This week I had a chance to read a book by Melinde Lutz Sanborn that has a very long title: Ages from Court Records, 1636-1700; Essex, Middlesex, and Suffolk Counties, Massachusetts. As you might guess from the book's title, Melinde Sanborn has extracted the names of all deponents and witnesses whose ages are given in the court records of Essex, Middlesex, and Suffolk counties during those years.
Record keeping in Colonial Massachusetts varied widely. Some towns recorded every birth, marriage and death while other towns either did not keep such good records or else the records have been lost over the centuries. Melinde Sanborn has examined seventeenth century court records for three major counties and has deduced the ages of thousands of named individuals.
Melinde apparently chose court records because (in her words) "so many people in early New England were deponents for one reason or another that no biography or genealogy can be complete without a search through court records to see if a pertinent deposition exists." It looks like many of these people spent a lot of time meeting each other in court!
Almost all seventeenth century New England depositions list the age of the deponent. Sometimes the age of a deponent was very important to a particular case. Men over sixty, for example, were often brought into court to support the claims of the ancient boundaries of litigants' property. Likewise, many older women who were experienced midwives were called upon to offer opinions on the timeliness of a birth in a fornication case. Even if your ancestor was not the defendant or the litigant in a case, he or she may have testified as an "expert witness." If so, the record of that testimony often can give you clues that do not exist elsewhere.
This is especially important in cases where fathers and sons shared the same name. Their ages as listed in court cases often are the only clue that there are two different men of the same name.
The first part of Ages from Court Records, 1636-1700; Essex, Middlesex, and Suffolk Counties, Massachusetts provides a lot of introductory material that explains where the information was found and how it was interpreted. The bulk of the book consists of one very long list with four columns: person's name, age at the time the record was created, year in which the record was created and a reference to the source where that information was found. In most instances, you will want to track down the original court record.
All in all, this book lists the names and ages of 11,000 deponents. That is a rather large percentage of the population of Essex, Middlesex, and Suffolk counties at that time.
Melinde Lutz Sanborn is highly qualified to create this book. She has been a genealogist since 1976 and has written numerous books, including several supplements to Torrey's New England Marriages Prior to 1700 as well as numerous articles in prestigious genealogy publications. She specializes in early New England records as well as searching for the English origins of early New England settlers. She is one of the leading experts of our time in the field of seventeenth century records in England and in New England. She is a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, an honor held by only 50 people at any given time. Becoming a Fellow is by invitation only. In other words, Melinde's demonstrated expertise has been recognized by her peers. The quality of her work shows in this book.
Ages from Court Records, 1636-1700; Essex, Middlesex, and Suffolk Counties is a 227-page hardcover book that sells for $35.00 plus taxes and shipping. You can order it directly from Genealogical Publishing Company's web site at http://www.genealogical.com/item_detail.asp?afid=&ID=5147. You probably can purchase it through any book store as well if you specify ISBN 0806317205.