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Originally published in the Historic Nantucket vol. 47, no. 1 (Winter 1998)

The Eliza Starbuck Barney Genealogical Record
by Joan Elrick Clarke

How do you present the labors of a nineteenth-century woman to the twenty-first-century researcher? With a computer program called The Master Genealogist. For the past three years Tanya Bresinsky, Patti Hanley, and I have entered data from the hand-written pages of Eliza Barney's record into a computer so that researchers visiting the Edouard A. Stackpole Library and Research Center will have the island's genealogy at their fingertips. The work was funded by several generous grants from the Tupancy-Harris Foundation and a small grant from the Massachusetts Society of The Cincinnati for the purchase of a printer for the database and the creation of a user's guide. * "Elisa" (her spelling) Starbuck Barney's life spanned almost the whole of the nineteenth century, and among her passionate interests was the recording of the island's genealogical history starting with the first settlers to the first decade of the 1900s. With the help of her granddaughter, Eliza Barney Burgess, Barney entered information about Nantucketers onto 1,702 ledger pages. These pages are contained in six legal-sized, heavily bound books containing approximately 275 pages per book, plus an addendum book which contained input written by Burgess. The data are arranged alphabetically by family names. Each family is in order of descent. Barney scrupulously furnished us with a "humanized" genealogy, recording not only births, marriages, and deaths, but also telling us who moved away, who was descended from which branch of the family, and who died at sea. We assume that Benjamin Franklin Folger's record provided a firm base for her data. In addition, it seems that newspapers and input from friends and family helped along her efforts. The result is a valuable genealogical research tool which is more accurate and informative than the Vital Records of the Town of Nantucket, that is the published primary resource through the year 1850. From the penmanship - which starts out strong and handsome and deteriorates as the scribe ages - it appears as if Barney stopped recording in the early 1870s. The handwriting for the later entries appears to be that of her granddaughter. Burgess's recordings end around 1912, probably because by that time official record keeping such as city and town vital records, hospital, and church records, had eliminated the need for private citizens to track families. What is it like to spend part of each day with "Elisa's" records? First, you have to get used to spelling Elizabeth and Eliza with s's (instead of z's) as Eliza does! Then you become accustomed to coping with variations in names such as "Fish" and "Fisher" or "Bailey" and "Bayley". In Barney's record, women bearing their mother's first name are also designated as "junior." There are also the occasional discrepancies in dates as when a person has several separate entries. For instance, one individual could have a birth entry as well as an entry with a spouse. Imagine if that person married five times - there would be six separate entries. Barney's treatment of illegitimacy is another interesting matter to decipher. Sometimes the word "illegitimate" appears in a person's entry. An entry reads: "1-1824 Almira, Sally's d. m. Reuben . . ." In this entry we learn Almira's birth date, that she was Sally's daughter, and that Reuben was her husband. The entry follows a listing of Isaac Barker's and Sally Andrews's children, but it is clear that Almira is not Isaac Barker's daughter. In the database, Almira will be recorded as Almira Andrews with a blank reference for her father and with Sally appearing as her mother. We also have included a note quoting Barney's entry as she wrote it. In other words, the computer data will duplicate everything as Barney recorded it in her book. Sometimes it is terribly sad to see recorded the number of infant deaths and deaths in childbirth, as well as epidemics that wipe out all the children in a family. It also brings whaling history alive as you see young, inexperienced sailors fall from the rigging or lost overboard. You can also find the record of those who died on the Essex. But as in all of life, there are the happy times when you see the birth dates of triplets to three island families. And let's not forget the sets of twins born to 149 of the 1700 island families. Mystery also lurks in Barney's records. Peter Barnard married "the celebrated Hannah Jenkins." However, no one at the NHA has been able to find out why Hannah was celebrated. If you know, contact us immediately! Barney's record is equally intriguing for what it does not tell us. Absalom Boston's life is not recorded here, nor is any other person of color, save "Patience Cooper (colored)," the accused murderess. In the entry for Captain George Pollard no reference is made to the Essex. And while we readily see that young men served in the Civil War, it is not apparent that their forefathers gave Revolutionary War service. The easy-to-use program, in a Windows application, should be available by the end January 1998 for the use of NHA members, researchers, and anyone with an interest or hobby in genealogy. It will provide access to the data of an individual via the alphabet index, which contains birth and death dates, when given, of each person. This will save valuable research time by eliminating a page-by-page, line-by-line search in the original handwritten volumes. The program offers three types of data viewing: - a personal view, a family view, and a family tree that can be printed. Another helpful feature is the relationship calculator, which permits the identification of two individuals by numbers with the computer deciphering the relationship between them. We who have been privileged to live island life along with Barney, bringing her records into the twenty-first century via 50,000,000 bytes of hard drive, are sad to have our daily contact with her end. However, we are pleased that her record of Nantucketers will be available to all browsers and researchers at the Edouard A. Stackpole Library and Research Center. *Editor's note: this project was initiated and led by Betsy Tyler, then librarian for the NHA. Joan Elrick Clarke, a Nantucket resident since 1994, has been working on the Barney Genealogical Record database since its inception in February of 1995.