I recently exchanged a couple of e-mails with Donald Bohannan. He wrote, in part, that he had a copy of Mary Matilda Bohannon’s signature from her marriage document1 and suggested that I correct the spelling of her surname on my journal since it appeared she signed it “Bohannan”.

I do not wish to enter into a debate over the correct spelling of the name. Anyone that has done family research has encountered variations of spellings in the names of people, places and things.JHGmarriagefull In some cases, even the people that we’re researching used different spellings of their own names at different times. And in other cases, names were misspelled by those charged with official duties involving recordkeeping.

Donald is correct that the surname appears to be spelled “Bohannan” on the marriage document. However, I do not believe that is Matilda’s signature on the form. To my eyes, it appears that the entire document was filled out by one man, V. C. Bratton. Mister Bratton served as the Clerk of Searcy County from 1886 to 18902.

Click on the image to the right, and you can see the scan of the document that is available from the FamilySearch web site.

Now we’re going to take a closer look at certain aspects of the form. We’ll start with the two signatures at the top of the Bond for Marriage License section, J. H. Graham and J. N. S. Watts. That’s John Henry Graham and James Newton Siler Watts. Look at the “J” in both names. Very similar bottom loop on the “J”.


(An aside: The “H” kind of looks like a cursive “F”. That’s probably why this form has been indexed under the name “J. F. Graham” at FamilySearch!)

Sure, the “a” in Graham looks a bit different from the “a” in Watts. But let’s look down the sheet to the clerk’s signature. Look specifically at his surname and the “a” and the double “t”. Compare that to the same combination of letters in “Watts” above. A closer match, to be sure.


Matilda’s name appears twice on the form. This is the first instance. Compare the “ha” in Bohannan with the “ha” in Graham above. Also, the “at” in Matilda to the “at” in Watts above.


Matilda’s name appears next in the Marriage License section of the form. Compare the “Ma” in both Marshall and Matilda.


Now look back at the signature block in the Bond for Marriage License. Again, the “J” on both names looks very similar. But also, there is an “x” on both lines surrounded by the words “his mark”. That suggests that John and Siler could not sign their own names!


So, if it appears that John and Siler could not sign their own names, perhaps Matilda did not sign her own. But, before we jump to any conclusions, let us consider another piece of evidence.

The Twelfth Census of the United States3 was enumerated in the summer of 1900, some eleven years after the marriage of John and Matilda. Among the data recorded by that census was the education level of the citizens – whether they had attended school, could read, write, and speak English. For John and Matilda’s entry, the answers were all the same:  the block indicating whether they had attended school was blank, the block for whether they could read was filled in “No”, the block for whether they could write was filled in “No”, and the block for whether they could speak English was filled in “Yes”.


You can view a scan of the census document on Ancestry.com by following the link in the Sources at the end of this article.

It is my opinion that the marriage document of John Henry Graham and Mary Matilda Bohannon was filled out entirely by V. C. Bratton, Clerk of the Circuit Court of Searcy County, and that neither John, Siler, nor Matilda wrote any part of it. Therefore, it cannot be taken as an example of the handwriting of anyone other than Mister Bratton.

This doesn’t settle the “Bohannan” versus “Bohannon” question, though. It’s not my aim to settle it.


1. FamilySearch.org. “Arkansas County Marriages, 1837-1957.” Entry for J. F. Graham and Matilda Bohannan; citing County Records, FHL microfilm 1,031,118; Searcy County Courthouse, Marshall, Arkansas. Retrieved from FamilySearch.org on 20 October 2011

2. Godspeed, Weston Arthur, ed.  The Province and the States, Volume VII, pages 145-7. Madison, WI, USA: The Western Historical Association, 1904. Retrieved from Google Books on 20 October 2011.

3. Ancestry.com. Twelfth Census of the United States. Entry for John H. Graham; Year: 1900; Census Place: Red River, Searcy, Arkansas; Roll: T623_76; Page: 11B; Enumeration District: 125. Retrieved from Ancestry.com on 20 October 2011.