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Overheard in GenForum: Amherst 1800 Shepard's
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.

October 19, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I'm trying to find out anything about the Shepards that lived in Amherst New Hampshire in around 1800. I have a James Shepard showing on a census in 1820, along with a John and a John Jr, Samuel, Summas, Mary, all these being the head of households. In 1810, and 1800 the Shepards were in Amherst also. -- Joanne

A: New Hampshire is one of the better states to work in due to its extensive records. The dates of most of them go back into the seventeenth century. While they are not always complete, the sheer magnitude of the records increases your chances of finding your family.

New Hampshire like most of the other New England states, records some of their records on the town level. This can be a deterrent to some researchers when all they know is the state. However, you have gotten past that hurdle.

New Hampshire like most of the other New England states records some of their records on the town level.

A Look at Amherst

Amherst was established in 1728, though it got the name of Amherst in 1760. It was an original town, having no parent and can be found in Hillsborough County. It has also been known as Narragansett No. 3. This is important when working in some of the earliest of records for the town.

For those who may be researching the town of Monson, this town was created in 1746. However, half of the town was annexed to Amherst in 1770. This same part that was annexed in 1770, was then given to Milford in 1794.

These dates are important to keep in mind when working in the town records. The vital records for Amherst are found interspersed in the town records. This means that you may need to go page by page looking for entries of births, marriages and deaths that have been entered into the town records.

Another Vital Record Option

In the early 1900s, the state of New Hampshire passed a law that required all of the towns to go through their town records and submit index cards with the entries on them.

These index cards, which include space for much more than just the name of the individual and the date of the event, have been compiled into a statewide index up to 1900 for New Hampshire's vital records.

This index has a little twist to it though that can cause some problems if you are unaware of it. The index is not arranged in normal alphabetical order. Instead the surnames are arranged in alphabetical order by first and third letters of the surname. This means that the surname Brighton would appear before the surname Berry.

Once you get to the appropriate surname, then the cards are arranged alphabetically by first letter of the given name. Once you get that far, you must look at each card to find the ones in question for your ancestors.

With your research, it might prove helpful to go through the cards for the Shepard surname looking for those listed in Amherst. Each of the cards includes the name of the individual and other pertinent details, including the date of the event and place of the event. There are also spaces for including names of parents, and birth places of parents, names of spouses, and causes of death. Not all of these are always filled in, as the original town records do not always supply this information.

Accessing These Records

Fortunately for those of us researching New Hampshire, many of the records we rely on are available on microfilm. This is true of the statewide index to births, marriages, deaths and divorces. The marriages also have a separate index that is arranged by the bride's name.

The Family History Library has these statewide index cards on microfilm, thus making them available to you through your local Family History Center. You can also order the Amherst town records on microfilm. You will find land records for Amherst are available. The probate records are not on the town level. They are found at the county level, so a search of Hillsborough County will reveal them. The probate records begin in 1771.

In Conclusion

There are many records available on microfilm that will be of help to you in your Shepard research. It is possible that your research may take you back to Massachusetts prior to the eighteenth century.

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

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