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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Learn about New England Town Records

Published by John Cary in 1821, this is one of the most interesting atlas maps of the north-eastern parts of the United States to appear in the early 19th century. Centered on New York and Pennsylvania, Cary’s map covers from Lake Huron southward as far as Virginia and North Carolina and eastward as far as the Atlantic Ocean. This map includes the modern day states of Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio as well as parts of Ontario and Quebec. The most interesting parts of this map are the north-western quadrants which are dedicated to the Great Lakes and the North Western Territory. The Great Lakes are rendered in accordance with the research produced by D. W. Smith, the surveyor General of Upper Canada, who was assigned to survey Lakes Ontario, Huron, and Erie in the late 18th century. In modern day Ohio, Connecticut’s Western Reserve is noted. The reserve, formally ceded to Connecticut after the Yankee-Pennamite Wars, was the last remnant of Connecticut’s old colonial grant of all territory, from sea-to-sea, falling between the 41st and 42nd parallels. This map also includes numerous references to the American Indian nations occupying the region, including the Chippewa, the Ottawa, and the Six Nations. The “Indian Boundary” is shown bisecting the North West Territory. Created by General Wayne’s treaty of 1795, this boundary line proposed to denotes the southern limit of American Indian lands in the North Western Territory. Prepared in 1821 by John Cary for issue in the 1821 edition of the New Universal Atlas . 
If you have any ancestral lines that go back to the early European settlement of America, particularly in the area that is now in the New England states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island or Vermont, then your research should always include the Town Records where your ancestors lived. Nearly the entire area of New England, with the exception of the northern part of Maine, lies within the jurisdiction of a town or city and most of the local records were kept on a local basis.

In many instances, the Town Records contain almost a complete narrative of life in the town. The information included ranges from lists of livestock brands to tax assessments. It is not uncommon to find records of land transfers, marriages, deaths, probate actions, court records and almost every other type of transaction. In my own research, I found the only known birth record for one of my distant great-grandfathers.

Town Records may still be located in the office of the Town Clerk or may have been gathered into a centralized repository such as a town archive. Many of the records have found their way onto microfilm and may have been digitized and available on one or more online genealogical database programs. For example, has Massachusetts, Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records from 1627 to 2001 with 1,707,850 images. Yes, you have to search through any records page-by-page from the town or even the area where your ancestral family lived. Because of the detailed nature of the records, they will be very difficult to index. Some partial indexes may be included in the records, made by the Town Clerks over the years. Here is a screenshot of the Massachusetts records:

On, the images are further divided by town, date and topic. Here is an example of an early town record from Plymouth Colony in 1636:

You may find the handwriting to be a challenge, at least at first.

Here is a list of some helpful reference books:
Bryan, Frank M. Real Democracy the New England Town Meeting and How It Works. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Crandall, Ralph J. Genealogical Research in New England. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1984.

Dearborn, David Curtis, New England Historic Genealogical Society. Seventeenth-Century New England Research, 2014.

Drake, Samuel G. Result of Some Researches among the British Archives for Information Relative to the Founders of New England, Made in Years 1858, 1859, and 1860: Originally Collected for and Published in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and Now Corrected and Enlarged. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1963.

Hatcher, Patricia Law. Researching Your Colonial New England Ancestors. Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2006.

Hollick, Martin E, New England Historic Genealogical Society. New Englanders in the 1600s: A Guide to Genealogical Research Published between 1980 and 2005. Boston, Mass.: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2006.

Lainhart, Ann S, New England Historic Genealogical Society. Digging for Genealogical Treasure in New England Town Records. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1996.

Melnyk, Marcia Yannizze. Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1999.

New England Library Association and Bibliography Committee. A Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research. [Place of publication not identified]: [publisher not identified], 1980.

———. A Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research. [Place of publication not identified]: [publisher not identified], 1980.

Sperry, Kip. New England Genealogical Research: A Guide to Sources. Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 1988.

Westbrook, Perry D. The New England Town in Fact and Fiction. Rutherford [N.J.]; London: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press ; Associated University Presses, 1982.

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