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Research Techniques

Case Study: William Stoddard Williams (1762-1821)


1. Become accustomed to writing the person's birth and death dates after you use his/her name for the first time in a section. If you know only one date (b.1762) or (d.1821) treat it the same way. Because so many generations carried the same name the life dates will help you and further researchers to know with which generation they are dealing.

2. Document I - Page 383 from George Sheldon's A History of Deerfield.

[George Sheldon has two indexes in his 2-volume work; one index is for genealogy and one is an historical index. The genealogy information is contained in the back section of Volume II and the names are alphabetically arranged.] The number in parenthesis following each listing refers to the father of the subject. If you look back a page or more, you will find that number and will then be able to retrieve the name of your subject's father, mother, and siblings, plus information about that generation. You may want to research the mother under her maiden name - name of her father - or a brother or sister.

Who did William Stoddard Williams marry? When?
How many children did they have? Boys? Girls? Dates of birth? Did they all live to adulthood?

[If you have access to Vol. I and II of A History of Deerfield by George Sheldon: Sheldon is generous with his information in the genealogy section, but you may want to look up your subject in the index under "historical" also. Copy down all the pages listed after the name and take notes on the text.]

3. Document II - People and Places

This information may be the same as Sheldon - it gives a short biography of William Stoddard Williams. If there are differences from Sheldon, what are they?

4. Document III - Family and Landscape: Deerfield Homelots from 1671.

After reading the information from Family and Landscape, which is summarized on this page, think about the following questions:

Did William Stoddard Williams build this house? How do you know?
When did he move into it?
When Dr. Williams died, what became of the house?

5. Document IV

What is this page? Can you speculate or infer what it is from what you see, even though you have only a fragment of the whole?

Where was the page written? By whom? To whom? What kind of goods are being sold? Who was Eben Hunt? How would you go about finding out? (You can see the second line "Doctr Wm Stoddard Williams Bot of Eben Hunt" - that should help you.)

What about the columns and the numbers? What do they record? (Remember that William Stoddard Williams was a physician.)

6. Document V - Legal Document

Note the two lines at the top: one tells us this is a legal document with the letterhead, The Commonwealth of Massachusetts; the second "To all to whom these Presents shall come, Greeting," is legal language - not the spoken language we are used to. You can observe that some of the document is printed and some of it is written. Read through the page and answer the questions:

1. Who is Caleb Strong?
2. Where is the document written?
3. When was it written? (note how the date is expressed, in two ways)
4. What does the document accomplish?
5. How does it help you to understand more about your subject?

7. Document VI - Throat Distemper

Because sometimes 18th century handwriting is difficult to read, we have included in your packet a transcription of the two pages written in 1785 and titled Throat Distemper. At the bottom of the transcription page is an explanation of the entry. Read through the transcription, but try, also, to read a little of the original. Note the differences in the use of letters (s, in the middle of words; some letters at the end of words "in the air") and in spelling, compared to today. [This was written before Noah Webster standardized spelling with the publication of his dictionary.]

What is a fortnight?

This entry should help you to understand the routine of a doctor in the 18th century.

8. Document VII - To Whom it may Concern

Read through the document. Note the date and the place.
What does it tell you?
Note that it is all hand written. Can you compare it to any 21st century document?

9. Document VIII - Letter written by Deerfield Selectmen

Look at the transcription of the next item, since the handwriting may be difficult to read. What is the date? How old is William Stoddard Williams?

What kind of permission does it bestow on Dr. Williams? Why do you suppose such permission is necessary?

9. Document IX - "I believe that the scriptures..."

What kind of a document is this? Note when it was written. How old was Dr. Williams when he wrote this? What was the place of the church in the lives of the people in New England in the 18th and 19th centuries?

Now, review the answers to the questions and write a paragraph describing Dr. William Stoddard Williams. For purposes of clarity, keep your information in chronological order. That's easier when you are beginning. Later, when you are more familiar with your subject, you can move information around to suit your scheme.