For almost 400 years, a vast number of people have passed
through Boston. Some have stayed only a few days or a few years, while others
have lived in Boston for generations. Even those who stayed only a short time
may have left records and these columns will help you find the records on your
ancestors. This is the last installment of a three-part series of columns on
researching people who lived in Boston. The first part covered vital records,
town histories and guides, and church records, while the second part focused on
town records and annexed lands. This column covers cemeteries, probate records,
land records, Irish immigrants, and other sources.
CemeteriesWhile compiling the information for Deaths in the
Town of Boston, 1700-1799 (NEHGS, 1999), Robert Dunkle and I discovered
additional material in manuscripts at the Rare Book Room in the Boston Public
Library and at the Boston Parks Department that added to the published works.
The companion set to Deaths in the Town of Boston is titled
Inscriptions and Records of the Old Cemeteries of Boston, published in
2000 by NEHGS. This book contains the inscriptions of the four major cemeteries
in Boston: Common or Central, Copp's, Granary, and King's Chapel, as well as
Hawes and South burying grounds. Be sure to check this volume as well as these
earlier published works:
Gravestone Inscriptions and Records of Tomb Burials in the Granary Burying
Ground, Boston, Mass. (Salem, 1918).
Gravestone Inscriptions and Records of Tomb Burials in the Central Burying
Ground, Boston Common, and Inscriptions in The South Burying Ground, Boston
Bridgman, Thomas, Memorials of The Dead in Boston; Containing Exact
Transcripts of Inscriptions on the Sepulchral Monuments in the King's Chapel
Burial Ground, In the City of Boston. (Boston, 1853).
Bridgman, Thomas, The Pilgrims of Boston and Their Descendants: With an
Introduction by Hon. Edward Everett, LL.D., Also, Inscriptions from the
Monuments in the Granary Burial Ground, Tremont Street. (New York,
Wells, Charles Chauncey, Boston’s Copp’s Hill Burying Ground Guide.
(Oak Park, IL, 2000)
Whitmore, William H., The Graveyards of Boston. First Volume, Copp's Hill
Epitaphs. (Albany, 1878).
Probate RecordsProbate records prior to 1793 for the towns
currently in Norfolk County are found in Suffolk County probate records. The
only published Suffolk County probate records are those in the following
Suffolk County Wills, Abstracts of the Earliest Wills Upon Record in the
County of Suffolk, Massachusetts, From The New England Historical
and Genealogical Register (Baltimore, 1984).
From the introduction:
"The work primarily of William B. Trask, this long series of will abstracts
appeared at intervals over a period of forty-five years in The New England
Historical and Genealogical Register. Initiated by Samuel G. Drake in
January 1848, the series was entrusted three years later to Mr. Trask, who
continued it without interruption until 1866, then set it aside for ten years,
returning to it in 1876 and carrying it forward for another two years. Sixteen
years later, in 1894, Walter K. Watkins added the final installments. The series
embodies abstracts of the earliest wills and inventories of Suffolk County,
Massachusetts, representing, in substance, the first thirty years or so of the
county's estate records."
Land RecordsLand records prior to 1731 for the current Worcester
County towns of Mendon, Oxford, Sutton, and Uxbridge as well as those for
Woodstock, Connecticut, are found in the Suffolk County land records. Pre-1793
land records for the towns currently in Norfolk County are in Suffolk County
land records. Most of the seventeenth-century deeds for Suffolk County have
Suffolk Deeds, 1629-1697 (Boston, 1880-1906), 14 volumes.
Irish ImmigrantsThe Search for Missing Friends, Irish
Immigrant Advertisements Placed in the Boston Pilot (NEHGS)
Vol. 1, 1831-1850, Ruth-Ann M. Harris & Donald M. Jacobs
Vol. 2, 1851-1853, Ruth-Ann M. Harris & B. Emer O'Keefe
Vol. 3, 1854-1856, Ruth-Ann M. Harris & B. Emer O'Keefe
Vol. 4, 1857-1860, Ruth-Ann M. Harris & B. Emer O'Keefe
Vol. 5, 1861-1865, B. Emer O'Keefe (1996)
Vol. 6, 1866-1870, B. Emer O'Keefe (1997)
Vol. 7, 1871-1876, B. Emer O'Keefe (1999)
Vol. 8, 1877-1920, B. Emer O'Keefe (1999)
"The destruction of the potato crop four years in succession caused Ireland's
population to decline from 8.2 million in 1841 to 6.5 million in 1851. While
Ireland was emptying, Boston was filling with Irish immigrants, showing a
ten-year increase of 105 percent. From 1846 to 1849, 100,000 Irish persons
arrived in Boston. Most immigrants would expect to obtain their first
employment through family networks of siblings, uncles, nephews and sons who had
preceded them to America. Ireland was a society in which obligations and claims
among kin were extremely powerful and disregarded only at the cost of severing
family ties permanently. However, many immigrants would discover after arrival
that it was not enough to know only the name of the town where they had last
heard from their relative. America was a much larger country than the new
arrivals could ever have imagined, and following the employment trail could
easily take them hundreds of miles from where they had begun."
Therefore, many Irish turned to the Boston Pilot and placed
advertisements to try and locate their missing relatives and friends. Almost
all of these entries identify specific places in Ireland where they came from.
While the persons inquiring and those being looked for can be from all over the
country, many are from Boston or passed through Boston as these examples
Of EDWARD TIERNEY, native of Newtown, parish of Burriscarra, co. Mayo, who
landed in Boston in the Spring of 1848. He left Boston in May, 1849, for
Vermont in company with Martin Foy and Patrick Coulter, and not heard from
since. Any information respecting him will be thankfully received by his
brother, THOMAS TIERNEY, Hopkinton, Massachusetts.
Of PATRICK KELLY, a native of Dublin, who came to this country in June, 1849
- landed in Boston - when last heard from was at No. 63 Atkinson street,
Boston. Any information respecting him will be thankfully received by JOHN
QUIN, care of S.S. Thompson, Lancaster, N.H.
TIMOTHY B. MURPHY and son, JOHN ENGLAND MURPHY, left Pittsburgh 11th April,
1846. He was a mathematical teacher. When last heard of was in Glenburine, 5
miles from Kingston, Upper Canada, teaching school. The Boy is going on 15
years old. Any information respecting them will be thankfully received by his
wife & younger son. Direct to MARGARET H. MURPHY, No. 15 Belmont street,
Of JOHN CLEARY, and his brothers, THOMAS, MICHAEL or WILLIAM CLEARY, natives
of Ballyphilip, co. Tipperary - emigrated to this country in 1849 - supposed to
be in Boston. Any information respecting them will be thankfully received by
their brother, PATRICK CLEARY, Conshocken, Montgomery County,
Articles on Boston FamiliesIf you are researching a family that
lived in Boston, I recommend reading the following articles from The New
England Historical and Genealogical Register. They will give you ideas on
how to use many of the records I have mentioned in these columns. Seeing how
someone else approached a family problem may help you solve your own.
Carney, John B. In Search of Fayerweather: The Fayerweather Family of
Boston," NEHGR, 144 (1990):3.
Cook, Wendell B., "William Badlam, Ship Master of Boston and Weymouth
and Some of His Descendants," NEHGR,141 (1987):3.
Fiske, Jane Fletcher, The Sawdy Family of Boston, Rhode Island, and
Points West," NEHGR, 148 (1994):141.
Lainhart, Ann Smith, Descendants of Paix Cazneau," NEHGR, 142
Rasmussen, James A., "Edward Raynsford of Boston: English Ancestry and
American Descendants," NEHGR, 139 (1985):225.
Varney, George W., "Thomas Varney of Boston and Some of His
Descendants," NEHGR, 149(1995):3.
Woodworth-Barnes, Esther, "Descendants of Ellis Callender of Boston,"
Other SourcesLainhart, Ann Smith, First Boston City
Directory (1789), Including Extensive Annotations by John Haven Dexter
(1791-1876) (Boston, 1989).
For this publication, John Haven Dexter annotated the first Boston City
Directory of 1789 with information he found in newspapers, later city
directories, and from personal knowledge. Much of this information might be
difficult to find now such as the nicknames of the various members of the Amory
family: "Newbury-street John," "English Tom," "Cuba Jonathan," and "Good
Robert J. Dunkle and Ann Smith Lainhart, John Haven Dexter's Memoranda of
the Town of Boston in the 18th & 19th Centuries
John Haven Dexter was about twelve years old when he moved to Boston and was
apprenticed to the editor of the Columbian Centinel. He retired from
active business life in 1833 and spent his later years compiling facts about
persons and localities in Boston until his death in 1876. This book features
transcriptions from three of his collections relating to Boston that were
donated to NEHGS.