Searching Early Massachusetts Deeds from Home — For Free!

Deed Search Image 0 Old OrdinaryIf you are curious about property your Massachusetts ancestors or other persons of interest might have owned, there is a way to locate deeds online. All it takes is a free familysearch.org account and a little patience.

I have been researching The Old Ordinary, the Hingham Historical Society’s 1686 house museum at 21 Lincoln Street (aka “the road to Broad Cove”) in Hingham, and its former owners and have found on-line resources such as FamilySearch helpful.  I’ll use The Old Ordinary as my example for how to search early deeds on-line.

In order to set up an account, go to familysearch.org, where you will be asked to provide an email address, set up a password, and choose a userID.  (Make sure to write these down.) You will also be asked to provide some basic information to start “your” family tree but rest assured that information on any living persons remains private, and you don’t have to continue creating a family tree to do research on the site.

You will get a confirming email which you must respond to promptly, and you’re all set.

FamilySearch menus can be deeply nested. Rather than go through all of the menu items to find the deeds, just use your browser to search for: familysearch massachusetts deed search

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From the menu of results, choose: Massachusetts Land Records, 1620-1986 — FamilySearch.org

Click and on the next screen choose: Browse through 5,766,135 images.

Don’t be daunted!  On the next screen, you are presented with a list of the Commonwealth’s counties. When searching deeds, it’s important to know which county a town was in when it was registered.  For instance, Hingham was in Suffolk County from 1643 until 1803, at which point it became part of Plymouth County.   If I am researching the early years, I need to choose Suffolk County.

I am now presented with a long list of links arranged in two columns in the following order:

  • Deed indexes (grantee), grouped first by time period and then alphabetically by surname in successive volumes
  • Deed indexes (grantor), grouped first by time period and then alphabetically by surname, again in successive volumes
  • Deed books, containing the actual deeds, organized by years and volumes.

(A little terminology:  “grantors” are the sellers and “grantees” are the buyers.)

Deed Search Image 1The grantee and grantor index books help you locate a deed more quickly within a certain set of deed books.  As you will see below,  using them on-line is a little bit more cumbersome than using the physical index and deed books, but you do get to search from the comfort of your home and on your own schedule.

An advantage to researching older deeds is that the index books cover a huge span of years, so you don’t have to know exactly when a property changed hands.  For purposes of my example, I know that Francis Barker owned The Old Ordinary in the mid to late 1700s. He was both a grantee when he bought the property and a grantor when he sold.

To find the record of his purchase, I need the grantee index for the period 1639 to 1799 for grantees whose last names start with B

  • Deed index (grantee) 1639-1799 vol 1-2, A-B

A click on the link brings up image 1 of the index book. Now it’s a matter of jumping around in the book until I find Francis Barker. Surnames are listed alphabetically at the top of the page, and given names are listed in the second column.  I like to jump about 50 images at a time until I get close.  I find that records for Francis Barker start at image 211 and end at image 215.  Happily, the one I am looking for is the first entry, which shows that on 5 Jan 1741 Francis Barker (grantee) purchased from Samuel Gill (grantor) a property in Hingham on the Highway to Broad Cove one acre in size. For the actual deed I am directed to consult Deed Book 62 page 171.

Deed Search Image 3I navigate back to the main page for Suffolk County by clicking at the top of the page and find myself at the long list of index books and deed books,  I look for Deed Book 62 and choose the link for

  • Deeds 1740-1741 vol 61-62

Deed Search Image 2This file of 619 images has two volumes, so Volume 62 probably starts halfway through about image 310.  Now, I need to find page 171.  A little browsing shows that each “page” is actually the front and back of a sheet.  Page 171 is, in fact, on images 495 and 496.  There, you can see “Gill to Barker” in the left margin of the left page of image 496. I can read the deed on my screen and/or download or print it.

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[A bonus is that the document immediately prior to this is the deed by which Samuel Gill—Francis Barker’s grantor—himself acquired The Old Ordinary from Baruch Jordan!]

To find the deed for the sale of the property, I would go back and look at the grantor index books and repeat the process.

Not all deeds were registered in a timely fashion, and some land transfers were not registered at all. Some property passed through wills and other means. But most are listed, and you can often learn a lot about an ancestor by searching to see what land holdings he (or sometimes she) might have had.

Some of the terms in land records are archaic. For help understanding them, see: http://www.directlinesoftware.com/legal.htm

For help in understanding deeds and other property records in general, see: https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/U.S._Land_Records_Class_Handout

Happy hunting!

A Letter from Home: Easterly Winds and Death

Old letters open a window to the past. There isn’t a genealogist or historian who doesn’t yearn for them. And for good reason: letters carry the voices of our ancestors, they tell us a story. They illuminate our history.

One such letter, written on May 1, 1830 by Hingham resident Benjamin Thomas, Jr., to his uncle Martin Cushing in Maine, contains “sorrowful” news. It relates the death of Martin’s older brother Adna, who died the day before. The story it tells is of working conditions, medical knowledge, and a community caring for its own.

By way of background, Martin and Adna, sons of Isaac and Mary Cushing, were born in Hingham in 1788 and 1785, respectively. Descended from Matthew, the first Cushing to settle in town, they grew up in Hingham Centre, working on the family farm and in the sawmill. As adults, they entered the trades: Adna became a stonemason, Martin a bricklayer. In 1810, Adna married Sarah Leavitt and built a house at what is now 63 Pleasant Street; within a decade, he had moved his family to Leominster. Martin married Susan Thomas and moved to Maine.

In the letter, Benjamin recounts the facts of Adna’s death. He does not indulge in emotion or offer sympathy. From it, we learn that, in the winter of 1830, Adna worked indoors as a stone mason and that “the dust gave him a bad cough.” We learn that spring brought bad weather: there were “3 weeks of easterly winds and mist, by which [Adna] took a bad cold.” We learn that at the tail end of April, while working on a job in Charlestown, Adna fell violently ill and died. We learn he “labored” within days of his death.

When he died, his body “was brought to Hingham by a sail boat,” and “he was buried from M. & F. Burrs house” on the day of his death.

What the letter doesn’t tell us is that Adna was only 44 years old when he died. It doesn’t say how his wife and children learned of his death. Knowing he was buried the day he died, we understand that he was in the ground before most people knew he was dead. We see that immediately following his death a group of friends or co-workers carried his body from Charlestown to Hingham by sailboat. We know the news was rushed to Hingham Centre, and that the Fearing Burrs opened their home for an unexpected funeral. We realize that, in a matter of hours, a coffin was acquired, a gravedigger found, and a minister fetched. We are left to imagine the ripples of grief that spread across the villages and towns as friends and family heard the news.

Martin died seven years after his brother and is buried in Maine. How the letter survived is not clear as his widow is believed to have remarried and moved west, but it was handed down through the Cushing family. Thanks to the letter, we have a better idea of what it was like to live in Hingham in 1830.

Endnotes

Benjamin Thomas Jr. (1799-1854) was a nephew of Susan (Thomas) Cushing, Martin Cushing’s wife. He was the son of her brother, a gunsmith who lived in Hingham Centre. Lincoln, George et al., History of the Town of Hingham, Massachusetts, Vol. III (Genealogical), 1893. Pub. by the Town.

A copy of the letter from Benjamin Thomas Jr. to Martin Cushing was shared with me by researcher Margie von Marenholtz.

Adna Cushing (1785-1830) and Martin Cushing (1788-1837) were two of Deacon Isaac and Mary (Jones) Cushing’s seven children.

The Capt. Adna Cushing house at 63 Pleasant Street was built in 1811, according to the Hingham Historical Commission, Inventory of Historic, Architectural and Archaeological Assets. On Adna’s move to Leomister, see Cushing, James Stevenson. The genealogy of the Cushing family, an account of the ancestors and descendants of Matthew Cushing, who came to America in 1638.1905. Montreal, The Perrault Printing Co.

On M. & F. Burr’s house: Fearing Burr Sr. (1778-1866) had a store and home in Hingham Centre. Lincoln, George et al., History of the Town of Hingham, Massachusetts, Vol. III. Ibid. Adna is buried with his parents and his wife in Hingham Centre Cemetery. Note: His gravestone says he was 45 years old when he died; he was 44, in his 45th year.

Martin Cushing died 20 May 1837. “Maine Deaths and Burials, 1841-1910,” database, FamilySearch, Feb. 2018.

A Tale of One Family

A Review of Meg Ferris Kenagy’s Book The House on School Street: Eight Generations. Two Hundred and Four Years. One Family.

Not many people can say their family lived in the same house for eight generations, and even fewer strive to uncover the lives of these ancestors. Meg Ferris Kenagy is one of these rare individuals as she dives head first into this challenge and presents her discoveries in her book The House on School Street: Eight Fenerations. Two Hundred and Four years. One Family. Kenagy brings the history of her family’s house to life through numerous stories about her ancestors. We experience their lives and deaths, births and marriages, and the resulting joys and heartaches that accompany each event.

74 School (c) 1890
Martha Sprague Litchfield, left, and Sarah Trowbridge Litchfield. Circa 1890. Photo courtesy of the Hingham Historical Society.

Kenagy’s vivid descriptions of her family, the house, and Hingham make it feel like she is sitting down with us and flipping through pages of a photo album while sharing her family’s story. We see Colonel Charles Cushing building the house in 1785 after fighting in the Revolutionary War, and we watch subsequent generations move into and out of the family home. We learn of the successes and struggles of the family as they find ways to make a living in a changing world. As Kenagy shifts the narrative’s focus to each owner chapter after chapter, she recognizes the unique relationship each family member had with the house on School Street. She successfully sees the house through each of their eyes.

Although Kenagy admits there are gaps in her family’s story that research cannot fill, she does not let this obstacle frustrate her. Instead, Kenagy embraces what she does not know and proposes answers to the questions she cannot answer. By doing so, she becomes more attuned to the motivations, fears, and struggles of her ancestors. When Kenagy does know the answer to certain questions, she occasionally quotes letters and other sources to add another layer to her family’s story.

74 School Street 1889.jpeg

A large barn can be seen to the left of the house in this 1889 photo. A carriage house is to the right of the house. Photo courtesy of the Hingham Historical Society.

While this book presents the story about eight generations of a family, it also provides an overview of the history of Hingham. Through Kenagy’s detailed descriptions, we see Hingham’s transformation from a small village to a bustling wartime shipyard. Selected quotes from sources like the History of the Town of Hingham, Massachusetts and the Hingham Journal bring the town’s history to life. By acknowledging the history of the town, we can clearly recognize the family’s influence on Hingham’s community.

You can sense writing this book was a deeply personal experience for Kenagy. Not only does it document how she confirms family stories, but also how she uncovers family secrets. We are excited to learn more about Meg Kenagy’s experience writing this book and researching her family’s history when she comes to the Hingham Heritage Museum at Old Derby for a talk and book signing on Saturday, October 27, 2018 at 3:00pm. Please join us!

The Daly Family of Hingham

Historian John Richardson (1934-2011) was an avid collector of all things Hingham– its places, its buildings, its people. Among his collection in the Historical Society’s archives are 64 binders of material, gathered from families, purchased at estate sales, or sometimes rescued from homes or buildings facing demolition, that chronicle the lives of a disparate group of Hingham individuals and families.

Two binders are devoted to Daniel Daly (1825-1911), one of the town’s earliest Irish immigrants, and his descendants. They tell a story that takes the family from newcomers just prior to the Civil War to well respected members of the Hingham community by century’s end.

Portrait of John Daly, early 1900s(?), John P. Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Commission / Hingham Historical Society

Daniel Daly was born in County Armagh, Ireland and arrived in Hingham in 1855, soon after marrying Nancy Crowe (1835-1905) from the County of Tipperary. Daniel began as a gardener, hiring himself out to local families. After serving in the Civil War he started working as a gardener and florist with prominent Hingham families, such as Charles B. Barnes.

Photo of Daniel Daly and 2 others on Estate of Charles B. Barnes, early 1900s, John P. Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Commission / Hingham Historical Society

With the money he earned, he bought a house at 19 Green Street where he and Nancy raised their family. The Dalys had two children who survived to adulthood and who both attended Hingham schools: Daniel (1857-1900), who later moved to St. Louis and became a police officer, and Edmund (1866-1930), who started out working in retail stores in Boston and later became a businessman ins own right as a partner in the Hingham Bicycle Company and later as the sole owner of Edmund Daly & Co., Hatters and Furnishers, which had a store in West Hingham.

The interior of Edmund Daly and Co. store in West Hingham, 1910s(?), Edmund Daly (center), others unidentified. John P. Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Commission / Hingham Historical Society

The Daly Family materials include this floor  sample from Daly & Co.:

Sample hat(?) floor sample from Edmund Daly & Co. c. 1910 from John P. Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Commission / Hingham Historical Society

Because he was a well respected businessman, members of the local community urged him to run for public office, including for a seat in the state legislature in the early 1900s.

Political Poster supporting Edmund Daly for State Representative, Unknown, prior to 1910, John P. Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Commission / Hingham Historical Society

Though he did not win this election for state office, Edmund served on many town boards, including the Playground Commission. Meanwhile, he inherited the family house on Green Street after his father’s death in 1911.

Edmund Daly standing in the backyard of his home at 19 Green Street, 1920s? John P. Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Commission / Hingham Historical Society

His community standing and political connections allowed him to be appointed as Hingham Postmaster by President Wilson in 1917, a job he held until 1930 when he suffered a fatal heart attack walking to work from his home. The town was shocked and saddened in hearing the news.

Edmund Daly married Margaret E. Daly (1864-1952). They had one daughter, Annabel Daly (1900-1993) who also attended the Hingham schools. The Richardson Daly binders even include one of her primary school class photos.

Class photo in front of Primary School Building in Hingham, unknown date (circa 1912), Annabel Daly second from left in first row. John Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Society

She then attended Hingham High School where she graduated in 1918. In her adult life, she kept a scrapbook of her early years and her father’s career, through which most of her family’s history was saved.

Page from Annabel Daly’s Scrapbook, June 1918. John P. Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Commission / Hingham Historical Society

She not only kept items of a personal nature but chronicled important events in town as well. Among her materials is media coverage of the destruction of the original Hingham High School by fire in 1927.

Page from scrapbook of Annabel Daly, Oct. 1927. John P. Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Commission / Hingham Historical Society

Annabelle Daly continued to live in the Green Street house until her death at age 92. She did not marry and had no children. She was buried in the family plot at the St. Paul’s Cemetery. Her collection was obtained by John Richardson, who organized the Daly family materials into binders. These Daly binders and other family materials collected by John Richardson will soon be greatly more accessible at the new Hingham Heritage Museum.