Books for the Connecticut Researcher, Part 2

by Barbara Jean Mathews, CG

Posted July 11, 2000

Connecticut researchers are fortunate in many ways, not the least of which is the breadth of town-wide genealogies that have been published for the earliest settlements. This column introduces our discussion of town-wide genealogies. The discussion will cover some important issues to keep in mind when using this genre to fill in your pedigree. The column looks more carefully at the books by Donald Lines Jacobus. Finally it lists the genealogies developed for the towns founded in the seventeenth century in Connecticut.

Town-Wide Genealogies, an Introduction
Once you have your research back to the Revolutionary War era, there is a high probability that you can rapidly fill out a large slice of your pedigree using Connecticut's town-wide genealogies. Of course, secondary sources like these are of differing levels of reliability. You might fill in your pedigree using these books, but be sure to use pencil rather than pen.

Among the most famous authors of this genre was Donald Lines Jacobus, who wrote books on New Haven and on early Fairfield County. As town-wide genealogies go, these set the standard. Not only has he covered nearly all the earliest settlers, but he includes citations to primary documents.

Samuel Orcutt and Henry Stiles are two other prolific publishers of town-wide genealogies. These men worked in an earlier era than Jacobus, an era when citations to primary records weren't the first focus of the genealogical writer.

Orcutt covered towns in which my ancestors lived along and near the Connecticut shoreline. These include Stratford, Bridgeport, and Derby. Orcutt is very reluctant to link people of the same name together in a family, that is, to equate a head-of-household to a son of the same name in an earlier family. Thus, you have to make these links on your own when using Orcutt to pencil in your pedigree.

Henry R. Stiles wrote about the important Connecticut River valley towns of Wethersfield and Windsor. His books are rich resources of family information. He often takes family down to the time in which he is working. This implies that he was often working from submissions from living descendants.

Town-wide Genealogies, Two Examples
When I first began doing genealogy, I frequently used town-wide genealogies to fill out my pedigree. In so doing, I learned from my own mistakes a few of the ins-and-outs of using the genre. My ancestors lived in the areas treated by Donald Lines Jacobus in his two major works, Families of Ancient New Haven and History and Genealogy of the Families of Old Fairfield. The New Haven book is nearly all based on the research of Jacobus, and rates as the best town-wide genealogy I've ever used.

The Fairfield book is compiled and edited by Jacobus. In the first paragraph of his introduction, he provides the start and finish dates of the project for Volume I. These dates are May 22, 1929 and November 27, 1929 - six months and five days in total. Jacobus discusses the schedule in the first paragraph of the introduction which surely must be a warning to the reader and researcher. Jacobus often names the submitter of family information in those cases where such information might include dates from sources that he himself could not check, such as baptisms in England.

One nice thing about the Fairfield book is that Jacobus evidently made extensive use of land and probate records in checking out the earliest generations. He mentions dates and events, although he does not provide volume and page citations for town land deeds or probate district records.

The focus of the Fairfield work changes from the first volume to the second pair of volumes. The first volume looks at the earliest families in the county of Fairfield. The second and third volume add on to the families living within the original town of Fairfield only.

Here are a few things to look for as possible sources of incomplete information or error:

Town-wide Genealogies, A List of Books on Seventeenth Century Towns


1.       "The Wives of Joseph2 and Joseph3 Darwin/Durrin/Derrin of Guilford, Wallingford, Litchfield and Branford, Connecticut," The American Genealogist, 71:28-35; and "More Wives for Joseph2 Darwin and Samuel2 Darwin of Connecticut," The American Genealogist, 73:194-195

Copyright 2000, New England Historic Genealogical Society