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  • Question of the Day Archive
    March 2009

  • March 2, 2009

    I believe that that there was a state census for Maine before the Civil War is that true? If so where can I get a copy of my relative who was living in Portland

    There was in fact a 19th century state census for Maine in 1837. This census was referred to as the “Surplus Revenue Census” and also “1837 State Census”. The seven wards for Portland and other communities are located at the Maine State Archives.

    Maine State Archives
    84 State House Station
    Augusta, Maine 04333
    Tel: 207-287-5790
    Fax: 207-287-5739

    March 3, 2009

    I have noticed that some of the Massachusetts Vital Record birth indexes on microfilm at NEHGS have an asterisk next to the names. What does this indicate?

    The asterisk indicates that there has been an amendment to the birth record. If the event occurred before 1915 the record should be at the Massachusetts State Archives. Records after 1915 should still be with the Massachusetts Registry of Vital Statistics. If the change is due to an adoption the amended record will only be available to the researcher.

    You will also occasionally see asterisk on marriage and death records. The volume number of the amended record is generally a one or two digit volume.

    March 4, 2009

    I was recently at NEHGS hoping to find early probate for Cumberland County, Maine but understood they were lost in a fire years ago? Do you know what survives from the fire was? Also can you tell me when each county in Maine was established and the parent county?

    Thank you for your note. The Cumberland County records of probate survive from 1908 to the present. The fire destroyed all probates from 1760 to 1908. Incidentally the Cumberland County Deeds do survive from the earlier years.

    The following are the dates and parent counties you requested:

    Androscoggin – established in 1854 from Cumberland, Lincoln, Oxford and Kennebec

    Aroostook – established in 1839 from Penobscot and Washington Counties.

    Cumberland – established in 1760 from York County.

    Franklin – established in 1838 from Kennebec, Oxford and Somerset Counties.

    Hancock – established in 1789 from Lincoln County.

    Kennebec – established in 1799 from Cumberland and Lincoln Counties.

    Knox – established in 1860 from Lincoln and Waldo Counties

    Lincoln – established in 1760 from York County

    Oxford – established in 1805 from Cumberland and York County.

    Penobscot – established in 1816 from Hancock County

    Piscataquis – established in 1838 from Penobscot and Somerset Counties.

    Sagadahoc – established in 1854 from Lincoln County.

    Somerset – established in 1809 from Kennebec County

    Waldo – established in 1827 from Hancock County

    Washington – established in 1789 from Lincoln County

    York – established in 1652 as an original county.

    March 5, 2009

    I am looking for eighteenth-century city directories for Massachusetts town and cities. How do I go about finding them?

    The only community in Massachusetts with directories from the eighteenth century is Boston. The first Boston directory appeared in 1789, and was followed by directories in 1796, 1798, and 1800. In 1989 NEHGS published First Boston City Directory (1789) including extensive annotations by John Haven Dexter (1791-1876), edited by Ann Smith Lainhart. It incorporated genealogical material not included in the original volume, making it more useful for determining residents’ identities.

    March 6, 2009

    While examining town records in Grafton County, New Hampshire, I noticed some towns offered “assistance out of doors.” What does this phrase mean?

    Almshouses existed to take care of town residents in need. Sometimes aid was dispensed to people not living at the almshouse. Out-of-towners might have required temporary assistance or local residents might have received aid at home, perhaps in the form of wood or food. In these cases, receiving aid was often referred to as assistance “out of doors” – in this case, outside the doors of the almshouse.

    March 9, 2009

    I am looking for his parents. Grandmother remembered him being born in NY or Boston around 1800. He married Harriet N Cummins and Family history indicates that he is a descendent of Capt. Gray. I am a member at but they don’t have any birth records of him from that time in the right place. Do you have a suggestion where I can look?

    Thank you for your note. The births in Boston from 1800-1849 are pretty much non-existent. The town and city of Boston did not record vital records on a regular basis for births at that point. You would need to rely upon Church baptisms. We do have what does exist for Boston Births in a very slim book, and available to our members on our website. As far as births in NY, are you referring to New York City or New York State. For NY State births were not required by law until the 1880’s. We do have early records for NYC but only for deaths during that time period. Again Church records may be your best bet in both cases. I would also try and research the descendants of your Capt. Gray and try your research in that direction. Another Boston resource you may check is The Thwing Collection which we collaborated with the Massachusetts Historical Society to produce. A search of the surname Gray/Grey might give you possible candidate for Sylvanus family. Another avenue to proceed would be to examine who “Sylvanus Wheeler” was. Have you searched the U.S. Census for 1800 or 1790 to see if there is a man by that name living in Boston or NY?

    March 10, 2009

    Could you tell me how I can find out where my fathers family is buried? I have searched everywhere. There name was SCOTTO, and they were from Procida Italy. I have traced them back to 1892 but now I want to find out where their resting place is in New York City.

    I would suggest getting the official death records for this family first. Their official death records should indicate the cemetery in which they were interred. You might wish to investigate. There are over nine pages of Scotto’s in the NYC Death index for 1891-1948. You can search these at: To order a certified copy of a death certificate you can write to: Department of Records & Information Services, 31 Chambers Street, New York, NY 10007, (212) 788-8580 You can also download an order form from:

    March 11, 2009

    I found in the death records on your website, the death of a baby who was my father's oldest brother. The cause of death was unclear until I studied the letters and compared them with other letters on the same page. What I came up with was "teething". In the 1880's, was this used as a cause of death and although I know what teething is, how did this child die, or did I read it wrong? If so, what might be the cause of death that appears as teething?

    In the 19th century it was common to see teething as a cause of death. An interesting article based on teething as a cause of death appeared in the Western Journal of Medicine (December 1991) 155(6): 658–659. This article was written by H. L. Gibbons and C. K. Hebdon. It discusses the statistics of Teething deaths in Utah during the 19th century. This article can be viewed online at:

    March 12, 2009

    I am a descendant of Edward Clapp brother to Roger Clapp. Edward arrived after Roger from England to Dorchester about 1633. Would you know the ship Edward arrived on? I have heard it was possibly the "Weymouth” but no proof. Any help would be appreciated.

    Thank you for your note. Edward Clapp did not arrive in 1633 into Dorchester, it is a little later on. He arrived on May 8, 1635 aboard the Hopewell sailing from Weymouth, England. This reference appears in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, 71:173; as well as Robert Charles Anderson, The Great Migration: Immigrants to New England 1634-1635 (Boston, MA, NEHGS, 2001), 2:79.

    March 13, 2009

    Thank you for allowing me a question. My 4th great grandfather was born in Vermont (no city available)and his parents are unknown. He was born Oct 9, 1778. Because of the date, I am having difficulties getting beyond him. What records, databases and certificates are available . What would you suggest or where should I start looking?

    The records of births, marriages and deaths in the State of Vermont did not occur until 1871. Before that time it was the responsibility of the town clerk to record the events such as births, etc. We have this collection of alphabetical vital records in a series that covers pre-1871. It is not by any means complete, but it is the first place to look. Also have you tried looking for this family in an early census for Vermont? I would also suggest examining the two volumes by Scott Andrew Bartley, Vermont families in 1791. (Camden, ME, Picton Press, 1992). Both these books and the aforementioned microfilm are available at the NEHGS Library.

    March 16, 2009

    My ancestor is listed in the U.S. censuses of 1910 and 1920 as residing in the Foxborough State Hospital, in Foxboro, Massachusetts. I believe that his wife divorced him around 1920. Where could I see the record of commitment with his diagnosis? What medical and legal records might be available on him?

    Mental health records in Massachusetts are not open for inspection. Even when you are a family member, there is considerable red tape. For instance, my own grandfather was committed to the Rutland [Massachusetts] State Sanatorium in the 1940s. Even though this was a state tuberculosis hospital, the records are still closed.

    I contacted the Massachusetts State Archives to see if they had records for state hospitals. In most cases the answer is yes; however, the archives informed me that the Foxboro records are now under the custody of the Taunton State Hospital. The latter’s phone number, 508-822-7551, is connected to an answering machine. The mailing address is Taunton State Hospital, 60 Hodges Ave. Ext., Taunton, MA 02780.

    Prior to 1922, Massachusetts divorces were handled on the Superior Court level. If you know the county and the year you suspect the divorce occurred, you can contact Elizabeth Bouvier, Archivist, Judicial Archives, 16th Floor, High Rise Courthouse, 3 Pemberton Square, Boston, MA 02109.

    March 17, 2009

    I am trying to find lists of prisoners held on British prison hulks in New York during the American Revolution. I have the ships’ names but am unable to locate specific prisoner lists except in bits and pieces. I have already tried the New York Public Library and The New-York Historical Society, and am in the process of contacting the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

    A good collection of records on American prisoners of war covering the years through 1793 is housed at the National Archives at Kew, in England.

    You should examine the Letters of the Admiralty Medical and Prisoners of War (ADM 97/98 to 107, ADM 97/114/1 to 125, ADM 97/127/1 and ADM 97/131). These records include petitions from prisoners. The Naval State Papers (SP 42.57) list some American seamen made prisoners of war. An exchange list of all American and British officers in 1781 can be found in series WO 40/2.

    I suggest you read Jane Cox’s, New to Kew?: A First Time Guide for Family Historians at the Public Record Office, Kew (Kew, England: PRO Publications, 1997), available at NEHGS. The National Archives will soon release two updated books which should be on the NEHGS shelves in coming months. These titles are Stella Colwell, The [British] National Archives — a Practical Guide for Family Historians (February 2006), and Amanda Bevan, Tracing Your Ancestors in the [British] National Archives (March 2006.) Both titles can be ordered from the National Archives bookstore at can contact the archives at The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU. England; tel.: +44 (0) 20 8876 3444.

    March 18, 2009

    “Help! I’m trying to locate the Rhode Island state census indexes (not federal) for the years 1905, 1915, 1925 and 1935. So far I haven’t been able to find any online or easily available. If there’s a name index it will help us at least to get started.”

    NEHGS does own microfilm for the Rhode Island state census for the years 1915, 1925, and 1936 (not 1935). We have not yet purchased the 1905 census from the LDS Library. (The microfilms of this last may be borrowed through the Family History Library.) Indexes at the end of the 1915 census cover the entire state, and the 1936 census is indexed also. There is no index yet to the 1925 census, so you will need to know the town, and search through the film.

    March 19, 2009

    On the obituary from the Boston Globe it mentioned my ancestor has a membership in the Knights of Saint Crispin. Is this a religious order?

    Your ancestor was most likely a shoemaker. This organization was established in the year 1867 by shoemakers. The organization only lasted briefly before it was converted to the Knights of Labor organization.

    March 20, 2009

    While reviewing the notes of my uncle who was a genealogist he mentioned that our ancestor served King “Bolingbroke” of England? Who is this referring to?

    The British monarch I believe your uncle was referring to is King Henry IV a.k.a. Bolingbroke. He reigned under the House of Lancaster as king from 1399 to 1413.

    March 23, 2009

    While reviewing the Civil War pension index for my relative from New Hampshire I see that he did not get his pension because it was invalid. But his widow was able to get one why?

    Thank your for your note. The definition of “invalid” in this item is not referring to it actually not being valid request, but rather to the health of your “invalid” ancestor. If you see an application number and a certificate number then the pension for the soldier was approved. Likewise if you see the application and certificate number for the widow it was also approved.

    March 24, 2009

    I understand there is a 1906 Census for Canada. What part of Canada does it cover?

    This census — the Census of the Northwest Provinces — covers Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. You will find online images of this census at the Library and Archives Canada website at 02/020153_e.html. An index of surnames linkable to the images may be found at: At press time the index by was 87% completed. This special census of the prairie provinces was repeated every ten years through 1956. At present, the 1901 and 1911 national censuses, and 1921 Newfoundland census, are the only other twentieth-century Canadian censuses available to genealogists.

    March 25, 2009

    the inventory of a probate I was looking at mentioned a woman’s “dower chest”. I know what a dowery is, but what is a dower chest.

    A dower chest was typically made by a girl’s father or another family member when the girl was of age to become married. Sometimes these can be quite ornate and painted with beautiful designs. My own mother had a cedar chest which was purchased by her father before she was married. She referred to this as her “dowery chest” or occasional her “hope chest”.

    March 26, 2009

    My great-great grandfather died in Woodstock, Windham Co., CT in 1854, age about 60. His cause of death is listed as "Lung fever". I have one medical opinion equating lung fever with tuberculosis. However, I had always thought tuberculosis was referred to in that era as "consumption". I was prepared to accept that the two terms might have been used synonymously, perhaps varying regionally; but the registry page where he is listed lists several people as having died of lung fever, and several others as having died of consumption; so the two were clearly seen as separate diseases. Do you have any insight on what "lung fever" might have been?

    You are quite correct that the “lung fever” is not consumption or tuberculosis. The term “lung fever” was once commonly used to describe pneumonia. A further definition of this ailment can be found online:

    March 27, 2009

    I’m doing the research for my family name Wood. I’m finding names in New Bedford and Fairhaven and wanted to know if they were one town (city) in the 1800 or had one town (city) hall. What I found was that they were married in New Bedford but born in Fairhaven. I want to make sure they are they right Wood’s and I’m looking in the right town’s for the parent’s.

    Thank you for your note. New Bedford (Bristol Co.) Mass. was incorporated as a separate town from Dartmouth on February 23, 1787. So New Bedford would have been held an office of town clerk in 1800. However Fairhaven was part of New Bedford in 1800, and did not become a separate town until February 22, 1812.

    Historical Data Relating to Counties, Cities, and towns in Massachusetts. (Boston, Mass., NEHGS, 1997), pgs. 46, 81]

    March 30, 2009

    My family has lived in Boston on and off since the Revolutionary War. Can you tell me what the earliest city directory that exists for Boston and if NEHGS has this book?

    The earliest published city directory for Boston was published in 1789 and we have this available to be searched on microfiche. We also republished this edition that was edited by Ann Smith Lainhart, First Boston City Directory (1789) Including extensive Annotations by John Haven Dexter (1791-1876). (Boston, NEHGS, 1989). This book is available at NEHGS under the call number [F73/25/D49/1989].


    March 31, 2009

    Do you have any records for the Monthly meetings of the Dartmouth Society of Friends?

    We have copies of the Family History Library filming of the Dartmouth monthly meetings. These were filmed at the Moses Brown School, Providence, Rhode Island, 1950. The contents include records covering 1698-1841. This microfilm is located at the Microtext Library (4th Floor) at NEHGS under call number BX7780/D37.

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