Presentation Notes: 2004-2005

Sandwich Records and Non-Cape Genealogy Research: 18th and 19th Centuries

Presented by Barbara Gill, Sandwich Town Archivist

Presentation Notes by Jeanne Carley

Genealogical records in Sandwich during the 18th and 19th centuries were the focus of speaker Barbara Gill, the Sandwich archivist, at the November meeting of CCGS. Ms. Gill, who assists genealogists at the Sandwich Library, has many Fish and Finn ancestors on the Cape as well as Gill. She is now working on early Town Meeting records.

The first place to search, she advised, is to locate the place where ancestors lived, then start with the vital records. She explained that sometimes these records have been lost for various reasons: a fire burned down the Barnstable courthouse, there were no town halls to store records and the town clerks and tax assessors kept their records in their homes. The same was true of ministers who moved and often took records with them.

Sometimes, records weren't entered. After records were required to be kept, old records were transferred. The births prior to 1843 were entered in Bible style and people who died were not usually recorded. Sometimes, parents couldn't remember the dates of birth of their children. Some records were put on slips of paper and lost. After the records entered these families, more children were born who weren't entered. Deaths were not considered important to record. After the Revolution, the upheaval prevented many records from being entered.

Confusion arises from the use of duplicate names for children, varying names such as Elizabeth, Betsey, Eliza, etc. and common names used repeatedly in families. John Sr. and John Jr. didn't always mean a father/son relationship. Some Sandwich people can only be known through their baptismal records.

Another problem-missing pages in books. Quaker records were the best kept records, but the people didn't always tell the town clerk when they had children and their marriages weren't always recognized. Their meeting records include names of community members many times. Quaker original records are kept at Brown University in Providence. A microfilm at the Sturgis Library of Quaker marriage records begins in the 1660s and goes to 1820s or 1830s.

After the Revolution, the Massachusetts tax structure provided names of all men 21 or older for the poll tax, sometimes noting a young man soon to turn 21. The poll tax records will show when a man has left the community, as tax bills were sometimes sent to the town where he moved.

In Sandwich, property was reassessed every six years. These records show a man's property-land, grist mill, barn, house-divided on the salt marsh. In 1801, they started the evaluation of land, whether improved or un-improvable. Some taxes were abated, particularly in the year 1816 (the year of no summer) when crops were ruined and animals died due to the cold. Some people left for other places.

Sandwich was an agricultural area in the first quarter of the 19th century until 1825 when the glass factory started, the beginning of the industrial age. There were a large number of Irish Catholic glass workers who came to the area and are not found in censuses, but in poll tax and assessor's tax records. Some workers came from Belgium and France.

Other problems she described were: Sometimes, couples were married elsewhere in Massachusetts before coming to the Cape. The priest may not have given his records to the town, but to the diocese (Boston at that time). The English census-taker didn't always understand the Irish accents and when taxpayers were listed alphabetically, a McDonald was listed with the D's, O'Brien with the O's. Even before the influx of Irish immigrants, there were spelling errors in names: Toner- Turner, O'Brien-Bryant. Marriage intentions for the bride surnames are not always found, but sometimes can be found in church membership rolls.

For death records, Ms. Gill suggested, check graveyards, but age can be wrong on stones (stonecutter didn't hear accurately or bereaved relatives didn't know the date of birth). It was subject to the memory of the informant and the accuracy of the clerk. Under poll tax records, if deceased, it would show "deceased" and "estate of" and sometimes listed the widow or sons if there was property.

She spoke of "chattel mortgages" which listed all items and "poor records" in which almshouses kept records of deaths. These people were usually women without support, the blind, vagrants and those who moved into town from the coast for the winter. People on public assistance had to fill in lots of forms.

See the Presentation Notes Index for summaries of other presentations given at the Society's monthly meetings.