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The early town records and minutes of annual town meetings can be very useful in expanding the narrative of your ancestor’s life. New England towns and villages from their burgeoning years and up till the present day, depend on town citizens to perform functions that promote harmonious life in the community. In colonial times, town meetings were held after the harshness of winter subsided, usually in March or April, to elect town officials and other positions necessary for upkeep of the village.[1]

 

I decided to take a look at the FamilySearch collection, “Vermont, Town and Vital Records” to see what was digitized for the town of Norwich. I was excited to the first volume of town records kept by the town clerk had been digitized. Going through the minutes of town meetings is by no means an easy task. You have to carefully scan each page for the names of interest and at times, the old handwriting can be difficult to decipher, but the results are fruitful and quite interesting. As a genealogist, I don’t settle for just searching the indexed records that are readily available online, but seek out any source or collection that is relevant to my research question. I thought that after tracking down every source on my 5x great-grandfather Elisha Freeman for several years, that I located all the facts on my ancestor. To my pleasant surprise, I was proven quite wrong.

 

AssemblyOfQuakers

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

At the annual town meeting held in March 1780, Elisha Freeman was elected surveyor of highways along with Hezekiah Goodrich, Capt. [Timothy] Burton, Jonas Richard, Gershom Morse, Ichabod Carly, and William Wildear .[2] Men who held these positions were responsible for maintenance of the town roads and determining if certain pathways warranted the creation of new roads.[3] It is reasonable to assume that in Elisha’s experience some years earlier, already having served in this capacity for the adjacent township of Hanover, New Hampshire, that citizens of Norwich deemed him qualified to do the job of surveying the highways in Norwich. Elisha’s terms of service did not last more than a year and with annual elections, it gave the opportunity for different men to serve in these roles.
The Town of Norwich voted on 2 Sep 1783 to have Lieut. John Hepson and Elisha Freeman to collect the salary and pay the Reverend Lyman Potter.[4] The citizens of Norwich voted annually on the minister’s salary, usually fixed at 75 pounds as was the case in 1783. The funds for the salary came from a special tax, which was to be collected by Hepson and Freeman for that year and delivered to the minister by the 1st of December. Those who refused to pay the tax would have to prove with documentation they were affiliated with another congregation or else strict penalties would be enacted.[5]
A year later, on 15 Mar 1784 Elisha was given double duty; the town elected him both grand juror and lister.[6] As grand juror, he and Joseph Ball, also elected to the position, were to inform local authorities of incidents that happened in Norwich.[7] Town listers performed a number of duties, including compiling lists of all taxable residents and property within the town.[8] Also chosen as lifters that year were Elisha Burton, Elijah Gates, Samuel Brown Jr., & Capt. [Abel] Wilder.

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Minutes of Annual Town Meeting in Norwich, Vermont (15 Mar 1784). Source: Familysearch.org

Elisha disappeared from the town records for a little while, until the annual town meeting held 13 Mar 1797 when he was once again made grand juror, along with Ebenezer Percival Jr. and Samuel Brown Jr.[9] The town meeting that year was held over two days, for a variety of decisions were carried out, including the adjustment of school districts within the town of Norwich.

pomponnosauc area norwich

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In the clerk’s description of the boundaries of each school district, he mentions all the inhabitants whose properties outline the district. Elisha Freeman was mentioned as an inhabitant of School district No.6 along with William Johnson, Elisha Waterman, Joseph Pattril[?], John Greary Jr., Eliot Bartlett, Gershom Bartlett, Gershom Bartlett Jr., Asa Brewster, and Levi Baldwin.[10] The town clerk’s description of inhabitants outlining the school district has provided excellent insight into the neighbors of my ancestor, as well as a source to cross-reference with other land records if I wanted to map and pinpoint the exact location of his property.
School districts as Professor Jere Daniell describes, acted as “the central unit of organization” in Vermont’s towns and allowed for the creation of localized one-room schoolhouses so children in that area could walk to school. Central to the community, it is evident from watching this video, that the town of Norwich prides itself on a reputable and deeply-rooted public education system.[11]

 

There are so many tidbits and treasures about Elisha Freeman and other ancestors in the town records of Norwich, that it makes the case for genealogists to always consult town records, especially if their ancestor was an early settler. I now know more about Elisha’s contribution to this wonderful town in Vermont more than ever and for that I am a grateful genealogist.
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[1] Ann Smith Lainhart. Digging for Genealogical Treasure in New England Town Records, 21.
[2] Norwich, Town and Vital Records, Vol.1, 1761-1793 (State of VT: Filmed by the Genealogical Society, Salt Lake at Norwich, 31 July 1952), 14: accessed on Familysearch, “Vermont, Town and Vital Records.”
[3] Digging for Genealogical Treasure in New England Town Records, 25.
[4] Norwich Town Records, Vol. 1, 1761-1793, 49.
[5] M.E. Goddard and Henry V. Partridge. A History of Norwich, Vermont with Portraits and Illustrations. (Hanover, N.H.: The Dartmouth Press, 1905), 70: accessed on Google Books.
[6] Norwich Town Records, vol.1, 1761-1793, 51.
[7] Orion M. Barber, ed. The Vermont Statutes, 1894: Including the Public Acts of 1894, with the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the Constitutions of the United States, and the State of Vermont. (Rutland, VT: The Tuttle Co., 1895), 369: accessed on Google Books.
[8] To learn more about the specific roles and duties of listers in Vermont town government, see James Smith Garland. New England Town Law: A Digest of Statutes and Decisions Concerning Towns and Town Officers. (Boston, MA: The Boston Book Company, 1906), pages Vt. 30-51.
[9] Norwich Town Records, Vol.1, 1761-1793, 106.
[10] Norwich Town Records, Vol.1, 1761-1793, 109.
[11] “Back to School: Lesson’s From Norwich’s One Room School Houses” Video. Uploaded 16 Jul 2015. YouTube: Historic New England’s Channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZZIRMjYaic&index=26&list=LLDML3QpFHeP-MP91WH_kW_A: accessed 2 Apr 2016.), interview with Jere Daniell at 5:35.

 

Copyright (c) 2016 Jake Fletcher.

Jake Fletcher, “Genealogical Research in Minutes of Annual Town Meetings.” Travelogues of a Genealogist, posted 2 Apr 2016. https://fletcherfamilytree.wordpress.com/2016/04/02/genealogical-research-in-minutes-of-annual-town-meetings/

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