A Digital Journey Through Local History

Holy Handwriting!

I have the coolest job in the world. I get to digitize old photos and manuscripts from Connecticut’s history. I get to do some research about these images so I can properly describe them so you can find them. Then I get to create cool projects around them. Did I mention they pay me to do this!

Occasionally I get to work with Cheshire records. Sometimes it is for other people, but other times it is for my own research. One of projects I undertook as a patron of my workplace was digitizing the first two volumes of records from the Congregational Church in Cheshire. In the 1930’s the Congregational Church deposited their original records at the Connecticut State Library for safekeeping. This is a good thing, as the Library has these great vaults where the archival material is kept. It is much better than a dusty attic or basement that might be prone to flooding. So among these volumes are the original record books kept by Reverend Samuel Hall & Reverend John Foot, the first two pastors of the Congregational Church in Cheshire.

These two volumes were transcribed by Joseph Perkins Beach and Nellie Smith in the History of Cheshire, Connecticut from 1694-1840 and I have used these transcriptions for years. If you have done any sort of Cheshire genealogy or historical research, you are very familiar with this tome. However – those transcriptions are not always complete. This is especially true in the case of Parson Foot’s records. When he kept this record book, which started in 1767, he often recorded a persons age at death.

Parson Foot's Burial Records
Foot, John. Cheshire Connecticut Congregational Church Records, 1724-1917. Rev. John Foot’s Records of Baptisms, Deaths, Admissions and Marriages 1767-1813. Vol. 2. Connecticut State Library. Hartford, Connecticut.

Even back then people lived long lives – Benjamin Dutton lived to be 95, Widow Matthews was 88, and Widow Jones was 75. Lots of folks mistakenly assume that people in the past had shorter lifespans. After all the average life expectancy was anywhere between 35 and 48 depending on the source. The page above shows the fallacy of this belief. What makes that average life expectancy number so low is the child mortality rate. If you look closely you’ll see there were fifteen infants who died at birth in the almost two years that these pages cover. Another six children never made it to their tenth birthday. Childhood was a dangerous time with diseases like scarlet fever, cholera infantum and dysentery were deadly. If you made it to adulthood you had a pretty good chance of living a long life.

Parson Hall's burial records
Hall, Samuel. Cheshire Connecticut Congregational Church Records, 1724-1917. Rev. Samuel Hall’s Records. Vol. 1. Connecticut State Library. Hartford, Connecticut.


Speaking of long lives, Reverend Samuel Hall also kept a record book which spans from 1724 to 1767. He lived to be 81 and his later handwriting shows it! Parson Foot’s records are a joy to work with – he wrote pretty legibly. Parson Hall is a whole other story. I’m pretty good with 18th century handwriting, and I’m familiar with the early residents of Cheshire, but these records are tough!

The record to the right is pretty cool. Though this page appears near the “back” of the volume, this is one of the first – if not THE first – entry in the book. It reads:
“Anno domoni 1726 the first that was buried in New cheshire burying place was ye child of Danll Smiths”.
And thus began the life of Cheshire, Connecticut.



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