The lady vanishes

paris civil recordsThe name Martha Babcock Greene Amory might not immediately resonate, but the lives of her immediate forebears are well-known to us today. She was born in Boston 15 November 1812, the daughter of Gardiner Greene and his third wife, Elizabeth Clarke Copley. Mrs. Greene was the daughter of John Singleton Copley, the well-known American painter, and his wife Susannah Farnum Clarke; she was the granddaughter of Richard Clarke, whose consignment of tea was thrown into the harbor during the Boston Tea Party. That’s a lot of history for just a couple of generations!

On 15 October 1832, Martha married Charles Amory, a mover and shaker in the financial and social circles of Boston. She then traveled abroad with him, and her letters to her mother of her experiences were published in 1922 as The Wedding Journey of Charles and Martha Babcock Amory, Letters of Mrs. Amory to Her Mother Mrs. Gardiner Greene, 1833-1834, Volume 1, France and Italy.

At the beginning of the book is a note authored by “D.B.U.” that indicates much of the above information, but also states that Martha died in Paris in January 1880 and her husband Charles died 18 years later. Given her illustrious family, one would assume that any information about her birth and death would have been accurately identified by some researcher in the past.

A recent Ask-a-Genealogist question about the death of Mrs. Amory mentioned another death date for her of 1879 in Paris and requested additional information. The reason for the question was that the researcher had located Martha, her husband Charles, and their son Copley residing in Boston as enumerated on 2 June 1880 in the 1880 U.S. Federal Census. If she truly was residing in Boston in June of 1880, then it is unlikely that she died in January 1880, as the book stated, or in 1879, as the researcher had found.

In searching for additional information on Martha, an entry for stated that she died in December of 1879. Again, based on the 1880 census this is not possible.

It is cases like this where, as researchers, we often assume a previous researcher – like the editor of the published Amory letters – has superior resources and we then neglect to look at, say, subsequent census records. Verification of Mrs. Amory’s actual death date in the records of Paris may not be something that someone would think of doing, especially if they are unfamiliar with record availability in France.

In the case of the vital records for the city of Paris, though, there are digitized indexes and records available through the Paris Archives.

The city of Paris is divided into 16 districts (les arrondissements). The digitized records are arranged by event (birth, marriage, and death) and by district. There are 10-year indexes for each district for each event. After using these and locating the correct entry, it is possible for the researcher to then turn to the actual records (actes) and view the original record.

As a result of these online records, the death date of Martha Babcock Greene Amory is no longer a mystery. She died in Paris 30 January 1881 and the event was recorded the next day: 31 January.

This is a classic example of how important it is to view the actual records, rather than taking the word of what appears to be an accurate published volume.

Rhonda McClure

About Rhonda McClure

Rhonda R. McClure, Genealogist, is a nationally recognized professional genealogist and lecturer specializing in New England and celebrity research as well as computerized genealogy; is compiler of more than 120 celebrity family trees; has been a contributing editor for Heritage Quest Magazine, Biography magazine and was a contributor to The History Channel Magazine and American History Magazine. In addition to numerous articles, she is the author of ten books, including the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition, Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors, and Digitizing Your Family History.View all posts by Rhonda McClure