Friday, July 10, 2009
What Is a "Genealogy Record"?
When someone mentions "genealogy records," what do you think of? In the pre-Internet days, if you walked into a local library and said you were researching your family history, the librarian might point you towards the published genealogies or, if you were fortunate, the local history area. Perhaps the librarian might mention the local newspaper was on microfilm or the local cemeteries had been transcribed. Some time after records began appearing on the Internet, I remember a librarian saying simply, "Oh, all the census records are on line." Now, a librarian is likely to say that the library subscribes to Ancestry Library Edition, so please sign up for time on the computer. I'm sure many of you have heard non-genealogists say, "Isn't it all on line?" What constitutes a "genealogy record" to you? Let me tell you a story from my very early researching days.
I went to the Maryland Historical Society one day to research the Hughel family, supposedly residents in colonial days. I found the family in the card index referencing the St. Thomas' Parish Episcopal Church records. The historical society held some of the parish records, including baptisms; so, of course, I went through those immediately. There were also several references to the parish vestry proceedings, unmicrofilmed records that were still held at the church. I asked the reference person about these records, and she said, "The vestry proceedings don't hold anything of interest to genealogists. You might find your ancestor mentioned, but there are never any births, deaths, or marriages." By the way, this person was not an inexperienced researcher. I would later discover that she was the author of several books and journal articles, she was active in local, state and regional organizations, and she was a frequent speaker at regional and national conferences. What she was really saying to me was, "I've never found anything of import in church vestry proceedings." I'm sure we all view records the same way. If a record has helped us solve a research problem, it's a "genealogical record." If not, we may forget that a record that didn't shed light on one problem might be the key to solving another.
Of course, I took a day off from work and visited St. Thomas' Parish Episcopal Church. The secretary left me with the old books, and I read through several years of vestry proceedings finding many references to Thomas Hudgell (in its many spellings), the sexton of the church. Wonder of wonders, this entry appeared for 4th April 1763: ". . . choosed Alice Hudgell sexton in the room of her late husband decd. for 5 [lbs.] per annum for the ensuing year upon condition she takes care to keep the Church clean and do her other Duty in her place as Sexton otherwise to be paid after the rate aforesaid she continues therein and no longer." Thomas Hudgell died between 10 August 1762, the last time he's mentioned as sexton, and 4 April 1763, and his wife's name was Alice! This was definitely a "genealogy record"!
Thomas Hudgell was the sexton of the church from April 1753 until his death. Alice served from April 1763 through March 1766. The 31 March 1766 entry states, ". . . choos'd Thos. Hudson Sexton for 5 [lbs.] a year in the room of Alice Hudgell. accepted AH's order on us to Mr. Saml. Worthington for 5 [lbs.] for her years salary ended this day." As I prepared to put this book away, a slip of paper fell out. It was Alice's final pay order! The church secretary kindly copied this paper for me, and I hope it still exists. Imagine - A colonial "pay check" written to a woman in a man's job! The icing on the cake for the day: it was my birthday.