friends and family called her Gertie. There were several pages where the person not only signed her name and the date, but also the place. From that information, I was able to begin to pinpoint when Granny went to Packer. It was also possible to learn relationships. Katherine Mallory indicated she was her "devoted cousin" and the giver of the book was Gertrude Richards's aunt, Emily Cochrane. I also was pleased to be able to see their handwriting and signatures.
Of course, I would have a lot of questions for Granny. Starting with who were all these girls, how did she know them, what did they do together and did she also sign their autograph books? I think I might also ask her why Walter Cochrane was the only boy who signed. Was that because she was going to an all girls school? Was it just not something you asked boys to do?
If you are wondering what happened to autograph books, they were replaced by school yearbooks. Remember signing the yearbooks of your friends? I do. That reminds me, maybe I should get them out and read what my friends and teachers wrote.