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  • Strange Things from the Massachusetts State Census

    Ann S. Lainhart

    Published Date : April-May 1990
     For the past few years I have been transcribing and indexing the 1855 and 1865 Massachusetts state censuses.  So far I have completed 60 towns in Essex, Plymouth and Middlesex counties.  Over the next several years I plan to do the rest of over 400 towns listed in the 1855 census.

    In the 1865 state census a number of towns give each person’s town of birth instead of just a state or country.  Towns with this most useful listing include Bedford, Boxborough, Essex, Halifax, Ipswich, Lynnfield, Marlborough, Marshfield, Melrose, Middleton, North Bridgewater (now Brockton), Rochester, Rockport, Sherborn, Swampscott, Wareham, Watertown, Wayland, Westford and Wilmington.  In fall 1990 I shall complete transcriptions of Hopkinton, Lexington and Littleton; in 1865 they, too, provide a specific town of birth.  This detail can be extremely helpful in locating correct birth records for a family like the following, listed in Watertown in 1865:

    Benjamin T. Bartlett, age 48, born Needham
    Sarah A., 45, Lowell
    Charles H., 18, Boston
    Hattie M., 14, South Natick
    Frank C., 12, Lowell
    Lizzie J., 11, Groton
    Arthur, 7, Pepperell
    Minnie B., 4, Dracut

    The names given to twins are often curious if not poetic:

    Lottee P. and Lizzie P. Lake (Topsfield)
    J. Arthur and Josephine A. Towne (Topsfield)
    Willard and Millard Williams (West Newbury)
    Lucinda and Selinda Questad (West Newbury)
    Georgiana F. and Georgietta F. French (Hingham)
    Ophir and Oreb Mitchell (Bridgewater)
    Alfred A. and Albert A. Joyce (Marshfield)
    Linus and Lucius Darling (Middleboro)
    Adaline and Adelaide Johnson (North Bridgewater)
    Ella and Ellis Jones (North Bridgewater)
    Franklin A. and Frederick A. Carter (Brighton)
    Alva C. and Alma G. Wilson (Brighton)
    Ira Fayette and Ida Janette Wood (Acton)
    Elbridge and Eldridge Smith (Townsend)
    Laurette and Lunette Smith (Marlboro)
    Rozilla and Priscilla Clifton (Medford)
    Pinkie and Birdie Elliott (Stoneham)
    [they had been born in California], and (in the same family) Ida A. and Ada A., and
          Henry and Harry Blodgett (Westford).

    Other strange names include Phantom Thompson, Amazon A. Dunbar, Cinderella Wheeler, Nymphas Chandler, Admiral Bailey, Millerson Miller, Ivory Snow, Ivory Keyes, Parmenas Parsons, Napolean [sicl Bonaparte Puffer, Zebra Brownell, Czarina Cutler and Czarina Goodrich, Edmundmaria Shaw, Luelladelaide Goodnow, and Marionalfoette Jones. Then there are those names that suffer from a Massachusetts accent: Danvas for Danvers and Deziah for Desire.

    Occupations, too, can strike us as strange.  I have found several women with the occupation of Doctoress, one listed as a Clairvoyant Physician, and one as a !!!Spiritual Physician!!! (exclamation marks added by the 1865 enumerator).  In 1855 at Topsfield there were men listed as Orchidists, but evidently growing orchids did not succeed, because in 1865 they were all listed as farmers. In Hingham there was a Balladist, in Duxbury a Nail Slitter, in Bridgewater a Jack at all Trades, in Hanover a Wall Layer, in Hanover a Nailor of the old school, in Wareham a Head-cutter, in West Cambridge several Night Soil Teamsters (they emptied privies), in Medford a Curled Hair manufacturer and a Bone Manure manufacturer.

    In many cases the enumerator went beyond the call of duty to provide extra information.  In 1855, the full names of Acton residents were given, including their full middle names; for married women these middle names often were their maiden names.  In Hanson we are informed that Hannah Barker is the “Oldest Person in town, retaining all her mental faculties; Eyesight good.” In Winchester the birthplace of the children of Isaac N. Knapp, a sea captain, are “At Sea  Ship Kentucky” and “At Sea Ship Wm. Chamberlain.”  In South Reading (now Wakefield) the birthplace of 4-year old Harry Smalley is given as “In Gulf of Siam in a Peruvian Ship under a Spanish Captain, three hours after the loss of the vessel in which the Mother sailed from the U.S.”

    In Littleton, Reuben Hoar was 74, but his wife’s age was “a secret.”  And in Mary Young’s age column the enumerator wrote, “She says 41.”  Thirteen-year old John Midger, a black born in North Carolina, is listed as a “Contraband” in Bridgewater in 1865.  At Wareham in 1865 there were three women whose occupation was given as Prostitute.  Two were in their 30s with small children; their husbands were listed as soldiers.  But the third woman was living with a 60-year old man of a different surname, and she was 69.

    Finally, the oddest thing of all is the two Nothing Particulars.  I found the first in the Essex County Insane Asylum at Ipswich, but then found another man also named Nothing Particular in the State Alms House in Tewksbury.  I checked the Massachusetts death indexes and found that the man at Tewksbury died there in 1855, still named Nothing Particular.

    All of these state census transcriptions are available through the NEHGS loan library, and are for sale from P.O. Box 1487, Boston, MA 02117.

    Ann S. Lainhart is a professional genealogist and the editor of First Boston City Directory (1789), Including Extensive Annotations by John Haven Dexter (1791-1876), an NEHGS publication of 1989.  She is currently transcribing and publishing the 1855 and 1865 state censuses for all towns in Massachusetts.  Her most recent Register article, in volume 142(1988), was “Descendants of Paix Cazneau.”

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