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From the Green Valley News, Sunday 26 June 2011, page C3

Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG

Disappearing Historic Records Sometimes Return

It's no secret that genealogists rely on many different types of historic records and documents to learn all they can about their ancestors. More often than one would think, coveted records are missing. Where they are, no one knows.

Unfortunately, records often succumbed to fire in the days when they were kept in frame buildings such as town halls and even at the local general store. Other records were destroyed during the American Revolution, and particularly in the South, during the Civil War. Sometimes they were inexplicably misplaced or perish the thought, stolen.

In the 1700s and early 1800s some officials in charge of records seemed to think the records were their personal property. When the officials' term in office ended, the record books went with them. The town of Rupert, Vermont lost all its early land records when the clerk, a Tory, fled to Canada in 1780 with them.

Early this month professional genealogist Sandra Hewitt's father was shopping a Philadelphia used book store and spotted Brooklyn's "Bonds of Guardianship, Volumes 1 through 4," dating back to 1830. He notified his daughter who hurried in and purchased the books for $105 each. She boarded the train to Brooklyn, New York, then the subway to King's County Surrogate Court pulling the heavy books in her wheeled suitcase.

The Court staff was amazed and overjoyed to accept the long missing books back. The Brooklyn Eagle quotes Hewitt as saying, "They were right there on [the bookseller]'s desk! When genealogists see that, it heats our blood." Read the full article at compliments of Eastman's online newsletter.

Another recent amazing find is the original charter for the City of Providence, Rhode Island, missing for nearly two centuries. The charter, written on vellum, was issued by the King of England in March 1648 and grants "to the free inhabitants of this colony of Providence" the right to govern themselves. Coincidentally, this is the 375th anniversary of the founding of Providence in 1636.

The document was last seen in the 1840s when a judge transcribed it in a history of the city. The Providence Journal credits the city archivist with discovering it in a 5th floor storage space above his office in a box marked "to be filed." City officials are now deciding how to best preserve the fragile charter and whether or not to put it on display. One wonders how many more pieces of our history are hidden away in attics, barns and basements awaiting discovery.

A few years ago, I found an ancestor's New Fairfield, Connecticut marriage record at the DAR Library in Washington, DC. It seems the descendant of a Justice of the Peace applied for DAR membership and submitted the JP's entire marriage book with her application to prove her ancestor's marriage date.

In the 1970s a DAR librarian copied the little book and returned it to the New Fairfield town clerk. Within 20 years the book had disappeared from the clerk's town hall office and has never been seen again. Thankfully, the DAR made the photocopy before returning the records as it has the only copy in existence.

I was reading a novel, The Lake of Dreams recently and got furious with the author. Her main character was doing research to solve a family mystery. She found family correspondence from 100 years earlier in a historical society library, and when no one was watching, tucked the letters into her purse and left. She returned to the library the following week, found additional letters and repeated the process.

What kind of impression does this leave? If it relates to your ancestors, it's yours to take with you? How selfish to think that others with the same ancestors should not have access to the same material.

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