Lesson: Town & Historical Society Records
Students will research the class research person using town records available at the town clerk’s office and local historical society, and note pertinent information in their “Storykeepers” notebook.
- Permission slips to visit the town clerk’s office/historical society museum
- “Storykeepers” notebooks and pencils
- Camera or portable scanner
- Cotton gloves
Town Meeting minutes
Vital statistics or records
After a certain date (it varies from state to state), towns were required by law to keep records of their meetings, sales of land, maps, school records, and vital statistics like birth, marriages and deaths. Many of these records are public information, and available for anyone to see. Some records are confidential.
Many towns have a historical society with lots of information about your town. They might have paper documents, maps, books, objects, clothing, genealogies, and photographs.
Both the town clerk’s office and the historical society may have information about the person you are researching and about what life was like in the time that our research person lived.
- Arrange with the town/city clerk and the historical society contact person a date and time for a class field trip to see the records and holdings, and find out how many students can visit at the same time.
- Students should decide ahead of time what information they will be searching for. Together, look over the information the class has already found and noted about class research person, and make a list of what you would like to look for at the town clerk’s and the historical society.
- Using your list of what students are interested in finding, check records for each item on the list. Some town/city vaults are self-serve, at others you will have to request certain information, and staff will bring it to you. At some offices, you may only be allowed to handle a photocopy, at others students will have access to the actual documents. (If students are able to handle the actual records, have them wear gloves and stress the importance of handling with care. Show students how to use the indexes if there are some. The staff will be able to tell you when records began being kept in their town. (In Glover, the earliest birth records date to 1857, so we knew right off we would not find our class research person’s birth record, as we knew she was born in 1833.) At the historical society, the host may already have assembled pertinent materials, or may have students freely explore.
- Have students record what they find. Have them check over the recorder’s notes to make sure everything has been recorded. You might have students take turns writing down information, or photographing, scanning or photocopying records.
- Students send a thank you to the people who were your hosts!
- When students are reading old death certificates, they will run across causes of death that will not sound familiar. Have them research these terms and list them with names they may be known by today. Are there some causes of death that are no longer threats?
- Have students compare old vital statistic forms with current day forms, and discuss how they are the same and different.
- The day we visited, we had an unexpected chance to talk with a title abstractor who was working for a lawyer doing title searches in land records. The students were fascinated learning about her job. Invite someone in your area to talk with students about the jobs that involve looking at old records: genealogists, paralegals, lawyers, title abstractors, historians, conservators.