Local landmarks and genealogy

What do every day landmarks within your community and genealogy have in common? Everything! Yes, that is correct, everything. Regional genealogy is all around you. The names of everyday landmarks are useful clues connecting local surnames to specific geographical regions. Some of the oldest family names within a region can be found in the names of streets, buildings, and some of popular destinations within a community.

I grew up in the town of Yarmouth, Massachusetts, a small town located on a peninsula known as Cape Cod. Anyone who researches the old New England names will know that there are certain names that are considered “Olde Cape Cod” names. The top names commonly associated with Cape Cod are: Brewster, Alden, Sears, Nickerson, Taylor, and Baker, to name a few. Some of the local landmarks in Yarmouth help tell its genealogical history. Landmarks such as Winslow Gray Road, the John Simpkins School, Baxter’s Grist Mill, Gray’s Beach, and Parker’s River are all named after some of the first families who settled in the town of Yarmouth.

The settlement of Mattacheese was first settled during the winter of 1637/38 by Stephan Bachilor; however, it was not a successful venture. Another attempt to create a settlement occurred in August 1638, under Stephen Hopkins, who built the first house in the settlement. In 1639, the Mattacheese settlement was permanently settled by Anthony Thatcher, John Crow, and Thomas Howes. The settlement of Mattacheese was renamed Yarmouth in January 1639. By 1640, close to twenty-five families resided in the settlement known as Yarmouth.[1]

I moved to Yarmouth in 1978, from Arlington, Massachusetts. Many of my neighbors and classmates were descendants of those old Yarmouth families, and would treasure how they were connected to Cape Cod and/or Yarmouth. Local history was personal to them; some even lived in family homes that carried the names of their ancestors. It was not until many years later, though, that Yarmouth’s history became personal for me.

While researching my maternal grandfather’s lineage in Greene, Maine, I discovered that my great-great-great-grandmother was Malinda Crowell; it took time to learn more about her than her husband’s and children’s names. She was born at Monroe, Waldo County, Maine on 8 July 1834,[2] and was the daughter of Sylvanus Crowell and Clarissa Curtis.[3] My first thought was the name of a street in the town I grew up in.

Higgins Crowell Road is one of those roads used almost every day by the average resident of Yarmouth, one of those important “back roads” that residents use to by-pass the traffic on Route 28 in the summer. Higgins and Crowell are two of the oldest names in Yarmouth. When I moved to the Cape in the late 1970s, I never really thought about Higgins Crowell? Why did they name a street after him?

The more Maine records I reviewed, the more these old Cape Cod names of everyday landmarks started to jump out at me: names such as Ellis, Hamlin, Parker, Young, and Getchell to name a few. One of the golden rules in genealogy is that there are no coincidences. Why would these Cape Cod names be in Maine? Were these the same families? Could there be a connection?

Eventually, the Eureka! moment would come from an old published genealogy, John Crowe and his descendants by Levi Crowell.[4] The work would become the bridge in connecting the Maine Crowell family to the Yarmouth Crowell family. The next step was to prove the information in the genealogy using vital records. Eventually, vital records were located to confirm how Malinda Crowell was connected to the Cape Cod Crowell families.

Malinda’s lineage:

Her father was Sylvanus Crowell who was born 9 July 1802 at Winslow, Kennebec County, Maine.[5] He was the son of Prince Crowell and Abigail Hamlin,[6] and married Clarissa Curtis in Monroe on 1 May 1835.[7]

Prince Crowell was born 22 January 1776 at Yarmouth.[8] He was the son of Shubael Crowell and Abigail Parker,[9] and married Abigail Hamlin.[10]

Shubael Crowell was born 10 March 1754 at Yarmouth.[11] He married Abigail Parker at Yarmouth on 2 March 1775.[12] They had nine children: Prince, Higgins, Shubael, Sylvanus, Joseph, Ebenezer, Jonathan, Abigail, and Elizabeth.[13]

Prince Crowell was Higgins Crowell’s brother.[14]

Shubael Crowell was the great-great-great-grandson of John Crow,[15] the same man who was one of the original settlers of Yarmouth.[16] Identifying Malinda Crowell’s ancestor as John Crow of Yarmouth was made possible by an everyday street sign. Higgins Crowell was my great-great-great-great-great-great-uncle, and Malinda Crowell’s great-uncle.

Why are everyday landmarks important to genealogical researchers? When you pay attention to the landmarks in the regions you are researching, you learn about the local families and their history. In my case, a road that was used in my everyday life helped me to connect the dots from Greene, Maine, to Yarmouth, Massachusetts.


[1] Charles F. Swift, History of Old Yarmouth, Comprising the Present Towns of Yarmouth and Dennis (Yarmouthport, Mass.: The Historical Society of Old Yarmouth, 1975), 21–27.

[2] Elizabeth M. Mosher, ed., Vital Records of Monroe, Waldo County, Maine, prior to 1892 (Camden, Me.: Picton Press, 1991), 148.

[3] Ibid., 148, 75.

[4] Levi Crowell, John Crowe and his descendants, a genealogy (New York: T. Y. Crowell & Company, 1903), 77.

[5] Robert M. Sherman and Ruth Wilder Sherman, comps., Vital Records of Yarmouth, Massachusetts, to the year 1850 (Camden: Picton Press, 1975), 347.

[6] Ibid.; Crowell, John Crowe and his descendants, 77.

[7] Mosher, Vital Records of Monroe, Waldo County, Maine, 75.

[8] Sherman and Sherman, Vital Records of Yarmouth, Massachusetts, 268.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Crowell, John Crowe and his descendants, 77.

[11] Sherman and Sherman, Vital Records of Yarmouth, Massachusetts, 113.

[12] Crowell, John Crowe and his descendants, 50.

[13] Sherman and Sherman, Vital Records of Yarmouth, Massachusetts, 268; Crowell, John Crowe and his descendants, 50.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Crowell, John Crowe and his descendants, 50.

[16] Swift, History of Old Yarmouth, 21–27.

Kathleen Kaldis

About Kathleen Kaldis

Kathleen is a full time researcher in the Research Services Department, and holds a certificate from the Boston University Genealogical Research program. She is a member in the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, in the Lexington Massachusetts Chapter. During her tenure as Chapter Registrar, she volunteered her time actively researching lineages, gathering proof, and doing whatever it took to complete prospective member’s applications. Through her efforts and research contributions, the Lexington Chapter gained over a hundred members in three years. In 2013 and 2016, she was the Massachusetts Daughters of the American Revolution, Outstanding Volunteer Genealogist of the Year.View all posts by Kathleen Kaldis