Monday, February 4, 2013

Marriage Record Monday – How Not to Find What You’re Looking For

Proprietor's Records, Volume 1
One of the assignments for the National Genealogical Society’s Home Study Course is to do a survey of local marriage records.  The idea is to become familiar with what records are available, and to do some on-site research.  Part of the assignment is to find the earliest marriage record at the repository, and compare it to other marriage records from later years.  Simple, right?

Yes, unless you’re an easily distracted history geek.

Early this afternoon, during my lunch break, I visited our local town clerk’s office.  This was actually my second attempt at working on this lesson, as when I visited the town hall last week, no one appeared to be in the office.

The clerk was extremely friendly, asking what she could do for me.  “I was hoping to take a look at the town’s marriage records,” I said.

“What era?” She asked.

“Erm, all of them?” I mumbled.  I then explained that I was working on a research class, and was trying to find the earliest marriage record that I could.

“Ah,” she said, leading me into the vault, “Grab that foot-stool over there.”  She took me to the corner of the vault and pointed to the top shelf.  “There’s volume one.  It could be in there.”

As she left me to my work, I started looking around.  Ledger books filled the walls.  Most of them, it appeared, were land records.  This wasn’t my first time in a records vault, but it had been some time, and I quickly got that “so much information, so little time” feeling.  I dragged the short foot-ladder over to the corner, stepped up, and lifted down Volume 1 of the town’s Proprietor’s Records.  As I started carefully leafing through it, I realized that I was holding original records in my hand, written by a clerk over 250 years ago.

My inner history geek kicked in.

Forget the earliest marriage record.  What about the earliest overall record?  Was that here?  Was it lost?  What else was in this book?  I took the book from the shelf and headed for the research table in the main room.  On my way out of the vault, I spotted another volume.  “Church Records” read the printed spine.  “Right,” I said to myself, “Looking for early marriages, better grab that one too.”  I sat down and started reading, fascinated that I was looking at the first record of the town.  The town charter, written 11 August, 1761, was sitting in front of me in gorgeous English phrases.

“Province of New Hampshire
George the Third, By the Grace of Great Britain France and Ireland King Defender of the Faith…”

I was hooked already.  I looked through the entire book, picking out phrases about land grants, trades, and life in general in the mid-18th-century.  At some point I remembered to look for marriages.  I opened up the book of church records and copied down the first marriage that I found.  21 Oct, 1882. Being a sucker for anything from the 1700’s, I quickly went back to the first book, keeping in mind that I was looking for recorded marriages, but still mostly seeing land records and town dealings.

At some point I looked up and realized that the town clerk was gone.  She had gone to walk her dog.  Smiling at life in small-town Vermont, and realizing why no one was around last week when I visisted, it was probably at this point that I remembered that I was on my lunch break, and had to go back to my real job in a few minutes.

Grudgingly, I closed the books and put them back in the vault.  As I put my coat on, the town clerk returned.  I thanked her for her time, and told her that I’d likely be back tomorrow.

Hopefully I’ll be able to stay focused.

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