Vermont Archives Month Blog

Census Records: Stories of People and Places

2020 brings another iteration of the United States census, an event that happens every ten years to gather information about the American population. While the census is of crucial importance for determining services for communities, it also serves as a rich resource for historical and sociological research. Census records can show both macro-level trends through the patterns of change within entire communities, as well as micro-level trends by showing the details about one family, or even one individual, through time. Here, we’ll take a quick journey through 150 years of the census to see the story of Glastenbury, Vermont and a family who lived there for generations.

If the name Glastenbury sounds familiar, it may be because of the mysterious disappearances of several individuals that occurred in the mid-twentieth century. But that’s not the part of the story we’re telling here (though, if you must know more, try searching for the term “Bennington Triangle”). This tale begins in 1761, when Glastenbury was first chartered as a New Hampshire grant. Unfortunately for the grantees, the area was “one of the roughest and most inaccessible towns in the state,” as described by Child’s Gazetteer and Business Directory for Bennington County. This fact is probably why the town was so sparsely settled for its entire history – Glastenbury’s population peaked in 1870 at 119 residents.

The first page of the 1870 US Census for Glastenbury. The population peaked for the town in this year. From Ancestry.com.

There are some clues as to why the population increased, and later decreased, when you look at the occupations listed in the census. In 1870, most Glastenbury residents were farmers, but 50% of the male population was involved with the lumber industry, listed as woodchoppers, sawyers, or lumbermen. Lumbering was a big industry for Vermont, coming to its peak around the same time as Glastenbury’s population. However, as more land was clear cut there were fewer lumbering jobs, and the census shows a steadily declining population.  By the 1920 census, only 41 residents were listed; 45% of the male population still worked in the town’s lumber camp. And most of those men were temporary boarders, not settling in the town. By 1930, the population had plummeted to 7 people, then to 4 people in 1940. All of those residents were members of one family, the Mattisons.

1940 US Census for Glastenbury. The population decreased to just four residents. From Ancestry.com.
Vermont State Senator Norman Mattison of Glastenbury (1851-1913). From Vermont: It’s Government by William H. Jeffrey, 1913, pg. 37.

The Mattisons lived in Glastenbury for at least a century. They first appear on the Glastenbury census in 1850, and for the previous decades in the neighboring (and more populous) town of Shaftsbury. In 1850, John Mattison was the head of one household in Glastenbury, and by the following census of 1860, his son Norman had been born. Norman Mattison spent his entire life in Glastenbury and was a prominent member of Bennington County society. He served in many government roles, including as Bennington County’s state senator and Glastenbury’s town clerk. He married Abigail “Angelia” McDonald in 1874, just around the time of Glastenbury’s population boom. Angelia had also been born in Glastenbury, and her own family appears on the census as far back as 1820. Together, Norman and Angelia raised several children and you can trace them through the decades using the census, as they have families of their own and become neighbors to their parents. Norman died of a sudden illness in 1913, and Angelia continued to live in Glastenbury for thirty more years. After she was widowed, she lived with her son Ira, and his family. By 1930, there are only two households that appear on the Glastenbury census with just 7 residents between them, all of the Mattison family. Ira Mattison clearly followed in his father’s footsteps as he is listed as the Glastenbury town clerk and treasurer on the 1930 census. But, by 1940, Ira has passed, and there is only one single household enumerated in the entire town – the widow Angelia Mattison, age 81, her daughter-in-law, and two grandsons. Glastenbury was disincorporated in 1937 and has been an unorganized place ever since. An unorganized place means that it does not have its own town government, instead relying on a governor-appointed supervisor to deal with taxes and other governance. In 2010, census data shows only eight residents in the former town of Glastenbury.

US census records are available for research up to 1940 through Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org and the 1950 census records will be opened to the public in 2022. However, more recent census data is searchable through the US Census Bureau’s website: https://data.census.gov/cedsci/. There are many more stories that can be told about Glastenbury beyond this brief overview, and it will be exciting to see how those stories continue to unfold when the 1950 census is available. And, right now, we can make our own history by filling out the 2020 census. You can learn more at: https://www.uvm.edu/crs/2020-census-vermont.

Building a Local Photo Archive

Haying at the Ide family and company farm, 1926. Photo from an album donated by Jamie Ide and family to the Waterford Historical Society. A number of area residents talked about their haying experiences when they saw this photo. Courtesy of the Waterford Historical Society.

In the first couple of years when the Waterford Historical Society scrambled into existence, the group’s leaders often put out a call for photos at the program meetings. “Share your family and house photos with us!” But there was almost no response. We dug steadily through online sources, purchased anything relevant that popped up on eBay, and longed for more. The photos we yearned to see existed—but were not being brought forward.

As of 2020, despite the pandemic, we’ve solved this problem. We found three things that work:

One: We post images of the photos we have on Facebook pages that relate to local history. In our area, these pages often have titles that begin with “Things I Remember About Growing Up In …” (add town name). Plus, the historical society has its own page. The posts that get the most attention and conversation are ones that include a question, like “Who remembers Mrs. X” or “Did you go to school here?” People who respond often share more photos. A quick follow-up to a photo owner, “Is it okay if we print and share this with Waterford Historical Society?,” almost always gets a big yes.

Two: We settle for second best with photos. Instead of asking someone to donate a treasured photo or even to let us take it to get professionally copied, we take a cell-phone photo of it right away. With a little fine-tuning, these photos-of-photos can have excellent resolution. They get identified when we snap the pictures, so there are fewer that get labeled with “?” and more that have actual dates as well.

Three: We accept any offer of paper ephemera, and tackle the identifications with two versions of team research. When conditions allow, we have photo archive meetings in the winter, with half a dozen people labeling everything possible and a few individuals doing research at the same time. This was a good way to process the boxes of undated newspaper clippings that came in from an estate! And whenever possible, for a set of images that need identification, we team up two or three people who can drive around to match photo backgrounds, or develop family trees, or add cemetery information. That has enabled us to identify about 80 percent of two extensive photo albums. We were first given online access to these albums, then the owners chose to donate the originals to the historical society afterward.

Group archive work at the Waterford Historical Society. Left to right, Tanya Powers, Helen Chantal Pike, Donna Rae Heath. Courtesy of Beth Kanell.

The two biggest factors have been providing routes for sharing photos that don’t take the originals out of the hands of family members who treasure them, and preparing team approaches to photo identification. These, in turn, result in many newspaper and online articles based on the discoveries, and fosters much regional pride in our history.

And yes, our photo archive has become more digital than we’d originally expected. But it’s the sharing of the photos that builds the archive, so digital has turned out to be a great advantage over the long run. Learn more and keep up with the Waterford Historical Society at their website and on their Facebook page.

Archive storage cabinet for paper items, filed by family name and topic, kept in the town office hallway for the Waterford Historical Society. Courtesy of Beth Kanell.

100 Years of the Vote: Women’s Suffrage and Election History in Vermont

A painted sign on side of barn reads "A Square Deal - Votes For Vermont Women"
Suffragist Lucy Daniels felt so strongly for the cause of women’s suffrage that she painted this slogan on the side of her home in Grafton, VT. Courtesy of the Grafton Historical Society via the Vermont Historical Society.

In 1919 the Vermont Legislature passed a bill in support of women’s suffrage. However, the bill was ultimately vetoed by Governor Percival Clement. Despite calls for a special election to by-pass the Governor and vote on ratification of the Federal amendment, it was not until the February 1921 regular session that the Vermont General Assembly was able to confirm the right for women to vote.

Within Vermont archival collections, there are both the public and private stories of women’s fight for the vote.  For instance, there are oral history transcripts in the Vermont Historical Society, conducted in 1980s, with two women who were young adults during the women’s suffrage movement in Vermont.  Susan Sleeper and Marjorie Townsend talk in the interviews, not only about their memories of why the women’s vote was important, but also about the 1918 flu epidemic and the end of WWI.  

Clarina Howard Nichols, an important figure in Vermont’s women’s suffrage movement, was born in West Townshend in 1810.  Nichols was an early and strong activist for women’s rights, abolition and temperance.  As editor of the Windham County Democrat, Nichols was one of the first women to hold such a position in the country.

Portrait of Clarina Howard Nichols (1810-1885). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Through her work in women’s rights and other causes, Nichols traveled the country attending conventions, giving speeches and promoting equality. On December 6, 2019, members of the Brattleboro Words Project made a public presentation about Clarina Nichols and related archival resources.

While the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote was ratified on August 18, 1920, it’s important to remember that women of color were, by and large, denied voting rights until 1965.This is an issue with a long and complex history.

A researcher looking for extensive facts and figures about Vermont voting history will find a treasure trove at the Vermont Elections Archive.

This extensive collection documents election results since 1789 for state-wide elections. and 1848 for federal election results.  For instance, when Thomas Chittenden was elected governor in 1789, he won the vote by 50.8% and two challengers, Moses Robinson came in with 30% of the vote and Samuel Safford of Bennington with 19.2% of the vote. There were 2,865 total votes cast.

Portrait of Vermont’s first Governor, Thomas Chittenden (1730-1797). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A mere ten years later, Isaac Tichenor won his gubernatorial election by 63% of the vote against challenger Israel Smith.  The total vote count was 10,163. If you want to do your own Vermont election history research, be sure to check out the data in the Elections Archive.

Voices From the Past

Through correspondence, voices of the past come alive for us in the present. Here, we take a look at two nineteenth century letters that not only bring the details of the writers’ life into focus, but that shed light on the moments and movements of history of which they were a part.

In 1815, Jonas Clark wrote home after traveling to Montpelier, where the legislative session was beginning in October of that year. Clark was serving his fourth term as Representative for Middletown, and wrote in his letter that he was “very much fatigued” after the long journey. He then went on to write about election results. 1815 was an interesting point in Vermont election history, as Jonas Galusha won the governor’s race against the incumbent Martin Chittenden.  Galusha had held that office before, prior to Chittenden. The two campaigned against each other for five years, and the two years previous to 1815, neither candidate had won a majority. This meant that Vermont legislators, including Jonas Clark, chose the state’s Governor. But, in 1815, Clark’s letter tells that Galusha won by a majority, the first time in three years that a gubernatorial candidate won outright.

Letter from Representative Jonas Clark to wife, October 15th, 1815. Courtesy Vermont State Archives and Records Administration, record series A-365.

Jonas Clark served in public office in many capacities, and even ran for governor himself many years later. Knowing that he later ran an unsuccessful campaign, it’s interesting to read his report home about the 1815 gubernatorial election. Even while participating in the legislative session, Clark tried to manage domestic affairs back in Middletown; he writes his wife Betsey “whenever a leisure time happens…the cellar should be cleaned, it can be done in wet weather.”

Another letter written to a wife back home comes from Sergeant Valentine Barney, a Civil War soldier from Swanton. He served in the First Regiment of the Vermont Volunteer Infantry, which was officially mustered into the United States Army in May of 1861, stationed at Fort Monroe in Virginia. On May 19th, the Vermonters saw their first actual fighting with the attack on the steamer “Monticello,” and Barney writes of it to his wife Maria. He tells her “the report is that some 18 or 20 of the Enemy were killed but how true it is is not known by me, but we could see the firing and hear the report plainly.”

The first page of a multi-page letter from Civil War soldier Valentine Barney to his wife, May 19th, 1861. Courtesy of Vermont State Archives & Records Administration, record series PRA-356.

Barney wrote his wife often, and through his letters we can observe the experience of a Union soldier away from home and his family. In his letter, he writes first about his concern for his family’s health before even mentioning the fighting. He also tells Maria, “I never before realized so forcibly the comforts of a home and the kindness and goodness of my loving wife and children as at the present, and I hope and trust that I may be more attentive to them in the future than I have been in the past.” Barney’s regiment returned home after a three month campaign. However, less than two years later, Barney was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel for the Ninth Regiment, serving until several months after the end of the Civil War.

The Jonas Clark letter is housed at the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration. The Valentine Barney letters were microfilmed by the Vermont Civil War Centennial Committee, and later digitized through the University of Vermont. You can read the May 19th, 1861 letter in its entirety, and many others, online.

The Voices of a Place: The Brattleboro Words Project

On October 23rd, the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center is scheduled to host the public presentation the work of the Brattleboro Words Project.  Over the past three years, the members and volunteers of the Words Project  have worked with local archives, libraries and community resources to produce self-guided audio tours and a book that tell the story of writing in the Brattleboro community, from the distant past to the present.

From Abenakis using writing to defend their homeland, and Lucy Terry Prince, regarded as the first African-American poet, to Nobel Prize winners and contemporary authors, Brattleboro and its environs have a rich and varied literary history.  The Words Project captures and documents this long and fascinating chronicle of the people, places and events that tell the story of writing, publishing and printing in the region.

Maps of Brattleboro area on drafting board.
Brattleboro area maps used in an artistic carving for the Brattleboro Words Project, created by Brattleboro graphic artist Cynthia Parker.

The Words Project has been made possible through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and lots of local support.  The Words Project is a collaborative effort of five local organizations: the Brattleboro Literary Festival, Brattleboro Historical Society, Brooks Memorial Library, Write Action and Marlboro College.

The goal of this project is to help connect all of us and our visitors to the stories behind the rich history of the places we share.

Hand carving a landscape.
Artistic engraved map, created by Brattleboro graphic artist Cynthia Parker, will show people and places of importance, such as writers, printers, and publishers.

For more extensive information about the Words Project, go to http://brattleborowords.org/

What Is An Archives?

Welcome to the inaugural post of the Vermont Archives Month Blog! We will be using this space over the coming months to explore archives and this year’s theme of Vermont Voice and Vote. We wanted to start by looking a little bit at the history of Archives Month and the importance of archival records.

American Archives Month began as one week in October, 1989. It was started by the Archivists Roundtable of Metropolitan New York to raise awareness about the importance of archives. It didn’t take long for the idea to catch on around the state of New York and the rest of the United States, ultimately expanding to a full month of recognition. By 2006, Archives Month was officially promoted by the Society of American Archivists (SAA), the largest American professional organization for archivists, and has now become the cornerstone for the promotion and celebration of archives. For more information about American Archives Month, you can visit SAA’s website.

Inside archival record storage at the Vermont State Archives & Records Administration, Middlesex.

But what is an archives? How are they different from libraries and what’s so important about archival records anyway?

Libraries and archives are both places that collect and compile informational resources. But while libraries have published materials like books and journals that can be found in many places, archives may contain documents that don’t exist anywhere else. Libraries contain secondary sources – information on a topic compiled from many different sources. Archives, on the other hand, are made up of primary sources. These are the records that were made at the time an historical event happened or in the course of daily life – the map drawn up by the original settlers of a town, the case file that made up a lawsuit, the first-hand diary of a 19th century farmer. Because these records are unique and serve as evidence of the past, they must be carefully preserved so they can endure for the future – as these records have, in addition to providing rich resources for historical research, a direct impact on our lives.

Archival records come in many different analog and digital formats.

Archival records are not some dusty things sitting in a vault waiting to be discovered. Records can protect lives by providing proof of identity or citizenship. Records protect property through land deeds, wills, divorce decrees, showing who owns what. Records protect legal rights through court decisions, adoption proceedings, and military service. Records restore order after a disaster the documentation of administrative decisions. And records preserve our history so that we can learn for our future. You can read more about the importance of records on the Council of State Archivists’ website.

Keep watching this space for more posts celebrating archives and related to this year’s theme of Vermont Voice & Vote!

Note: Why is it “an archives”?

American and Canadian archivists tend to use the term “archive” as a verb to mean the act of transferring records to a repository, and the term “archives” to mean that repository – a singular gathering place of collections of records. And because “archives” is referring to one singular place, it’s treated as a singular thing (“an”/“is” rather than “some”/“are”).