Research in Vermont

I’ve been yearning to go to Vermont for over five years, since I first communicated with the wonderful folks at the Town of Orwell over the Christmas holiday in 2011.  I was researching my 3x great-grandparents, Clark Abbott and Betsey Crouch, who were pioneers in Whiteside County, Illinois in the 1840’s.

The records in Illinois weren’t clear about their places of birth.  Betsey died two years after arriving in Illinois, so she didn’t live long enough to be named in any census record. A Whiteside County history book stated that she came from New York and he from New Hampshire. Most of Clark’s census records state his place of birth as Vermont, but one says New Hampshire.

Clark and Betsey’s gravestone in Whiteside County, Illinois

One day, I was googling Clark and Betsey for the hundredth time, and finally got a hit.  Someone had posted an index of marriages in the little town of Orwell, Vermont, and there they were, married 6 October 1833.  That’s when I wrote to the town clerk.

Clark Abbott and Betsey Crouch Marriage Record, Orwell, Vermont

The clerk’s office was amazing, sending me stacks of information which provided the names of Betsey’s parents, Captain John Crouch (War of 1812) and his wife Sally Jennings.  After further research, I was able to identify Sally’s parents, Joseph and Faith Jennings of Hubbardton, Vermont, both born in the mid-1750’s and settling in Vermont after the Revolution.  From there back, the Jennings line has been fairly well researched by others.

Joseph and Faith Jennings Gravestone, Mountain View Cemetery, Hubbardton, Vermont

But I still didn’t know Clark Abbott’s parentage, or Captain John Crouch’s, so these were the puzzles I hoped to solve during my stay in Vermont. Unfortunately, I didn’t make near as much progress as I would have liked.

I originally scheduled two weeks in the area, which was cut short by two days because of my “Adirondack Adventure” – instead of arriving on Sunday the 16th, I arrived on Tuesday the 18th of July.  And then my best friends from childhood came to visit, which was fabulous (more on that in the next blog post), but it also meant fewer days for research.

It took me a while to figure out where the records for Orwell can be found.  Land and vital records are at the Town level in Vermont, and probate records are in one of two probate districts in each County.  Orwell is in Addison County, which was created from Rutland County in 1785, and its Probate District is the Addison District of Addison County, which suffered from a fire in 1852 in which all the probate records burned.

Fortunately, the little town of Orwell wasn’t annexed to Addison County until 1847, and by then my ancestors had either died or left Vermont.   Since Orwell was still in Rutland County in my time period of interest, the probate records should be located at the Fair Haven Probate District.  After more digging, I discovered that the Fair Haven Probate District Court was closed a few years ago, and combined with the Rutland District Probate Court.  So I trotted off to the Rutland County Courthouse, where I was told that they only had records for the past ten years, and that anything prior had been transferred to the Vermont State Archives.

Dontcha love a good treasure hunt?!?

By the time I sorted all this out, I had one research day at the Vermont State Archives.  The best part about my day  was handling documents from the time of the Revolutionary War, seeing familiar historical names in correspondence, and touching the same piece of paper that my ancestor touched when he signed his name.  It literally gives me goosebumps.

Signature of Joseph Jennings in 1794
Signature of Joseph Jennings in 1811

I still haven’t solved any mysteries regarding Clark Abbott – I have no idea where he came from.  But I do have a candidate for the father of John Crouch, and I have a few new leads to follow.

It was absolutely thrilling to see the gorgeous countryside, visit the cemeteries, and imagine what it was like when my ancestors lived there 200+ years ago.  As my stay in Vermont came to an end, way too soon, I consoled myself with the reassurance that I can come back any time, and I most definitely will!