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Overheard in GenForum: Josephine Winn, Nashua, NH
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

May 17, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: Would someone be kind enough to see if they can find any information on Josephine Messier. She married Henri Messier and their first child that I know about (Thomas) was born in 1907 in Nashua. I found a record in Social Security that had a Josephine Messier listed as born in NH on 21 Oct. 1880. I would like to know if her parents were Thomas and Brigette Winn. -- Dot

A: Whenever you find yourself working in a new county, state or country, it is a good idea to take the time to read up on the history of the area and the history of the records. In reading a history of the county or state, you may discover border disputes with other states or countries. You may learn about disasters or other intervening events that directly affect the records you will need to use.

New England research requires a little additional how-to research due to the different jurisdictions that maintained the records. Unlike other states, where most of the records are found on the county level, New England states have records on the town, county and sometimes even the state level.

A little preparation will save time.

New England Records

New England is one of the areas where researchers can often find the most records. Most of the New England states have been recording vital records, land deeds, probate and more since the early 1600s. The good news is that most of these records are available on microfilm.

There are some excellent resources available to help you in learning the idiosyncrasies of New England records. You can also learn about the various New England repositories and their holdings. These books may be available in your local genealogical library:

  • Crandall, Ralph J. Genealogical Research in New England. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc., 1984.
  • Melnyk, Marcia D. The Genealogist's Handbook for New England Research, Fourth Edition. 1999.
  • Sperry, Kip. New England Genealogical Research: A Guide to Sources. Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, 1988.

New Hampshire Research

Vital records for New Hampshire are found on the town level. Many of them have been microfilmed and are available through the Family History Library. This means you can gain access to them through your local Family History Center.

For births, marriages, and deaths prior to 1900 there is an index that exists for the state as a whole. Each town clerk was required to fill out cards supplying information on these events from their town record books.

There is one strange aspect to this index. The index is alphabetical, but with one additional twist. Each index, one each for births, marriages, and deaths, is arranged alphabetically by the first and third letters of the surname. This means that the surname Brackman will come before the surname Bailey. Once you are in the surname, the cards are arranged by grouping. Given names of the same first letter are grouped together. They are not alphabetically organized by given name.

What to Expect

While not all of the cards are completely filled out, there are fields for specific items. For instance on the birth cards, you will find the following spaces for information.

  • Name of the child
  • Date of the birth
  • Place of birth
  • Sex and color
  • Living or stillborn
  • No. of child, 1st, 2nd, etc.
  • Father's name, birthplace, color, age, residence, occupation
  • Mother's name, birthplace, color, age, occupation

You should still consult the original town records once you have located your ancestor in this index. While the town clerks filled out the cards, there is still room for error.

In Conclusion

Once you have verified the names of Josephine's parents, you will then be able to turn your attention back to the index to see what other children may have been entered in the index. You may also find the family in the 1880 census, without Josephine probably, giving you more information about Josephine's parents.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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