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On Friday (February 28th) I visited Boston City Archives for the first time. I had wanted to visit since I attended a talk on the Archives by archivist Marta Crilly last year at the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Conference, which was held in Boston. I typed my notes from that lecture up in my post on IAJGS 2013 Day 2. At the talk, Marta had stressed booking an appointment in advance and, if at all possible, coming by car rather than by public transit. I called a few days in advance and booked an appointment for Friday. Marta was the one who answered the phone, and asked what I would be researching. She told me she would pull the first thing in advance of my arrival. I mentioned that I would be coming with a friend to make sure that this would be OK, and she said to stress to my friend that they are a nearly exclusively pull facility so my friend should bring along specifics if she wanted to research something in their records.

Boston City Archives is located in West Roxbury, a neighborhood of Roxbury, which was formerly an independent town and is now part of the City of Boston. The Archives is located near the border with Brookline. The parking lot is wide in front of the building, and there were signs posted around most of the lot saying the parking was for city employees, so we parked near the other end from the entrance. Someone walking in the parking lot confirmed that the entrance where we could access the Archives was where we were guessing it was. There is a ramp leading up to the entrance in addition to a small set of stairs; there are also three handicapped parking spaces, the closest parking spaces to the entrance, and these spaces were all empty while we were there. When you enter the building, the door to the Archives Reading Room will be on your right. There is a desk at the front of the Reading Room where there is usually a staff member seated.

The exterior of Boston City Archives

The exterior of Boston City Archives, as seen from the parking lot when we were leaving in the late afternoon. The entrance is in the grey boxy bit on the left. There are also a couple of other city offices through the same entrance, including the City Archaeology Lab. (All photos in this post were taken by the author.)

When we arrived, there was one researcher sitting at one of the two tables nearest the desk looking through records, and Marta said the other table nearest the desk was for us. The rest of the tables in the fairly large Reading Room were covered with items from the Boston Marathon bombing victims’ memorial, and there were a number of people moving around the Reading Room working on cataloging these items. There are lockers behind the desk and we were asked to stow most of what we had brought with us in them; we were allowed to keep pencils, papers, and cameras/cellphones. There are extra pencils in case someone didn’t bring one along or brought one that broke on-site. Marta had said on the phone that she would pull a register book for me before I arrived, and it was waiting for us. There were also two pieces of foam that she requested I use to prop up the books to help protect them. She sat with us for a bit listening to the other things we wanted to research and taking notes, and then left to pull more records.

The pull cart at Boston City Archives

The pull cart at Boston City Archives. Since we usually asked for several things at a time to be pulled, it was left by our table while we researched and temporarily removed when new things were pulled.

I started my research doing work for a client, and had brought along a typed page of information on folks I am personally researching in Boston. Most of the information regarding my personal research did not lead to records, but I was able to do some personal research in tax records. Based on the street address I had brought with me, Marta pulled several tax books (pictured on the top shelf of the pull cart above), starting with the first year I was sure the person had lived at the address. The first year, the street address was not listed in the tax book, but a nearby address with two digits exchanged (1879 rather than 1897) was listed, and there was a dental practice at that address, so I thought that I may have mistyped the address and that my dentist research subject, early in his career at that point, may have been an apprentice at that practice at the time. However, Marta urged me to check a minimum of one more book before sending the records back. I’m glad I did, as the address 1897 was in the next year’s tax book and my dentist was listed at it. See photos of the record below. He was also in the next year’s tax book at the same address, while the following year – the year he had graduated from Harvard University’s Dental School – there were two other dentists listed at his apparently now-former address. I checked a couple more books, but after that the address was rented by a carpenter. I know he was still living in Boston at the time, so I will have to verify more addresses before I go back to research more. (See the captions for how to use street addresses with the tax books.)

Sample of tax records at Boston City Archives, page 1 of 2

Here is a sample of the old tax records at Boston City Archives, page 1 of 2 from the 1871 tax books. Willis Battles, shown here, is a relative of mine; the “1” to the right of his name indicates that he paid the year’s poll tax. Most of the locations on this page were businesses, but in a city directory of this time period Willis was listed as living at the same address where he worked as a dentist. Men were subject to the poll tax and women weren’t, so Marta said that it is rare to find an occupant woman listed in the tax books. However, if a woman operated a shop at a separate address from where she lived, you should be able to look up the street address of the shop if you know it, even though the woman wouldn’t have been subject to the poll tax. The books are organized by street address. You look in the front of the book to see if the street of interest is in it, then search the listed street numbers for the page that contains the exact address. (Some streets are in more than one book.)

 Sample of tax records at Boston City Archives, page 2 of 2

Here is a sample of the old tax records at Boston City Archives, page 2 of 2 from the 1871 tax books. The people shown on this page are the property owners. The books are organized by street address, so if you know the address someone owned, you can look them up in the tax records regardless of whether they lived there. There were a number of woman property owners listed in the books I searched from the 1870’s and the books my friend searched from the 1910’s, so I think you are much more likely to find a woman property owner than a woman occupant in these records. To search the books, you look in the front of the book to see if the street of interest is in it, then search the listed street numbers for the page that contains the exact address. (Some streets are in more than one book.)

One of the ledgers I used was the most fire-damaged record I’ve ever personally used, and also had some water damage. I had to keep washing soot off my hands. See the photo below.

Ledger damaged by fire and water at Boston City Archives

This ledger damaged by fire and water is at Boston City Archives. Using it required much washing to remove soot from my hands, and it also left bits of soot all over the table.

Before we went to the Archives, my friend had found something with no known personal connection to her research that she thought sounded interesting in the Archives catalog, and after she finished researching she looked through it, a box of folders of loose papers of warnings-out from Charlestown, Massachusetts, in the 1700’s. Charlestown was once an independent town and is also now part of the City of Boston. For those of you that don’t know what warnings-out were, to oversimplify, here in New England they were a way to make sure that a town did not have to pay for someone who became indigent who was not a legal resident of the town by legally “warning them out” of the town. The system was similar to England’s Settlement Laws, though in New England being warned out simply meant the town was no longer financially liable for upkeep, not that the person(s) necessarily left the town. For those of you that want to read more, Josiah H. Benton wrote an entire book about it titled Warning Out in New England, published in 1911 and now scanned and freely available on multiple sites (I’ve linked to one).

A sample warning out from 1700s Charlestown at Boston City Archives

A sample warning out from 1700’s Charlestown, Massachusetts, at Boston City Archives. This record begins “In His Majesty’s name” and the date at the end includes “In the Twenty Second year of His Majesty’s Name,” the last word of which was probably supposed to be “Reign” rather than “Name.”

I’m glad I asked around till I found someone with a car who was both willing and able to go with me, as after going there I agree that it would be difficult to reach the Archives on public transit. I also want to stress that if you are going by car, it’s a good idea to bring GPS and/or a detailed map of the neighborhood. We only had written directions with us and discovered that there were many intersections without street signs which made it difficult to follow the written directions. After we realized we had started going in circles, we called the Archives and asked for directions from where we had pulled over.

Additional Tips:

  • Bring something to take digital photos! The Archives has a photocopier, but it is easier (and sometimes the only feasible way) to photograph items. You are allowed to photograph any record you view.
  • As Marta stressed at her lecture, call in advance and book an appointment. Have an idea of at least one thing you are going to be researching at the Archives before you call so that you will be able to provide details over the phone when you schedule your appointment.
  • If you know street addresses and/or wards, bring them along. Bring along as many street addresses and wards as you have, and include known dates for each one in your notes. If someone moved and/or their street address/ward changed without them moving, bring that information along as well, as it will make a significant difference. It is difficult to research in their old tax records without an exact street address, and probably impossible to research in their old voter records without a ward. While the Archives has some Ward maps as per my posted notes from Marta’s lecture, the maps do not cover as many years as the voting records do. The 1870 US federal census enumeration doesn’t typically include Wards in Boston, but the State Library of Massachusetts’s Massachusetts Real Estate Atlas Digitization Project has an 1874 atlas of Suffolk County (including Boston), which is earlier than the Archives Ward maps. If I had known there were no 1870’s Ward maps at the Archives and checked the 1874 atlas for wards in advance, I could have tried to look Willis up in the voting records while I was there.
  • If you plan to search the women’s early voting records (women were allowed to vote [only] in school elections in Massachusetts before federal women’s suffrage), plan to schedule a minimum of an entire day to only doing that. I asked about looking in them for my female personal research subjects and Marta said that because they are completely unindexed, they would probably take me a couple of weeks to thoroughly search. (Because I had other things to research that day, she didn’t pull them at all for me and I have yet to view any samples from that record set.)
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Franklin Lyman Olds was born on 16 February 1810, the first child of Gideon and Elizabeth “Betsey” (Lyman) Olds of Jericho, Chittendon County, Vermont. His parents were both children of families who had moved up New England to colonial western Vermont. There is no known previous usage of the given name Franklin in his family and it is possible he was named in honor of Benjamin Franklin by his parents, whose fathers had both fought in the American Revolution. It was a given name that would carry on down the generations.

Franklin’s family had moved to Norwich, Windsor County, Vermont, on the eastern edge of the state, by 1830, when his mother Betsey died there and was buried in Norwich’s cemetery. Life for the family went on without Betsey. Franklin may have initially been involved in a Norwich-area company called Burton Olds & Co. On 3 October 1833 Franklin was amongst many citizens of Norwich to petition the Vermont legislature to create a law to prevent cattle from running at large, or as they put it:

We the undersigned would humbly represent to your Honorable body, that great difficulties and damages are incurred by the Farming interest in this State in consequence of the prevailing custom of turning cattle except Yearlings to run at large in the Highways during the Summer and Autumn. And as the laws of the State are considered insufficient to restrain such cattle from so running at large, We do therefore pray your Honorable body that an act may be passed effectually to produce such restraint . . .

In 1834 he was again one of many petitioners; this time they asked for the legislature to allow an educational facility that would become Norwich University.

Norwich was a small town, so Franklin could have met Lucy Blood at almost any activity or location around the mostly rural town. On 26 November 1835, Lucy and Franklin were married in Norwich by Samuel Goddard. Lucy’s mother had also died prior to their wedding, but both their fathers were still alive. To date I have been unable to locate them on the 1840 federal census, and since it only enumerates each head-of-household, the young couple may have been living with a relative.

Franklin opened a general store in Norwich with his brother Erastus William Olds. They were known as F L & E W Olds.

F L & E W Olds listed in the Merchants and Traders section of Waltons Vermont Register and Farmers Almanac for 1849

F L & E W Olds are listed in the “Merchants and Traders” section of the 1849 Walton’s Vermont Register and Farmers’ Almanac. I purchased this copy on eBay a few years ago.

Franklin was elected a Representative to Vermont’s General Assembly for 1856-57.

Franklin Olds elected for Windsor County

An article on election results (excerpted here) lists Franklin Olds as one of the Representatives from Windsor County. From the 14 September 1855 issue of the Vermont Watchman and State Journal of Montpelier, page 2. (Image courtesy of Chronicling America.)

Through a digitized Journal of the House of the State of Vermont, I know he filed a report as part of the Committee on State Prisons. He was also a Representative while the Vermont legislature was considering moving the capital of Vermont from Montpelier to Rutland, as shown in the newspaper excerpt below.

Franklin Olds mentioned in an article over the debate to move the Vermont state legislature from Montpelier to Rutland

Franklin Olds is mentioned in an article (an excerpt is shown here) over the debate to move the Vermont state legislature from Montpelier to Rutland. From the 27 February 1857 issue of the Vermont Watchman and State Journal of Montpelier, page 2. (Image courtesy of Chronicling America.)

As the general store in a small, mostly rural community, their fortunes boomed. On the 1850 census, Franklin was listed with real estate worth $570 and Erastus with real estate worth $1,000. By the 1860 federal census, Franklin was listed as having real estate worth $1,250 and “personal estate” worth $5,000. Younger brother Erastus’s real estate was a bit less expensive – still listed at $1,000, he was probably living in the same place as a decade prior – but Erastus was listed with the exact same personal estate as Franklin, $5,000. With personal estates together totaling $10,000, Franklin and Erastus made up the majority of the wealth on their census page, the entire total of personal estates only being $13,300.

As was common then amongst merchants and others who owned businesses that many people frequented, Franklin shortly became the postmaster of Norwich.

Franklin L. Olds in the postmasters register

The top entries in a page of the postmaster appointments register, the first entry being for Franklin L. Olds, who was appointed postmaster of Norwich on 20 June 1861 and served until around 1885 (the last number of the year Lewis Partridge was appointed is difficult to read due to the binding tape). The register also lists (not pictured here) that Erastus Olds became postmaster in 1889, after two others briefly served as postmasters. Seema Kenney retrieved this record for me from NARA, but the record set has since been added to Ancestry.com.

A storm was brewing in the divided nation, and the Civil War shortly broke out. As the war did not end in a few months as many in the Union thought, and then turned ever more bloody and expensive, the Union turned to new ways to fund the war and get soldiers to fight it. An increasing array of taxes were introduced and a draft was instituted. Too old to be drafted, Franklin and Erastus chose not to voluntarily enlist. But as merchants who were relatively wealthy for a small community, they were subject to a variety of taxes. They were taxed as “Retail Dealers” and individually taxed for the incomes from their business.

Franklin and Erastus Olds on IRS tax list for Vermont Division 7 of District 2 in 1863

Franklin and Erastus Olds were taxed as both a business and individuals in 1863. The business is listed as owning a horse and carriage, probably for the general store to be able to transport goods to those that could not take them home on their own. Franklin and Erastus were both also taxed for their individual incomes. They are shown in the middle of this excerpt from the 1863 Internal Revenue Service tax list for Vermont’s Division 7 of District 2. (Image courtesy of Ancestry.com; the record set is part of NARA’s holdings.)

After the war ended, the taxes initially continued as the Union side tried to recoup some of the financial devastation war had wrought on the federal government. An increasing number of items were taxed, and that’s how I know that Franklin’s household owned a piano. As head-of-household, Franklin was the one who was taxed for it, but since it was a musical instrument, I have no way of knowing which member(s) of the household actually played it. I’ve always found this interesting, as I always enjoy learning more about the day-to-day lives of the people I research, but have found it especially so since I recently began learning to play the piano myself. It is nice to imagine a household filled with music.

Franklin and Erastus Olds on IRS tax list for Vermont Division 7 of District 2 in May 1866

Franklin and Erastus Olds are again taxed as both a business and individuals. Franklin was taxed for a “Piano Forte” and Erastus for a “Gold Watch.” The carriage, formerly listed as joint property of F L & E W Olds, is now listed as Franklin’s property. They are shown in the middle of this excerpt from the May 1866 Internal Revenue Service tax list for Vermont’s Division 7 of District 2. (Image courtesy of Ancestry.com; the original record set is part of NARA’s holdings.)

On 8 November 1867, the Norwich Classical and English Boarding School was incorporated by the Vermont State Legislature, and it opened the following year. Franklin was on the Board of Trustees starting in 1868, listed with the honorific of “Esq.” (short for “Esquire”).  The school created a rather melodramatic advertisement about its wonderful staff, perfect building, idyllic location, and specialization in classical instruction. However, the school did not last very long, closing in 1877; this was apparently at least partially due to regular staff turnover.

In the 1870’s, the general store caught fire. Erastus and his wife, who lived above the store, were wakened by a daughter who had spotted the fire and escaped. The store was rebuilt, but according to a local history of the area, Erastus ran it on his own from that point forward. By this time Franklin was at least in his 60’s, but continued on as postmaster for several more years. Under a federal act of 3 March 1883, c. 142, (22 St. pp. 600, 602,), first to third class postmasters were allowed to put in claims for readjusted pay if they had been postmasters certain years. (See a partial quote of the act in this transcript of a Supreme Court case regarding it.) Judging by the Serial Sets, a large number of postmasters did; Franklin was one of them. It took a long time for the federal government to go through all the claims, and while many of them appear to have been rejected, Franklin’s was one of the ones eventually accepted (see 1886’s Serial Set Vol. 2401 [House Executive Document 225], p. 73). He received an additional $92.80 in pay for having served as Norwich’s postmaster in 1873 and 1874.

Just a handful of years after retiring as postmaster, Franklin died in his beloved Norwich, on 4 January 1890. His widow Lucy died nearly exactly four years later, on 27 January 1894, in Norwich.

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NOTES

Original copies of the petitions mentioned early in this blog post are held by the Vermont State Archives.

The American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, has a collection of school-related materials. An online list of schools represented in their collection is over here.

The NARA-Waltham branch (in Massachusetts) contains the original volumes of the 1860’s IRS tax lists for Vermont.

Ancestry.com has an extensive collection of scanned printed school materials that (at least for me) generally do not show up in my regular searches. Only by going to the category for school materials do I generally get any hits. Materials pertaining to the Norwich Classical and English Boarding School are amongst its holdings.

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