Primary Source / Item: vital records
(Images courtesy of Concord Free Public Library and
the VanGorden-Williams Library & Archives of the National Heritage Museum, F 74 .L67 H91 1913 v.2)
Reconstructing a family history begins with genealogy. For almost all towns in Massachusetts, vital records were gathered from church, town, graveyard and private sources into registers that were published as "Vital Records to 1850." (See image, left.) These public documents are arranged by "Births," "Marriages," and "Deaths." For many towns, like Lexington, there are town genealogies compiled and published by town historians, such as Charles Hudson's 1868 "History of Lexington." (right.)
These sources, along with tax documents, teach us many things about individuals and families. For instance, Benjamin Estabrook of Lexington married Hannah Hubbard of Concord in May of 1757. They had 8 children by April of 1775, ranging in age from 17 years to 6 months. They lived in the same house that was built by a relative of Benjamin, who had been the town's first minister in 1691. Four generations of Estabrooks had farmed their 92 acres, and ran the grist mill they shared with another Lexington family, the Lorings. The Lorings are featured in the Museum's exhibition "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty." Benjamin was a well-known and respected citizen. His neighbors elected him to serve as selectman, moderator of town meetings, justice of the peace, and coroner. While he was not a member of the town militia, he served in the campaign of Ticonderoga in 1776. Benjamin owned a slave named Prince, who was a member of the militia and fought with the patriots for most of the Revolutionary War. (One recommended book is by author Alice Hinkle, "Prince Estabrook, Slave and Soldier.")
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