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I've been unable to figure out what these index numbers in the leftmost column of Rhode Island Marriage, Births, and Deaths registers indicate. The image below is from the first page of the Births/Deaths section, so you can see that there are no headings. I've also looked through the front and back of the book and see no guide to interpretation.

I can tell that these numbers are associated with married couples. For example, 1-50 applies to all children of John and Susannah, and to Susannah herself. After Susannah dies, John marries Elizabeth. All of their offspring are now indicated with 1-51.

However, I have no idea what the referent of these numbers is. Why does that first family have a 3-XXX index? Why does the family underneath 1-51 suddenly jump up to 1-155?

I have no idea how hard it is to answer this question, or whether Rhode Island is idiosyncratic in this regard. I am more than happy to provide whatever additional information might help.

enter image description here

  • What is the source of this image? – Jan Murphy Mar 7 '15 at 22:19
  • @JanMurphy: You are correct, it is from Rhode Island Vital Extracts on Ancestry.com – two sheds Mar 7 '15 at 22:21
  • What path did you take to come up with this image? Can you share the 'breadcrumbs'? Did you do a surname search on Aldrich? Which volume is this from? – Jan Murphy Mar 7 '15 at 22:22
  • I forget how I got to this specific volume. But as an example, you get a similar page if you search for Esek Aldrich in Rhode Island, born around 1800, and then click on view image for the first Vital Extracts return – two sheds Mar 7 '15 at 22:26
  • It is tedious to keep a log, I know, but it really really really helps to keep track of how you find things and to make better notes about what volumes they came from. For instance, in some of the cases of compiled service records for Civil War veterans, I've been able to search Google Books and the Internet Archive and find the original books that the information came from. – Jan Murphy Mar 7 '15 at 22:29
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You didn't say where this image comes from, but comparing it to another image I found on Google+, I am guessing that this refers to the material which has been published in electronic form in the collection of Rhode Island, Vital Extracts, 1636-1899 on Ancestry.com.

The Google+ news item shared by Ancestry.com said:

Published over a span of two decades, the Rhode Island Vital Extracts (1636-1899) includes 21 volumes of details extracted from vital records for the state of Rhode Island by James N. Arnold. Details were taken from birth, marriage, death, baptism, church, and military records!

Their Source information says:

Ancestry.com. Rhode Island, Vital Extracts, 1636-1899 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.

Original data: Arnold, James Newell. Rhode Island Vital Extracts, 1636–1850. 21 volumes. Providence, R.I.: Narragansett Historical Publishing Company, 1891–1912. Digitized images from New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.

Beneath the Source Information box, there is an about the database collection describing the database and the nature of the information you might be able to find inside.

Note however that the original records came from NEHGS (who finished uploading volumes 7-12 to their online database in 2014). Here's an excerpt from the library catalog entry on their website:

Edition v. 1- Description 21 v. ; 30 cm. Contents v. 1. Kent county.- v. 2-3. Providence county.- v. 4. Newport county.- v. 5. Washington county.- v. 6. Bristol county.-

Going to the FamilySearch Research Wiki's article on Rhode Island Genealogy, we can get the history of the county formations in Rhode Island. Their table of Rhode Island County Creation Dates and Parent Counties shows the following:

  • Providence County, renamed from Providence Plantations in 1703
  • Kent County, established in 1759 from part of Providence County

This disagrees somewhat with the information from Wikipedia's article List of counties in Rhode Island. But about the town of Smithfield, Wikipedia says: "The area was within the boundaries of Providence until 1731 when Smithfield was incorporated as a separate town."

So my guess is that the first number refers to the number of the Volume in this 21-volume set, and the second number is the page number in that volume. I can't browse the images on Ancestry at the moment, but you can cross-check this hypothesis by using the browse function on the right-hand side of the page for the database there.

One thing you might try is to find a copy of Helen S Ullmann's book, A finding aid for Rhode Island town records in Arnold's vital records of Rhode Island, Beaman's Rhode Island vital records, new series, and the Rhode Island genealogical register. This link goes to the entry in WorldCat, which will show you if the book is in a library near you, by typing in your zip code.

I was not able to find copies of Arnold's Volumes 1 and 3 online, but looking at this Bristol County volume on Hathi Trust, I suspect that those volumes may have the same information as the page you show. If the parents and children belonging to the same family are indeed on consecutive pages (V 1, pages 50-51), then the section referenced here may be a compiled genealogy.

The information for the people whose references start with 3 may have come from a completely different record set; that might explain the jumps in numbers.

The difficulty with using any extracts of this kind is tracking down the original records that might have been the original sources of the information. In my own research, there is a large 2-volume history of a single family which hooks into my husband's family tree. There are thousands of names in the books, which took the author and his father over 25 years to compile and publish, and the only clue about where the information came from was that it came from "town records".

With all of these compiled works, the #1 question is "What did the author see?" It's a real challenge when the authors don't say, or the clues they give us to their source material are vague.


Update: This appears to be the same page at HathiTrust from this catalog item:

  • Providence County [records of births, marriages and deaths].
  • Main Author: Arnold, James N. 1844-1927,
  • Language(s): English
  • Published:
  • Providence, R.I., Narragansett historical publishing company, 1892.
  • Subjects: Registers of births, etc. > Rhode Island > Providence County.
  • Physical Description: 2 v. front. (map) 30 cm.

Perhaps the explanation for how the entire series is laid out was published in Volume 1?


Further reading:


According to genealogist Liz Loveland (via a Twitter conversation on 10-11 Mar 2015), it isn't unusual to see the same Volume and Page number for the same family:

Many New England town vital records recorded one family on one page if they had room which would explain repeats (March 10, 2015)

Yes, it makes it quite handy when one is searching! Some clerks did it that way & others wrote everyone's births chronologically. (March 11, 2015)

  • Wow, so it seems I'd need to consult the Ullman book in order to figure out how to use Arnold's index numbers in order to track down the original town records. I think for the most part I will be trusting Mr. Arnold's work :) – two sheds Mar 7 '15 at 22:48
  • @twosheds See how long it took me just to get the catalog entry for the page you started out with? <wink> Seriously, though, if you keep a page out of a book like this and you don't remember where it came from, then you can't look for books or articles that explain how to read or use the works. I don't mean to be critical. We all make this mistake. – Jan Murphy Mar 7 '15 at 22:51
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    You nailed it in your second-to-last paragraph. Arnold's Volume I reveals that the numbers refer to the volume and page of "town records." – two sheds Mar 7 '15 at 23:00
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    @twosheds See if you can find out at least what information was likely to have been in the original records. If you can find an original image of anything close to the period you are looking at, that might help you decide whether it is worthwhile trying to find an image of the originals. – Jan Murphy Mar 7 '15 at 23:12

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