Using Handwriting to Prove a Relationship: When the Writing is not on the Wall

Have you ever discovered weak indirect evidence connecting two individuals as family members but wanted to develop a more convincing argument? You might want to consider using handwriting analysis. Let me explain how I used it to provide additional evidence for a proof argument establishing that a woman named Elizabeth Wilson Dye was the mother to my 3x great grandfather, James H. Wilson.

Background Information
On 15 August 1850, Elizabeth Wilson (b. 1784 Pennsylvania) married Thomas Dye (b. 1776 New Jersey) in Meigs County, Ohio where my ancestor, James H. Wilson, was living at the time.1 Thomas Dye died 8 Apr 1858 in Scipio Township, Meigs County, Ohio and Elizabeth Wilson Dye died 19 March 1860 also in Scipio Township.2 James H. Wilson lived in Rutland Township in 1850, which is adjacent to Scipio Township, but he later moved to Scipio Township by 1860.3 In the estate file for Thomas Dye, a man named John Wilson witnessed Thomas’ will, which was dated 10 August 1854.4

Could John Wilson be a clue to Elizabeth Wilson Dye’s identity?

In my earlier blog post, Targeted Y-DNA Testing: Uniting a Band of Brothers, Part 2, I successfully established that James H. Wilson had a brother named John Wilson (also known as John B. Wilson). I also established that their father, also called John Wilson, died prior to 1840 in Tuscarawas County, Ohio. So, it is conceivable that their mother would have been a widow with the last name of Wilson in 1850 when she married Thomas Dye, assuming she hadn’t remarried since the death of her husband John Wilson.

There were several items of indirect evidence tying Elizabeth Wilson Dye to James H. Wilson:

  • James and Elizabeth lived in the same or adjacent communities in Meigs County, Ohio between 1850-1860
  • Elizabeth was born 1784 and the right age to be James’ mother
  • Elizabeth was born in Pennsylvania as was James and his brother John

If I could prove that John Wilson, the witness, was the same as John Wilson, the brother of James H. Wilson, then I might be able to construct a stronger argument that Elizabeth was James’ mother. 

Handwriting Analysis
I started with what I knew. John Wilson was a witness to Thomas Dye’s will, and it contained his signature – twice actually. Once on the will itself and once on the affidavit affirming he was present at the execution of the last will and testament of Thomas Dye.

I compared these two signatures to the only other confirmed signature of John Wilson, who was the brother of James H. Wilson. In 1860, John signed the administrator’s bond for the estate of his deceased brother, Robert Wilson. All three signatures are shown below.

Immediately, you might notice several irregularities among the three signatures. The two signatures for John Wilson associated with Thomas Dye’s will (items A and B above) don’t look the same. While found within the same estate file for Thomas Dye, there are striking differences in the “J” for John, the “W” for Wilson, and the “n” in both John and Wilson. The top loop of the “J” loops counterclockwise in the 1854 witnessing of the will (A) and loops clockwise in the 1858 affidavit (B). Similarly, the first stroke for the “W” is a straight line in the will (A) and curved in the affidavit (B). Finally, the end stroke for the “n” comes from the bottom in the will (A) and from the top of the “n” in the affidavit (B). These differences are highlighted below.

It seems more likely that the signature for John Wilson on the will was written on the paper by whomever wrote the will or transcribed it into the estate file. When you compare the signature for the other witness, L.S. Townsend, in the will (A) to the affidavit (B), the signatures are also different as they were for John (see below). Indeed, the “T” in Townsend in the signature in the will is written in the same style as the “T” in Testament in a portion of the will’s text above the signatures. It seems that L.S. Townsend’s signature was similarly written by someone else other than L.S. Townsend.

Another irregularity between the signatures is the middle initial of “B”, which appears in the administrator’s bond (C) but is absent in the other two signatures (see signatures A and B in the first image). However, this is reconciled in that John’s middle initial was “B”, but he did not always use it. At least a third of his 10 land sales in Meigs County deed books did not include his middle initial.

Rather than focus on the first signature (A), the better analysis might be to compare John Wilson’s signature in the affidavit (B) to the administrator’s bond (C) as the affidavit appears to be the witness’s actual signature whereas the signatures on the will appears to be transcribed onto the page by someone other than the witnesses. 

While I felt comfortable making the determination of whether these two signatures (B and C) were from the same man, I wanted an expert and unbiased opinion to either corroborate or refute it. So, I hired a handwriting specialist, Dr. Hedy Bookin-Weiner, who was a member of the American Board of Forensic Handwriting Analysis. Dr. Bookin-Weiner’s analysis confirmed my theory pointing out several similarities between the two signatures as highlighted below. This includes the pointed humps on the “n” and the hook off the end of the “n”. She also noted the similar characteristics in the “W” for both signatures with the letter having a loop at its beginning and an angled slope at its base. 

Putting It All Together
The handwriting analysis provides evidence that the signatures in the affidavit (B) and the administrator’s bond (C) were from the same man suggesting that John Wilson had some relationship to Elizabeth Wilson Dye. The geographic proximity of the Dyes to the Wilsons, who lived about one mile apart, makes the proof argument stronger. So strong in fact, that the conclusion helped other genealogical data points on my radar to come into greater focus, which I briefly elaborate on next.

John B. Wilson married Leticia Jones on 13 February 1840 in Harrison County, Ohio,5 which is adjacent to Tuscarawas County where James and John B.’s father died prior to 1840. Tuscarawas County is also where my James married.6 Previously in my Wilson research, I had noticed that a John Wilson was living next door to an Elizabeth Wilson in the 1840 census in Short Creek Township, Harrison County.7 However, I couldn’t be sure this was John B. Wilson as I had no knowledge of an Elizabeth Wilson being connected to John at that time. In fact, the estate file tying James and John together as brothers in my previous blog post made no mention of their mother by name.

In the 1840 census, John Wilson had no children, which is consistent with a marriage occurring earlier in that same year. Elizabeth had two children living with her. If this was their mother, it is consistent with her known unmarried children at that time. Four children were married by 1840 leaving two unmarried boys. According to the 1840 census, the two children living with Elizabeth were the correct ages to be Robert and David, who were James and John B.’s two youngest siblings. 

Finally, living next door to John and Elizabeth in Short Creek were Isaac Mendenhall and Jesse Goodwin, who were married to second cousins of Elizabeth’s deceased husband John. Wrapping it up in a perfect genealogical bow was the observation that Jesse Goodwin was the individual who gave the 1850 deposition discussed in the estate file from my previous blog post, which said that William, Sarah, James, John, Robert, and David were living in Meigs County and were the children of John Wilson (deceased).8

Sometimes the writing on the genealogical wall doesn’t immediately give us the answer we’re looking for. It doesn’t always include direct evidence. Sometimes, we might be more productive spending less time concentrating on a document’s literal meaning and more time on the patterns within the individual words. Handwriting can give an entirely new meaning and perspective to the words on a page. 

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Sources
1. Ohio, U.S., County Marriage Records 1773-1993, Meigs County, Thomas Dye and Elizabeth Wilson (15 August 1850), p. 415, image 207; database with image, Ancestry (www.Ancestry.com, accessed 17 February 2022). And 1850 U.S. census, Meigs County, Ohio, population schedule, Rutland, p. 98b, dwelling 1429, family 1429, image 20 of 42, James Wilson; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 17 February 2022); citing NARA microfilm M432, roll 710.
2. Find A Grave, database with images (https://findagrave.com, accessed 20 February 2022), memorial page for Elizabeth Dye (1784-1860), Find A Grave Memorial ID 7233800, maintained by Robin (Cuttingham) Townsend-Fife (contributor 47314881); citing Shipman Cemetery, Meigs County, Ohio, USA. And Find A Grave, database with images (https://findagrave.com, accessed 20 February 2022), memorial page for Thomas “Tom” Dye Sr. (1776-1858), Find A Grave Memorial ID 69952740, maintained by brenda (contributor 47032235); citing Shipman Cemetery, Meigs County, Ohio, USA.
3. 1850 U.S. census, James Wilson. And 1860 U.S. census, Meigs County, Ohio, population schedule, Scipio, p. 187, dwelling 258, family 233, image 33 of 44, James Willson; database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 29 February 2022); citing NARA microfilm M653, roll 1008.
4. Meigs County, Ohio, estate file, no. 449, Record Book 2, pg. 319, Thomas Dye (1858), Scipio, Probate Court, Pomeroy.
5. Ohio, U.S., County Marriage Records 1774-1993, Harrison County, John Wilson and Letticia Jones (13 February 1840), p. 43, image 563; database with image, Ancestry (www.Ancestry.com, accessed 17 February 2022).
6. Ohio, U.S., County Marriage Records 1773-1993, Tuscarawas County, James Wilson and Susan Hill (8 October 1837), p. 313, no. 2500, image 158; database with image, Ancestry (www.Ancestry.com, accessed 20 February 2022).
7. 1840 U.S. census, Harrison County, Ohio, population schedule, Short Creek, p. 217, image 16 of 21, John Wilson (13th family listed) and Elizabeth Wilson (14th family listed); database with image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com, accessed 20 February 2022); citing NARA microfilm M704, roll 402.
8. Chester County, Pennsylvania, estate file, no. 11253, John Wilson (1848, Tuscarawas County, Ohio), Recorder of Wills, Clerk of Orphans’ Court, West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Published by Rick T Wilson, PhD

As the Family Pattern Genealogist™, I detect and analyze patterns in genealogically relevant data using DNA and other traditional records.

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