REPOSITORY REPORT - AmericanAncestors.org
AMERICAN ANCESTORS (online website for the New England Historic Genealogical Society) has many searchable collections, a list of which is too long to detail here. For our purpose of pinning down death dates and locations of Northborough's founding fathers, I searched only the death and probate record indexes for the 39 "Heads of Families" previously documented as residing in the town in 1744. The reason for choosing those specific names and that particular year is to establish a baseline of which families were known to have lived there during our research period of 1727-1749. The plan is to subsequently identify their family members' death dates and locations during that period as well. Any deaths occurring during the research period will be evaluated as a possible burial at the Brigham Street Burial Ground.
Colonial records can be difficult to locate for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it must be understood that the recording of deaths was customary but that many of the early paper records have since been lost to fire or neglect. Many of the death records found in the Massachusetts Town Records collection come from a variety of sources, including original town records, church records, and gravestone transcriptions. The NEHGS database is considered a finding aid, not a source, because the abstracted information given is only a summary taken from the original document [and not the information in its original form]. Therefore, for the wills and probate records, I still need to locate the originals and transcribe them before citing the evidence. As the Massachusetts Town Records collection can be viewed as PDFs (pictures), I considered viewing those images the same as reading the original books and will properly cite the evidence from them. [Although the records books are not defined as true original death records, they are likely to be the closest I get in some cases.]
Name variations, misspelling of names, and multiple relatives with the same name can all present challenges when trying to locate a correct record for a specific person. As I mentioned in my last post, the name "James Eager" was used over three generations in the same family, including siblings. A closer look at that family illustrates a common naming pattern for families, which is to reuse a name for a child born after a sibling with that name had died. My favorite name variation example is that of "Joshua Townsend," also known as "Joshua Dowsing." Put on your best colonial British accent, speak both surnames quickly, and you'll see why! Finally, phonetic spelling is very subjective and frequently resulted in records under different names for many of the people I researched.
For determining death dates, I was able to find most of the proprietors in the series of Massachusetts Town Vital Records compiled by Franklin Rice in the early 1900's. In other cases, the NEHGS index listed a will or probate record indicating an approximate year of death. When a probate court record was given, I made note of the record number for finding the original document at the Massachusetts State Archives. On Ancestry.com, I used the death records to source cite a proprietor's death and noted where original probate and will records existed and still need to be consulted before source citing.
A few of the men could not be located in either the Massachusetts Town Death Records or the Probate Record Index. For the purposes of this specific database search, I noted the results as having returned no information. However, on the Ancestry.com tree page for those men, there is evidence found in other sources providing clues as to where and when those men may have lived and died. None of the men in this category had an indicated death date during the research period.
SUMMARY OF FINDINGS
PROPRIETORS WHO DIED DURING THE RESEARCH PERIOD 1727-1749
After performing record searches in the American Ancestors database for probate and death records for each of the 39 original town proprietors of 1744, it was found that only 3 died during the research period. Of these, Joseph Wheeler has already been documented as a burial at the Brigham Street Burial Ground. The Tomlin family members, father and son, both died before or near the time that the Brigham site was closed.
Additional information about where the 2 Tomlin proprietors were buried may be found in the Westborough and Northborough church records. Copies of the Westborough Church records are at the Westborough Public Library and the First Church of Northborough records are in the archives of the American Antiquarian Society. Gravestone transcriptions for the 2 towns' colonial burial grounds need to be located.
Original probate and will records are archived at the Massachusetts State Archives. Names of living family members, inventory of estate, and personal information (including burial directions) may be found in the documents.
Reverend Parkman's diary entries may also provide information about the men's last days.
American Ancestors (website for the New England Historic Genealogical Society), www.americanancestors.org.
Kent, Josiah Coleman. Northborough History. Newton, Massachusetts: Garden City Press, 1921.
Vital Records of Westborough, Massachusetts, to the End of the Year 1849. Worcester, Mass.: Franklin P. Rice. 1903.
SITE VISIT IMPRESSIONS
Today's weather? No snow on the ground, ground dry, skies sunny...a perfect day to walk the Brigham Street Burial Ground since beginning this project. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to visit the site, armed with a sketch of its history and of who may be interred there. With the objectivity of a researcher, but my personal curiosity of getting a new impression of the place, I headed over and started walking a grid.
And that is where the experience got tricky.
Having read about burial customs of the times, having found a witness's documentation of more burials in addition to the 4 still there, and understanding the family and neighbor relationships that existed about 1730, I "saw" so much more in that patch of land than I ever would have thought.
The parcel was cleaned up and cleared before the winter, so the ground was completely exposed and easily walked. The Holloway/Wheeler family members are still where I remembered, of course. Each of the parallel and west-facing graves is still well-marked with head and footstone, the roughly 5ft by 2ft mound between the stones smattered with large rocks among the moss. This time, however, I stood back away from that small section in order to really observe the larger area nearby with a new perspective. And that is when it struck me. There are even more groupings of parallel patches of stones, some mounded and some sunken. There are even a few parallel sunken spots near the rear of the parcel. All these are not news, of course, as the observations have been made by others in the past. For me, however, to have a researched to date a count of close to 20 possible burials and to be able to count at least that number of visible marked spots left me stunned, frankly. I was also saddened by the understanding that they have been long since forgotten, except by those who maintain the property to keep it clean and mowed.
There have been several efforts in the past to identify those buried there. My very non-scientific hope is that the advances made in technology over the last several decades, coupled with the advances of the information age, can shed new light on just what the story is in this interesting old place. And which of the brave founding families should be remembered and honored.
ONLINE FAMILY TREE (Ancestry.com)
As I discover the possible burials at Brigham Street Burial Ground, I post the working research notes (complete with documentation and notations) on Ancestry.com. For subscribers to the site, the tree to view is listed as Early Northborough, MA Settlers. My notations are fairly clear and if any life events do not have attached citations, it means that I have either yet to locate a source or the event is irrelevant to my project. Finding aids and online databases are not cited as sources, but the clues they provide are detailed under the appropriate event in a profile's timeline; the original records will be located and transcribed during future research.
Please bear in mind that I am primarily adding events from online sources to the Ancestry tree, partially due to the accuracy and convenience of copy-and-paste. Offline, I am keeping additional notes and copies of records that may not make it to the public tree, at least for the time being. Conflicting evidence for events are noted and will be resolved during future research.
As the focus of the research is to establish whether or not a particular person died during the period 1727-1750, the biographical information I post to the tree is only that which I evaluated as part of determining a person's date of death during those years. (There are many more stories and details about the settlers and I hope to include them at a later date.) Those persons who are "known" burials at Brigham Street can be quickly identified on the "List of All People" page with their names in all CAPS (example: "ADAM HOLLOWAY"). The "probable" names will have capitilized surnames only (example: "Hannah OAKE"). "Possible" names will be noted on their individual profile pages. Those settlers found to have died before 1727 or after 1750 will have either a recorded death date or a note that they died outside the research period (example: "died after 1757 when last child was born.")
Finally, the town of record in any event closely follows the historical timeline of how the land was known at that time. In other words, if a person lived in what is Northborough today their life events will be recorded on the tree as:
- Marlborough (1660-1717)
- Westborough (1717-1744)
- Westborough Precinct 2 (1744-1766)
- Northborough (after 1766)
During the curent stage of the Brigham Street Burial Ground project, the publications and records I am researching are also available online through a variety of sites:
(1) Ancestry.com has digitized histories and vital record compilations.
(2) American Ancestors (NEHGS site) has digital publications and records, in addition to those on Ancestry.com.
(3) Google Books has many of the same digital publications as Ancestry.com, as well as other rare and limited release books.
(4) The Library of Congress has a selection of its holdings accessible online (see also The Internet Archive).
(5) The Internet Archive has digital book uploads, comparable to Google Books, from a variety of institutions and users.
I use a combination of the above, along with hardcopies of the publications not available digitally, to document the evidence for the research. Ideally, the original copies of any of the works and documents should be located and cited. If you are interested in any of the sources I have accessed to date, they are listed on my SOURCES page. Hardcopies can be ordered online through sites such as Amazon.com and rare/used booksellers.
WORDS OF CAUTION
OCR front cover
I have found that some uploaded digital books are of poor image quality or are simply OCR versions of scanned originals. In both instances, material is either missing or illegible. Therefore, I do not use anything except "exact copies" of the original texts as to stay true in my documentation. (Note: In the illustration to the right, the company that published this OCR copy sells a digital [PDF] exact copy of the original book for a fee and can be bought from them directly.)
Westborough, MA Birth Records for James Eager
When using the search function to locate names in digital books (basically PDF files), a problem arises when two or more people have the same name. For example, "James Eager" of colonial Westborough is actually 4 different people. Only by reading texts thoroughly and in chronological order can the confusion be avoided. Additionally, using the history books in conjuction with vital records is imperative to evaluate a person's age and circumstance (living, married, or dead) at the time of a given event and whether or not it makes sense.
Note that not all information in history books and family genealogies is documented and should be used with discretion. Family lore and local stories are often passed down through the ages like the "telephone game", where details get modified or added as the story gets retold. Therefore, my goal is to find more than one independent and reliable source of evidence before classifying an event as probable. Furthermore, known will be a very rare label, used only when an event is reported by an eyewitness.
Author's note on last page of publication.
A final note of advice for using any publication (print or electronic) is you should read the work in its entirety before using its information for research. Footnotes, endnotes, and appendices can contain corrections or clarifications to the text and must be considered before citing the evidence. In my case, it wasn't until I reached the end of the Topographical and Historical Sketches of the Town of Northborough (Allen, 1826) that I found his "Errata" containing corrections to names, dates, and places. Any information I cite will be noted as the corrected version.
HEADS OF FAMILIES IN NORTHBOROUGH, 1744 - Formation of Northborough as "Second Precinct of Westborough"
Excerpt from Northborough History (Kent, 1921. p. 3-6)
"In 1744 there were thirty-seven families in the north part; and being situated at a distance of several miles from the main part of the town [of Westborough], they thought that they could get along much better if they should be permitted to manage their own affairs. So, remembering what the west part of Marlborough [i.e. Westborough] had done in 1717, they drew up a petition, went down to Boston, and presented it to the Great and General Court. This petition asked that the north part of Westborough be made into a "distinct and separate precinct" of the town. The petition was granted on October 20, 1744.
Holloway Homestead, circa 1711
...Having gained the objects of their desire, steps were immediately taken for the perfecting of a government for the new precinct. Accordingly, all the inhabitants of the district were duly and legally warned to meet on the 15th day of November for that purpose.
This first precinct meeting was held at the home of Colonel William Holloway...This meeting was for purely organization purposes; and...marks the beginning of our town government.
...We have stated above that there were thirty-seven families in the north precinct at the time of its separation from the mother town...The list includes ...two young men who were not married at the time, but who were married shortly afterwards."
Beth Finch McCarthy