Hartford, Connecticut has a long history, starting in the seventeenth century. Many people, including Frances McCook of the Butler-McCook House on Main Street, have researched this city’s past to find out the impact the past had on current events.
Frances McCook, born in 1877 in Hartford, had a passion for history and genealogy. Her passion led her to research her family’s genealogy. She traced her lineage back to the Founders of Hartford, who came from Massachusetts to create their own community in 1637. Without the advantage of today’s technologies, Frances looked through probate records, birth and death records, and marriage records in the library to create an elaborate family tree to document her family’s history. Frances lived in a home built on land purchased by her great-grandfather, Daniel Butler, in 1782 and had been in her family ever since. After Frances passed away in 1971, her home became a historic house museum. She was the last member of the family to live in the house before the Antiquarian and Landmarks Society (now Connecticut Landmarks) acquired the house. The Butler-McCook House is open seasonally, between May and December, to share its almost 200-year-old history as a witness to changes in Hartford.
I joined the Butler-McCook House museum staff about two and a half years ago to educate school groups and to provide tours for the general public. While assisting a coworker with her research project, I began to develop a project of my own. I was inspired to continue the research Frances began during her lifetime. I used probate records from the Connecticut State Library’s collections to create a narrative of the Butlers and the McCooks that is not found just looking at a family tree, though I used Frances’s family tree as both a reference and a guide for my research. With the resources, I took a closer look at family members on the tree to find out who they were and the impact they had on the surrounding community. What Frances and I realized while looking through the resources was that both sides of the family, the Butlers and the McCooks, shared common relatives; while it was typical during the seventeenth and eighteenth century to marry within the same family or same members of the community, it is interesting to see the many connections people made with one another.
As this project continues, I learn a little more about the family and hope to incorporate the findings within the narrative of the historical house. The information will add material to the new interpretive themes, which include: social work, the local impact of American imperialism, and modern families, the last of which shows visitors the family’s relevance to today’s society. The new interpretive themes will debut next season, when the house opens for tours in May. By using the information about Frances McCook’s family as part of new historical narrative, visitors will better understand how the Butler-McCook family fits into the overall Connecticut state historical narrative.
Visitors will learn more about who lived in the house in the eighteenth century. They will also be able to make connections with the family and will hopefully leave the house inspired to learn more about their own family histories.
About the Author
Lindsey Steward is a Museum Interpreter at Connecticut Landmarks’ Butler-McCook House. She has a Master’s degree in Public History from Central Connecticut State University.