Tag Archives: The Well-Stocked Genealogical Library

Getting the most out of a library visit

A few years ago, I was having dinner with some friends when I learned that one of them did not know what microfilm was. This conversation then turned to talking about why only some of us had heard of and used microfilm and others had never heard of it. As a new archivist (at the time), but a relatively seasoned researcher, I was shocked. It is conversations like that that remind me that not everyone knows why archives and libraries do the things that they do, which can seem intimidating. For someone visiting a repository for the first time, there are a few things that you should expect and can do ahead of time to maximize the amount of time you have available to look through material. Continue reading Getting the most out of a library visit

Fluid genealogy

By now followers of my Vita Brevis posts are well aware that no genealogy is perfect. Period. No matter who wrote it.

The old mindset that a work published in a book or an article is automatically complete and completely accurate should be dead by now. The problem has always been that, once a book is in print, there is no practical way of updating and correcting information without reprinting the entire book.

On the other hand, modern electronic publication (in theory) offers endless opportunity to keep a genealogy “live.” Continue reading Fluid genealogy

Become an expert

I did not learn to spell properly until I learned to type at the Katharine Gibbs School. This may have had something to do with my less-than-perfect handwriting. Seeing a word in type instead of scribble helps me spot the errors.

In genealogy, of course, we run into all kinds of spellings, and it is hard to decide whether we should use the literal spelling from the record or modernize and standardize the word or name. I have had to standardize words for clients who simply could not deal with “misspellings.” Also, in the case of documents where superscripts and abbreviations are used, like “ye” for “the” or strange letters, such as “ff” for capital F, converting to typed text is all the more complicated. Continue reading Become an expert

Warnings out

William Burgis, “Detail from a south east view of ye great town of Boston in New England in America,” ca. 1722-23. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library

The practice of “warning out” individuals from New England communities can be traced to the mid-seventeenth century, and served as a method of pressuring (potentially troublesome) outsiders to leave town and settle elsewhere. In his Warnings Out in New England, Josiah Henry Benton explained that the roots of this practice could be found in English law. As he put it, New England settlers “necessarily brought with them the ancient and fundamental principles of the English law, one of which was that the inhabitants of a municipality were responsible for the conduct and support of each other, each for all and all for each.”[1] Continue reading Warnings out

Multiple versions

In checking a source for an article in Mayflower Descendant, I was reminded of the need to check the various versions of early vital records. For many towns in Massachusetts, there are often three pre-1850 versions: 1) the published transcription (often called the “tan books”), 2) the Jay Mack Holbrook collection (on microfiche at NEHGS and digitized on Ancestry.com), and 3) the original vital records (often on microfilm and sometimes digitized on familysearch.org and/or Ancestry.com). Our handbook to New England genealogy is useful in determining which versions beyond the original records exist. Continue reading Multiple versions

What’s new in the Library?

The NEHGS Library is always adding new and interesting items to our collections. These come from purchases we make, and from numerous donations to the Society.

You can keep current with additions to our collections by viewing our monthly list of new titles, available through the library’s online catalog. Check here to view new items from the past few months. A new list will be posted at the beginning of each month, along with occasional special featured lists. Currently we have a list of genealogies with online versions, and a list of Italian genealogy and history titles. You can find new materials, and other featured lists, from the main search screen of the library catalog, as shown at left: Continue reading What’s new in the Library?

JSTOR.org

In days of yore, when I was in college, locating published articles on historical topics required hours sifting through library stacks and individual journal indexes, then laboriously photocopying each page of each article. Thankfully, in today’s digital world, we have JSTOR.org, with instant access to full indexes of every journal in their collection (not limited to historical titles) and the ability to download PDF files of the articles to our desktop and print at home. Continue reading JSTOR.org

‘For a wolf to an Indian’

I have just received the last volume in Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs’ Plymouth Colony town records series – see my earlier post on the records of Sandwich and Eastham. The Town Records of Duxbury, Bridgewater, and Dartmouth during the Time of Plymouth Colony, 1620–1692, like Sandwich and Eastham, is published on-demand through Lulu.com. Jeremy also has two other volumes available through Lulu.com: the town records of Marshfield and Plymouth Colony Records. Deeds, &c. vol. II, 1651–1663. I have these latter two on order.

The arrangement of this new volume is identical to that of Sandwich and Eastham, with names indexed to the dates of records in the Records Calendar that includes abstracts from both town and colony sources. The Calendar, in turn, then refers to the page number of the original transcription in the Records Transcriptions section. Continue reading ‘For a wolf to an Indian’

Cambridge Cameos

Reading Alicia Crane Williams’s post on Sex in Middlesex reminded me of another great work by Roger Thompson – Cambridge Cameos – Stories of Life in Seventeenth-Century New England, which contains forty-four sketches from the period 1651 to 1686. They are fascinating stories involving mostly ordinary people. Some of the more colorful chapters cover Brutality or Bloodsucking; Town versus Gown; Witchcraft or Madness; and A Subversive Physician. These vignettes are based on thousands of original documents Thompson examined that provide a rare chance to hear firsthand accounts of many seventeenth century New Englanders. Continue reading Cambridge Cameos

Deference to defiance

The last of Roger Thompson’s books on my shelf, and the biggest (593 pages including index), is From Deference to Defiance, Charlestown, Massachusetts, 1629–1692. Published in 2012 by NEHGS, this is the last of Thompson’s works on three founding colonial towns – Watertown, Cambridge,[1] and Charlestown. It is a pièce de résistance for descendants of Charlestown families – including a sketch on one of my most interesting ancestors, Phineas Pratt, who died in Charlestown at the age of 90 after surviving in his younger days a heroic, solitary trip through frozen woods to bring rescuers to the aid of Weymouth settlers in 1623. Continue reading Deference to defiance