Abstracts and Indexes as a Source?

One of my many brick walls is the identity of Lt. Brian Hall’s parents.  Brian is my 5th g-grandfather who’s service to our country has bestowed upon me the honor of being accepted to the Daughter’s of the American Revolution Society.

The First Book of Raynham (MA) Records (Raynham is in Bristol County), 1700–1835 (Online database: NewEnglandAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2003), (Handwritten unpublished transcription, transcriber unknown, “First Book of Raynham Records,” donated to NEHGS in 1897) lists his parents as:

Year Date Record   Type  
1727 July 9 Brian son of John Hall 3d of Taunton & Mary his wife Birth


There is speculation (in unsourced published genealogies) that Brian’s mother was Mary Brettun, granddaughter of Mary (Pendleton) Brettun Cross Morey who was the granddaughter of Brian Pendleton a wealthy Englishman born about 1599. He was one of the early settlers of Watertown and Sudbury, MA and owned quite a bit of land in the Saco area of Maine and Portsmouth New Hampshire.

Mary (Pendleton) Brettun Cross Morey (possibly Brian’s grandmother) left a will.  It is indexed under the name “Marcy Morey” in “Abstracts of Bristol County, Massachusetts Probate Records, 1687-1745” H. L. Peter Rounds:

An abstract is a summary of the text of a document, retaining all its essential details.

SCORE!!!!!!!!!!!. right?  Incredible list of names…  Mary Hall is among them.  It doesn’t support the claim that she is my Brian Hall’s mother, but at least it tells us that there was a Mary Hall in this particular family in the right time period and maybe even in Bristol County.

Let’s step back a bit….

As one of Ancestry.com’s Expert Connect providers, I have observed a common theme.  8 times out of 10  the query begins with something like:

“I have tried every search imaginable on Ancestry.com and can not find any records on my family”


“I have looked everywhere online and can not find any information on my family.”

In 5 out of 10 cases, when I spend 30 seconds searching (Family Search, Footnote, NEHGS, Google, etc. ) I find a record or in some cases many records naming their “unfindable” (is that a word?) ancestor.

I am guessing that most of these folks are beginners (even though most profess to have been searching for 5 or 10 years for this “lost” ancestor).  So I am thinking that if they were to find their ancestor in an index, they might stop there; add it to their family tree with great joy (I finally found a record!!!!) – perhaps not even aware that there might be more.

How tragic would it be to find your ancestor in Ancestry’s Naturalization Index and stop…  Never look for the actual record which would be chock full of great information – potentially a birth date, town of origin in the “old country”, ship name, ship arrival date, wife and children’s names, etc., etc.

But what about an abstract, it lists everything, doesn’t it?

So do you stop there, or would you pull a copy of the original probate record?

Pull you should.   Many years ago I stopped in at the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston and got an actual copy of Mary Morey’s will which they have on microfilm (not the case here, but sometimes you get lucky and find other papers filed with the will).

Below is a small section which I transcribed. Not “transcription perfect” as required by the BCG, but good enough for me – I added some punctuation to make it easier for the reader (the original has no commas between the names):

A transcript is a word-for-word exact copy of the text in a document. Nothing is changed; everything is written just as it appears: errors, punctuation, misspellings, and all.

….Item – I Give and Bequeath to my Grand Children William Brettun, Abiale Brettun, Ebenezer Brettun, Pendleton Brettun, Mary Hall, Lydia Brettun, Sarah Brettun, Elizabeth Brettun, & Abigail Brettun,  all the remaining three quarters of my Real Estate lands Meadows & ____ which belong to me to be equally divided between them Only that my granddaughter Mary Hall is to enjoy her part during her life and after her deceased her children to enjoy her part equally between them and their heirs….

The original will doesn’t tell us much more about Mary Hall, but it is interesting that Mary is called out separately.  Perhaps implying that Mary Hall already had a child or children?  The will was written in 1732.  Brian Hall would have been about 5 years old and living in Bristol County.

In any case, the will clearly reads “Mary Morey” and not “Marcy Morey”.  It gives enough of a description of the actual land in Maine and New Hampshire so that a researcher could identify land deeds related to this  property and perhaps follow the book and page numbers to determine if any of the land mentioned ends up in the hands of Lt Brian Hall, who was by the way, a large land holder.

Too many beginning researchers use online indexes, abstracts and transcriptions as “proof”.  It’s important to remember that humans make mistakes – who knows if the original was abstracted correctly (Marcy vs. Mary, for example).  Original records will have additional information not found in indexes and abstracts.   Yes; it is a lot of work to pull offline sources – you may have to look through 100’s of unrelated records, not to mention that it sometimes costs money and you have to actually leave your computer; but as genealogists we  strive to meet the Genealogical Proof Standard which includes our completion of “a reasonably exhaustive search”.   Not to mention that it is actually fun to look through old records (extra bonus if you find an ancestor).

This doesn’t just apply to probate records but all records.  There are more and more indexes, abstracts and transcriptions appearing online daily – births, marriages, deaths, censuses….  Use these as “finding aids” to help you locate the original records.

Once you have the original record, it may be difficult to read.  There are a lot of great resources on the Internet to assist you with old handwriting.  Try a google search on the word palaeography.

Thsi webstie si ym fvaortie wehre yuo cna gte sarted http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/palaeography/where_to_start.htm

Happy Hunting!!


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