It's in print, but is it true?

Massachusetts VR to 1850 Mendon Births p55I was recently asked a question that reinforces the point that we must look at original genealogical records, even when the published resources are ones that have been considered trustworthy. The question was about Isaiah Corbett, son of Joseph and Deborah, who was born in Mendon, Massachusetts. There are what appear to be two entries for this particular individual.

As can be seen in the page from the NEHGS Database “Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850” showing Mendon Births, there is an Isaiah Corbett, son of Joseph and Deborah, born in Mendon on 26 June 1757. Two lines below this is a Josaiah, son of Joseph Jr., born in Mendon 26 June 1739.

The fact that the father’s name is the same – with the exception of the Jr. – and the month and date are the same begs the question: Could it be that the abstractor of the records misread Isaiah as Josaiah? After all, that isn’t the normal spelling for Josiah. The person who was researching this question was going with the 1739 birth being the accurate date because he had found a 1757 marriage – again with a double entry – for a man of the same name.

The original records for the town of Mendon were microfilmed by the Family History Library back in 1971 and have recently been put online as part of FamilySearch’s Massachusetts, Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records collection, much of which is only available as images online without an ability to type in a name. While the link offers a search for a deceased ancestor’s name, the database also offers the ability to browse through the images with a link at the bottom of the page.

When searching digitized images, it is important to remember that when you type in the name of a person in sites such as or, you are not searching the original handwritten documents. You are searching an index typed into a computer by individuals reading those handwritten documents. As a result, to truly exhaust any record – whether it be census, vital, church, or probate – it is important to go through the original images whenever possible.

As such, I set about going page by page through the Mendon vital records by clicking on the link for browsing the images. This gave me a list of counties for Massachusetts, from which I selected Worcester. I then chose the town of Mendon from the list of towns displayed for Worcester County.

Once in the Mendon section I was given options for:

  • Births, marriage intentions, marriages, deaths 1663–1901
  • Births, marriages, deaths 1643–1835
  • Births, marriages, deaths 1872–1901
  • Births, marriages, deaths 1901–1905
  • Births, marriages, deaths, property records 1677–1826

Obviously, not all of these sections applied. But I began systematically going through those links that did cover the time pertinent to the research question. Because I have had experience looking at the microfilms, I began by looking at each link in the multiple images view to get a sense of what was actually on the film. As such, it did not require me to look at each individual image, but to focus on locating the birth entries. And while it may look like it would take hours and hours, it only took about 80 minutes to find what turned out to be a crucial document.

An entry on page 42 of item 2 of the Births, marriages, deaths 1643-1835 answered the question of the entries with no doubt, and showed how the published vital records do not always tell the whole story.

mendon vrs p42As seen in the image of the original records, a lengthy entry was found for Isaiah Corbett, son of Joseph and Deborah, as follows:

“Isaiah Corbett son of Joseph Corbett and Deborah his wife was Born June ye 26th 1757. The said Isaiah Corbett through a mistake is recorded in the old Book page 172: Born June ye 26th 1739 and heare Rectified and altered as is above Recorded By order of his father Joseph Corbett who was then present at the time of the above Record. Attest Edward Rawson Town Clerk, altered and record a new Sepr ye 5 1758”

For many researchers it is easier to search online or to use published volumes, but this question and its answer shows why it can be so important  to first cite the source you used and, then, when a discrepancy appears, turn your attention to the original records.

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