Monday, August 5, 2013

Hunting for Hannah Brown's Birth Family in Colonial Massachusetts

I spent some time over the weekend to perform a search for potential parents for my Hannah Brown (ca 1725 to ca 1774), who married John Phillips (1722-????) in 1749 in Southborough, Massachusetts.  The only reason I've listed Hannah's birth date as "about 1725" is based on John's birth year and their marriage date, so the birth date is a guess.

Here's what I know:

I know that there were five children born to this couple - Sarah (1750) and Jonathan (1752) in Southborough, and Joanna (1755), Martha (1757) and Elizabeth (1764) in Shrewsbury.  I also know that John Phillips married Mary Richards (1733-????) in 1774 in Southborough (which is the only evidence I have that Hannah probably died before 1774).  I have records for those events from the town records and the town vital record books.

Here is what I know about the John and Hannah (Brown) Phillips family (my RootsMagic Family view page):

I also know that John Phillips had land in Southborough, Shrewsbury and Lancaster, Massachusetts.  He and Mary probably died in Lancaster, but there are no town records, probate records nor cemetery records.

I want to focus on the area around Southborough for my search for potential Brown parents to Hannah Brown.  I'm going to look for Brown families in town vital record books that have births, marriages or deaths recorded between, say, 1710 and 1750.

My first issue was: "How far away from Southborough should I look?"  Doing all of Massachusetts is unreasonable, but so is restricting the search to only Southborough or neighboring towns.  So I picked a radius of about 20 kilometers (about 12 miles).  Here is a Google Map centered on Southborough (circled) with the approximate 20 kilometer circle:

That provided this list of towns that were extant in the early to mid- 1700s:

*  Marlborough
*  Westborough
*  Northborough
*  Shrewsbury
*  Boylston
*  Lancaster
*  Stow
*  Littleton
*  Concord
*  Sudbury
*  Framingham
*  Holliston
*  Hopkinton
*  Grafton
*  Milford
*  Upton
and probably several others.

My strategy here is to look at the published town vital record books for these towns and abstract birth, marriage and death information from them.  I was particularly interested in forming a list of children born to each couple in the records between, say, 1710 and 1750.  I looked for marriages starting in 1710, and deaths up to 1800.

All of the town vital record books are available online so I was able to quickly navigate to the vital record lists, which are all alphabetical (except for Concord!).

I decided to record all of this information in a Brown Family Research Log in RootsMagic 6:

For each town, I opened a new research log item, and added the name of the source, the website URL and the results found.  Here is the log item for Southborough, Mass:

As you can see, there were no Brown births or deaths recorded in Southborough in the time period chosen, but there were three marriages recorded, including Hannah. In the Westborough book, Susanna Brown "of Sutton" had an entry signifying marriage intentions with Benjamin "Gafel" in 1754  Was Susanna Brown, who married Benjamin Garfield in 1754, a sibling of Hannah's?  I don't know, but it's possible.

I did several other towns, looking especially for Hannah and Susanna.  I have found no entries to date for a birth of Hannah, but I did find at least one for a Susanna Brown.  For the towns that I've investigated so far within the 20 kilometer radius, Sudbury has the most entries, then Marlborough and Framingham.  From the data in those towns, only the Marlborough records had a Brown having children in the 1720-1730 time frame:

*  James Brown and Sarah How (married 1719) had an Elizabeth in 1720.  Sarah the mother died in 1725.
*  James Brown and Deborah Rice (married Jan 1725) had a Susanna in 1725 (died in 1726). Deborah the mother died in late 1725 soon after Susanna's birth.
*  James Brown and Mary Claice (married 1727) had Mary in 1733.  Mary the mother died in 1734.

It is possible that my Hannah Brown (born around 1725) was the daughter of James and Sarah (How) Brown.  Or not.  I have negative evidence here - the records do not show me when or where Hannah Brown was born.

I probably need to expand my search even more.  Many of the early residents of Southborough  came from towns all over eastern Massachusetts - I've seen records reference Middlesex (Groton, Woburn, Chelmsford, Wilmington, Concord, etc.) and Essex Counties (especially Lynn).  The Sutton link is possible too - I'll check there also.

I figured one way to "short circuit" this search town by town was to see if a Brown person purchased land in Southborough in the 1720 to 1750 time frame.  Fortunately, the Grantee Deed Index, 1717-1839 for Worcester County in the "Massachusetts, Land Records, 1620 to 1986" collection available on FamilySearch lists the location of the deed.  There were 14 images to search, and there were no entries for a Brown purchasing land in Southborough in the 1720 to 1839 time period.  I added that to the Research Log too.

About ten years ago, I searched the Middlesex County probate records on microfilm for Brown persons who might have been Hannah's parents.  I looked for children (Brown or Phillips) named in wills and administrations;  unfortunately, I found absolutely zero possibles.  It was easier to do for Middlesex because the probate packets are complete on the FHL microfilms for that county.

At this point, I'm stymied.  I have picked all of the "low hanging fruit" and not found one to focus on.  I know that there are other resources for the Brown surname, and for the different towns and counties in eastern Massachusetts.

Do my readers have any ideas?  I'll be happy to follow up leads that you suggest!

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver


Rosemary said...

Do you know that Hannah Brown was a Spinster when she married? I didn't see this anywhere. If her status isn't mentioned in the marriage then she may have been a widow. This, of course, makes your search just that more difficult.

Diane B said...

Randy I'm sure you've tried this before, but the bibliography route could probably be tried again. There are so many Brown entries in "Guide to Published Genealogies in the Library of the NEHGS" but nothing really stands out to me - if you ever get to New England, gather up a pile of them at the NEHGS library and sit and look them over. I checked their "Manuscripts at the NEHGS" volume but nothing looks right.

How about the town records of Southborough (not deeds or probate)? And since Southborough was formed from Marlboro in 1727 I assume you have really looked for Browns there in deeds, probate and town records?

Now that you have a couple of candidates for Brown parents, you might try searching those families in the NEHGS search to see if they appear in any journals. But of course birth records can be spotty in this era, so your search among the extremely common name of Brown continues, I guess...

Ah, for ancestors that didn't move all over the place ...

Anonymous said...

Randy, Have you considered the spelling of Hannah? On the 1940 census, my mother Hannah Adams was listed as Anna Adams. My experience also suggests that most (or all) current search engines require at least the first letter(s) to find anything.

David Adams