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  • #2 Royal Descents, Notable Kin, and Printed Sources: The American Genealogical-Biographical Index (AGBI)

    Gary Boyd Roberts

    Published Date : March 14, 1986
    Last week I spoke about using heraldic visitations. I have written several times on the three giant databases that now enable us to solve at least some of our most difficult New England "problems". The first two databases are the International Genealogical Index, and the Consolidated Index to The NewEngland Historical and Genealogical Register, vols. 1-148, itself in six volumes (this index was also included in our sesquicentennial publication of the Register on CD-ROM; both the printed indexes and the CD-ROM Register can be purchased from our sales department).

    I wish today to talk a bit about the third database, The American Genealogical-Biographical Index to American Genealogical, Biographical and Local History Materials, which our staff calls "AGBI." The most recent volume on our shelves is 194, covering Wheelers from Elizabeth to Sarah. Four or five volumes of this series are published annually, and it is much hoped that the final volume will appear before the century’s end. This work is published by The Godfrey Memorial Library, 134 Newfield Street, Middletown, CT 06457 and is an index to nearly every volume in its possession. Especially valuable are its index of the entire 1790 census—so we can learn quickly in which states rare names can be found; of all published Revolutionary soldier rosters; and of the invaluable genealogical column of the Boston EveningTranscript.

    This last deserves a few more words. The Boston Evening Transcript, like the New York Times today, was a newspaper of record. Its genealogical column, which usually ran twice or more a week for several decades in the early twentieth century, was often an exchange among the most devoted and scholarly genealogists of the day. Many materials not published elsewhere are published therein, and even finding your ancestor only in a query (which often asks basically the same question you have) tells you that very probably nothing more was then known. The coverage of the column is almost altogether New England, and AGBI generally has a New England emphasis. Probably the heyday of the Transcript column was the 1920s.

    A recent experience in helping a member in the Society’s library may have wider ramifications. The researcher was combing Cole sources for a very rare first name, and could perhaps find some primary data, but nothing in print. I suggested trying the Cowles genealogy. The hunch paid off and there was the man, his agnate ancestors, and even his children and grandchildren. Moral of the story--over time names or name spellings may be simplified to the point where they become the same as another well-known surname. Often, too, names are spelled in official records as they are pronounced or American immigrants or their children spell the name phonetically because they think it’s easier. The mother of NEHGS Executive Director Ralph Crandall was a Watrous which is pronounced that way in Yorkshire, England, but was there spelled Waterhouse.

    In 1996 I edited Massachusetts and Maine Families in the Ancestry of Walter Goodwin Davis. I hope that the success of this effort will inspire more edited reprint sets of multi-ancestor works. In particular I thought of Dawes-Gates (all the ancestry of the vice-president) and the four books commissioned by Mrs. Charles Stinson Pillsbury of the Minneapolis flour family from Mary and Winifred Lovering Holman (the two-volume Pillsbury genealogy and the two Stevens-Miller compendia). Other possibilities include the volumes of J. H. Cory, Edith B. Sumner, and the works Jacobus compiled for the Watermans (Waterman, Granberry, and Hale-House) or N.G. Parke II.

    These works should all be examined by serious genealogists. There is sometimes a geographical emphasis but almost every researcher with much New England ancestry will find several ancestors in each of these series. The most detailed and perhaps the most minutely documented is the Dawes-Gates compendium. If you share an ancestor with Vice-President Charles Gates Dawes you need seldom to look further. Of the dozen or so works I used to document the New England ancestry of the late Princess of Wales, two-thirds were such multi-ancestor works.

    In the last week or so I have been editing various chapters of Notable Kin, Volume Two. Pocahontas lost her English descendants (thanks to an article by William Thorndale in The Virginia Genealogist (vol. 34: 1990, 209-13). Thanks to Richard Brenneman, Marilyn Monroe has more maternal ancestors; and additions to New Englanders in Texas include Senator John Tower and current governor and presidential son George Walker Bush.
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