Thursday, May 16, 2019

Bonus Birthplaces in the 1865 Massachusetts State Census

The availability of state censuses varies tremendously. They were usually taken in between federal censuses. State censuses for 1855 and 1865 are the only ones that survive for Massachusetts.

While working on the last assignment for my ProGen Study group, I realized that I had never looked for my Willis and Wells family in these state censuses. It turns out that the family didn't move from New Hampshire to Massachusetts until after the 1855 Massachusetts census enumeration.

But here they are in 1865, living in Brookline.

1865 Massachusetts State Census, Norfolk County, population schedule, Brookline, p. 88, dwelling 499, family 620, Benjamin Willis; image, Ancestry ( : accessed 15 May 2019).

Closeup of the Willis (and Wells) household:

The reason I love this record is that even though enumerator instructions for recording the place of birth was to report the state, territory, or country of birth, this particular enumerator (thank you, R. Baker!) reported the town of birth for everyone in Brookline, and all seven members of the family were born in different towns and different counties. [My additional comments are in brackets.]

   Benjamin Willis, age 75, born in Haverhill [Essex County, Massachusetts]
   Thomas G. Wells, age 60, born in Sutton, N.H. [Merrimack County, New Hampshire]
   Elizabeth S. [Willis] Wells, age 45, born in Portland [Cumberland County, Maine]
   Eliza Wells, age 25, born in Cambridge [Middlesex County, Massachusetts]
   Louisa Wells, age 18, born in Boston [Suffolk County, Massachusetts]
   Benjamin W. Wells, age 9, born in Walpole, N.H. [Cheshire County, New Hampshire]
   Ruth Wells, age 3, born in Brookline [Norfolk County, Massachusetts]

These reported birthplaces agree with information I have found in other records, even for those locations for which I haven't found specific birth records. And even though relationships aren't specified, Benjamin is father of Elizabeth and the last four are children of Elizabeth and Thomas.

There were also two Irish-born servants in the household, Hannah Sullivan, and Delia Smith.

For an explanation for why the age difference between the oldest and youngest children, read about Thomas's experiences in the California Gold Rush.

I descend from this family as follows:

                                          Benjamin Willis
Thomas Goodwin Wells and Elizabeth Sewall Willis
(1804-1873)                     (1820-1900)
Eliza May Wells
Ethel May Greeley
Lowell Townsend Copeland
My mother


  1. Sometimes we have to love employees who didn't follow the directions!

    1. Certainly in this case! Thanks, Linda, for reading and commenting.