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The Forger’s Family Records

With the Netflix documentary, Murder Among the Mormons, putting forger Mark Hofmann back in the news, I’m reminded of an early American connection between family history and forgery.  Richard Brunton was an artist and a forger, an engraver who made both some of the earliest engraved New England family registers, including pre-printed family register forms, and fake currency.  His work is scattered across New England holding collections, including at the John Carter Brown Library.

Brunton’s family registers are well worth looking at as a group, both for the consistency of the text and image themes and for meaningful variations.  This one, held at Old Sturbridge Village, is appealing to me in part because it is a stub– an elegant and gorgeously vibrant work, but only the beginning of what someone likely thought would be a longer and fuller family account.  (It also appeals to me because an 18th century Philadelphia poet I wrote a lot about and still think about a lot, Hannah Griffitts, 1727-1817, used the pseudonym Fidelia.)

Two books are helpful in putting Brunton’s printed family registers in context. The Art of Family:  Genealogical Artifacts in New England edited by Peter Benes and D. Brenton Simons (New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2002) includes several essays about New England family registers by Georgia Barnhill, Benes, and Simons.  Most directly, Deborah M. Child has conducted the fullest research on Brunton’s life and work, including the family registers.  She not only has written Soldier, Engraver, Forger:  Richard Brunton’s Life on the Fringe in America’s New Republic (NEHGS, 2015), she also curated a database for NEHGS of extant genealogies using Brunton’s printed family registers which is where I located this example.

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