Sunday, January 6, 2013

Genealogy Research 1904 Style

Randy Seaver’s January 4, 2013 post at Geneamusings regarding the task of researching genealogy before 1999 reminded me of the documents I have showing the efforts of my great grandmother, Sarah Etta (Freeman) Carpenter, back in the early years of the 20th Century.

Sarah Etta (Freeman) Carpenter 
Sarah was clearly interested in her family genealogy and went to the effort of enrolling her 16-year-old daughter Ruth and 14-year-old son Everett [my grandfather] in the National Society of the Children of the American Revolution.  It appears that their 1905 enrollment was the culmination of Sarah’s genealogy research into the war service of her ancestors.

Before the digital age of the computer and the Internet, and even before the use of microfilm and microfiche, genealogists – amateur and professional alike – had to consult original documents like vital records, family histories, land records and the like where they were kept – in the archives, courthouses and historical or genealogical societies.  There was no or other on-line service to collect and make available digital copies of the documents.

When my great grandmother was doing her genealogical investigations, her principal tools were paper, pen and a stamp for correspondence with family members, town clerks, state offices, etc.  There was nothing like instant gratification by finding a document using one’s computer and printing it out.  One had to send letters of inquiry, wait for a reply, and then patiently move on to the next suggested source.  And of course, like today, there was often a fee for getting answers to inquiries from government agencies as is shown in the documents below.  But more importantly from the viewpoint of today’s standard of careful documentation, correspondence inquiries back in the days before copiers and scanners did not result in a nice photocopy of the original document being sent to the inquirer.  What one got was usually a handwritten letter reply citing to the information the clerk could find and decided to excerpt.  What follows are some examples of the replies Sarah got in her efforts to track down her family roots during the early years of the last century. 

Sarah’s father’s name was Mason Freeman (1820 – 1898), son of Ebenezer Freeman (1776 – 1828) and his wife Sally Legg (1783 – 1857).  In the fall of 1904, Sarah was trying to find information about her great grandfather, Caleb Legg, who she had been told served in the Revolutionary War.  Sarah wrote to the Mendon, Massachusetts Town Clerk inquiring about Caleb and got the handwritten reply shown here.

Notes in lighter ink are those of Sarah E. Carpenter
From the Mendon Clerk’s reply, it seems Sarah might have learned for the first time that her great grandfather had possibly been married twice and that her grandmother, Sally Legg, was a child of his second marriage to Susannah Taft.

Sarah next corresponded with the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in December 1904 in order to obtain information on the Revolutionary War service of Caleb Legg.  The careful, typed reply she received (for which she was charge $1.00) indicated two men named Caleb Legg (one age 35 and the other age 24) with service in the war.  After cautioning Sarah she could use the service records of both Caleb Leggs to establish “eligibility to membership in any of the patriotic societies,” the official noted that the difference in the recorded ages for the Caleb Leggs of record “could not be ignored and the question of identity will crop up every time the certificate is examined.”  Sarah was asked to decide if she wanted a certificate for the war service of both men named Caleb Legg and to send her reply.

Sarah decided to get the certificate from the Office of the Secretary and it probably arrived in her mail sometime in early 1905.  The first and last pages of the six-page certificate are pictured here.

Sarah also made inquiry about her paternal great grandfather, Ralph Freeman, to the Town Clerk of Wrentham, Massachusetts in late November or early December 1905.  The handwritten reply dated December 12, 1905 is pictured here (and note that the clerk’s fee was 25 cents).

My lineage from Caleb Legg [my 4X great grandfather]

Generation 1:                        Caleb Legg m. Susannah Taft
Generation 2:                        Ebenezer Freeman m. Sally Legg
Generation 3:                        Mason Freeman m. Martha A. Shearman
Generation 4:                        Samuel Eber Carpenter m. Sarah Etta Freeman
Generation 5:                        Everett Shearman Carpenter m. Ruth Eaton Cooke
                                             [my maternal grandparents]

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Copyright 2013,  John D. Tew
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  1. Wonderful story, and wonderful indeed to have such a treasure trove of materials. Thanks so much for sharing the process she went through, in details.

  2. Celia: Thank you for having a look. I think you are my #1 follower right now. I appreciate the kind words and continued encouragement. :-)