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Overheard in GenForum: John French, b. 1779, Farmington, NH
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.

November 11, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I am searching for information on John FRENCH, born 31 July, 1779 in Farmington. He married Polly LIBBY, b. 26 January 1779 in Farmington. I am looking for John's parents, siblings, etc. -- Helen

A: For anyone who has a FRENCH line to research, it soon becomes apparent that it is a little more common than HERENDEEN or SICKAFUS. As such, researching it requires that you be truly focused on each goal, on the individuals in the family and on the localities you are researching.

Like most New England states, research in New Hampshire is conducted primarily on the town level. Most of the records that you are likely to need are found at the town hall. As such, it is important to know the history of the town in which your ancestor was from.

Dates of creation for towns will affect how and where your research will be accomplished.

The History of Farmington

Few of us take the time to read up on the history of the localities where we find our ancestors. As we jump from place to place, we concentrate on it only long enough to get the records we need, then we move on. Sometimes though, this lack of knowledge of the history of a town can result in a brick wall where our ancestor is concerned.

Most brick walls are man made. Either you have skipped a step or two or you have not exhausted all of the available records. Either of these instances could result in the inability to pursue a given lineage back further.

Date of Creation

OK - the first thing you need to determine is the creation date of the town of Farmington. One way to do this is to turn to a gazetteer. Gazetteers are place dictionaries. They supply you with the details of a given locality. Gazetteers can help you determine the county in which a town or city is located. They can tell you how large the town or city is and sometimes when it was created and out of what parent town.

Farmington was created in 1798 out of the town of Rochester. So, in researching your John FRENCH, you will already need to turn your attention to a new town. A search in Robert S. Canney's The Early Marriages of Strafford County, New Hampshire, 1630-1850 showed the entry for John FRENCH and Polly LIBBY. Married on 5 Apr 1802, the entry mentions that both John and Polly were of Farmington. Of course, by the time of their marriage they were now of Farmington. Further reading in this volume reveals a number of other FRENCH marriages by the same minister, some of Rochester, prior to the creation of Farmington.

Where to Turn

While the pre-1850 census records do not list everyone in the household by name, they can still be of use. First, you will want to see what other FRENCH and LIBBY families are living in the same town as John. Like all aspects of genealogy, you will want to work backwards. Since John was married in 1802 in Farmington, then you will want to first search the 1800 census for the town of Farmington. See what FRENCH and LIBBY families are living in the town. Then locate these families in the 1790 census, most likely in Rochester.

Tax lists, if you can access them, would also be useful. They will show you the FRENCH and LIBBY families living in the area. If you are lucky, you can trace the families through each individual year. Beginning with 1802 and working backwards, you can see how the number of individuals changes, as some of the children who were of majority in 1802 get younger and eventually no longer are found in the tax lists. This can help you to determine who the adults are.

State Vital Records

While the records in New Hampshire are kept on the town level, there is a compiled index of sorts to the vital records that should be checked. This index is available on microfilm and can be borrowed at your local Family History Center. One important point about this index. It is not arranged in normal alphabetical format. This index is comprised of handwritten cards that are filed alphabetically by first and third letters of the surname.

In Conclusion

I think once you begin to turn your attention to Rochester you will find that new possibilities open up to you with this family. And it may be just what you need to push back this brick wall.

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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