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Researching New Haven—and a few general hints, as well

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Inside Map with scrolling

Early sketch of New Haven. Repository Yale University

My upcoming novel, The Forging of Frost, is set in 17thcentury New Haven Colony so I decided to look back at the catalyst for that novel, the family research I did on my New Haven ancestors.I am, after all, the real life version of the fictional Maggie found in my books.

I was surprised to find only one postWhy?

Well, there just aren’t many resources available, but they are extraordinarily comprehensive.Here’s what I discovered, and along the way I’ve added some hints, whether you’re doing New Haven research or not.

Hint #1: Always determine where the person(s) you are researching lived and go to FamilySearch.org.

Input the place name to search their research wiki for an overview of all available resources and the catalog to discover their library’s digital resources. I didn’t always do this and would go on random search adventures. But why?

And never think your done. While testing this article, I reviewed the resources in their catalogand found this in the Abstracts of the early probate records of New Haven compiled by Winifred S. Alcorn. Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 1.40.00 PM

Typical of New England colonies in general, most of the New Haven information comes from copious records kept by documentation-conscious church leadership. Later, the minutes of town and colony, as well as church vital records, were unified into book form by early historians (before those three to four-hundred year old records turned to dust or were ruined by constant exposure). So what’s available?

Colonial Records: in this case the online and searchable archive.org versions.

I love these records—my book, after all, fictionalizes a handful of trials found inside. The volumes unveil New Haven’s development, dilemmas, and ultimate demise in a moment by moment manner. Included in the meeting notes are a host of family names. Some parts of the transcribed volumes are redacted due to what the editor sensitivity to what he deemed offensive content. The unredacted originals are housed in the Connecticut State Library archives.

Hint: archive.org books (digitalized by numerous contributors) are searchable.

Just make sure you use the format that looks like a book and click the magnifier to the right. (When hovered over, it says “search inside.”) Use all the possible spellings. In my case, “Payne” and “Paine” provided results, as did “Payen” in other works.

Town Records:I’ve found these extremely useful, but you usually have to work for them. FamilySearch.org has a range of them on line, but they aren’t usually searchable. Except by you—one page at a time. Luckily, a transcript of New Haven’s town records is available through archives.org.

Hint: A good sense of the time frame in which your ancestor inhabited the town helps narrow your search.

Town records include tidbits not available in the colonial records, and if your ancestors moved within the colony, research every town.

Local Town Genealogies:I’m speaking of the genealogies compiled from town vitals and other records not easily accessed, not books produced by descendants or gathered from residents for town histories that include biographies based on recollection. They are less reliable. Regardless:

New Haven has an excellent and comprehensive eight-volume set of early family records.

  • Families of Ancient New Haven, Volumes 1-8,compiled by Donald Lines Jacobus, C.D. Smith, Rome, New York, 1923. While some of the volumes are available through archives.org, the most comprehensive and searchable version is through Ancestry.com $$

Hint: Always, always, check the front pages of compiled records for ABBREVIATIONS.

Screen Shot 2018-07-14 at 9.29.09 AM

Sample of abbreviations found at beginning of Ancient Families of New Haven

Don’t just guess at them. Some useful information might be over looked if you don’t know their meanings. Note the example. All of the records in Volume 6 of Families of Ancient New Haven for Samuel Payne, my 4x great grandfather, have an F by them, indicating the author drew the information from family records. (Refer to the hint below!)

Local Histories:Two examples I read on New Haven included the following searchable books found at archives.org.

Hint: Be very careful with town, county, and descendant genealogy/history books, for while they may contain information that sends you down fruitful paths, you must verify through other sources.

Historical Societies and Museums:Some are excellent repositories; some aren’t repositories at all. Some provide their resources on-line; some require a visit.

Hint: If you plan a visit, check out when they’re open.

I did, but no rearranging of my travel schedule got me to New Haven on the right day. Still, a place like the one below is wonderful about returning e-mails and helping with research, so ASK. New Haven’s best bet?

So, whether you’re searching for ancient ancestors in New Haven, New England or further afield—or just want to know more about the history of a place—check FamilySearch.org resources, use the magic of archive.org digitalized books, go deep, and keep looking.

Do you have other hints or ideas for research? Let me know in comments!

About croywright

The author, a writer of history and historical fiction, always yearned to go back in time.

One response »

  1. Thank you for your hints! I’m hooked!

    Reply

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