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Overheard in GenForum: Birth Records 1858 - Anna Keating in Conn
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

January 13, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: Hi - trying to locate my ggrandfather's family. Oldest daughter Anna Keating (Kayton, Caton, Keeting, etc.) born in 1858 in Conn. Is there anyone out there who would have an idea where I could verify this? Her father was Sylvester Keating and her mother Mary O'connell. They came to the US from Ireland probably 1856-57 time frame. They lived in Conn for a few years then went to Upstate NY. By 1875 all 8 children were all orphaned. -- Diane

A: New England states, of which Connecticut is one, generally record their vital records on the town level. Usually when looking for vital records in other states they are found at the county level and sometimes just at the state level. When the records exist on the town level, it makes it more difficult to begin accessing the records needed, as you must first determine the town where the individual lived (or was born).

In your case, it may be possible to determine the town by referring to the census records. Your message mentioned that after the birth of Anna KEATING, that the family resided in Connecticut for a few years. Therefore it is very possible that you can use the census indexes to help you narrow your research. Accessing census indexes abounds online, on CD and in book format at libraries and other repositories.

When working in New England, many of the records needed are found on the town level, as opposed to the county or state level for other states.

Vital Records in Connecticut

Like many other New England states, vital records for Connecticut were begun early. Some marriages have been found as early as 1640. By 1650, registration of births, marriages and deaths was required of the town clerk. When this law was first passed, there were fines instituted when an event was not recorded. As a result some of the towns have very thorough records for this early time period.

From the start of the American Revolution until about 1870, there are gaps in these records. While this is unfortunate, the overall coverage of records for the state of Connecticut is much higher than many other states.

The recording of vital records is still the responsibility of the town clerks. It wasn't until 1 July 1897 that copies were sent to the state vital records office.

Vital Records Prior to 1850

While Anna was born after 1850, it is possible that you or other readers may find events that took place in Connecticut prior to 1850. While it is still important to learn the town, there is a resource that can be of help if you don't necessarily know the town.

The Barbour Collection was named after Lucius Barnes Barbour. This collection was begun after the establishment of the state vital records department. Lucius Barbour was responsible for the copying of vital statistics prior to 1850. Each birth, marriage and death was copied to small pieces of paper. These papers are available at the State Library. However, they have also been microfilmed and are available at many libraries and other repositories.

The Barbour Collection is actually broken down into two parts. The first is a statewide index. Actually, the small pieces of paper were compiled together and then sorted alphabetically. There is also a town by town alphabetical listing of events for that specific town. One caution when using this collection is that it is not complete. If Mr. Barbour was aware of an already existing extraction of vital records for a given town, then he did not duplicate this effort. A perfect example to this is the town of Norwich. Vital records from the early 1600s to about 1900 were already extracted and published so Lucius Barbour did not redo these records.

Finally, while heavily relied upon, the Barbour Collection is still a secondary resource. Whenever possible it is a good idea to refer to the original town records. The Barbour Collection will show you what volume and page to go to in the town records. And there is something special about looking at those old documents, even if only on microfilm to reminds us of how long ago these people we are looking for were making their living.

Alternate Resources

Just about all records used in Connecticut research are found on the town level, with the exception of probate records. Probate records are found on a probate district. This probate district may or may not coincide with the town's borders. While not an apparent option for your research, they are well represented, especially on microfilm through the Family History Library. The packets, arranged alphabetically, have been microfilmed for each probate district.

Land records are another essential record to those doing Connecticut research. These are on the town level, and there are times when searching for them can be frustrating. One of the frustrations is due to the succession of towns. Much as we must know the date of creation of counties for record availability in states where the records are on the county level, in Connecticut it is important to know when a town was created and out of which town it was coming.

Final Thoughts

There are times, especially during that approximate one hundred years when the recording of vital records was not as complete as possible, that you must look for other records. One possibility is church records. These are not only on the town level, but they are further compartmentalized, for lack of a better word, by denomination. So you would need to know the religion of the family and then see what possible records are available.

To find out more about researching in Connecticut, you may want to investigate the Connecticut state site that is part of the USGenWeb volunteer organization. You will find that you are learning from others who have spent a great deal of time researching the very records you may need.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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