Genealogist’s Signature Bag

signature bag with stamp 600 copy

I could spend hours looking through old documents- census forms, vital records, muster rolls.  But when I find a document with a signature, I get a special little thrill.  Seeing the autograph of one of my ancestors makes my heart flutter.  A real person wrote that, and that real person is one of my people!  The loops and lines of their letters, the curves and shapes of their name, all of that is an actual connection to someone in my family tree.  A signature is a jewel.

signature map copyI wanted to do something to showcase those signature jewels, so I came up with my Genealogist’s Signature Bag.  Any time I found a document or form with a signature on it, I clipped an image that signature and saved it in a special file on my computer.

Using photo editing software, I arranged them in a tile format, like a crazy quilt.  I put some signatures going straight across, some upside down, some writing up the sides.  I left the backgrounds of the different signatures alone, rather than trying to select only the actual signature.  I found that the different colors of the backgrounds gave it a kind of patchwork look that I really liked.  (It was also a pain in the tushie to try to make all the backgrounds look the same.)

Once I had them I lined them up in a way that pleased me, I bought some iron-on transfer paper from the craft store.  I made a mirror image of the signature quilt (as directed by the transfer paper) and printed the image onto the transfer paper using my ink jet printer.  I then ironed it onto my cotton bag (also from the craft store).  After it cooled, I peeled off the transfer backing paper.

I love the final bag.  If I ever go to a genealogy conference, I plan to bring it with me!

Here are some of the places I found the signatures on my bag:

  • Marriage certificates
  • Military draft cards
  • Personal letters
  • Signatures on photos
  • Drivers licenses in a scrapbook
  • Membership ID card for the Freemasons
  • Property deed
  • Civil War legal documents
  • Other legal documents

A few tips on choosing iron-on transfer paper Any craft store will have a variety of iron-on transfer paper to choose from.  There are two main types: decal style and image transfer style.

A decal style transfer paper involves ironing a piece of paper to the fabric until it is attached.  No paper is removed.  This results in a very stiff piece that cannot be washed.  Personally, I don’t like this style, since it is stiff and looks a bit odd to me.  It is not easy to always tell that you have this kind, though.  I bought it on accident.

  • Tip: if the instructions do not require you to create a mirror-image of the picture you want to transfer, you have the decal style.  Also, if the instructions do not require you to peel any backing off the image after it has been ironed, you have the decal style.

I prefer the the transfer style that transfers the ink of the image onto the fabric.  This is not stiff and can be washed.  With this type, you iron it and peel off a paper backing.

  • Tip:  the instructions say you can peel off the backing immediately after ironing for a satin finish, or wait til it cools to peel it off for a glossy finish.  I found that if you peel it off while still hot, some of the ink gets peeled off, as well, resulting in a splotchy image.  If you wait until it is cooled and then peel it off, you get a slightly glossy effect, but not much, and the ink will stay clear and bold on your print.  This is what I did on my own bag.

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