I’ve been curious for a long time about the house where my great-grandmother Eva Louise Murdock was born. The house was located just over the Massachusetts border in Seekonk.
We have a faded picture of the house:
Family stories have it that this house was in Seekonk, and belonged to Eva’s grandparents, William and Maggie (Lawrence) Murdock. And sure enough, Eva’s birth record is from Seekonk:
Eva was born to Louis and Jessie Murdock on June 1, 1884 (1), approximately nine and one half months after her parents married (2). Louis was working as a machinist at Brown & Sharpe in Providence, but evidently Jessie was staying with his parents when the baby was born. Jessie was from Nova Scotia and may have had no close family around. By the 1885 Rhode Island State Census (5), Louis, Jessie and baby Eva were back in Providence.
I explored the deeds for this property a few years ago in the Bristol County Deeds office in Taunton, Mass. Staff at the deeds office were ill at ease and hovering during my visit. They kept smiling nervously, asking what I wanted next, and it was clear they would never leave me alone to peruse the volumes, and I seemed to be keeping them from something. It was incredibly tense. I left not having seen all the documents I intended to see. I heard on the radio on the way home that someone had set fire to the nearby city hall, and vanished, shortly before my arrival. Well, that explained a lot.
Recently, FamilySearch.com made over 5 million Massachusetts deeds available online. That gave me the opportunity to revisit this question. I am more experienced with deeds now, which helps a lot.
I hadn’t understood why William and Maggie were able to purchase the property for $10 on September 3, 1880 (3):
We Stephen G Easterbrooks and Julia A Easterbooks his wife of the City and County of Providence, State of Rhode Island, in the right of his wife, in consideration of Ten (10) Dollars paid by William Murdock of said Providence and Margaret Murdock wife of said William Murdock the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, do hereby give, grant, bargain sell and convey unto the said William Murdock and Margaret Murdock One certain lot or parcel of land containing two and one half acres 2 1/2 acres more or less, situated in Seekonk in the County of Bristol and Commonwealth of Massachusetts, on the southeasterly side of the highway leading from Benjamin Walker’s to Hunt’s Bridge so called, with the dwelling house and all the improvements thereon, and is bounded and described as follows, viz, Beginning at the northeasterly corner of said lot in the line of said Highway … by the land of T.H. Read (formerly) … by the land of Wm H. Hopkins and Leak … And for the consideration aforesaid I, Julia A. Easterbrooks do hereby release unto the said grantees and their heirs and assigns all right of or to both dower and homestead in the granted premises …
But this time, as I took my time at home, I realized that the next page was a mortgage for this property taken out that same day by William and Maggie Murdock, from David F. Goff of East Providence, Rhode Island for $350. I guess that’s how they paid for the house, although that payment to the Easterbrooks seems not to have been officially recorded. Seekonk at that time was a farming community, at an easy distance from the busy industrial city of Providence, Rhode Island. William had been an “Expressman” in Providence in the 1880 census, just prior to the move to Seekonk. I wonder if, rather than starting a farm exactly (at age 50) he was engaged in transporting his and others’ products to the Providence market.
William Murdock passed away in 1890. There are several subsequent deeds relating to the mortgage for the property, and I am guessing the property left the family in 1903 (Maggie had remarried, and lived until 1920), but I am not sure. The mortgage changed hands so many times that I’m finding it impossible to know for sure.
Examining the Clues
I examined the picture, above, for any clues as to distance from the road, or any other landmarks. I also reviewed the clues found in the deeds (noted in green above, on the first deed) about the location of the house. All my earlier exploration had really taught me was that the property was on a road leading to Hunt’s Bridge. I had located Hunt’s bridge but that didn’t tell me much; lots of roads lead to any given bridge.
To check those clues, I would need an old map of Seekonk. I was able to locate three online:
- An 1858 map available from the Boston Public Library (4) shows an early shape of Seekonk (the border with Rhode Island was frequently disputed and shifted). Seekonk is just to the east of Providence, over the border in Massachusetts.
- an 1871 Beers map of Seekonk on the HistoricMapWorks website. Through careful investigation I was able to determine the location of Hunt’s Bridge (which was not specifically marked on the map), and “B. Walker” (to match “Benjamin Walker” from the deed) who apparently owned a blacksmith shop. The road between them is now called Ledge Road. I can’t reproduce the old map here, but here are the elements mentioned, and their location today:
It was about this time that I made the big discovery. I was looking at the 1895 map, and there was the Murdock house, listed on the road between B. Walker and Hunt’s Bridge:
- an 1895 Everts & Richards Bristol County map on the HistoricMapWorks website (features reproduced here):
W. Murdock was on the map
The “W. Murdock” house was indicated on the map. I knew from census records and deeds that there was unlikely to be another W. Murdock in Seekonk (of course, the house belonged to his widow, he was no longer living by 1895). So this was definitely the house.
I spent quite a bit of time comparing all the maps, and the details I could glean from all the deeds, to see if I could place the Murdock house in an exact spot on that stretch of road. Clearly, today’s Quarry Street designates the spot of the old Stone Quarry and the J.J. Corbett Quarry marked on the old maps.
Here is the house as I would situate it today:
I headed over the Seekonk to check it out. I already knew from the Google maps that there was nothing like a 2-1/2 acre lot in that location today. There are much smaller house lots.
The house was never a fancy house. I didn’t think it would have survived. And sure enough, it appears it is no longer there. As I drove past I took a little video so I could examine it later when I wasn’t driving. The spot would be around where I marked it on the map:
I am both happy to know where the house was, and sad that it’s gone. While I still have some mysteries with this family, specifically with Jessie McLeod Murdock’s roots, I’m not sure there will be much more investigation of the house.
One thing I’ve learned from this is to pore over the old house lot maps available online. These may not be indexed, so some studying is needed. Knowing “Seekonk” and “W. Murdock” would have been enough to find it on the 1895 map if I had found that earlier, and studied it carefully. Of course, you do learn a lot from studying deeds, too. Maps and deeds are a great combination.
(1) Town and City Clerks of Massachusetts, “Massachusetts Vital and Town Records,” database, Ancestry.com (http:www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 May 2013), entry for “Eva Louise Murdock”, Seekonk Births, 1884, p 1 (pencilled) (p. 451 of 815 online).
(2)Providence, Rhode Island, “Marriages”, v. 14, p. 42 (issued 2010), for “marriage of Louis Rufus Murdock and Jessie Ruth McLeod”, Sept. 6, 1883 ; Office of the City Registrar, Providence.
(3) Bristol County, Massachusetts, Deeds, v. 387, p. 224, Stephen G Easterbrooks & ux to William Murdock & ux, Sept. 3, 1880, FamilySearch.com (http://www.familysearch.com: accessed 25 May 2013) Massachusetts Land Records, 1620-1986.
(4)Map of the county of Bristol Massachusetts, based upon the trigonometrical survey of the state by Henry Francis Walling. John L. Smith & Co., 1858. Download from Norman B Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library http://maps.bpl.org/id/10692 (accessed May 29, 2013).
(5)”Rhode Island, State Census, 1885,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/M5XV-6B3 : accessed 01 Jun 2013), Eva Murdock, 1885.
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