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.
Beth Finch McCarthy