While writing her book, The Crooked and Narrow Streets of Boston 1630-1822, Annie Haven Thwing (1851-1940) created a card index containing information on 60,000 individuals and 30 organizations. The original card index—containing 125,000 catalog cards occupying 74 library drawers—is at the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS). In 1993, MHS converted the cards into a searchable computer database. It took five years to complete the project.
In 2001, as part of a joint effort between MHS and the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), Thwing’s book and the database were published as Inhabitants and Estates of the Town of Boston, 1630-1822 (Thwing Collection) on a CD-ROM available from Picton Press. Known as the Thwing Collection, the database is available to society members on the NEHGS web site.
Like any good genealogist, Thwing used probates, deeds, vital records, church records, gravestone inscriptions, and diaries to create her book and card index. It’s an amazing resource, especially for researching property holders during this time period.
The database is searchable by any word and by advanced queries. Profiles for people within the index section may include the following fields: name; birth; baptism; parents; spouse; children; home; occupation; business; event; office; deed; church; died; will; probate; burial; text; reference; abutters; miscellaneous; and a unique numeric record identifier (to link a person to someone else’s profile).
I use Thwing a lot in my research. It helps me to understand familial connections and neighborhoods, information that would take me years to uncover—if I even knew to look for them. In mid-17th century Boston, the population was small—say 1,000 people—so people often knew each other. For example, a miller on Prince street may have attended the same church, same businesses, and same public events as a merchant’s daughter who lived four blocks away. It’s possible that their paths crossed, relationships were formed, and marriage ensued. Add to that all their parents, siblings, cousins, other relatives—and their in-laws—and you’ve got a fuller picture of your family.
I must warn you, however, that using the Thwing Collection is addictive. For example, if I do a search on Raynsford (73 search hits) and Rainsford (197 hits), I could spend hours reviewing the records, adding new people to my database, and then researching back-up information (such as finding the vital records, cemetery inscriptions, and whatever as proof).
You will find that Thwing did not make all the connections, that one person may have more than one profile and numeric record identifier. But piecing together the tidbits and creating a fuller vision of your family is part of the joy of working with Thwing’s research.
You also can read The Crooked and Narrow Streets of Boston, 1630-1822 online through Google Books, though it does not include the MHS database. With Google Books, though, you can do searches as well.