Abel, Jabel, or Isabel?

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A recent example of using transcribed records reminded me that many genealogists who wrote turn of the century family histories were using the same original records that were later transcribed – and thus the records that are often used today. Sometimes the genealogist read the records better than the transcriber.

Rehoboth Vital Records, as transcribed by James Newell Arnold in his 1897 publication, list the following children of Amos and Sarah Carpenter, taken from Original volume 3, page 192, shown above left.

These would appear to show that they had twins – Abel and Isabel – in 1771. The child Abel likely died young, as another Abel soon followed in 1772. However, Amos B. Carpenter’s 1901 genealogy (above) on the Carpenter family in Rehoboth reads differently.

Which source is correct? the “documented” 1897 transcription of Rehoboth Vital Records or the “undocumented” 1901 Carpenter genealogy?

This indicates “Jabel” Carpenter as a man with a later residence in Cumberland, Rhode Island, where a man with that name is documented in the 1800 census.

Which source is correct? the “documented” 1897 transcription of Rehoboth Vital Records or the “undocumented” 1901 Carpenter genealogy? As these genealogies took years to produce, Amos B. Carpenter probably did not use Arnold’s transcription and so went right to the same source, the vital records kept with the Rehoboth Town Clerk, where they remain today, and not on microfilm, since most of us today now use the 1901 transcription. My colleague Nancy Bernard asked the Rehoboth Town Clerk to take a picture of the original record:

The record is Jabel, and it should read “Sons of Amos Carpenter …” but only says “Son.” It’s easy to see how James N. Arnold could have misread this J for an I and put in Isabel instead, thus creating a non-existent twin daughter. Also, Arnold was transcribing record by record, largely not making any attempt to connect these people in later records. Amos B. Carpenter, however, was writing a family history, and clearly had some correspondence to show that Jabel later lived in Cumberland, Rhode Island; he was expecting the record to be a boy’s name, and so was able to read Jabel’s name correctly!

Jabel Carpenter married Chloe Fuller and had three children, including a son, Pardon Carpenter (1794–1858) of Cumberland; their families will be treated in a forthcoming Newbury Street Press book.

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About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

6 thoughts on “Abel, Jabel, or Isabel?

  1. I have been puzzled to see that so many genealogists I respect are still citing published vital records from New England, without doing what we tell beginners: looking up the images that have been appearing online.

  2. Right below the entry of Jabel is the word January and the two letters are clearly the same. So the transcriber was not using the clues at his ready disposal.

  3. A good reason for imaging as many local records as possible. (If only…) Thank goodness for genealogists who are willing, for pay or otherwise, to look at local records for people who cannot make the trip. You did bring up another point to consider for the times we do have to rely on transcriptions: not only the expertise of the person doing the transcription, but also the motivation. Some may be simply doing a job, as Arnold, and inadvertently introduce errors for lack of context, there are others who may have been motivated to “clean up” or “glamorize” the original records (oh, that is painful), so there are those whose interest and breadth of knowledge contribute to their drive to be accurate. Perhaps we need, as Alicia suggested, not only a way to evaluate compilations and transcriptions, but also a place to gather together “ratings”, as one does with books, hotels, and gadgets.

  4. Thanks for providing this excellent example that shows the importance of checking original records. This example also shows how valuable it would be to make digital images of the original records and make them available for public view.

    The printed abstract of the vital records, even with errors, is still useful in alerting researchers to the existence of a record about this family, but it is not a substitute for images of the original records. Researchers in this example were very lucky to have the published Carpenter genealogy which alerted them to the possibility of an error in the abstract of the vital records.

    In my experience, when I have had the opportunity to view images of original records, I have frequently found additional information or corrections to published works that indexed, abstracted, or analyzed the original records years ago. With a digital image, I am able to enlarge the image on a computer screen which may make it easier to decipher the words, an advantage that indexers and researchers didn’t have a hundred years ago when they viewed the original records. The digital images made from microfilms of original records also offer this advantage.

  5. From a record in the 1890s, a modern (non-genealogist) indexer read Chas. as Chris and had us hunting all over the county for a non-existent man until an experienced reader of old handwriting went for a look.

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