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The Daily Genealogist: Ancestors on the English-Scottish Border

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David C. Dearborn, FASG

David C. Dearborn
Senior Genealogist

We occasionally feature "Ask a Genealogist" questions posed to our staff genealogists and their answers. - Editor.


In the 1855 Massachusetts state census I found my great-great-grandfather George Armstrong (b. 1808) living in Newburyport, with his wife Lucy (b. 1807) and their daughters Charlotte (b. 1831) and Elizabeth (b. 1832). All of them were supposedly born in England and yet I can't find any of them in an English record. Is it possible that all of them were born in Scotland borders area and they just referred to that region as England?

Answer by Senior Genealogist David C. Dearborn: 

While it is true that the Armstrong surname is prevalent on both sides of the English-Scottish border, the heaviest concentration is to be found on the English side, especially in the counties of Northumberland and Cumberland. If the records for George consistently list his birthplace as England, then that is almost certainly where he was born. There is no reason why he would intentionally list his birthplace incorrectly.

The fact that you have been unable to locate his birth record (and those of his wife and daughters) is not surprising, since birth records were not civilly recorded in England until 1 July 1837. Prior to that date, baptisms were recorded in churches and these sometimes, but not always, include the date of birth. The majority of the population still adhered to the Church of England, but by the early 1800s it was not uncommon for individuals and families to belong to so-called Nonconformist churches, such as the Baptists, Methodists, Congregationalists, etc. Keep in mind that even if a record of George's baptism exists, it might not be indexed or available online.

It would be helpful for you to check whether George ever became a U.S. citizen. It is not uncommon for naturalization records in Massachusetts to show the subject's place of birth. NEHGS has a copy of the naturalization index for Massachusetts, from 1791 to 1906, on microfilm, and copies of the naturalization records themselves may be found at the National Archives branch on Trapelo Road in Waltham, Massachusetts. 

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