Determining Authorship and Chronology in Personal Archives

When you are organizing your family archives, determining who wrote what papers and when might not be immediately apparent. Finding out the authorship and date of a document or a letter may be essential to organizing it among your documents or understanding how it fits within a grouping. Archivists use several techniques to establish authorship. They include:

  • Handwriting comparisons
  • References to people, places, events, and dates
  • Location and ownership of a document or set of documents
  • Proximity of other documents
  • Age and nature of paper and ink
  • Age and nature of handwriting style
  • Age and nature of phrasing and abbreviations
  • Researching specific details mentioned in the document
  • Comparing the document with new ones found
  • Asking others who may know more about the documents as a whole
  • Oral tradition
  • Common sense

Similarly, there are several methods to determine the date of letters and documents, which include:

  • Looking for clues in surrounding documents, such as newspaper clippings or photographs
  • Estimating dates by comparing documents from before and after the document in question
  • Keeping envelopes with letters to study postmarks
  • Estimating dates by references to people, places, events, or seasons
  • Looking for an interruption within a group of documents to see if the document in question fills the gap

Creating family archives opens many mysteries for you to solve as you build a valuable resource of recorded information about your loved ones.

What methods do you use to determine authorship and chronology? 

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