04 Jun
The Autograph Project

The Autograph Project was introduced in November of 2018 when I enthusiastically donated 30 autograph books to a class of grade four students. I have been welcomed into this classroom several times this school year.  

We began the project by researching antique autograph books from my collection. One book belonged to my mother and was given to her in 1934 by her sister. Another book belonged to my husband’s great-grandfather, Mr. John Deacon Merryfield, with entries as early as 1883. We all wonder if he ever imagined a class of grade four students reading his autograph book, 136 years later. 

We soon realized which autograph entries were the most helpful in putting together the story of Grandpa Merryfield’s life. He invited friends, relatives, nurses, doctors, and teachers to contribute to his book, and, in most cases, the relationship he had to them is clear. Some entries made in Palmerston, Ontario, dated back to the 1880s. After a lapse of several years, while he was busy pioneering, there are autographs written in Rosetown, Saskatchewan, by doctors and nurses in the 1940s.

The class seemed to enjoy the poems, quotations, greetings, drawings, and jokes included in the entries. These extras are fascinating to read, even a century later. We discovered the best entries, as with most writing, covered the five Ws: Who, what, where, when, and why. Who was writing to whom? When was it being written? Where were they at the time of the entry? What was the relationship between the owner of the book and the writer? Why were they being invited to write in the book?

The children learned that today, people sometimes assume that signing an autograph book means just signing one’s name. It is wise to explain what you are expecting, which ensures a memorable autograph from your friend, relative, or acquaintance. 

We talked about why some people might be reluctant to sign an autograph book. It is an honour to be asked to write in someone’s book, but the idea that one's entry would live for decades creates a sense of responsibility. Allowing the invitee to keep the album over lunch-hour, or even overnight, provides them with time to plan a thoughtful entry. 

When the children first received their books, the majority had never encountered the traditional concept of an autograph album. They soon understood the historical information my old autograph books offered to our family. They saw the value of knowing about our ancestors, and I know that some will continue inviting people to write in their books. I think some felt like it might be difficult to remember their album as time passed. The idea that one can put the autograph book away, as Grandpa Merryfield did, and revisit it at a later date, seemed to relieve the pressure.

Throughout this year, I enjoyed many quiet conversations with the children. One boy told me that his family didn't have an old autograph album, but they had an old family bible that held historical treasures. Two children found autograph albums belonging to their parents and enjoyed looking at the entries. One child discovered that her grandmother had kept several autograph books, including one from the child’s great grandfather. That will make for good discussions over tea. 

Drawings, poems, and jokes seemed as popular with these students as in the 1800s. One student told me that a variety of entry styles made it more fun to look through his book. I was pleased that he spent time with his autograph album. Celebrity autographs are still a favourite.  Such entries are worth reading decades from now. Several of the children even have celebrity relatives.

In my previous blog about autograph albums, I asked, "Will autograph albums outlive Facebook?" Well, these grade four children agree that social media has changed our way of remembering people, and probably the use of autograph albums will disappear. We have contact lists in our phones, and we connect more often but differently. We discussed the fact that words on paper, in autograph books, or on social media are real and require careful thought. We talked about the value of our reputations and how written messages, once out there, can’t be retrieved.

The most precious thing, for me, about the autograph project was reading the kind, sweet entries the children made in each other’s books. Going forward, if their social media posts are as kind as their grade four autographs, their reputations will be golden. 



Comments (9)

  • Marion Murawsky
    June 10, 2019 at 09:11 am

    Oh Maureen, such fun for that class. They will treasure those books. That is about the age that I started my autograph book. Have to get that out & reminisce one of these days!

  • Maureen Haddock
    June 9, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    I am grateful to Ms. B, the teacher of this grade four class, for allowing me to visit her classroom and share this idea with the children. Also, thank you, dear students, for your participation in The Autograph Project. ??

  • McKayla Kinnaird
    June 5, 2019 at 06:51 pm

    I really like the autograph book that Maureen got me. I took it to Disney World and got many signatures. I recently got a new autograph from Manjit Minhas. It was a great experience.

  • Layne Strelic
    June 5, 2019 at 02:48 pm

    So glad you brought this up. I went right into the cabinet and retrieved my Grandmothers book From 1898 and read it again. Brought her back to me again for a little while. She was so special and you inspired me to relive our time together, in your debt, thanks!

  • Gayle Senger
    June 5, 2019 at 02:07 pm

    Very interesting read this morning. This will inspire me to give each of my grandchildren an autograph book when they first fly from the coop. Great idea!! Lots of love Gayle

  • Wilma Poole
    June 5, 2019 at 01:04 pm

    This is great. I still have some from my youth as well as my autographed high school yearbooks... Great that these young people really got into your project....

  • The Boy
    June 5, 2019 at 10:54 am

    Even when writing emails you must always be careful of what you say. Someone you know may read your words decades from now and it could be embarrassing for all concerned.

  • Shelley Park
    June 5, 2019 at 10:46 am

    What a great project ! I didn't know you can still get autograph books - guess I've just never thought to look . I know I treasure my autograph book from my school years , which I've kept . I believe my mother also still has hers .

  • Helen Davis
    June 5, 2019 at 10:44 am

    A worthwhile project, for sure. I love seeing script writing. It is a personal statement. I never kept any books I had from school, but have guest books that people signed with stories of their stay from years back when my parents first bought our cabin at Candle Lake in 1954. I did continue to keep that tradition going until I moved from Candle Lake to Saskatoon in 2008. There is a collection of about 9 or 10 books. Any classroom you go to, Maureen, would provide a great experience for students. One to be remembered.

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