Monday, April 7, 2014

Connecticut Genealogy- It's our Specialty!


It’s always good to start with what you know and the Godfrey certainly knows Connecticut!  Being located in the quasi central city of Middletown and having a list of contacts from all over the state, the Godfrey has had the opportunity to add many Connecticut based works to our print and digital collection.  You might say that Connecticut is our specialty. 

Two hundred and twenty six years ago, on January ninth, Connecticut was admitted to the Union which would in time become the United States of America.  From colonial times, through the Revolution to the Civil War and beyond, the Constitution State holds an important place in American history.  During the Revolutionary War Connecticut earned the title of "Arsenal of the Nation" and, as dubbed by General Washington, "The Provision State" due to the incredible amount of supplies contributed to the war effort.  Some of these supplies included Eli Whitney and Samuel North's revolutionary concept of rifles with interchangeable parts: one of the stepping stones towards modern mass manufacturing.  The creativity and ingenuity of Connecticut residents led to the rise of a top of the line manufacturing industry, with important inventions like the cotton gin, steamboats, vulcanized rubber, and submarines all having been developed here. 

Compared to the overall population only a small number of Connecticut residents make it into history books for their valiant deeds or great minds.  But one must not forget the everyday men and women.  Without them there would be no Connecticut.  The history that they created with their everyday lives is the backbone upon which this state and everything its people have accomplished are founded.  It is also here that most people with Connecticut ancestors must look to find their family’s place in history. 

Just because your family line does not go back to Samuel North or Katharine Hepburn, who was born in Hartford and died in Fenwick Connecticut, does not mean your family history is “boring”.  On the contrary, discovering your ancestor’s occupations, relations, and family triumphs or tragedies can be more interesting than discovering your relation to someone famous: though the second certainly gives you something to brag about!  Particularly if you are researching your family using newspapers and church records you have a chance of coming across compelling personal stories that give insight into their daily lives. 

While indexing church records from Middletown Connecticut’s First Congregational Church Godfrey staff came upon a nearly page long entry concerning Sally Rawson.  On March 30, 1816 Sally Rawson was excommunicated from the church for reasons described as “breach of Covenant engagements, as also by the sin of intemperance” (underline present in original text).  What follows is a description of how members of the congregation repeatedly met and tried to reason with Miss Rawson, to no avail.  This took place just before intemperance became a nationwide public concern in the United States, being preached against by such people as Reverend Lyman Beecher, father of Harriet Beecher Stowe.  Intemperance was blamed for all of society’s ills, from violence to infidelity.  Curiously, Sally Rawson is the only case of intemperance mentioned in over one hundred years of these church records.  This begs the question: were the claims against Sally Rawson just a convenient excuse?  Taking advantage of women, especially women without the protection of a husband, and using the church as a weapon has a historical precedent: just look at the Salem witch trials.  Could it be that Sally Rawson ran afoul of some of the more influential congregation members and was unjustly punished?  Or was she really a disagreeable woman who drank too much and refused to answer to church authority?  That mystery may never be solved. 

See what I mean?  You certainly don’t need to be related to someone famous to discover interesting, albeit sometimes scandalous, information about your family tree! 

For genealogists who believe their ancestors came from Connecticut there are many records from all over the state going back hundreds of years that can aide in research.  Some of these records are available in online databases, such as Godfrey’s Scholar+, World Vital Records, Family Search, and Ancestry.  For those of you with a Connecticut library card, the Connecticut State Library has an impressive free database of genealogical information, iconn.org, for the most part focusing on Connecticut records.  The Godfrey has a sizable collection of print resources; including town records, church records, town histories, and biographies, but for more specific resources you might need to contact town halls, history centers, or churches and in some cases visit them directly.   

Sources:
Middletown First Congregational Church Records: Baptisms and Confessions 1784 to 1816, page 290.  As seen on Godfrey’s Scholar+.