Tackling Hingham vital records

Alicia Crane WilliamsHaving lived in Hingham the majority of my life, and with ancestors who lived there three centuries ago, I ought to have a good grasp of the Hingham records – but not so much. The problem begins with the fact that the Hingham vital records have not been published. For 121 years researchers of Hingham families have relied on George Lincoln’s 1893 History of the Town of Hingham, Massachusetts, as the “go to” source. Because his two-volume section on genealogies is impressive and the vital records are not in print, Lincoln’s work functions as a substitute “vital records.” I used to receive town certificates that referred to the book and page of Lincoln’s History as their source – I should note that I do not know whether that practice is still in use; I hope not.

The “original” records are a mish-mash of originals, eighteenth-century copies, nineteenth-century copies, interpretations, abstracts, re-interpretations, and so forth, so it is understandable that no one has tackled their consolidated publication. These days, they are available through Internet sources – provided one is determined enough to look them up.

The entire collection of records was microfilmed by the LDS Library and has been available for many years, but it has recently become searchable (to an extent; the index often contains errors) on Ancestry.com through a newer filming by Jay and Delene Holbrook entitled Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988. NEHGS has a completely separate copy of some of the records made by Reuben Hersey between 1832 and 1844 that is searchable on AmericanAncestors.org. The oldest records come from the Rev. Peter Hobart’s journal, published serially throughout Volume 121 of the Register, and also available on AmericanAncestors.org. However, this is a compiled collection from various transcriptions, the tortuous provenance of which is detailed in the introduction to the article, and when compared to microfilmed versions can be quite different.

To do a comprehensive search of Hingham records one must compare Lincoln’s History, the published Hobart Journal, and all of the digital versions, which do not always agree. Lincoln’s version is the least reliable.

Oh, yes, then there is the problem of counties. Hingham is presently in Plymouth County, but it was originally part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, so its earliest probate and land records, from 1643 to 1793, are in Suffolk County. From 1793 to 1803, they are in Norfolk County, and thereafter in Plymouth County. Not to mention that the eastern part of Hingham was split off to become Cohasset in 1770 and is still in Norfolk County!

Eleanor Roosevelt once said Hingham’s Main Street was the loveliest in the country, but she never had to deal with the records.

Alicia Crane Williams

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

31 thoughts on “Tackling Hingham vital records

      1. Brooke and Annie, It most likely will require a funded project of more than a few people. All of the versions would need to be entered into a database and compared –possibly something like Bob Dunkle and Ann Lainhart’s “Boston Deaths 1700 to 1799” that NEHGS published.

        1. Indeed. If NEHGS can manage to get it funded and organized, I would be happy to volunteer. I suspect that some of the records I am going to need are buried in there, and I can think of no more worthy thing to do than to help make them available to all the other folks in the same situation!

  1. Thanks for the explanation of the Hingham records. I have Irish ancestors who lived in Hingham in 1850 — I still can’t figure exactly what they were doing there. At least now I know it will be a real challenge.

    1. The Irish men in this area found jobs in the fishing and sailing industry. Hingham’s harbor was a busy commercial location until the boats outgrew it and Hull was a perfect base for fishing. The women found work as servants in the homes. Many of the Irish lived in Hull.

  2. My 5th cousin, Richard Dennis Souther, did some work with the town of Hingham regarding their genealogical records about 15 years ago, but I don’t know exactly what he did. He passed away 2 or 3 years ago. He did a lot of genealogical work and wrote at least one book on the Souther Family. He lived in Hawaii also, and did work there. It was through him that I learned at the age of 47 that I was a descendent of 7 Mayflower Pilgrim families. I had many ancestors from Hingham, including my great-great-grandfather, Martin Souther, and others from families such as the Tower and Sprague families.

    1. Carol, I knew Richard, but haven’t had the time in the last decades to keep up with the town about what they might be doing about the vital records. It would be nice to get NEHGS involved.

    1. The Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants published the Truro vital records in a book in the early 1900s, and also some are serialized in their periodical “Mayflower Descendant” — both are availalble on americanancestors.org. Otherwise, I don’t have any special knowledge of Truro records.

  3. As a descendent of Peter HOBART, its nice to know his journal is a good source of information. Now if I could just find that Mayflower ancestor……..

    1. Anne, with “tongue firmly in cheek” I have often wondered what would happen if somebody stated a “Non-Mayflower Descendant” society where one would have to prove they are not a Mayflower descendant to get in!

    2. Ann, I’m looking for details of Peter Hobart’s life before he migrated to Hingham Massachusetts.
      I have all the basics, including birth, marriage, education, parents and, of course, dates.
      My oldest documented ancestors were the Henry Chamberlin family who migrated early in 1638 to Hingham Massachusetts.
      I’m trying to establish a potential connection between my Henry and your Peter in England.
      Any specific pointers and directions would be most helpful on the events and details of his life and locations.
      Thanks so much.
      David Chamberlin

  4. My ancestors were all born in Hingham but have duplicate records of birth in Lyman, York, Maine which I find very strange. My Irish ancestors came because of cordage factories and the promise of work.

    1. Susan, the duplicate entries were normal for families that moved from one area to another, particularly to Maine, where the new town clerk would record all of the children as a family, whether or not they were actually born there. Hingham was a manufacturing town at one time, particularly buttons and buckets.

    2. My husband, my sister and I went to Hingham, England last May to find the origins of our Hobart ancestors. The beautiful church had a booklet on the emigration of the Hobarts to America in 1633 called, “The Heyday of Their Strength” by M.E. Lonsdale.
      It was quite interesting.

  5. I, too, descend from the Rev. Peter Hobart! And it is good to know about the accuracy of vital records for Hingham (or lack of accuracy). I had occasion to drive through Hingham last spring for the first time (to see Hobart’s church-the Old Ship Church) and was totally charmed by the lovely old homes on Main Street as we entered Hingham.

    1. Dana, I was there in Sept of 2012 and at that time the current minister of the church was also a descendent of Peter Hobart, I thought that was fitting. I’d love to see how we connect. You can email me at anneb62@verizon.net if you want to connect.

  6. Totally appreciate Uncle Pete’s record keeping, had the chance to read from his journal this Sept. at NEHGS. Nice to find the transcribed information in the original script. Descended from John Beale

  7. Love Hingham! It is great how much history has been preserved there. It is almost an overload of information. Would love to see a project on Hingham vital records. I spent last summer driving between Suffolk, Norfolk, and Plymouth county offices. I recently came into possession of George Lincoln’s copy of his book. He continued to make additions and corrections to his books. Very interesting.

    1. Matt, That is very interesting. I have what I believe are a few of George Lincoln’s manuscripts that I inherited from a cousin who most likely bought them at some sale years ago. When the time comes to decide what to do with your book, I hope you’ll consider giving it to NEHGS, as it would obviously be extremely valuable to anyone putting together updated Hingham families.

  8. Now I understand why our visit to Hingham a few years ago did not find records of our ancestor Simon Gross and spouse Mary Bond who lived and raised their many children in Hingham from 1675 to at least 1709 when their last child was born. We found these records on the amercanancesstors.org web site. Now we know to check for probate records in Suffolk County, not Plymouth County.

  9. Our visit to Hingham did not produce any results on our ancestor Simon Gross and his family who lived there from 1675 to at least 1709 when his last child was born. Now I know why, and in order to find probate records we need to go to Suffolk County. Thanks so much for the information in your article.

  10. Thanks for your article. I’m stuck on Trypheny, wife of Andrew Lane. According to Lincoln, she died 2 January 1706/7. But the MS on ancestry.com says 2 June 1707. The difference is somewhat significant, at least for the identity I wish to proose for her (in a publication). I don’t find it in Hobart’s journal.

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