How do I authenticate a document?

By The History Detectives Team
24 July 2008
Category: Viewer Mailbag

Patti's question:

I have a homestead certificate from Territory of Oklahoma and was interested if u could tell me how to tell if it is an original? It has two raised seals on it and Theodore Roosevelt's signature on it, whom was the president of the U.S. at that time, 1906. How can i tell if it is a copy or an original?

Dear Patti,

Generally speaking, a document can be examined from three different aspects: historical, scientific, and stylistic to help tell if its an original or not.

At the very least, materials and techniques must be consistent with place and time. Many forgeries are identified by the presence of materials that didn't exist at the time alleged. Also, the content of the letter must correspond to the time period.

Always look at the method of printing, address, and even the stamp may be important. Compare the stamps, seals or print to other documents during that time period.

A detailed paper analysis will detect every shred of physical evidence concealed in a document. Paper can be seen under a microscope and can reveal many details. Infrared light and chemical tests can prove that more than one ink was used. More than one pen can be confirmed by looking at microscopic marks in the ink, which means it was probably traced.

People have three signatures: formal on important papers, routine on paperwork, and informal on notes. If a signature doesn't suit the document, it may be a tracing. Look for uneven flows of ink, a printed copy will usually display even ink.

Comparisons of style are essential for authentication. Penmanship, cultural phrasing, and form of address can help to identify both the era and author. In a handwriting comparison, the examiner looks for discrepancies in the vertical positioning of letters, space between lines, or a slant variance of five degrees or more.

If all else fails, turn to the experts. They are usually happy to let you know if your presidential signature is real of not.


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