There but For Grace…Vital Records Can Surprise You

By: Carolyn L. Barkley

My maternal great-grandmother, Grace Lillian (Dodd) Smith, is not someone lost in the deep recesses of my family tree. I knew her well. Born to Frederic/k Oliver and Katie/Catherine/Kate E. (Duncan) Dodd on 20 July 1865 in New Haven, Connecticut, Grace died in 1963, when I was sixteen years old. My maternal grandmother died when my mother was quite young, and my great-grandparents moved into my grandfather’s home in Springfield, Massachusetts, to take care of his two young children – my mother and her younger brother. By the time I came along, it was just my great-grandmother and my grandfather living in the house, and to my young mind, they were old (seemingly ageless) and represented the man/woman/husband/wife nuclear family unit. Obviously such circumstances can be misleading, and I still clearly remember that amazing “aha moment” when I discovered that Grace was in fact my grandfather’s mother, not his wife! For all intents and purposes, however, she was my grandmother (which is what I called her) and I spent my summers with her, watched her make her annual quilt, and learned – although I didn’t understand why exactly – that you didn’t play cards on Sundays. Even today, I envy her ability to make wonderful donuts on a wood stove every Friday (the secret surely was the lard in which they were fried!).

As part of my 2013 New Year’s resolution to spend some time each week, if not each day, researching my own family, I decided that the time was long overdue to further document my Dodd family of New Haven, Connecticut, and Springfield, Massachusetts. I have pictures and have long heard family stories, such as the one my mother would occasionally tell me about how Grace, her grandmother, had been so tiny when she was born, that she was carried around the house on a pillow. I knew a great deal about her family directly from Grace herself and from my grandfather. Additional information came from family records that she saved and from genealogical accounts that she wrote down. At the outset, then, my records included the following information:

Frederick O. Dodd (son of Frederick Dodd and Lois Lanfair/Lanfare/Lamphiere) was b. in Plymouth, Connecticut, on 19 July 1837. He m. Kate E. Duncan (daughter of George Duncan) on 15 June 1859 in New Haven, New Haven Co., Connecticut. She was b. in England on 27 November 1839, and d. on 7 April 1908 in Springfield, Hampden Co., Massachusetts. Frederick d. on 5 July 1902 in Springfield, Hampden Co., Massachusetts.

Frederick and Kate had five children:

  1. Alice Louise Dodd was b. on 8 April 1860 in Connecticut, and d. of consumption, unmarried, on 22 October 1879 in Springfield, Hampden Co., Massachusetts.
  2. Grace Lillian Dodd was b. on 20 July 1865 in New Haven, Connecticut. She m. Edward Albert Smith (son of Edward Sylvester Smith and Cynthia Jane Aldrich) on 31 October 1889 in Springfield, Hampden Co., Massachusetts. He was b. on 19 July 1860 in Belchertown, Hampshire Co., Massachusetts, and d. of a heart attack on 14 August 1940 in Huntington, Hampshire Co., Massachusetts. Grace d. of natural causes on 27 May 1963 in East Longmeadow, Hampden Co., Massachusetts.
  3. Arthur Leslie Dodd was b. on 5 March 1871 in Springfield, Hampden Co., Massachusetts, where he d. of cerebral spinal meningitis on 1 June 1873.
  4. Frederick Clifford Dodd was b. on 11 September 1873 in Springfield, Hampden Co., Massachusetts. He m. Minerva Felicita LaFontaine (mercifully known within the family as “Aunt Minnie”) on 3 July 1903 in Albany, New York. Frederick died on 26 September 1951 in Lynn, Essex Co., Massachusetts.
  5. Gertrude Mabel Dodd was b. on 29 October 1875 in Springfield, Hampden Co., Massachusetts. She married Joseph Henry Spellman (son of Joseph T. Spellman and Johanna T. Boyle) on 29 October 1903 in Springfield, Hampden Co., Massachusetts. He was born on 7 December 1871 in Springfield, Hampden Co., Massachusetts, where he died on 13 November 1942. Gertrude died on 25 December 1951 in Springfield, Hampden Co., Massachusetts.

I will share here my recent research about the two oldest girls, Alice and Grace. I began with Alice – and immediately ran into difficulties. Family papers indicate that Alice’s birthdate was 8 April 1860. Assuming a New Haven residence, I checked vital record indices and registers. I could find no birth record for Alice in the index covering the years 1750-1865,1 however, nor did I find a register entry for 1860.2 She was, however, enumerated in the 1860 population census for New Haven (taken on 4 July) as two months old, born in Connecticut,3 thus corroborating  family information. However, the 1880 mortality schedule for Springfield, Massachusetts, listed Alice twice, with one entry listing her as age 18,4 the other as age 19.5 Her Massachusetts death record established her date of death as 22 October 1879, stating that she was aged 18 years, 6 months and 14 days.6 An age/date converter establishes that date as 8 April 1861,7 which, based on the 1860 census enumeration, we know cannot be true. She would have to have been 19 years, 6 months and 14 days to agree with the 1860 census enumerated data. After completing this piece of research, I believe it is safe to state that Alice was born in Connecticut ca. 8 April 1860 – not 1861. However, she may not have been born in New Haven. Where, then, might the birth have occurred, or perhaps was the birth unrecorded? Further research will have to uncover the rest of the story.

Ever the optimist, I hoped that the search for Grace’s birth record would be less complicated – I should have known better! On 20 July 1865, the vital records state that Dr. P. C. Skiff delivered the second child of Frederick and Kate Dodd8…BUT (drum roll please), that child was listed as Frederick N. Dodd, male. What? That’s Grace’s birthdate! Who was Frederick N. Dodd and why was he registered as being born to her parents on her birth day? [A small note in the register notes that unnamed children appear under the father’s name, but this is Frederick N., not Frederick O., and clearly states “male”]. Remember the story about tiny Grace being carried around on a pillow? While there is absolutely no proof within the records themselves, a combination of family anecdotal information and the facts as given in the official record suggests that Kate might have given birth to twins, the male of whom may have seemed the better candidate for survival and whose birth, then, was registered. Grace, however, proved to have better staying power and was the survivor – by ninety-six years!

At the same time that this discovery makes an interesting addition to the family story, it is quite poignant as this birth entry is the only acknowledgement I have of the existence of this infant twin. I don’t remember hearing about him from anyone in the family, and to date I have discovered no death record or cemetery record for young Frederick. I don’t know how soon after birth he died; nor have I found any indication that after his death anyone in the family returned to the registrar’s office and registered Grace’s birth. Almost forty years later in 1904, however, the infant Frederick’s younger brother, Frederick Clifford Dodd, named his first son Frederick Napoleon Dodd – which seems fitting.

Birth records can help uncover or clarify many stories, like that of Grace and her forgotten twin brother, Frederick. If it were not for the survival powers of Grace – unrecorded Grace – the history of my family would have been quite different. Truly, there but for Grace …

If you are interested in Connecticut research, there are several titles available at The most significant collection of vital records (birth, marriage, and death) can be found in the multi-volume Barbour Collection of Connecticut Town Vital Records, with the caveat that the records of some towns, such as Enfield and New Haven, were collected and published by other authors.


1 New Haven (Connecticut) Registrar of Vital Statistics, Indexes to Births, Marriages, and Deaths, 1639-1914; specifically Index to Births, 1750-1863 (FHL US/CAN film 1405824 item 3) and Index to Births A-F, 1864-1874 (FHL US/CAN film 1405824 item 7).

2 New Haven (Connecticut Registrar of Vital Statistics, Records of Births, Marriages, and Deaths, 1639-1902; specifically Index to Deaths, 1860-1869 (FHL US/CAN film 1405824 item 5).

3 1860 U.S. census, New Haven County, Connecticut, population schedule, New Haven, Ward 5, sheet 9, page  637 (stamped), dwelling 647, family 85, Alice Dodd; digital image, (, citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 87.

4 1880 U.S. census, Hampden County, Massachusetts, mortality schedule, Springfield, page 61, line 30, Alice L. Dodd; digital image, (, citing NARA microfilm publication T1204, roll 38.

5 1880 U.S. census, Hampden County, Massachusetts, mortality schedule, Springfield, Ward 4, Enumeration District (ED) 316, page 1, line 7, Alice Dodd; digital image, (, citing NARA microfilm publication T1204, roll 38.

6, Massachusetts Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988 (database on-line, digital images), Alice L. Doddy [Dodd], #501; citing Town and City Clerks of Massachusetts. Massachusetts Vital and Town Records, Provo, Utah: Holbrook Research Institute.


8 New Haven (Connecticut) Registrar of Vital Statistics, Records of Births, Marriages, and Deaths, 1639-1902; specifically volume 15: Births 1864-1865, page 80, Frederick N. Dodd (FHL US/CAN film 1405860).




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