Our recent trip to the Green Mountain State was more like dodging snowflakes than catching falling leaves, but we enjoyed two successful research days at the Vermont State Archives and Record Administration Records Center in Middlesex.
I’ve been researching in Vermont for a decade and have discovered rich family records in town, county, and state repositories. In recent years, more records are being moved from smaller offices to the State Archives Records Center in Middlesex. The central location makes it easier to find far-flung records without criss-crossing the state and family historians will find an experienced staff with a welcoming and helpful attitude toward researchers.
Welcome to Vermont
Before making travel arrangements I spent a few hours exploring the Vermont State Archive website and investigating the record groups I needed. I have to confess that I don’t always plan ahead as well as I should, but I wanted to maximize my chances for success on this trip and the advance work was well worth the time spent.
It was a nice surprise to read a warm invitation to visit the Archives:
The Vermont State Archives consists of records that have continuing value to the State of Vermont and its citizens… The public is invited to conduct research in the archives: we welcome your visits, emails, and telephone calls. We are available to answer your reference inquiries, to suggest helpful resources, and to assist you with navigating the records.
The archivists and staff were truly helpful, responding promptly to email queries and offering assistance as needed in the Research Room.
The Vermont State Archives offers a series of outstanding Research Guides, including:
- Genealogy and Family History Guide
- Legislative Research Guide
- Civil War Research Guide Historical
- Research with Vermont Court Records
The website also gave a good overview of the State Archives’ goals and educated me about the kinds of records I might find. Any family historian would find valuable information about Vermont and New England records as well as more general genealogical sources.
My focus for this trip was Vermont chancery court and probate records, so I especially appreciated the comprehensive guide to “Historical Research with Vermont Court Records.”
Many local and county records are making their way from small repositories to this central records facility which makes it essential that Vermont researchers take time to learn the current location of the records they seek. On another Vermont trip, I discovered too late that the records I needed were in limbo between two repositories.
Planning for Research Success
Goal #1 Chancery Court Records
My first goal was to find any loose papers relating to two court cases involving my Windsor County ancestors. After studying the Research Guide and exploring the website, I emailed the Archives with my objectives and received a prompt reply:
The case files, if they existed, “might” (BIG “might”) be included in several unprocessed boxes that had been transferred from Windsor County.
I would need to examine each box and each file to know if the papers had survived. What genealogist could resist that challenge? Not this one!
Goal #2 Rutland District Probate Court Records
If time allowed I also wanted to locate the probate packets for six individuals named in my ancestor’s probate. Learning about their heirs might help me identify the widow’s parents, a longtime brick wall problem. I explored the VSARA website and learned that Rutland County, Rutland District probate files should be available. Taking no chances, I emailed the archivist with the probate packet numbers and names I would be researching.
At the Archives
We arrived on a wet windy morning, on the heels of a television crew filming footage for Archives Month. A few other researchers were busy in the Research Room, but within a short time the archivists called up the first batch of records.
The probate packets were filed numerically and easy to locate. Most were typical probate filings, but one… Oh, that one file… One hundred and twenty-nine pages of handwritten papers including the will, family lineage, and letters from the last heir to turn 21. That file is filled with surprises.
As for the chancery court cases. I was looking for two distinct cases, and what I found was one big fat packet of papers relating to both. It may take me some time, and probably some legal consultations, to unscramble and understand all 239 document images.
Not surprisingly, the archivist offered a handy list of researchers who might be able to help understand the intricacies of 19th century Vermont chancery law.
In the two days that we worked at the Archives, my husband-and-chief-research assistant and I were able to locate, examine and photograph everything on my list. We even had time for lunch down the road from the Archives at the local Red Hen Bakery and Cafe, a top-rated local artisan bakery and cafe.
Look again at your family tree and consider yourself lucky indeed if you need to research at the Vermont State Archives.