25 June 2010

Capt. Daniel Litchfield [Sr.] and his brush with John Hancock



I found this in an online German auction a few months ago [http://www.autogramme.com : 20 Apr 2010]. Capt. Daniel Litchfield is my ancestor. Here is the text that accompanied it.


"John Hancock (1737-1793)
Merchant, statesman, and prominent Patriot of the American Revolution. He served as President of the Second Continental Congress and was the first Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He is remembered for his large and stylish signature on the United States Declaration of Independence, so much so that "John Hancock" became, in the United States, a synonym for signature.


Revolutionary War Era Appointment of Daniel Litchfield, Gent. as Captain of the Tenth Company, Second Regiment of Militia, Plimoth (sic), under Col. William Turner, dated April 2, 1783 and boldly signed by both John Hancock as Governor and John Avery as Sec'y, with embossed paper seal upper left, in rigid archival sleeve, SS: 11x10.5 inch, 3 vertical & horizontal folds, small holes at the crossfolds, tones, minor foxing. Docked on reverse with witness to oath of office. Daniel Litchfield was from Scituate, had already served as a Private in Capt. Hayward Pierce's Company, Col. Cushing's Regiment, marched to Bristol, RI on the alarm of Dec 1776, later Capt Bonney's Company, Col Sparhawk's Regt, at Castle Island Oct-Dec 1778. Rare !
Preis: 4500  Euro  ID:21418"


Wow! That's a lot of money: 4,500 Euros is about $5,574!! I obviously did not purchase it. If it weren't a John Hancock signature, of course, it wouldn't be worth more than a couple of hundred dollars. But it's a great piece of evidence in my Barnes family history archive. Daniel Litchfield was always referred to as Capt. Dan'l, but I couldn't figure out why. Mass. Soldiers and Sailors doesn't mention this! The only two entries for him are these:


Volume 9page 860
LitchfieldDaniel. Private, Capt. Hayward Peirce's co., Col. John Cushing's (2d Plymouth Co.) regt.; service, 15 days; company ordered to march to Bristol, R. I., on an alarm in Dec., 1776; roll dated Scituate; also, Capt. Ichabod Bonney's co., Col. Nathan Sparhawk's regt.; marched Oct. 5, 1778; service, 1 mo. 15 days, at Castle Island; travel home (4 days) allowed; company discharged Dec. 11, 1778.
Volume 9
page 864
LitchfieldDaniel, Scituate. Private, Capt. Samuel Stockbridge's co. of Minute-men, Col. Bailey's regt., which marched on the alarm of April 19, 1775; service, 21 days.


The Litchfield Family in America has this to say about him: “A large and imposing man with a ‘deep, gruff voice,’ he ‘lived in that part of Scituate facetiously...called ‘Sodom,’ of which he was wont to say jocosely that he was King.’ Daniel was a natural leader who filled important public offices including one year as representative to the General Court (1785); he also served as a private in Capt. Pierce’s company of minutemen.” [Wilford J. Litchfield, The Litchfield Family in America, 1630-1900, 5 booklets bound together, v. (Scituate, Massachusetts: Wilford J. Litchfield, 1901-06), 283-300.] This is a great book, by the way, and has much more on him.


He held a position of great respect in Scituate and a memorial to him stands not far from the graves of my other ancestors, including my own parents. My brother bought a house that was built on the site of Capt. Dan'l's house (the Captain's house burned), and coincidentally, that house abuts the cemetery, Mt. Hope in the West End of Scituate. My brother is also buried in that cemetery. 


I found his signature on Footnote.com in the Revolutionary War pension of Samuel Hyland. [NARA M804, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, Mass. Pension Number: S. 32,880.]

18 June 2010

Lucky the Massachusetts Genealogist When It Comes to Vital Records

Genealogical research in Massachusetts can be so easy, it feels like cheating. We've got many sources of original information which have been duplicated in various forms through the years. But using them wisely and efficiently takes experience. Analysis of evidence includes considering when, how and by whom a record was created. Who provided the information, and how close in time to the event being documented? What was the author's motive and how many times it has been duplicated or transcribed? The only problem we have in the Bay State is that we need to be careful not to grab the first available source, but to ferret out the best one. And that can get tricky.

It's Vital to Start Early
From the earliest days of settlement, we've been diligent about recording vital records and noting town business. The first step in establishing a town was usually for a group of proprietors to petition the Crown or General Court for permission to settle. They were then ordered to gather "a church," "call" a minister and raise a meeting house. So the minister and church clerk books start up very early in the life of a town, right along with the town clerk's records. We've been ahead in the record-keeping game since the Pilgrims landed.

In Mourt's Relation, Edward Winslow sent home glowing reports to England, trying to put a positive spin on the Plymouth colony, and gave us some insight into the very earliest of activities here. Later, of course, William Bradford wrote Of Plimoth Plantation, which is the source of a great deal of information on "decreasings and increasings" (deaths and births) of the "first comers" and their progeny, mostly gleaned from his own contemporaneous notations.

A Funny thing Happened on the Way to the Church
Marriages in the early Plymouth church were celebrated by magistrates––not clergy as in England––a practice which the Pilgrims had discovered during their stay in Holland. As Bradford says, they had adopted the "laudable custome of the Low-cuntries, in which they had lived, [which] was thought most requisite to be performed by the magistrate, as being a civill thing, upon which many questions about inheritances doe depende." He then goes on to say, "The practice hath continued amongst, not only [the Plymouth church], but hath been followed by all the [Congregational] churches of Christ in these parts to this time, Anno: 1646." [William Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647, ed. Worthington C. Ford, 2 vols. (Boston, 1912), 1:218.] Eventually marriages were noted both in the church registers and in the town records, so we have a second chance at finding those elusive connections.

Is That Legal?
By 1672 the Colony had published very specific laws on this aspect of government, considering it a necessary administrative function which allowed those in charge to monitor population and trends, and as Bradford indicated, to keep track of the legality of inheritance.

"It is therefore Ordered by this Court and Authority thereof; That no person whatsoever in this Jurisdiction, shall joyn any persens together in Marriage, but the Magistrate, or such other as the General Court, or Court of Assistants shall Authorize in such place, where no Magistrate is near."

Couples were married by the Magistrate, or Justice of the Peace, and though this was a civil process, it was not seen as ungodly or irreverent. A newly married couple's first visit to meeting on Sunday morning was celebrated with great fanfare, and often the bride was allowed to select a Bible passage upon which the sermon would be based. And to add to the multiplicity of records available to the lucky Massachusetts genealogist we have banns of marriage, or publishments, and marriage intentions:

"Nor shall any Magistrate or other person Authorized as aforesaid, joyne any persons together in Marriage, or suffer them to joyne together in Marriage in their presence, before the parties to be Married have been published according to Law [1646]."

Cause of Death Leads to Longer Lives
By the nineteenth century Massachusetts was in the vanguard of the public health field, thanks to Lemuel Shattuck. A schoolteacher and bookseller earlier in life, Shattuck was grieved by several deaths in his family caused by communicable diseases. He realized that in order to control these diseases, a systematic study of public health statistics was required, and so he was instrumental in creating a system by which to study and track public health. Following the lead of England and Wales, Massachusetts passed the first state vital registration law in the United States in 1842. Shattuck was later summoned to Washington to design five of the six census schedules in 1850, which then enabled agencies to track health and demographic trends and start to improve sanitary conditions. So, by the 1850s, just in terms of vital records, Massachusetts had town records (births, deaths, marriages), church records (baptisms, publishments, marriage intentions and marriages with an occasional burial), state records (births, deaths, marriages). There can be considerable overlap and duplication in these records, or there can be absolutely nothing at all!

In the early twentieth century the "official" series of vital records books was published. They are sometimes called "the tan series," because most were bound in tan cloth. These included vital records from about 200 of the 351 towns and were compiled using town clerks' records, church registers, gravestones, family bibles and other private records. The individual towns compiled them and they were published individually, though most of the manuscripts were deposited at the State Archives. Towns that are missing from this series, especially in the western part of the state, may be found in the Corbin Collection, which has its own set of pitfalls.

The mid-twentieth century brought us microform publications, and thanks to the Family History Library microfilms and Jay Mack Holbrook's series of microfiches, many of the original town and church records are available. Of course, the New England Historic Genealogical Society is probably the third largest genealogical library in the country, so that is an enormous benefit to the Massachusetts researcher, as is the American Antiquarian Society.

But now we find ourselves in the twenty-first century facing a multitude, of both source types and source media to consult. Many of the above sources exist not only in original and printed form, but in microform, on CD ROMs or in subscription (or free) databases somewhere on the vast worldwide web. Because many people know about the abundance of records here, and that they have been published and widely distributed, it is assumed that genealogical research will be easy. This is sometimes true and makes genealogy more accessible to amateurs and the casual family historian. But  as in every state, courthouses burned, basements flooded, messy scribes used highly acidic paper and ink that burned right through the page. Four hundred years of small town life has provided many opportunities for purging of unsavory family records. Attempts at consolidating information have fallen short of the ideal, and the professional is left to sift through hundreds of sources. Sources found online can be frustratingly vague when stating their own provenance, even when they are digital images of originals.

Source Overload: Consult me! No, Look at Me! Over Here, Read Meeeee!
A survey of the existing literature isn't always so quick in Massachusetts. You can't, for instance, just jump into "the tan series" of published vital records and expect to find the a birth in Easton in 1833, because Easton did not participate in the official series publications. Therefore, neither should you search in NewEnglandAncestors.org's "Mass Vital Records to 1850" database. The FamilySearch pilot site has a database with Easton vital records, but does not give detailed source information. The Family History Library has filmed some records, and Holbrook has done a fantastic job of filming and breaking the information into reasonable sections. In addition, Jay Lucas and David Lambert have been transcribing the Easton vital records for years in the Mayflower Descendant. You have to know how the literature was compiled and not just go by the title of a book, series or database. All can be misleading.


But pain is relative, so when the going gets tough and casual family researchers gets stuck, they call upon professionals to help them break through their brick wall. While we are fortunate to have a plethora of sources to consult, we must take care! There are conflicts in different versions of these records, and segments that have been lost, so that a diligent search turning up no information is not necessarily a negative result. It is easy to get side-tracked, but it is always best to search out the original form of a record, and the derivative copies can lead you right to them.

Massachusetts is abundant in the usual genealogical sources like probate, land, diaries, family letters, account books, tax lists, census, military records, naturalization, and more., But nothing can beat those direct evidence tidbits and dear friends, vital records: originals, clerk duplicates, later clerk copies, DAR compilations, extractions, transcriptions, photocopies, typescripts, index cards and more iterations than you can name. Just remember, it's not as easy as it may seem!

01 June 2010

Flag-Waving

Memorial Day used to have a different feel to it and I'm not sure if that's because I have grown up or times have changed. I remember teachers in school using it as a springboard to discuss a plethora of subjects––patriotism, geography, war, loyalty, compromise, religion, history, tolerance and medical curiosities. We sang patriotic songs in music class. We read proclamations aloud at solemn school ceremonies. Widows and mothers wept. But the parades were big and loud, and men were proud of the part they had played in protecting the country and fighting for freedom. And we were proud of them. It was easy to confuse the bass drum's reverberations in your chest with your excited heartbeat. Two of my greatest life passions were forged at those Memorial Day parades: music and history. We were all on the same team and it felt good. It all boiled down to the flag in my young mind: the bigger the flag the happier and safer we must be. We gathered together underneath it, one people, one goal, one pledged allegiance, secure and calm.

I was born in 1955, ten years after World War II ended. Our life was comfortable, my world safe, and most of what I knew about the outside world was brought to me courtesy of whitewashed images on television and in the movies. My parents presented the rest in an optimistic, dumbed down, yet stiff-upper lip fashion. People were kind to me and I learned to be kind to others. There was nothing we couldn't "rise above."

Early imprinting: Grandma Barnes with two equally patriotic pals by her huge flag!

From that vantage point the nastiness of war seemed more unfortunate than horrific, yet we knew there was more. When kids are curious, uneasy or scared they are likely to play their way to some resolution. Consequently, both boys and girls played games of war, swooping around making bomber noises, diving into makeshift kid-bunkers, attacking the enemy on their weak right flank (Mrs. Welch's iris garden). We re-enacted grade B "cowboys & Indians" films, and the younger you were, the more likely it was you'd get the role of the scalping, whooping wild Indian. We used to don pretend gas masks before attacking a stockade fort, mixing Indian massacres together indiscriminately with the Civil War and World War One battles. It was all about fighting, death and mourning, and always culminated in a jubilant ceremony in which the winner slowly raised the American flag over his or her conquered territory. The flag was the resolution of the problem, symbol that all was once again right with the world. No need to fear.

Jared FitzGerald in Vietnam 1965

My oldest brother went to Viet Nam when I was in elementary school. I still didn't have much use for history or wars and much preferred playing house or dolls, and school. I couldn't figure out why men fought all the time instead of just working things out. But of course, Viet Nam changed the perspective of the entire country, not just baby boomers, and nothing was clear any more. The war seemed unwise to my immature mind, but it was scary, and I mostly turned away. I wrote goofy letters to my brother, listened to the occasional reel-to-reel tape he would send, and boasted about him being in the Air Force to anyone who would listen. All I knew was that my brother was in danger and many civilians were dying right along with soldiers. Oh dear. Hard to raise a flag over slaughtered women and children. Still, the flag was a comforting reminder of the freedom we were able to enjoy. It represented our ideals, not stark reality. You don't only wave it when times are clear and solutions easy. You wave it to show that as long as we continue to be a team, with common goals and compromise, we'll be proved right and all will work out–the founding fathers will be vindicated. I waved the flag, supported the veterans and was very, very grateful when my brother returned home. My other brother came of age later in the war, when things were not going well and it was apparent to many that it was an unwise war. He managed to avoid the draft. I understood how he felt, as well, but never stopped waving that flag. 

Today Memorial Day today seems rife with anger and accusation, one political party constantly accusing the other of sowing seeds of revolution. The memories are fresh and raw, and it's the veterans themselves who weep while recounting their experiences and mourning their fallen comrades. Waving the flag can seem filled with vengeance and hatred for the enemy, rather than a common rallying cry. People carry on banale conversations during the services, completely oblivious to why they have even joined together this day. This year, as a prayer was being offered, a man behind me said, "So, how's the potty training going?" 

Memorial Day 2010, "Family Planting"

While planting flowers at the cemetery this weekend it occurred to me that my strong positive feelings toward my country and my flag are ignored by many in the country. Half of the country believes that because I am a Democrat I must hate the flag, hate America, love communism, want the downfall of the United States. How can this be? I thought we were on the same team? I wave my flag more frantically. "I'm with you! We're on the same team!"

OK, yes, I have a thing about flags. I like big ones, and I'm going to continue to wave mine as long and hard as I can. After 911 I got a gigantic one that had flown over the US Capitol and donated it to my DAR Chapter when my term as Regent was up. I have little ones that I like to put in my garden on appropriate holidays. But I have grown up and now see that the flag is not a wand: waving it does not banish problems: that will take some growing up for all of us. It's time to stop the name calling, put on our thinking caps and come up with some positive solutions. Wave a flag to show your solidarity with the basic values of American culture. E Pluribus Unum!

With my brother Tim, by Jed's grave, two flag-waving Democrats.




Gravestone of my Irish grandparents, Patrick J. and Annie J. (Sullivan) FitzGerald, and two of their children, Mary and Frank. Daughter Theresa and her husband Hugh Bradshaw are listed on the back of the stone. Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, corner of Chestnut and Mystic Streets, 70 Medford St., Arlington, Massachusetts.