New England Town Records

I recently obtained a copy of Ann S. Lainhart’s Digging for Genealogical Treasure in New England Town RecordsI’m glad I did.

My research into my New England lines, which I’ve not known about as long as my other families from other regions, has so far concentrated on vital records (birth, marriage, and death) along with land and probate records. This is probably typical for one whose research initially concentrated on Midwestern and Southern families. New England is particularly rich in vital records, especially when compared with other areas of the United States and the availability of those records is a welcome change of pace. And those with ancestors in Southern states are well aware of the necessity of using land, probate, and court records. Many problems can be solved using these records and those who have researched in the South are not used to having an overabundance of records in the first place.

But for New England research, town records can provide additional “fleshing out” details on an ancestor, or mention less well-to-do ancestors who may not appear in land or probate records.

The book covers a variety of town records, including: treasurer’s records, earmarks, poor records, military records, licenses, manumissions, and more. At the very least these records will put a person in a specific place at a specific point in time or may indicate that there were multiple people with the same name living as contemporaries. Poor records, warnings out and similar records may provide additional specific relationship details between individuals or document migrations from one town to another.

Some of the records discussed in Lainhart’s book would be county-level records in other parts of the United States. Some of them are somewhat unique to New England in particular.

The book provides an excellent overview of these records which will be helpful as a reference as my research continues in New England.

Appendix B, “Powers and Duties of Town Officers” is an abstract from a 1793 work by Samuel Freeman. That’s an interesting read in and of itself.


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