So Who Do You Believe?

 

Benjamin Kenfield was born in 1820 in Morristown, Vermont. Or in Stowe. Or in Sterling. Well, which was it?

The books all say you should go by what is in the official records. But these are all in the official records!!

Benjamin's Army enlistment record says he was born in Stowe. And you would think he would have known. His death certificate agrees.

The International Genealogical Index says he was born in Morristown. Yes, I know, that's not an official record. But this entry is an extracted record, taken from the official State of Vermont Vital Records Index, which I've also checked myself. The information was submitted to the State by local Town Clerks. And they should know, don't you think?

But with some additional historical research, the story becomes clear. And Benjamin was born in Sterling. But how can we know for sure? Well, there is still some small question, but we're pretty close to sure.

Benjamin's grandfather, George "The Elder" Kentfield, settled in Morristown in 1793. In 1803, he sold that farm and moved about five miles to Sterling. Property records indicate that no Kenfields moved back to Morristown, nor to Stowe, until after Benjamin was born. When he was six, Benjamin's mother died and he went to live with an aunt in Cambridge. His father was still alive, and might have been living in Stowe at the time, but there is reason to think he was not on good terms with the rest of the family. And more important, by the time Benjamin enlisted in 1862, the town of Sterling no longer existed.

Sterling was dominated by some of the roughest terrain in Vermont. It included the northern end of Mount Mansfield, the highest mountain in the state; Sterling Mountain; and most of the Sterling Range. By the mid-19th Century, there were still only a few pockets of settlement on the edges of the town. In the 1850s, the town was finally abolished, with its territory divided among the neighboring towns of Cambridge, Johnson, Morristown and Stowe. The next town to the south, Mansfield, shared the problems caused by the mountainous terrain, and also was disestablished.

Most of the Sterling town records were transferred to Morristown. But not all, contrary to what the LDS Family History Library Catalog says. It is therefore not surprising that many years later, when the Morristown Town Clerk sent vital record information to the state, the Sterling locations apparently were reported as Morristown. And since Benjamin may have lived in Stowe when his mother died, and his father lived there later, it is not surprising that Stowe shows up as his birthplace. Research in various sources has also found that other events that happened in Sterling are variously reported as having happened in Morristown, Johnson or Stowe. Sometimes there is an effort to identify the town based on which town absorbed the relevant portion of Sterling, but even that does not help in the case of Benjamin. George Kentfield's farm was near the line in Sterling where the later split between Johnson and Morristown would occur, and surveying uncertainties have prevented us so far from determining its exact location.

The only remaining doubt comes from the possibility that Benjamin's parents might have been living with his mother's relatives, the Dikes. Two of his father's sisters married brothers of his mother. There were Dikes in both Sterling and Morristown, and they seem to have been a very close family. But Benjamin's brother, two years older than him, and his sister, three years younger, both were recorded as born in Sterling. It's possible that Benjamin's parents moved away, then moved back, but no record anywhere has turned up of Benjamin's birth, and a gap in the Sterling records is more likely. So based on all the research to date, it seems highly likely that Benjamin's parents were living with George the Elder and some of his other children in 1820, when Benjamin was born. In Sterling.