Over the years, we have had recourse to signatures as supporting evidence for French genealogy proofs rather often. There have been some most interesting cases in which a French immigrant left precious few genealogical details, but he or she may have signed a single document, such as a will or land purchase before leaving this vale of tears. France being a land that treasures documentation, if that immigrant were to have reached adulthood before leaving, he or she may well have signed something in France, such as a civil registration or a notarial act.
We do not use handwriting analysis to compare these signatures, for we are not attempting a charlatan's glimpse into the personality of the signer. Instead, we follow the guidelines on signature comparison of criminologists who specialise in forged signatures. (And anyway, their examples are much more fun to read than those of the handwriting analysts.)
Before we could write a post on this subject, we received a message from Monsieur C. on his research into a related topic. With his kind permission, we give it here, as a guest post.
Recently, I found for the first time the signature of my earliest known ancestor, Pierre Chastain. This was exciting enough, but then I noticed something curious at the end. At first I thought it was just a fancy way to terminate the signature, then I realized it looked rather like the number '98'.
This signature (above) is for a marriage contract in which Pierre was a witness. It took place in Schwabendorf, Germany in 1695. Being a Huguenot, Pierre had fled to Germany from his hometown of Vesc, France in 1685.
In trying to discover Pierre's parents and family group back in France, I've been combing through the notarial records for Vesc in the Drôme Departmental Archives. Vesc had quite a few Chastains and Chastans at this time, and I noticed that their signatures all have that same '98' that Pierre uses in his. Here are three Chastain signatures from Vesc circa 1680.
I noticed that other families also have numbers next to their signatures, though they are occasionally lost in the ornamental nature of the handwriting.
They all look like '98' to me. [Monsieur C wondered:] Could this be in reference to 1598 when the Edict of Nantes was signed by King Henry IV giving Huguenots freedom? Perhaps everyone that does this is identifying themselves as a Protestant?
[Later,] I was able to discover the meaning of the symbol in the signatures. They are not the number 98. They are specimens of a practice known as ruches. These were the most basic form—three interlocking loops—which simply stand for "the undersigned". In English, ruches translates literally to "hives", which isn't that helpful. But the word "ruches" itself, like many French words, made its way into the English language. In the Oxford English Dictionary, ruches is defined as "a frill or pleat of fabric as decoration on a garment or soft furnishing." This makes sense once you see more elaborate examples since they can look quite decorative.
Ruches first appeared in France in the 7th century as the use of signet rings gave way to manual signatures for the authentication of documents. They could be personalized however the signer deemed fit and were also a way of demonstrating skill with a feather pen. This practice, which vanished by the 19th century, would have been most prominent among those whose work required the signing of documents on a regular basis, solicitors and notaries being two obvious examples.
Manuel de Diplomatique by Arthur Giry is the authoritative work on this subject. A digital copy is available at Gallica, the digital library run by the National Library of France
Here are some more elaborate examples that go well beyond the basic three interlocking loops that I originally sent you. Let me know if you get the images below. I didn't attach them but embedded them directly in the email. Even these are fairly simple compared to a few others I've seen! Anyway, I was excited to discover the answer and thought I'd share with you.
Many thank, Monsieur C, for this fine small study!
©2016 Anne Morddel