A letter in the Society’s collection raised curiosity recently. It was written by O. W. (Oliver W.) Mead , dated West Acton, Feb. 10th 1850, and sent to Andrew Patch of Canaan, NH. The letter related the gruesome discovery by “an Irishman” of the remains of [F. ?] Taylor “in a swamp a short distance from this place.” Finding out the identity of Mr. Taylor seemed as if it would be easy. It turned into a research project.
Mr. Taylor’s first initial was not initially obvious, given somewhat difficult handwriting. Death records for early 1850 or 1849 in Acton revealed no Taylors. “A short distance” from West Acton could have been Boxborough, Littleton or Stow, but research in those towns, using various strategies, produced no results.
Finally, an online newspaper search was successful. The Liberator (Boston, Massachusetts, Friday March 8, 1850, page 4) picked up the story from the Boston Post that Franklin Taylor of Boxborough had been missing since June 1st of the previous year when he left home in the grip of delirium tremens and, as it turned out, committed suicide. The discovery was made in a wood lot near West Acton depot. The details match O. W. Mead’s letter.
Published Boxborough records show a Franklin, son of Captain Oliver and Elisabeth Taylor, baptized in September, 1806. Numerous other Taylor children were born in Boxborough to Capt. Oliver Jr. and Elisabeth/Betsy. (Oliver Jr. and Betsey Fairbank Stone were married August 12, 1800 in Boxborough. Presumably, the “Jr” and “Capt” in Boxborough’s records were added to distinguish the couple from Oliver’s parents Oliver and Betty, but sorting out the family relationships needs to be done cautiously. )
The family seems to have moved to nearby Stow, as Franklin appears in Stow Tax Assessments of 1841, 1844, and 1847 and the 1842 Stow list of “persons liable to do military duty," along with other Taylor relatives. Franklin returned to Boxborough around 1847, as he appeared in the Militia roll for Boxborough in 1847 and 1848. There the record seems to end, at least in easily accessible online sources. Vital records, usually very helpful in Acton and surrounding towns, apparently omitted Franklin’s demise.
Though learning the circumstances of Franklin Taylor’s death was not particularly happy, it did show the value of keeping and indexing old letters. Sometimes, local or family news reported in a letter can yield unique genealogical clues. It is tempting in this era of online searching to think that we can trace families without leaving our computers. However, archives may be holding a picture, a diary, a letter, or some other document that can open up new chapters of a family’s story. If you have Acton roots or connections, contact us; you may find information that is unavailable in other sources.
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