There are different types of witnesses one encounters in genealogical research. There are witnesses who are indicating that they saw someone sign a legal document such as a deed or a will. Those witnesses are really just testifying that they are aware of who the person signing the document is and that they are signing the document. Witnesses have to be of the legal age of majority at the time they are witnessing someone’s act. Witnesses could easily be someone at the office the same day the person signing the document was there signing it. Witnesses to certain documents cannot usually be beneficiaries of the document being signed.
Witnesses in court cases or pension applications are a little bit different. They are usually providing more information about an event or a person than is a witness to a document signing. These witnesses are often providing information about people, places, or events. If they are making a statement about a person, they may indicate how long they have known that person. That length of time can be a big clue in one’s genealogical research. Did the witness know the person about whom they are providing testimony when that person lived somewhere else? Does the length of time suggest that the individuals knew each other as children? Does the length of time suggest that the individual was a child when they knew the person about whom they are providing testimony?
Witnesses to signatures are often “warm body witnesses.” While they should not be ignored, the relationship they had to your relative may have been fleeting and extremely short-lived. Witnesses in court depositions and pension applications are another matter, especially when the length of time they knew each other is considered.
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