F A M I L Y R E G I S T E R
Joseph Barnes Polly Vinal
born in Hingham born in Scituate
March the 4th 1778 March the 20th 1784
NAMES BIRTHS DEATHS
Month Day Year Month Day Year
William Barnes August 4th 1804
Mary Barnes June 16th 1806
Cushing Barnes June 16th 1808
Priscilla Barnes February 23d 1811
Joseph Barnes Jr. September 10th 1814
Elijah V. Barnes September 10th 1818
Elisha J. Barnes September 10th 1818
Israel M. Barnes September 23 1821
Lith & Pub by N. Currier, 2 Spruce St. NY
This is a hand colored lithograph of a “Family Register” produced by Nathan Currier. It has been in the family since it was created, precise date unknown. Perhaps the best reason this item is to be treasured lies in how it was discovered. As a frugal young bride, my mother asked her mother if she had any picture frames she wasn't using. My grandmother gave her a little frame she didn't care for and when they removed the picture, they found this register hidden behind it! Turns out it was the original, 100 year old frame.
It gives birth dates and places of Joseph Barnes and Polly Vinal and birth dates of their children. It would be very easy to give this document a very high evidentiary value given its apparent age and probable source (mother). The problem is that the data does not entirely agree with the very reliable published Scituate vital records. Should we trust it or not? How can you tell?
There are lots of clues in this one little piece of stained paper. First of all, publisher's information allows us to narrow by date of printing. Nathan Currier was in business on his own, before Currier & Ives, from 1835 to 1856, but only at 2 Spruce Street from 1838. So it could not have been created before 1838. It also could have been started as late as 1856. We therefore know that none of the entries was contemporaneous with the events it records, and this slightly reduces their value as a source.
Next, take a look at the handwriting: it is uniform, seemingly done in one hand and one ink. The way the words line up vertically indicates it was perhaps written in one sitting, as it drifts left and right in a smooth way. The handwriting is typical of mid-nineteenth century. We can imagine a mother whose eight children are perhaps all in school finally getting enough time to fill in such a register, and doing it by memory.
In addition, at the base of each column is a space in which to write the death information of the parents. The two empty plaques near the bottom of the page could indicate that neither parent has died as of the creation of the register. Joseph Barnes died 16 January 1843 [Foster, Vital Records of Scituate, Mass. to 1850], so we can at least guesstimate that it was done between 1838 and 1843. Polly did not die until 23 December 1868 [NEHGS, "MA Vital Records 1841-1910,"subscription database linked to digital images of state copy of vital records; newenglandancestors.org, Deaths 1868:213:218].
Finally we look at how the information correlates with other sources. The first four children’s births agree with published vital records [Foster, Vital Records of Scituate, Massachusetts to 1850], but the second four are all off by either one day or one year. You can imagine that the dates of birth of her earlier children would be more easily remembered than the later ones when her house was probably a lot more chaotic and she was older.
For instance, take my gg grandfather, Israel M. Barnes, last born child. The published vital records of Scituate has the following entry for him:
“ BARNES, Israel Merritt, s. Joseph and Polly, Sept. 22, 18[torn] [rec. after ch. b. Sept. 9, 1817]. [[h. Olive L.] Sept. 23, 1820, G.R.8] [Sept. 23, 1820, P.R. 12]”
It gives various dates and lists three sources for that information: September 22,18[torn] (citing town records), 23 September 1820 (citing gravestone), and 23 September 1820 (citing Barnes family bible). We can add to that the entry here of 23 September 1821, and also NEHGS Deaths 1892: 428, 605, Israel M. Barnes with age at death of 72 years, 3 months rendering a birth date of September 19, 1820. That makes three sources that give a year of 1820, one undetermined and one of 1821. Personally, I'd give the most weight in this case to the family bible, death record and gravestone.
The town record book is torn in the place where it would show the year of his birth. That birth was registered immediately after one on 9 September 1817, and presumably was one or both of his elder twin brothers, Elisha and Elijah (as that is their date of birth in the published records). His birth is listed in the Barnes family bible (P.R. 12) as 23 September 1820 also. However, the family register conflicts with the bible, listing his birth as 23 September 1821.
Although it would seem that the family register would be highly reliable, the fact that it appears to have been created well after the birth dates of the children renders it a little less so. It is also interesting to note, too, that it differs from the family bible. I concluded that this was created from memory later in life by Polly Barnes without consulting the bible, and is therefore not quite as reliable as the published town records which were created from church records, town vital records and the Barnes family bible, now vanished.
Regardless of its evidentiary value in proving a date of birth, it is still something I cherish. It hangs on the wall in our dining room keeping me deeply rooted in the past.