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Archive for the ‘Providence’ Category

Registration opened this week for the New England Regional Genealogical Conference which will take place in Providence, Rhode Island, April 15-18, 2015.  The conference is held in New England every two years and this time, the location will be at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence.  I am really looking forward to it.

Enjoy the conference

The conference program is now available to download as a pdf.  I am looking forward to keynote speakers Judy G. Russell and Lisa Louisa Cook, and I won’t miss an opportunity to hear Cherry Bamburg Fletcher speak about Rhode Island research.  Personally, I am planning to add Barbara MathewsDocument Analysis special workshop to my registration.  There are over a hundred other sessions to choose from, with excellent and knowledgeable presenters on a wide variety of topics.  Choosing will probably be the hard part.  There are also an Exhibit Hall, the popular 20-minute personal consultations at the Ancestors Road Show, Special Interest Group gatherings, Librarian and Teachers’ Day, and Tech Day.  Even those not attending can submit a “Genealogical Query” for $5.00 which will be visible to conference attendees; the deadline for that is January 15 (see page 3 in the downloadable brochure).

South Main Street historic area, Providence

South Main Street historic area, Providence. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

Volunteer

This impressive conference is run by volunteers representing many local genealogical organizations.  The conference only exists because people step forward to volunteer.  If you attend, plan to spend a couple hours in a volunteer job.  This will NOT lower your cost of registration (as I said, it’s ALL volunteer efforts) but will make you feel like a good citizen, and you’ll meet more people doing that.  Last time, I helped out in the registration booth for a few hours, but there will be a wide variety of jobs to choose from, closer to the event.  And if you are a local genealogist who doesn’t plan to register and attend, but you can still give a little volunteer time, they would also welcome your help.

Be a tourist

NERGC has some good tips for seeing the sites during your stay. I like their suggestion of the self-guided “telephone tour” of downtown which allows you to follow the “Independence Trail” and phone in when you reach each designated stopping point, to hear recorded guidance about each historical spot.  It’s 2-1/2 miles of walking, but it’s free, and you could go at your own pace and stop along the way.  There is also a guided local Explore Providence Tour that includes transportation and sounds wonderful (see page 3 of the program for cost and reservations).  The Providence Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau also has a thorough list of historical sites in the area.

East Greenwich Town Hall, one of my absolute favorite town halls.  The materials are well organized and available.  They even have a neat map of the original farms that they will sell you.

East Greenwich Town Hall, one of my absolute favorite town halls. The materials are well organized and available. They even have a neat map of the original farms that they will sell you.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

Do some local genealogical research

Now we’re getting to the point of this post.  If you have Rhode Island roots, you may want to try to fit in some research, and it would be best to start thinking about that early, and prepare for a few local visits at repositories.  A great place to start would be the excellent guidance in Cherry Bamburg Fletcher’s newly revised Frequently Asked Questions About Rhode Island Genealogy on the Rhode Island Genealogical Society website.

While this list is by no means complete, these are some local repositories I’m familiar with:

WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE

  • The Rhode Island State Archives.  About a six block walk from the Convention Center.  This is a government department which primarily records state government activity.  It has a reading room with a wonderful index of R.I. vital records from about 1853 up to the legally allowed cutoffs – about 1915 or so (after using the index volumes, you can look at the state-compiled entries on microfilm), a fair collection of books and guides, a Revolutionary War index card file and other military resources, an index to Rhode Island General Assembly actions (most frequent appearance for my ancestors? “An Act for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors … “ ), the 1865 and 1875 Rhode Island state census records, and MANY special little index guides to state government activities.  See my posts here and here.
  • Providence City Archives.  About three blocks from the Convention Center, and next to the Biltmore Hotel.  If your ancestors lived in Providence at any time since 1636, you may want to do some research at the Providence City Archives up top of the picturesque 1878 Providence City Hall. On the fifth floor, the space is cramped and tiny, and the collection is not browsable, so it’s not a great place to just stroll around, but it is a valuable resource if you have real requests to make.  I mostly go to request Providence vital records and to view probate records (remember “probate” sometimes includes guardianships or adoptions).  See my post here.
  • The Providence Public Library.  About a five block walk from the door of the Convention Center, the library has some useful features.  I have never been in the special collections, and I’m not very familiar with them.  I mostly appreciate the extensive collection of Providence newspapers that they carry on microfilm, particularly since most of these are not online anywhere.  You can view microfilm and print, for a price per page.  They also have a large card index of Rhode Island events, well-known citizens, and news.  See my blog post here.
The State Archives reading room.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

The State Archives reading room. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

NEARBY BUT NOT WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE

  • The Library of the Rhode Island Historical Society.  Perhaps some may argue this is walkable from the Convention Center.  If you have good health, good shoes, good weather, an intrepid companion, and a little time, you might look into it.  On the map, it won’t appear THAT far away – maybe about a mile.  What the coy map won’t reveal to you is that it’s UP HILL. And I mean UP.  HILL.  You would be going through some lovely and historic parts of Providence, so you would, for sure, enjoy the scenery if, well, you could breathe and everything.  No matter how you get there, this is probably Rhode Island’s premier research destination.  Non-members pay a small fee and fill out paperwork for a day pass, and will not be allowed to photograph anything at all.  There are some local records from various towns available on microfilm as well as the state’s most thorough collection of old newspapers on microfilm – very few are online anywhere (however, there is very little in the way of indexing available).  There is a large collection of genealogy books and journals as well as local books.  There are manuscripts which may be requested.  They have valuable collections and the structure, rules and process of visiting there is fairly severe. Bring a smile and some well thought out questions.  Explore their holdings thoroughly beforehand here.
  • The Rhode Island Judicial Archives is in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, maybe 5 miles away.  I would encourage anyone interested in the archival record of any particular case to contact the archives in advance to see if the case is on file there.  Nothing is browsable or searchable in person, indeed, you will be lining up with the criminals and lawyers to request your case records.  Ask for the historical records, and that clerk will be summoned. Older divorce cases from Rhode Island will be on file here, as well as many other types of court cases. You would need to know some details of the case (a name and rough date, to start with) in order for the clerk to try to find it. Documents can be read and photographed there.  See my post here.
The Rhode Island Historic Cemetery marker.  This one is from Peck Cemetery, Cumberland.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

A Rhode Island Historic Cemetery marker. This one is from Peck Cemetery, Cumberland (“Cumberland 19″). Photo by Diane Boumenot.

FARTHER AWAY

Cemeteries.  The tradition in Rhode Island was to bury family right on the family farm, because early Rhode Islanders were very firmly against any centralized powers belonging to the churches.  In a growing city like Providence, many of these early plots were eventually relocated to the North Burial Ground, or they just disappeared.  In most other areas, tiny historical cemeteries remain in place.  You can research recorded graves at the Rhode Island Historic Cemetery Commission website.

The city and town halls of Rhode Island are the place for vital records, deeds, probate, town council, and a random variety of other early records.  In Rhode Island, you won’t find materials at the county level except for some court records.

Keep in mind that town boundaries shifted over the years, meaning the records you seek may be in a different town than the one you associate your ancestors with (see this summary from the R.I. Genealogical Society to see if you need to explore this question).  Some of the local town libraries have local history rooms or special collections which can he useful.  My recommendation would be that if you are going to the town your ancestors lived in, go to the (correct) town hall but make sure you at least check out, from home, what the local library is offering as well. Less often, there is also a local historical society or historic building – those can have extremely limited hours.

Rhode Island has 39 cities and towns and each town hall has a completely different arrangement for access to records, seating areas, photocopying, picture-taking (usually allowed), access to books, ability to answer questions, and record sets available.  Going to each one is like arriving in a brand new country.

Town Hall, Westerly, Rhode Island.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

Town Hall, Westerly, Rhode Island. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

My suggestions for town/city halls would be:

  • Never go into your genealogy story. Dress neatly, be polite, ask about the materials you need and possibly give the impression you are a historical researcher or lawyer.
  • If there is any archival staff, yay, but if you are dealing with the normal town clerk staff, they really have other jobs to do and can’t spend much time on non-town business; they don’t always know much about the “old stuff.”  At best, they expect to lead you to an area of old volumes and leave you there, at worst, they expect you to request one item at a time which they will reluctantly attempt to find for you.
  • There are usually (but NOT ALWAYS) tables and chairs, but if there are other researchers, don’t count on a lot of room.  A laptop may be too complicated for these settings. I would suggest a camera and a paper notebook.  I sometimes bring a tablet or just rely on my cell phone if I need to look something up.  I suspect there would be a LOT of problems using photocopiers in town halls; a camera is better.
  • Sometimes there is an official room where researchers go (particularly people doing title searches) but there may ALSO be an old archives collection hidden away in a basement or something.  Try to be sure you are seeing all that’s available.
  • If staff say you should have called, reserved, warned them, written them a letter, etc, agree with that, keep smiling, keep them talking, and usually when they see you haven’t left yet, they tend to help you anyway.
  • Genealogists are nice people. But town staff have to deal with some real, real cranks and crazy people (as I have witnessed in sitting around those offices over the years), so give them a few minutes to realize you’re not one of those.
  • Follow ALL usual archival rules, whether stated or not – no pens, no food or drink, no talking on the phone, be extremely careful of the books, try to remove and use only one at a time, always replace them in the exact spot, lay them flat on the table.
  • The index volumes may be in a completely different area of the room from the record volumes.  Give a good look around.
  • The only true problem you are likely to encounter is a flat denial of access to vital records because “it’s the law”, “because of privacy” or “the record is not about you” (like I’d be asking for my own death record).  If you need post-1914 records you may not be able to solve this one.  If you are asking for pre-1914 records, stand your ground and politely say that under Rhode Island law those records are public records and you have a right to see them, if they exist.  Keep smiling, and say that you’re probably going to need to talk to the Town Clerk. The Rhode Island law changed recently to include some new restrictions but none of that applies to pre-1914 records.
Early Smithfield records are stored at the Central Falls City Hall records room.  Photo by Diane Boumenot.

Early Smithfield records are stored at the Central Falls City Hall records room. Photo by Diane Boumenot.

My suggestions for local libraries or historical societies:

  • Definitely mention genealogy, this sometimes gets you ushered right away into the special “Genealogy Room”.
  • If possible, write a week or two in advance.  Sometimes the best person to help you is only available at certain times.
  • Make sure you are seeing an index or catalog to the special collections or manuscripts.  Sometimes old materials are cataloged separately.
  • Look for unique manuscript items like indices to local newspapers, obituary collections, index lists to local town records, inventories of historic houses, local newspapers, genealogy card files, local pictures, and manuscript genealogies.  These may not be available anywhere else.
  • If you gain admittance into any local historical society or small museum, either pay admission or buy something.  They need the money, and it will help them to see that you appreciate their work.

In closing

For a more detailed review of repositories, check out Michael Leclerc’s Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research, 5th edition, (Boston, NEHGS, 2012) and Diane Rapaport’s New England Court Records (Burlington, Mass., Quill Pen Press, 2006), as well as the previously mentioned Cherry Bamburg Fletcher’s Frequently Asked Questions About Rhode Island Genealogy on the Rhode Island Genealogical Society website.

Sign up for the conference e-zine today!

The post you are reading is located at:  http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2014/10/26/providence-for-nergc/

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On a recent visit to the New England Historic Genealogical Society library in Boston I discovered a book of paintings of 1830’s Providence by Edward Lewis Peckham.  “A Painter of Old Providence” appeared in The Journal of American History, volume VI, No. IV, 1912, and included an article by Mr. Peckham’s nephew, Stephen Farnum Peckham.  This article (and additional material from two subsequent issues, volume VII, No. 1 & 2, 1913) were re-issued as a limited-printing booklet, and it is from that booklet that I photographed many of these paintings and drawings.  The remainder are clipped from the Internet Archives copies of the journals, linked above.

Clicking each image will show a larger version.

This beautiful view of Market Square was drawn in 1835, looking east.  In the foreground is the large bridge and one of the shops on it has a sign “Books.”  How I wish I could visit. You can see the First Baptist Church in America in the background.

Market Square

Market Square

View of Providence from the East Bank, 2 miles down the river around 1843.  On the right is Fox Point.

Providence from 2 miles down the bay

Providence from 2 miles down the bay

The Fox Point shore, 1832, a place famous for baptisms.  “On a calm Sabbath morning the gentlest splash of an oar could be heard; and at this distant day a favorite hymn of “Oh happy are they, who their Saviour obey,” sung as the newly-made converts walked slowly to the land, is still sounding in my ears.” — Edward Lewis Peckham

Fox Point shore

Fox Point shore

The Old Town House stood on the corner of College and Benefit Streets, and was torn down in 1860.  Built in 1723 as a place of worship for the Benevolent Congregational Society, who sold it to the city in 1795, the building saw many church services of all types, and civic activities from around the time of the American Revolution and Dorr’s Rebellion.  Later, it was used as a low-level court and police station.  Today the spot holds part of the sprawling Rhode Island state court house.

The Old Town House

The Old Town House

At one point, the long low building seen at India Point was used as a bowling alley.

India Point from Fort Hill

India Point from Fort Hill

The American House hotel, 77 North Main Street.

The American House, corner of North Main and Steeple Streets

The American House, corner of North Main and Steeple Streets

The view of the Cove is from 1846. On the right is Canal Street; Steeple Street enters it at the first brick building.  The cove, where the Woonasquetucket and Moshasuck Rivers converge on the harbor, and the tide flowed in and out, was a fixture of early Providence.  Today, the old Union Station buildings sit at the center of what, below, is water. Visible to the left is the outline of the old jail.

The Cove

The Cove

Red Bridge, looking east from below the bridge, 1832.

Red Bridge

Red Bridge

The south part of Benefit Street is the view from Thomas Peckham’s house, circa 1834, looking at the corner of Transit Street.

South Part of Benefit Street

South Part of Benefit Street

Heavy Snow, Dec. 27, 1838

Heavy Snow, Dec. 27, 1838

– Paintings and drawings by Edward Lewis Peckham

The post you are reading is located at:  http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2014/08/11/painter-providence/

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There is a new web site devoted to Rhode Island’s historical societies, collections, and sites.

Explore RHODI

RHODI, the Rhode Island History Online Directory Initiative is a new website from the Rhode Island Historical Society.  Explore it today to learn more about the organizations, museums, libraries and preservation sites that are dedicated to Rhode Island’s history.

If you are visiting Rhode Island, or looking for information from a distance, you can learn more about available resources by following the many links at the RHODI website.

Visiting the Roger Williams National Memorial

Speaking of historical sites, I recently visited Rhode Island’s only National Memorial (there are no National Parks in Rhode Island).

The sign at the south end of the tiny park.

The sign at the south end of the tiny park.  You can see some colorful flags in the background along Canal Street.

The Roger William National Memorial is located in Providence, to the north side of downtown, around the spot where Roger Williams first settled in Providence.  It consists of a tiny park and a welcome center, with a little parking along one side.  This picture, below, was in early morning, but by mid-day, in warm weather, there are usually people playing catch, parking their bikes, having a picnic, or exploring the memorial.

Some daffodils were blooming this week.

Some daffodils were blooming this week.  You can see some colorful flags in the background along Canal Street.

The rest of the pictures were taken last winter, obviously a quiet time at the park. The picture below shows the Hahn Memorial, built in the 1930’s to honor Isaac Hahn, “the first person of Jewish faith to be elected to public office from Providence”, according to the Roger Williams National Memorial website.

This picture, taken last winter, shows the picturesque entrance along North Main Street.

This photo, taken last winter, shows the picturesque entrance along North Main Street.

There is a welcome center at the north end of the memorial, in the Antram-Gray House.  Part of this building has survived since 1730, and has served many purposes over the years before it became the welcome center.  A spot next to it called “Bernon Grove” commemorates the founder of King’s Chapel (now St. John’s Episcopal Church, across the street).  As Roger Williams planned, those of many faiths found refuge in the colony of Rhode Island.

The Antram-Gray House welcomes visitors and provides park offices.

The Antram-Gray House welcomes visitors and provides park offices.

Inside the visitors center I was greeted by a very nice park ranger and we had a great chat about Roger Williams and Providence history.

Books are for sale in the welcome center.

Books are for sale in the welcome center.

I looked around at the exhibit inside.

Roger Williams is there to greet you at the Vistitors Center exhibit.  Occasionally when I drive by in the summer, he is on the sidewalk welcoming visitors.

Roger Williams is there to welcome you at the Visitors Center exhibit. Occasionally when I drive by in the summer, he is on the sidewalk greeting passersby with a silent “what cheer?”

One last thought

On North Main Street, just up the street from this memorial, is the First Baptist Church in America.  I took this picture, below, of the church and the sign out front during the celebration of the 350th Anniversary of Rhode Island’s 1663 Charter, last year.

The First Baptist Church in America, nearby.

The First Baptist Church in America, nearby.

The post you are reading is located at:  http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2014/04/19/rhode-islands-historical-sites/

Photos by Diane Boumenot

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I visited the North Burial Ground in Providence this week for the first time.  This large municipal cemetery holds over 35,000 markers (1) and over 100,000 interments (4).  It was begun by the city in 1700 and remains active today, with new burials occurring regularly.  It was originally positioned north of the Providence settlement, but over the centuries Providence and Pawtucket grew around it and it is now located at the intersections of North Main Street and Branch Avenue, with I-95 running along one side.

The southern entrance shows the cemetery office just inside the gates.

The southern entrance with the cemetery office just inside the gates.

Prior to the creation of the cemetery, and during its early years, residents of Providence buried their loved ones in family plots on their own property, since there was no central church and accompanying graveyard.  Gradually, many of those small cemeteries were relocated to the North Burial Ground (4).  By the mid-1800’s there was a desire to make the appearance more rustic and scenic, and extensive landscaping and improvements were undertaken (4).  In the 20th century the cemetery continued to grow but struggled with some deterioration and vandalism.  Today, the cemetery remains a unique and authentic memorial to Providence, past and present.

The downtown Providence skyline, barely visible on the horizon from the center of the cemetery, gives an almost exaggerated idea of the distance.

The downtown Providence skyline, barely visible on the horizon from the center of the cemetery, gives an exaggerated idea of the distance.

Visiting

Those who frequent Rhode Island’s many historic cemeteries will appreciate being able to walk into a cemetery office and get some help finding a grave – a rare opportunity in Rhode Island.

Entrance to the office

Entrance to the office

While it is likely that I have some early ancestors there, I only knew about one grave for sure that I was seeking.  It was the grave of my great-great aunt, Sarah E. Lamphere Capwell (1843-1905).  She was the sister of my gg-grandmother, Emma Lamphere Darling.

I walked into the office (open hours are listed here) with some information in hand that I had found on The Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries Transcription Project website (7) about Sarah’s burial.  The staff in the office were patient and cheerful as I stumbled around a little checking the year of burial; it turns out that date is the crucial starting point.  I did know the section (section BE), but they wanted to find the plot record and let me see that.

The book containing the ownership and record of burials for the plot.

The book containing the ownership and burials for the plot I was seeking.

The cemetery records

The record book was extremely helpful.  It showed the layout for the 10 graves in the plot, and gave some information for each one.

The Capwell plot in Section 17, Lot no. 2563.  On the map, the section is called BE.

The Capwell plot in Section 17, Lot no. 2563. On the map, the section is called BE.

The “Proprietor” was Nancy M. Capwell.  Sarah appears to be the first buried, in grave #1. Sarah was married to Burrington Anthony Capwell, who was the son of Nancy Maria (Wesson) Capwell and Joseph Alexander Capwell (a butcher), who were buried next in #2 and #3.  In the 1900 census Nancy Maria reported that she was the mother of 10 children, 4 living, so possibly the five names recorded in the plot record could have been for their children.  The staff explained to me that the scanty records of those names – Sarah, Maria, Caroline, Clark and Lillian – could indicate that they were re-interred from another location.  The last three names – Burrington himself, Sarah’s son Charles, and Charles’ wife, Margaret, complete the plot record.  Since Margaret was actually #11, she apparently shares a grave with her husband.

All interments for the Capwell plot

All interments for the Capwell plot.  The list of names included ages and dates of burial for some of the interred.

The staff pointed out several helpful pieces of information on the sheet.  Names are listed and numbered, and the diagram of the plot shows the appropriate number in each spot.  So you know where each person was buried. The rectangles and lines drawn at the foot of some graves usually represent markers.

The diagram of graves also shows some information about the location

The diagram of graves also shows some information about the location

Underneath the chart is an indication of the location of the plot within the section, indicated by feet from from the nearest roads – “61 ft E of Central —  79 ft S of Prospect area”.

Finding the grave

Staff were ready to accompany me but I was willing to drive over and try to find the grave myself. They gave me a map, and highlighted it with my route.   Section BE was large.  If it weren’t for the specific notations on the page I think I would have had a big problem finding it.  But I counted out the feet and found the spot.

A tiny portion of my map.  You can see where staff pointed out the number of feet from each street.

A tiny portion of my map. You can see where staff pointed out the number of feet from each street.

The map is not online, it is pretty much expected that you will go to the cemetery during open hours Monday through Friday and get specific directions, or be escorted, to the plot you are looking for in the huge cemetery.  Staff are busy, of course, but good at getting visitors the information they need.

Sarah E. Lampher Wife of B. A. Capwell Died Mar 14, 1905 Aged 59 Years

Sarah E. Lampher Wife of B. A. Capwell Died Mar 14, 1905 Aged 59 Years

I found Sarah’s grave among the Capwells.  The plot map and seeing these graves “put to rest” any idea I might have had of finding connections to Sarah’s Lamphere family, for instance, a sibling buried near her.

Sarah is in the second row, at the end.  Her husband Burrington should be immediately in front of her, but he has no marker.  Oddly, his parents have a double marker which says "Mother" and "Father" with dates, but no names at all.  Perhaps there had been plans for one more, grander monument.

The ten graves. Sarah is in the second row, at the end. Her husband Burrington should be immediately in front of her, but he has no marker. His parents have a double marker which says “Mother” and “Father” with dates, but no names at all. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized the short railing (in front) said “Capwell” at ground level. 

Research

The record books in the cemetery office apparently go back to about 1848 (3).  To find earlier information, most people consult John E. Sterling’s North Burial Ground, Providence, Rhode Island : Old Section, 1700-1848 (9).  That book is out of print, so the people at Gaspee Virtual Archives (3) have provided some information about where to find a copy.  There is, of course, a copy available in the cemetery office.

A Firefighters memorial to "Men Killed in the Line of Duty", beginning in 1828.

A Firefighters memorial to “Men Killed in the Line of Duty”, beginning in 1828.

The cemetery is filled with interesting memorials added over the years – a Firefighters memorial, an Elks section, various veterans memorials, to name just a few.

The Elks memorial

The Elks memorial

I’m sure I will be revisiting this huge cemetery in the future, since I suspect I have ancestors among the oldest burials.

Sources for further information

  1. The city of Providence webpage for the Old North Burial Ground
  2. List of names frequently found in the cemetery from The Bucklin Society website
  3. Instructions for finding graves at the cemetery, from the Gaspee Virtual Archives website
  4. National Register of Historic Places nomination form (1977; Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission)
  5. Two volumes of North Burial Ground notes (mostly legacies), from the Early Records of the Town of Providence:  volume 18 and volume 19.
  6. Some old inscriptions are recorded in The Narragansett Historical Register with the title ” The Story of the Tablets” by James L. Sherman  See volume 4 (p. 70, 116, 178, 283) and  volume 5 p. (67, 166, 268).  Find links to all volumes here.
  7. The Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries Transcription Project.  This large index can be downloaded in small pdf sections.  It includes entries statewide.
  8. FindAGrave section for the North Burial Ground.
  9. North Burial Ground, Providence, Rhode Island : Old Section, 1700-1848 by John E Sterling.  Greenville, RI : Rhode Island Genealogical Society, 2000. This book is out of print.  See the WorldCat record here, and another list of repositories that hold the book here.

The post you are reading is located at:  http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2014/04/14/north-burial-ground-providence

2014-04-11 12.36.05

 

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The Early Records of the Town of Providence is a set of 21 volumes that provides a transcription of many of the earliest record books of Providence, Rhode Island, over the period of 1636 to 1750.  The books were compiled in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  They are short books, and fairly readable (although original spelling is maintained). They represent a unique and powerful glimpse into the lives of the early Providence settlers – their life events, businesses, laws, misdeeds, families, property, sense of community and ambitions.  The books are well worth perusing for more than just an index to our individual ancestors.

Volume 8

Volume 8

What can be found

Because of the separation of church and state when Providence was founded by Roger Williams and others, the early town records encompassed not only laws, taxation,  court cases, probate and deeds but also vital records, including marriage banns, and some cemetery records.  The uncertain early relationships between Providence, Newport, Portsmouth and Warwick are apparent in the pages, as well as the growth of the settlement in Providence and the tensions that arose in the distribution of land and resources.  In the earliest years, Providence encompassed what are now other towns in Providence County, so records could be in the books for those areas, such as Cranston and Smithfield.

The settlement at Providence was damaged during King Phillips War (1675-1676) and for this and many other reasons town records are incomplete and somewhat scattered. There is no clear progression of topics and dates from volume to volume.  Each book contains a thoughtful introduction to the status of the particular records found there and I would encourage people to examine those pages.  The latest record I saw was about 1750.

What follows is a brief overview of the contents of each volume, plus a link to where each one can be found and downloaded (in most cases, from Archive.org).  The links were provided to me by a blog reader in England, who knew that others would like to have easy access to them.  Thanks!

The entry, possibly for my 9th great grandfather Michael Phillips, from volume 5, page 151, indicates that he may have died before 1676.

This entry for my 9th great grandfather Michael Phillips, from volume 5, page 151, indicates that he may have died before 1676.  I did not know that.

The index

Each book is well indexed, but a compiled index of all 21 volumes was produced by Richard LeBaron Bowen and published in 1949 by the Rhode Island Historical Society.  The index book begins with a synopsis of the contents of each book (far more comprehensive than what you see below), followed by the index (with corrections from the original indexing) and an interesting analysis of how the indexed names compare to other compiled lists of early Rhode Island families, for instance, Austin’s Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island.

The index book is available online here, and can be downloaded from Archive.org directly through this link.

The volumes

Below are each of the 21 volumes and an indication of what is in them.

Volume 1 “Being the First Book of the Town of Providence otherwise called the Long Old Book with Parchment Cover.”  From the introduction:

The first volume of records selected for perpetuation in print is the earliest in date of the existing public records of the city, and has at different times been referred to in town documents as the ” First Book of the Town of Providence,” and “The Long old Book with Parchment Cover.” The original leaves of this book are now separately fastened to or inlaid in sheets of strong paper 11-3/4 by 19-1/2 inches in size, and the whole is substantially bound in green leather inscribed on the side with the words, ” First Book Town of Providence.”

Vol. 1 is available for browsing at this page, or download directly from Archive.org by clicking here.

Volume 2 “Being the Second Book of the Town of Providence otherwise called the Town Old Book The Short Old Book The Old Burnt Book and sometimes called The Book with Brass Clasps.”  From the introduction:

It will be observed that the book, analytically, is divided into two parts ; that is, that it has been used for two different and distinct purposes ; first, for recording evidences of land titles and other instruments ; and, secondly, for the minutes of meetings for town purposes. One end of the book was probably used for one of these purposes and the other end for the other.

Vol. 2 is available for browsing at this page, or download directly from Archive.org by clicking here.

Richard Pray, my 11th great grandfather "hath taken vp the Sahrpe peece of land lying neere the place where Rich watermans Great Cannoo was made."  From volume 2, page 17.

Richard Pray, my 11th great grandfather “hath taken vp the Sharpe peece of land lying neere the place where Rich watermans Great Cannoo was made.” From volume 2, page 17.

Volume 3 “Being part of the Third Book of the Town of Providence otherwise called the book with brass clasps.”

Vol. 3 is available for browsing at this page, or download directly from Archive.org by clicking here.

Volume 4 “Being part of the Third Book of the Town of Providence otherwise called the book with brass clasps.”    (a continuation of the previous volume)  From the introduction:

The records of the Town Meeting terminate at page 157 in the original, and at page 53 in this book; the remainder of the original containing enrollments of deeds, births, marriages and deaths, together with other miscellaneous records. … As will be noticed, the last date of a Town Meeting is on the 16th of February, 1675…

Vol. 4 is available for browsing at this page, or download directly from Archive.org by clicking here.

Volume 5 “Being part of the Third Book of the Town of Providence otherwise called the book with brass clasps.”    (the final installment of this set)

This printed volume completes the records contained in the third manuscript book, entitled “Third Book Town of Providence A and B,” otherwise called “The Book with Brass Clasps.” It also completes the series of books that were in use for the earliest records of the town.

Vol. 5 is available for browsing at this page, or download directly from Archive.org by clicking here.

Volume 6 “Being part of Will Book No. 1 otherwise called the first booke for Prouidence Towne Councill Perticulior Vse.”

This volume reproduces in type a portion of the records contained in the earliest book now in the possession of the city, mainly used for probate proceedings of the town. It is not, however, the first book so used, for in the schedule of the books and papers belonging to the town, which survived the effects of King Philip’s War, so called, and which schedule bears date June 4, 1677, there is inventoried among other records “A Small papor Book Containing the Enrolements of wills:”

Vol. 6 is available for browsing at this page, or download directly from Google.com by clicking here.

A 1691 warning that he will not pay the debts of his wife, from Ephraim Pierce.  The papers sometimes served purposes later served by newspapers.

A 1691 warning that he will not pay the debts of his wife, from Ephraim Pierce. The books sometimes served purposes later served by newspapers.  from volume 4, page 80.

Volume 7 “Being part of Will Book No. 1 otherwise called the first booke for Prouidence Towne Councill Perticulior Vse.” (The second and final section, including the probate record for my 9th great grandfather John Malavery, which begins on page 145.  There are a lot of inventory lists in this book – a fascinating glimpse into Providence life circa 1700.)

Vol. 7 is available for browsing at this page, or download directly from Archive.org by clicking here.

Volume 8 “Being part of the Book of Records of Town Meetings No. 3 1677 to 1750 and other papers.”

The period succeeding the time embraced in the last named volume was one of disaster to the town, for the Indian War which had raged with varying success throughout the New England Colonies was then brought within the confines of Rhode Island. During a part of this period, previous to March 28, 1676, and for some time thereafter the town was practically deserted, its business well nigh suspended and a portion of it destroyed by the ravages of the Indians. The townsmen however carried on such governmental affairs as were actually necessary, and during this time Roger Williams held the office of Town Clerk. Some of the records during his incumbency are now extant, but it is not thought that all have been preserved.

Vol. 8 is available for browsing at this page, or download directly from Archive.org by clicking here.

Volume 9 “Being part of the Book of Records of Town Meetings No. 3 1677 to 1750 and other papers.”  From the introduction:

The material contained in this volume consists largely of layouts of various highways in and around Providence. Through the courtesy of J. Herbert Shedd, City Engineer, the commissioners have been able to identify nearly every one of these highways, and foot notes are added to show the present street or highway intended by the crude and indefinite courses and boundaries given in the originals. The remaining entries consist of a few town meeting records, records of coroners’ inquests, indentures of apprenticeship and records of marriages, while a part of the book is taken up with entries relative to stray cattle, reports of wolf killers and other miscellaneous records.

Vol. 9 is available for browsing at this page, or download directly from Archive.org by clicking here.

Volume 10 “Being the book called Town Council No. 1 1692-1714 and containing the records of the Providence Town Council.”  From the introduction:

The proceedings recorded in this volume refer almost entirely to the administration of probate affairs, for little else was brought to the Town Council for consideration except occasional requests or liquor licenses and for permission to keep public houses of entertainment.

Vol. 10 is available for browsing at this page, or download directly from Archive.org by clicking here.

Volume 11 “Being the book of records designated as Town Meeting No. 1 1692-1715.”

Vol. 11 is available for browsing at this page, or download directly from Archive.org by clicking here.

 

My 10th great grandmother Mary (----) Pray was, with her husband Richard, was granted a public house license in Providence as early as 1655.  This license, in 1681, may  refer to Mary, who had separated from Richard in 1667.   It is from volume 6 page 29.

My 10th great grandmother Mary (—-) Pray was, with her husband Richard, granted a public house license in Providence as early as 1655. This license, in 1681, may refer to Mary, who had separated from Richard in 1667. It is from volume 6 page 29.

Volume 12 “Being the book called Town Council No. 2 1715 to 1752 and containing the records of the Providence Town Council.”    From the introduction:

This book contains the proceedings of the Town Council, sitting as a court of probate, and is devoted almost entirely to this class of records, although the granting of tavern licenses, with the attendant privilege of selling liquors, occupied some space.

Vol. 12 is available for browsing at this page, or download directly from Archive.org by clicking here.

Volume 13 “Being the book called Town Meeting No. 2 1716 to 1721 and containing the records of the Providence Town Meeting.”  From the introduction:

The record book known as “Town Meeting No 2 1716 1721″ which is here produced in type purports to contain the proceedings of the town meetings between those dates but in fact it also contains records for the years 1722, 1723, 1724 and 1725. A careful examination of it, leaves one somewhat in doubt as to just what this book was intended to be, for though it has many features about it to convey the impression that it is the original book of record there are likewise certain indications that it was used by the town clerk as a “Blotter” in which to make memoranda of the town proceedings previous to the more extended record. The perplexing irregularity of dates as shown in its present condition probably resulted from a lack of care in placing the sheets in proper order when the volume was bound up many years ago, and the incongruity of the title doubtless arose from the fact that, as bound, proceedings for the year 1721 come upon the last page of the manuscript book, thus misleading the person in charge of the binding into the belief that 1721 was the latest date referred to in the volume.

Vol. 13 is available for browsing at this page, or download directly from Archive.org by clicking here.

Volume 14 “Being the first book for the recording of deeds and called Deed Book No. 1.”  From the introduction:

It Is the first volume which was particularly used for the entry of land evidences and similar documents, and marks a period when the growth of the town demanded a more systematic method of keeping its records.

Vol. 14 is available for browsing at this page, or download directly from Google.com by clicking here.

Volume 15 “Being the Providence Town papers Vol. 1 1639-April 1682 Nos. 01-0367.”  From the introduction:

These papers are decidedly miscellaneous in character and include petitions, letters, reports, depositions, tax lists, and nearly every other kind of public document in use in the early days of the Providence settlement during the time they cover, which extends from 1639 to 1682. The Commissioners have reproduced these papers in type with all the imperfections of spelling and arrangement, believing that any editing or revising would detract from their value.

Vol. 15 is available for browsing at this page, or download directly from Archive.org by clicking here.

Volume 16 “Being the records contained in Will Book No. 2 from Sept. 12, 1716 to Jan 7, 1728-9.”

Vol. 16 is available for browsing at this page, or download directly from Archive.org by clicking here.

Volume 17 “Being the Providence Town Papers Vol. 2 April 1682 – March 1722, Nos. 0358-0717.”   From the introduction:

… these papers are of a miscellaneous character and include nearly every variety of documents of a public nature.

Vol. 17 is available for browsing at this page, or download directly from Archive.org by clicking here.

An example of a 1688 tax list that would show you that Mary Harris was a widow, and some indication of the death of Joseph Wise.  From volume 17, page 122.

An example of a 1688 tax list that would show you, for instance, that Mary Harris was a widow, that there were at least two adult John Thorntons, and some indication of the death of Joseph Wise. From volume 17, page 122.

Volume 18 “Being official records and documents of title and proceedings relative to the North Burial Ground.” Much of volumes 18 and 19 are simple payments for perpetual care of a certain plot, by the families.   From the introduction:

On January 25, 1894, the Joint Standing Committee of the City Council on the North Burial Ground requested the City Engineer to compile and prepare for the use of said committee all the material on record from the earliest period in the history of the town of Providence up to that date, relating to the North Burial Ground. The growth of that institution with its changes of boundaries and the acquisition of territory made it absolutely necessary that there should be readily at hand the various records and data relating to this burying ground under the management and control of the municipality.

Vol. 18 is available for browsing at this page, or download directly from Archive.org by clicking here.

Volume 19 “Being official records and documents of title and proceedings relative to the North Burial Ground.”   (continued from previous volume).

Vol. 19 is available for browsing at this page, or download directly from Archive.org by clicking here.

Volume 20 “Being  the first part of the Second Book for the Recording of Deeds and Called Deed Book No. 2.”  From the introduction:

The book, which is herewith presented in type, comprises the first two hundred and five pages, being nearly one-half, of what is designated as Deed Book No. 2.  It purports to be “Begun on June the Twentieth Anno: 1705″ and the date of the last record of this portion is “November ye 6th 1711.”

Vol. 20 is available for browsing only at this link on HathiTrust, and cannot be downloaded as a whole book.

Volume 21 “Being the beginning of the second part of the second book for the recording of deeds and called Deed Book 2.”      From the introduction:

“Second Part of the Second Book for the Recording of Deeds and called Deed Book No. 2″. The earliest date is 3 Feb. 1661 and the latest date is 12 Mar. 1712/13.

Vol. 21 is available for browsing at this page, or download directly from Archive.org by clicking here.

Also see

Tax Lists of the Town of Providence during the Administration of Sir Edmund Andros and his Council 1686-1689 on Archive.org:   http://archive.org/details/taxlistsoftownof00field

The Early Records of the Town of Portsmouth (1901) on Archive.org:    http://www.archive.org/details/earlyrecordsofto02port
The Early Records of the Town of Warwick (1926) on Archive.org:     http://archive.org/details/earlyrecordsofto00rhod

The Records of the Colony of Rhode Island.

Arnold’s Vital Records of Rhode Island.

In closing

For those with Ancestry.com subscriptions, an online index can also be found here.

The first 18 volumes were produced by record commissioners Horatio Rogers, George Moulton Carpenter, Edward Field, with volumes 19 and 20 being compiled by William E Clarke, Daniel F. Hayden, and William G. Brennen, and volume 21 by William C. Pelkey.

I enjoyed perusing these volumes, and I know I will continue to do so.

The post you are reading is located at:    http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2014/03/28/early-records-providence

 

Judge Horatio Rogers, 1836 - 1904, one of the record commissioners who compiled the books.

Judge Horatio Rogers, 1836 – 1904, one of the record commissioners who compiled the books.  From frontispiece, volume 18.

 

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The large index map, below, was tipped into the book Picturesque Rhode Island.  It was printed on tissue-thin paper, which is now creased, torn and wrinkled.  I have digitized it, somewhat imperfectly, on a flatbed scanner.

Download  the map

Either click the map to open it and enlarge it within your web browser, or right-click to “Save Image As” a jpg to your computer and open and enlarge as a jpg image.
Map of Providence, Rhode Island, 1881

Map of Providence, Rhode Island, 1881

What is indexed?

I think the most interesting information on this map are the indices on the left and right sides. You could locate the schools, businesses and institutions your ancestors may have been involved with (however, resident names are not indicated).  A few samples are below.   The numbering system and street name allow you to locate each item on the map, although often only by seeing a building outline on the map.

Listings include:

  • All streets
  • Wharves
  • Railroads
  • Steamers
  • Horse Railroads (describes the colors of the cars, and each route)
  • Hotels
  • Manufacturing Interests

Map-detail-manufacturers

  • Churches
  • Points of Interest (companies, govt offices, utility companies, monuments, hospitals)
  • Cemeteries
  • Amusements
  • Parks
  • Institutions

Map-detail-institutions

  • Drives (9 scenic drives are described)
  • Police Department
  • Fire Department
  • Public School Buildings

Map-detail-schools

  • Express Companies
  • Telegraph Offices
  • Daily Newspapers
  • Ticket Agencies

Source

“Index Map of the City of Providence, R.I., compiled and drawn from the most reliable sources, 1881″, by Albert L. Bodwell. Providence: J.A. & R.A. Reid, 56 Weybosset Street, c1880.  Tipped into the book Picturesque Rhode Island by Wilfred H. Munro. Providence: J.A. and R.A. Reid, 1881.

The post you are reading is located at:  http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2013/07/14/a-map-of-providence-1881/

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Picturesque Rhode Island by Wilfred H. Munro (Providence: J.A. and R.A. Reid, 1881) features hundreds of engravings of Rhode Island scenes.  Recently, I purchased a copy of the book, and I am able to make high-quality scans of the many pictures contained in the book.

The illustrations, below are from the Providence section of Picturesque Rhode Island.  They are no longer under copyright.  Please feel free to use them.  In the future I will post collections from other cities and towns.

View of Providence, from Prospect Terrace, p. 178

View of Providence, from Prospect Terrace, p. 178

The Providence Athenaeum, p. 188

The Providence Athenaeum, p. 188, a private library

The Buildings of the Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Company, p. 193

The Buildings of the Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Company, p. 193 – now called The Foundry

The High School

The High School, p. 192 – built in 1878 on Summer Street, near the present Classical and Central High Schools

A View of Providence, from Smith's Hill

A View of Providence, from Smith’s Hill, p. 162

A View of Crystal Lake, Roger Williams Park

A View of Crystal Lake, Roger Williams Park, p. 183

The Works of the Nicholson File Company

The Works of the Nicholson File Company, p. 193, were just west of downtown, between the present Harris Ave and Kinsley Streets, on Acorn Street

The Butler Hospital, p. 198

The Butler Hospital, p. 198

A View of Exchange Place, p. 184.  Providence City Hall is in the center.

A View of Exchange Place, p. 184. Providence City Hall is in the center.

The Friends School, now called Moses Brown School

The Friends School, now called Moses Brown School

The New Court House, p. 189, was near the spot of the current courthouse, but was obviously facing the East Side, since the street slopes down behind it, towards downtown.

The New Court House, p. 189, was near the spot of the current courthouse, but was obviously facing the East Side, since the street slopes down behind it, towards downtown.

Hoppin Homestead Building, p. 185, the top floor was the original home of the Rhode Island School of Design.

Hoppin Homestead Building, p. 185, on Westminster Street – the top floor was the original home of the Rhode Island School of Design. Several other schools were housed in the building.

A View of Westminster Street, p. 200

A View of Westminster Street, p. 200

For interesting old photographs of Providence landmarks, be sure to visit the Providence City Archives Photo Gallery.

The post you are reading is located at:  http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2013/06/16/views-of-1881-providence/

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In the past I have always ordered Providence vital records through the mail.  But today I thought I would venture over to Providence City Hall, 25 Dorrance Street, myself, and see if I could just look at the record book that I wanted.  I was looking for the death record of my gg-grandmother Jessie MacLeod Murdock.  One never knows how such a mission will go.

I circled the block several times and managed to find a legal parking place on Washington Street.  That was extremely lucky.  Meter was broken; also extremely lucky.  The City Hall is a beautifully dour 1878 building.

A turn of the century view of city hall; it looks much like this today.

A turn of the century view of city hall; it looks much like this today, although the statue has been moved.

I knew the Vital Statistics office was on the first floor.

The Vital Statistics office is for modern records only.

The Vital Statistics office is for modern records only.

I ventured in and inquired.  The clerk said for a 1936 record I needed to go to the city archives on the fifth floor.  Really?  That sounds like fun.

The building itself is fascinating.  There is always some kind of renovation underway; today I saw a “portrait restoration project” going on in a hallway, with a restoration specialist hard at work.  There are portraits everywhere; the ones I saw were mostly of former mayors.

The center stairway is lovely and most floors have large hallways that circle it.

View from the first floor

View from the first floor

I got up to the fifth floor.  It is mostly for current and past probate.  I’ve looked at records there before.

The fifth floor

The fifth floor

I wandered around looking for something about Archives.  Then I noticed at the end of the hall a sign for “City Archives” pointing up another set of marble stairs.

The secret stairway to the archives

The secret stairway to the archives

The City Archives is located in the top dome of the city hall and includes two floors.  There are some archive rooms and a gallery storage area.

Yes.  It was this cool.

Yes.  It was this cool.  Note the upper level.

The City of Providence was founded in 1636.  So the archivists have a big job.  I have heard recently – I think in the Rhode Island Genealogical Society newsletter – that they have a wonderful archivist in charge, doing excellent work.

I walked in and was met by Nathan Lavigne, Archival Assistant.  He showed me the normal archives routine – lockers, no bags to be brought in, sign in, etc.  There were other patrons, so I looked around a bit while I was waiting.

I noticed this book of maps right away.

I noticed this plat book right away.

The plat book looked like this inside:

Sample of the Providence plat book

Sample of the Providence plat book

He showed me where to find the death record in the index books.

Some index volumes to the vital records

Some index volumes to the vital records

I quickly found my record and Nathan took the information and retrieved the volume of records for me.  This is what I saw:

Jessie-crop

Jessie Ruth Murdock died May 5, 1936.

The record names her parents, William & Rachel McLeod.  I was hoping for Rachel's maiden name.

The record names her parents, William & Rachel McLeod. I was hoping for Rachel’s maiden name.

Drat.  My luck ran out.  No new details in Jessie’s death record.  Jessie was my mom’s great grandmother, and died too early for mom to really remember her.

After a last look around at records I didn’t have time to investigate, I had to leave.

I'll be back, probate records.  I'll be back.

I’ll be back, probate records. I’ll be back.

This large book Owner of Lots in Providence R.I. 1798 was accompanied by an index.  Unfortunately, my ancestors had left Providence by 1798, and hadn't yet returned.

This large book Owners of Lots in Providence R.I. 1798 was accompanied by an index. Unfortunately, my ancestors had left Providence by 1798, and hadn’t yet returned.

The research possibilities are endless. The top volume read Steam Boilers 1862.

The research possibilities are endless. The top volume reads Steam Boilers 1862.

To learn more about the City Archives, visit the City Archives web page, see their useful “Basic Holdings Summary”, their Policies and Procedures, and their hours.  They have begun to compile Research Aids which can be viewed on their Research page.  The web pages also contain an interesting history of the city and a history of city hall, information on the various mayors, and some pictures of Providence.

Nathan Lavigne was friendly and helpful. He will be happy to answer any questions you may have; he can be reached at 401-421-7740, ext 314 or nlavigne AT providenceri.com.  Nathan also invites you to like their Facebook page Providence City Archives and view their images on FLICKR.

I’m sure I will be visiting again soon to investigate some items I noticed in the Basic Holdings Summary.

The post you are reading is located at:  http://onerhodeislandfamily.com/2013/03/22/a-visit-to-the-providence-city-archives

A view from the upper levels of the city hall

A view from the upper levels of the city hall

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