Old Smithfield records
As many Rhode Island researchers know, the records of old Smithfield, Rhode Island are located in the Central Falls City Hall. Smithfield was a very early settlement, but grew into many towns, and at some point the early records were placed for permanent storage in Central Falls, and each town has their own more recent records.
I visited there recently, at 580 Broad Street in the tiny city of Central Falls. It was a typical (for Rhode Island) turn-of-the-last-century city hall, and in fact it is on the same street as the nearby Cumberland Town Hall.
Like many city halls, it has no real parking, and also is in a popular and crowded neighborhood – in this case, it is next to a busy small park. I was puzzled about parking but finally realized there were one or two unoccupied spots next to the building, on the street (that would be across the side street from the Dunkin Donuts … you will know you’ve reached Rhode Island if there’s a coffee shop on every corner).
The city clerk’s office was easy to find on the first floor and I thought the staff person who helped me was among the most professional and knowledgeable I have encountered. I was quickly led into a room filled with the old books and records, with a couple of tables and chairs. During my stay I encountered a few other visitors, but as in most town halls, they seemed to be strictly doing title or other legal research as quickly as possible, and moving on.
The room was neat and spacious and well organized. I had seen many records on microfilm during a trip to the Family History Library in 2013, so I was there to get a sense of what records were available, to evaluate the indexing, and to do some specific lookups. Handwritten index pages can be hard to read, so I wanted to photograph some pages and return another time with a list of records I wanted to find.
Vital records are just inside the door. Seeing these in person finally helped me to realize that since they start in 1730, and the information I am seeking (a family for Rachel Arnold) would be be from the 1730’s or earlier, I should also be be looking at the prior repository. I think that would be Providence City Archives.
What surprised me about the vital records was that some early pages were damaged or worn at some point in their history. They are carefully encased now for protection, but it’s obvious that at some point they incurred some damage.
I was very interested in finding probate records. I have never found any death or probate information for Thomas Arnold. I found the Probate volumes and was told the index to each volume could be found at the front. For the early volumes I was using, that was not true, but eventually I found index pages towards the back – so scanty and mixed in with the final volume pages that I had missed them at first. The pages are safely bound now to prevent further damage.
I photographed the index pages for study at home. Given the state of the index, without a page-by-page perusal, it would be hard to be absolutely sure what was in the probate records. The only place I know of with a more recently compiled index to Smithfield Wills is the Rhode Island Genealogical Register, volume 16. That has not helped me.
I did find the will, administration papers and inventory of Thomas Arnold’s father, Thomas Arnold Esq (1705-1765) on page 481-498 of volume 2 (1749-1768). I learned something about my family that I did not know before; there will be a future blog post about The Peleg Arnold Tavern.
There were index volumes for grantors and grantees. I checked the index for the 1762 John & Mary Smith/Thomas Arnold Jr deed that I wanted to photograph. I had to inquire where volume 6 of the Smithfield deeds were; turns out they were in the metal cupboard.
I photographed the deed for careful study later. I am hoping this John and Mary Smith could possibly be Rachel’s parents. I had also photographed a probate record for the only possible John Smith I could find in the records.
I explored the cabinet a bit and found an old tax booklet (1803), and a neighborhood by neighborhood Surveyors List from 1814.
All in all, I enjoyed getting to know the old Smithfield records and I will be returning soon. I haven’t yet looked at many town council records or recorded all the vital records I need.
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