Saturday, April 27, 2013

Cumberland RI Town Hall visit

Before my grandfather moved to NJ around 1920, most of my paternal ancesors lived in the village of Valley Falls in the town of Cumberland RI for 4 or 5 generations and it is there that I will find most of the records to document my ancestry. I was able to spend part of two days there this last week after attending the New England Regional Genealogy Conference (NEGRC) in Manchester, NH. I explored some of the vital records and deeds, but did not have time to check court records. That is for my next visit.
Cumberland Rhode Island Town Hall
Built 1894
The Town Hall is located on Broad Street just a block over the city line north of Central Falls. Its prominent tower makes it easy to spot from many locations in Valley Falls. There is a parking lot just to the north, and plenty of on-street parking on the two days I was there.

Vital records and land records are kept in the Town Clerk's office on the first floor. There is a large work area to lay out books and good light for photographing records. There is also a copy machine in the office.

Vital Records

For vital records, the Clerk retrieves the volumes from shelves in the office. These are large ledger books and are not the originals but copies of records transcribed into the volumes. The original records are kept in the basement vault and the Town Clerk must retrieve them. They are filed in boxes with some record years bound together, and others are loose. The Clerk asks for the name and date of event, and hands you the loosely bound records opened to the correct record, or hands you the individual record. I wish I was able to go through the originals without involving the Clerk, and limited my requests to direct line ancestors.

Death Record - Sarah A. (Gardner) Lawton
4th Great Grandmother

Among other information found in the original record vs the transcribed volumes for Deaths are:

  • full name of deceased with middle names sometimes spelled out
  • street address of death
  • informant's name
  • burial place
  • birth date
  • full age at death (sometimes only the age in years was found in the record books 
  • physician
  • undertaker

Some of this information was in the bound record books but in a more abbreviated form depending on the transcriber. I found several middle names that I had not known, and that were only initialed in the bound volumes and the online record index at FamilySearch.

Land Records

Grantee - Grantor Index
Modern record indexes are computerized, but I don't know when this started. I was looking at records for the mid-late 1800s and early 1900s and these records are indexed in a card catalog. There are two different sets of records - one for Grantees and one for Grantors. The cards are filed by name, and then by year, making it somewhat easy to trace some transactions as I went through the indexed cards. However, the real details are in the original documents and I found some good name and relationship information in the deeds.

Grantor Index card for Mortgage 1902

I was able to photograph some of these cards in  drawers where the cards were not packed too tightly. The cards were very informative and usually listed:
  • type of transaction (mortgage, quit-claim, warranty, etc)
  • grantor and grantee names
  • year of transaction and book number and page
  • consideration
  • brief description of property
  • location
Deed books - Cumberland RI 

The Deed books are in the same room as the card catalog index and are located on the wall facing the card catalog. There is a double set of shelves with the front set on rollers so the back row can be accessed. The earliest records are handwritten and bound in large ledger books and later deeds are typed and reproduced in smaller white and black volumes. More modern records are in the red volumes


  1. Very interesting, Wendy. Did the deed records go back to, say, 1700? My ancestors were out of Cumberland by about 1805.Thanks for the post, now I can't wait to get over there!!

  2. I'm sorry to say I don't know, Diane. I was so focused on the time period I was researching and didn't think of looking to see how far back the records existed. My family 'missed' your ancestors here - They were in Bristol County, RI and Norton, MA before they came to this area in early 1800s probably to work in the mills.


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