According to a 2015 Hartford Courant article, almost 39% of Connecticut residents identify as Catholic — the second highest percentage in the nation – but most genealogists don’t immediately include Catholic Church records when they do their research. Likely, this choice is driven by two beliefs: Church records are impossible to access, and they won’t tell me anything new. Both arguments aren’t quite correct and paying attention to them can cause researchers to miss out on valuable information.
First of all, Church records may very well tell you something new – or provide information you simply don’t have. Keep in mind, the civil recording of births, deaths and marriages was not required statewide until 1 July 1897. Prior to that date, according to local lore in some towns, some town clerks charged to put the information on file. Some families couldn’t pay the money. Others, coming from an area where they had little civil power, may not have seen the act of recording as important. But the Church was central to their daily lives and, baring some extreme conditions, families were unlikely to skip a family member’s baptism, marriage or burial. Church law had required the recording of marriages since 1563 and, by the 18th century, clergy also commonly recorded baptisms and burials. These records often provide more detail than do early civil records and exists when a civil record may not.
Second, while challenging, it is not impossible to access Catholic records in the state of Connecticut. To begin, you must determine the name of the parish your ancestors attended. This may be recorded in family lore or on copies of baptismal or marriage certificates. (If you’re unable to find this information, please consider contacting me directly for help.) Once you have that information, contact the parish in question. Consider offering a donation for their time and be very clear about what you need. Not every parish is ready or willing to help, but there are often ways around the roadblock. If you’re stuck, reach out!
From listing a dispensation for consanguinity to recording the names of possible relatives who served as witnesses, Catholic Church records can provide valuable hints about your ancestors’ lives. Don’t miss out by refusing to use them.
Constant Crocker might be a DAR/SAR eligible patriot – but how do you know for sure?
Crocker’s descendant had noticed that Constant was of age during the American Revolution (40-53) and living in New London, Connecticut. He was more than likely a DAR or SAR qualified “patriot.” Since the descendant had already built out and documented most of the tree, it would be an easy lineage society application for the descendant to complete – if service could be confirmed.
The easiest Revolutionary War service to document is national military service, so establishing an eligible patriot generally starts there. Pension files for Constant were a dead-end, as were compiled military service records. So what’s next?
It’s time to look for civil service. Town meeting records might list Crocker’s name. But don’t. Unknown to the descendant, Crocker had quite a reputation and probably wasn’t considered up to civil government positions. So it’s off to one last option…
Patriotic service: the Connecticut Archives collection lists patriotic service (donations in support of the military cause) and some local militia records. And that’s where Constant finally appears! He served a half day in the militia in 1775 – officially qualifying him as a Revolutionary War patriot.
With an established tree, a completed application shouldn’t be far behind!
A DAR or SAR application can be a chance to recognize an ancestor’s previously unacknowledged contributions to the American Revolution. If a male ancestor was between 14 and 60 and supported the patriot cause, there’s a good chance that there are some records of their contributions to the American Revolution. If you want to add a new ancestor to the files of the Sons or Daughters of the American Revolution, you’ll need to be prepared to demonstrate their service.
For Connecticut, a listing of the most common sources can be found on Deb Duay’s Learn Webskills. Some of the books, such as Connecticut Men in the Revolution, have been digitized and can be found on Google Books or Archive.org. Others, such as the Connecticut town meeting records, must be looked up onsite.
Still can’t find service? Some service records are available only on the local level. Middletown’s town clerk, for example, has the tax lists from the War. A bit of local research and contact with town historians may reveal what you need.
Research can be completed upon request.
Created as an index to and transcription of Connecticut’s early vital records, the Barbour Collection can be a huge timesaver for your research – provided you know its flaws. To start, it created using information that was recopied several times, creating the possibility for error. Second, it does not cover the entire period before the state of Connecticut required vital records: after about 1850, you should look elsewhere for your information. Third, certain towns have no bound volumes and therefore no entry in the Ancestry collection. Finally, the marriage of William Ely and Elizabeth Smith reveals one more issue.
The Ely-Smith marriage, which occurred in 1681, is listed twice in the Barbour. The first time is under William Ely. That marriage entry correctly lists Elizabeth’s maiden name. The second time is in the “no-surname” section. William’s full name is listed – but Elizabeth has only a first name. Most marriages would be listed twice, but Elizabeth’s entry should have fallen under Smith.
The person who transcribed the original record didn’t know how to handle the fact that it was altered. As William’s entry revealed, Elizabeth’s surname was apparently added later. When the marriage record was first transcribed, the addition was left out, leading to the “no-surname” entry. Yet, the transcribe or another individual later changed their mind and added the surname. The end result was a different entry depending whether you looked for William or for Elizabeth.
The Ely-Smith marriage reminds us that there’s one more thing you should consider when using the Barbour: does the entry look logical? If there’s anything “strange” about the entry, such as missing names, dates too close to the next birth, and more, be sure to refer back to the original document. Transcribers didn’t always know how to record dual dates or later additions to the record, and their mistakes can throw off your research. Be sure to check their work!
Are you stuck trying to locate and purchase a copy of a Connecticut birth, death or marriage?
Not finding what you need in a web search?
I’ve put all my “how to” hints together in one handout that details how to access records from Connecticut’s founding to the present, both when you know the town and when you don’t.
Purchase a copy for yourself or to use in your genealogy classroom on Teachers Pay Teachers.
There’s a new listserv available for people interested in Connecticut history and genealogy. Thanks to the Office of the State Historian, CTHISTORY-L has been launched through UCONN… It’s designed to be a place to ask questions about history, share about upcoming events and more. I’m excited to see what events and historical facts are shared.
For information on how to subscribe, go to http://cthistory.org/cthistory-l/.
A client’s research project has added a new archive to my must-check list! Can you guess where it is?
Yes, inside the church.
The American Baptist Churches of Connecticut Archive occupies part of the third floor of Central Baptist Church in Hartford (pretty impressive in its own right!). It’s only open by appointment (usually on the days when the Historical Council is meeting), so be sure to call the church office before visiting.
Occupying two rooms, the archives contains books on the history of the Baptist Church, histories of specific Connecticut churches, scrapbooks, clipping files, and more. As of right now, it does not have membership records from individual churches…
But don’t write it off as a resource! My favorite among their holdings is a book that identified and gave a history for each Baptist church in a Connecticut community. It warned me that a town I was researching had actually had a Baptist church – although it had disbanded in 1871. If you’re looking for an ancestor who might have had an influential role in a specific church or to identify and trace the history of a Baptist church your ancestor might have attended, the ABCONN archive is the place to go…
And even better, their goal is to see more researchers on a regular basis. If you have a friend who would benefit from their collection, be sure to spread the word!