Saturday, January 9, 2010

Holding History in My Hands

Not too many years ago, September 2006 to be precise, I decided to look for the actual birth record of my husband's 5th great-grandfather, Thomas Potter. I had found a memorial to him in the Col. Thomas Potter Lot, a local cemetery.  This memorial stated that he was the son of Ichabod Potter (son of Robert and Elizabeth (Cole) Potter),  and his first wife Deborah Reynolds Potter.  

However, I was finding more evidence that he was actually the son of Ichabod's second wife Margaret Potter (daughter of Ichabod and Margaret (Helme) Potter).   

 I had been to the Town Hall before to look up other births or deaths.  The pre-1960 or so records are all listed on index cards,  stored alphabetically in file cabinets.  On the card you find the book and page number of the record you would like to see.  I had researched some events from the late 1800s or early 1900s.  The clerk would bring the correct vital record book to a counter where you could look at the record with the clerk looking on.  This day I asked for the record book that contained records from the 1730s.  It took a while for the clerk to locate the book.  First, she brought me one from the 1830s and we couldn't locate the correct page and entry.  When she/we realized it was the wrong book she had to do a bit of hunting to find the correct one.  It turned out that during this time period, the town meetings were recorded in this book and events such as births, deaths and marriages were recorded in the same book.  She gave me the book and told me I could look at it at the table in the vault room.  I was left alone with this book that was the original book for the town.  

As I started (carefully) turning pages it began to dawn on me what I was holding.  I had the book that the originators of my town recorded its history in.  The very book!  The writing was elegant.  The pages were crisp.  It was history in my very own hands.  It was an intense experience.  

I couldn't really believe that I was allowed to handle this book.  When I found the entry I was looking for, I quietly took out my digital camera and snapped a couple of pictures.  After a bit more time of just looking and feeling the moment I had to leave.  On my way out I mentioned to one of the clerks that I was amazed that I was allowed to handle the book, especially with no oversight.  I was a little worried about what could happen to that book.  

For my personal research, I was right that Thomas Potter was born to Ichabod and Margaret.  Here is the entry as I captured it with my camera.

When I had time to reflect I was even more amazed and a little bothered about the experience at the town hall.  I didn't do anything about it  ...  but I thought about it quite a bit.  A few months later, I went back.  You couldn't look at the original anymore.  I was both disappointed and relieved.  I had held history in my hands and I had felt that history!!  But I know that that same history is better protected now,  for me and for future generations. 


  1. OH, I hope they filmed that old book, it surely is not the same as "HOLDING" it, but, at least the records are then available to other researchers.

    Your photos turned out quite well.

  2. I would like to present you with the Happy 101 award ==>