As a new columnist, I wish to introduce myself, call your attention to the
outstanding columns on this site written by my predecessor Barbara Jean Mathews,
C.G., and indicate some of the Connecticut resources I will cover in this and
future columns. Although I have yet to discover my first Connecticut ancestor, I
was involved in historical and genealogical research in Connecticut for fifteen
of the twenty-one years I lived there before moving to Massachusetts in 1991. I
continue my interest in Connecticut history and genealogy.
Future topics will include records at the Connecticut State Library and the
Connecticut Historical Society in
Hartford, lesser-known Connecticut libraries with outstanding genealogical
collections, genealogical societies in Connecticut, several leading Connecticut
genealogists and their work, and special publications of interest to Connecticut
researchers. Your suggestions for future topics are welcome.
Visiting Town HallsAlthough many Connecticut records have been
microfilmed and are widely available, many researchers like to visit town halls
where they can do "hands-on" research from original records or first-generation
copies of those records. Researchers planning such a visit may wonder what they
will find and whether it will be worthwhile.
Much ink has been spilled over how to get the most out of visiting a town
hall. If you plan your research in advance, allow enough time for careful and
thorough research, and use common sense, your visit can be rewarding. Offices of
town clerks and registrars of vital records, as well as probate offices, may be
open to the public during limited hours. In small towns, the town clerk may, in
fact, hold more than one town position. Call before visiting these offices
for more information.
When planning your trip, determine when the town of interest was founded.
Records there will begin at that date, and earlier records will be found in the
parent town. This information can be found in Betty Jean Morrison's
Connecting to Connecticut (Glastonbury, 1995) and in Marcia D. Melnyk's
Genealogist's Handbook for New England Research (Boston, NEHGS, 1999 and
2001). For example, vital records for the town of Cromwell begin in 1851, but
earlier Cromwell records are found in Middletown. Until the early 1800s New
Canaan and Darien were part of Stamford, where their early records will be
Town Clerks and Registrars of Vital RecordsTown clerks have always
been responsible for recording information pertaining to Connecticut's 169
towns, including birth, marriage, and death records. Vital records in
Connecticut have never been kept on the county level. As towns grew, that work
was sometimes reassigned to registrars of vital statistics, whose offices may
not be in the town or city hall. Among the towns with separate registrars of
vital statistics are Bridgeport, Greenwich, Hartford, Middletown, New Haven, and
Town clerks, registrars, and other town officials fit requests of
genealogists into busy schedules, so be patient and courteous to personnel and
other researchers in the offices. Present your driver's license or other
identification and explain the reason for your visit. Some town halls have open
stacks, while in others clerks bring out requested volumes, perhaps one at a
time. If you follow all the procedures and ask if there are other records of
possible interest, you may be rewarded with an opportunity to see special
records that are not on the open shelves. One Connecticut town clerk, who used
to have a "goodie cabinet" where she stored old records under lock and key,
could sometimes be persuaded to bring them out. Another clerk in a small
Connecticut town who was helping me find information about a certain family
brought out an early nineteenth century handwritten compilation of information
about town residents of that era.
Vital RecordsTown halls or bureaus of vital statistics in
Connecticut towns and cities are the only places where you will find all the
vital records of a town, dating from its founding to the present.
The majority of vital records up to about 1850 have been included in the
Barbour Collection of vital records or in separate town volumes. Many have been
microfilmed and are available at the NEHGS Research Library, the Connecticut Historical Society, the
Connecticut State Library, or
through the various Family
History Centers. While generally accurate and complete, these compilations
are derivative sources, and genealogists often prefer to examine the original
records kept by town clerks. Even then, some records may be missed or omitted.
In a recent article in Connecticut Ancestry, "Darien Vital Records, Book
1: Another Barbour Omission," Harlan R. Jessup discusses vital record keeping in
Darien after its separation from Stamford in 1820. For some time, the new Darien
town clerk used the same volume for recording vital and tax records. Because
that volume was eventually filed with tax records, agents collecting vital
records for the Barbour compilation failed to find the book and omitted early
vital records for about sixteen Darien families.
Connecticut vital records from about 1850 to 1897 are available from town
clerks or registrars, on microfilm at the Connecticut State Library, or through
the FHL. Vital records from July 1897 to the present are kept by town clerks or
registrars, who send copies to the Department of Public Health in Hartford. The
vital records office is currently closed for microfilming of its holdings. In
Connecticut, access to birth records for the last 100 years is restricted to the
actual person or a close family member, public officials, attorneys, persons
authorized by court order, or members of genealogical societies authorized to do
business in Connecticut. You will need to present identification and show your
credentials to see these records or obtain copies.
For information on ordering vital records by mail, consult Barbara Mathews'
column on Connecticut vital records or read the general
guidelines online. You may also find information about obtaining vital
records from specific towns at this site.
EarmarksBeginning in the 1640s and continuing through the
mid-nineteenth century, residents of Connecticut towns were required to register
the earmark or brand they used to identify their cattle and swine. Town clerks
recorded descriptions and sometimes included drawings of these marks along with
other town records. In early volumes, earmark registrations were often
interspersed with vital records and town meeting minutes. In later volumes they
were usually grouped on special pages in town record volumes.
Earmarks are an overlooked and important source of genealogical information.
They indicate that the registrant was resident in a certain town at a certain
date. They may state family relationships, such as the following Stamford,
Connecticut, earmark, entered into town records on September 4, 1790: "Catherine
Bishop enteres for her Son Isaac Bishop's ear mark the same that was formerly
entred to his Grand Father Isaac Bishop decd., viz. a crop on the end of the
near ear, and two slits in the end of the off ear." Some earmarks were
transferred during a registrant's lifetime, proving that both individuals were
living in the town at that date. Again from Stamford Town Records, February 1,
1792: "Joseph Stevens junr. enters for his ear mark the same that was formerly
entred to Nathaniel Hoyt & by his permission as he saith, viz., a crop on
the end of the near ear and a hole in the same."
Town Meeting Minutes Town clerks sometimes recorded minutes of
town meetings in the same volumes as vital and land records. In some Connecticut
towns, these early volumes no longer exist; elsewhere you may find originals or
early copies. Microfilmed copies of original or transcribed town meeting minutes
are available for some towns.
Each town held an annual meeting of freemen or property owners and additional
meetings took place during the year, as needed to transact town business.
Elections of town officials were held at annual meetings. Reading town meeting
minutes is a good way to learn about the history of your ancestor's town and to
flesh out the skeletons of (male) ancestors who actively participated in town
government. One of your ancestors may have served as a selectman, grand juryman,
surveyor of highways, sealer of weights and measures, brander of horses, or
pound keeper. When someone fell upon hard times, they might be "warned out" of
town or assigned to a townsman as a boarder. In Cornwall in December 1774:
"Daniel Steward agreed to keep Abiel Dudley one year next ensuing for L6-15s-0
lawful money and keep his clothes in good repair…" For several years,
responsibility for the care of Abiel Dudley was passed around to the lowest
bidder. Town meeting minutes also include discussions on schools, taxes,
smallpox inoculations, bounties for killing rattlesnakes, foxes, and wildcats,
annexations, Sabbath Day houses and meeting house pews, construction of highways
and bridges, liquor licensing, and other topics of local concern.
Land Records and Town MapsWhile some Connecticut deeds have been
microfilmed, visiting a town hall enables the researcher to see every deed of
interest. Since the founding of their towns, Connecticut town clerks have been
responsible for keeping land records that include deeds, mortgages, attachments,
liens, tax liens, judgments, releases, conveyances, and grantor-grantee indexes
to those records. Maps of towns and subdivisions, surveys, and planning and
zoning records may also be found in town clerk offices.
Deeds are a source of information that no family historian should overlook.
Information about family relationships included in deeds has solved many
genealogical problems. Other important genealogical information found in deeds
may include places of residence of both grantor and grantee and occupations or
titles. Relationships may be stated as well as the names of earlier owners of
the same parcel of land, often family members. Since indexes to land records
include only the names of grantors and grantees, studying deeds is essential for
ferreting out important information. For more about land records, consult
Patricia Hatcher's article Land Records: An
Under-Appreciated Genealogical Resource.
One of my favorite projects that used information from land records is
Genealogical References in Stamford, Connecticut. Land Records, Volumes A-S,
1666-1800+ (Stamford, Connecticut Ancestry Society, 1999), available as both
a book and CD-ROM. While abstracting early Stamford deeds, Edith Wicks noted and
later prepared a separate index of all genealogical references in those deeds.
Under entries for the surname "Allen," for example, one finds the names of
Eunice Allen and her deceased husband John, originally of Stamford and later of
Mamaketing, Ulster Co., New York. Also listed are the names of their children,
Lydia, Reuben, and Seymour of Ulster Co., and Trowbridge, who had moved to Irish
Settlement, Northampton Co., Penn.
Other Records Kept by Town Clerks
Probate District Court Offices
Probate RecordsFor an historic overview of probate record keeping
in Connecticut, consult Barbara Jean Mathews' column
on probate records previously published in this series.
Connecticut's probate records are kept in 131 probate district court offices,
not quite one district office for each of Connecticut's 169 towns. Over the
years there have been many changes in district boundaries, so consult
Connecting to Connecticut or Genealogist's Handbook for New England
Research to determine where you should look for probate records that include
the years of interest to you.
Probate district courts handle estate settlements of deceased town residents,
guardianships for minors and jurisdiction over their trusts, legal matters
pertaining to adoptions, and powers of attorney for adults judged incompetent.
Probate offices in town halls maintain indexes to probate records of their
district. Most Connecticut towns sent their probate packets of original
documents through about 1880 to Hartford, so most original probate records for
the early years are available only at the Connecticut State Library or on
microfilm. Towns maintain an index of records sent to Hartford. However, most
town probate district offices have probate court record books containing
handwritten copies of the original records, and these volumes are available for
research. As Barbara Mathews points out, information in original probate packets
and in probate court record books may vary, so both should be consulted.
Most twentieth century probate packets of original documents as well as
record books with copies of those documents will be found in probate district
Assessor's RecordsGrant lists or property valuations for tax
purposes are kept in assessor's offices in town halls. Although information for
several recent years may be found there, historic tax lists may be in town
archives, historical societies, or at the Connecticut State Library.
Happy hunting in town halls. Next time we will discuss what you can find in
Hartford at the Connecticut State Library and the Connecticut Historical