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Overheard on the Message Boards: Pearl Family from Boxford
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.

July 03, 2003
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Q: I'm looking for information about George Pearl and family. He married Abigail Tyler Kimball and had at least one son named John Kimball Pearl born January 5, 1842. Any help would be great. — Vickie

A: You have some good information to help you in identifying your George Pearl from any others. Many people begin such a search with just the name of the individual they are interested in, without knowing any more about them. In your case, you have the name of his wife and the name of one son. This greatly increases your chances of identifying George as the different records are searched.

New England records are plentiful, but they sometimes can be misleading. The more identifying information you have on the individual, the easier it may be to differentiate your ancestor from others in the same area with the same name.

The more you know, the better your chances of finding an ancestor are.

A Place to Start

Because you know that George and Abigail had a son John born in 1842, one of the first places to begin your research is the 1850 census. You have enough identifying information that it should be possible to find George in the 1850 census. This assumes that George did not die soon after the birth of John.

A search of the 1850 census for Massachusetts revealed the following family:

Essex County, Massachusetts - Boxford, page 405, Dwelling No. 4, Family No. 4
George Pearl, age 52, born in Massachusetts
Abigail Pearl, age 49, born in Massachusetts
Geo F. Pearl, age 24, born in Massachusetts
Almira M. Pearl, age 21, born in Massachusetts
Hellen M. Pearl, age 17, born in Massachusetts
Ruth M. Pearl, age 13, born in Massachusetts
Rebecca K. Pearl, age 11, born in Massachusetts
John K. Pearl, age 8, born in Massachusetts
S. Isabella Pearl, age 8, born in Massachusetts

With this information, you have an approximate year of birth for George Pearl. It appears that he was born in 1798. His being born in Massachusetts is good news as that means that there may be actual birth records available for him, given that Massachusetts vital records often begin in the 1600s. Of course, like most New England states, the vital records are recorded on the town level, which means you would need to identify the town in which he was born.

Published Vital Records

Approximately 225 towns in Massachusetts have had their vital records from early times to about 1850 published as a result of a state law in the early 1900s. This is one of the most aggressive projects ever to publish the vital records of any state, and researchers rely heavily on the published volumes for those towns that are available. Many larger libraries have the volumes, though the set may not be complete. The New England Historic Genealogical Society has them at their library in Boston, as does the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Some of the volumes are available on microfilm through the Family History Library. And of course there are now digitized versions available.

A search of the records for Boxford revealed first an entry for the intentions and the marriage of George and Abigail. Interestingly enough, I found the intentions published in the vital records of Andover. The intentions were dated 13 Oct 1825. The marriage itself was recorded in Boxford and was dated 10 Nov 1825. While I was in the Boxford volume I looked to see if there was an entry for a George born in 1798 and found there was a George Pearl, born 10 Jul 1798 who was the son of John Pearl and Mehitable. Of course this sent me back to the section listing the marriages for Boxford where I found the entry for John Pearl, Jr. and Mrs. Mehitable Hall on 24 May 1794.

Further searching in the alphabetical listings for the births recorded in Boxford revealed the following birth dates for the children of George Pearl and Abigail Tyler Kimball:

  • Almira Moody Pearl, born 12 Oct 1828
  • George Frederick Pearl, born 26 Aug 1826
  • Helen Maria Pearl, born 3 Jan 1833
  • John Kimball Pearl, (twin), born 5 Jan 1842
  • Rebecca Kimball Pearl, born 9 Jul 1839
  • Ruth Mehitable Pearl, born 21 Sep 1826
  • Sarah Isabella Pearl, (twin), born 5 Jan 1842

What Else Is Available

Armed with this information, I wanted to see what else I could find through the various online family histories and through the Boxford vital records. And I wanted to see what published family histories might be available on the Pearl surname.

First, I discovered that no one had identified George's mother as anything other than Mehitable Hall. This is misleading because, according to the entry I found in the Boxford vital records, she was listed as Mrs. Mehitable Hall. As a result, Hall is not her maiden name. Listing her with the Hall name could mislead researchers into assuming she was born a Hall. Not surprisingly none of the online compiled family histories that I found traced Mehitable back. The compiled genealogies though listed John Pearl, Jr. as the son of John Pearl and Eunice Kimball and that he was born 23 November 1768. I did find an entry for a John born in Boxford, Massachusetts on that date in the published Boxford vital records.

I should mention that the potential problem with the identity of George's mother, Mehitable, could stem from the entry of her death as found in the published Boxford vital records. The entry lists her maiden name as Hall, at least that is what is assumed when viewing the entry. While this is generally the case, in her case it is simply the surname she had before she married John in 1794.

While the Boxford vital records have been published, if you would prefer to read the original records, the microfilmed town records are where you would want to turn. These are available through the Family History Library. Let me warn you that it is possible that they may be quite difficult to read. I often use the published volumes first and then if I find conflicting information, then I turn my attention to the originals.

While you are searching the Family History Library Catalog, you will want to be sure to search the catalog for Pearl family histories. Those that are available on microfilm should be available for request to your local Family History Center. There are a number of Pearl family histories that may hold information on the generations before George and John.

In Conclusion

The above information should get you jump started in your research on George Pearl and his ancestors. Remember that there are many in New England who may be related but are not the direct lineage. They may have the same name though as your ancestor, as there are certain given names that were common in New England that many researchers discover have led them astray in their compiling of a family history. While there are many records available for those researching New England ancestry, remember to question everything you find when dealing with compiled genealogies, and verify the events in original records such as the town records.

See 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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