President & CEO’s Corner

View from the family tree

New articles from our President and CEO will be posted here quarterly.

Dear friends,

As the seasons progress, I am reminded not just of the change of seasons, but the passing of time in our lives and at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, one of our nation’s great institutional treasures, now in our 170th year. Even now, we continue to bud and bloom.

Recently, our “oak leaf” logo made its institutional debut. Inspired by a detail in the 1852 lithographed Peabody family tree in our collections, this motif carries great meaning in our field and in our own history as the nation’s founding genealogical society. For centuries, the oak tree and its leaves have occupied an important place in the symbolism and iconography of family history. It has long been cherished as a motif in printed and manuscript family trees, documents that record generations as they branch from past to present. It recalls the phrase “mighty oaks from little acorns grow,” an expression used since the time of Chaucer that aptly characterizes family growth over generations. The oak tree’s distinctive leaf symbolizes attributes of strength, endurance, and the everlasting nature of our legacies, just as it mirrors our unique role as the founding genealogical organization in America.

The oak leaf symbol created to accompany our New England Historic Genealogical Society and American Ancestors brands has five nodules — signifying the five core elements that comprise our organization’s offerings to our membership:

  • Expert staff
  • Educational opportunities
  • Original scholarship
  • World-class research center
  • Data-rich website

  • With the sprouting of this new leaf, we are reminded of our commitment “to educate, inspire, and connect” as we advance the study of family history in America and beyond. We have made huge strides as an organization in the last two decades. Only twenty short years ago, the vast majority of our members took best advantage of our offerings by visiting our library in Boston. While we always want visitors to experience the best in genealogy in person, I am proud we have made dramatic advancements in offering our services in new ways, using new technologies, and doing so without losing touch of our core values and our important traditions. We were among the very first genealogical entities to go online (in 1996) and spread our intellectual capital nationwide. And, as we evolved as a forward-thinking nonprofit, we expanded our constituencies to include more diverse audiences, embraced innovation, and, as a result, today interact with and educate almost one million users a year.

    While there are many new opportunities and exciting challenges ahead for NEHGS, I pause as winter fades and spring begins to bloom, to honor how very far we have come in such a short time, and our special responsibility as stewards of the most trusted name in genealogy.

    Warmest regards,

    D. Brenton Simons
    President and CEO

    Dear friends,

    As our 170th anniversary year commences, I am tremendously proud not just of our long history as the most respected name in genealogy, but also of several of our most recent accomplishments: Together, we acquired an adjacent building, at 97 Newbury Street, for our future expansion, launched an all-new AmericanAncestors.org website that will soon provide constituents access to billions of records, opened a portal to expert research advice and unique content to thousands of friends via our new online webinar series, introduced a now widely popular new blog, Vita Brevis, and much, much more!

    In November, we had the opportunity to demonstrate to a large group of our supporters the expert skills of our research team when, at a benefit dinner hosted by NEHGS, we presented the legendary Dame Angela Lansbury with a detailed genealogy of her family. We were deeply grateful that she made time to help support our Capital Campaign through this special appearance, and further, we were touched when her family later wrote to say that our event “was perfect in every way” and the visit “a memory of being as happy as one could possibly be.” This was an exciting moment to show our team’s many talents and honor a most beloved performer who appreciates and supports what we do at NEHGS.

    And now we begin an ambitious 170th anniversary year at NEHGS. I am especially pleased by the new design and enhanced concept for our esteemed Register, the flagship journal of American genealogy. The oldest and most influential journal in our field, The Register has set the highest standard for family history research since its inception in 1847. It publishes authoritative compiled genealogies, problem-solving articles, immigrant origins, and source material. Today, I share with you a preview of our plans to better serve and engage our existing constituents and introduce our scholarship to many others, beginning with the Winter 2015 issue.

    The newly enhanced Register will feature a broadened, national geographic scope to include worthy articles beyond the borders of New England of great value to our members, while retaining its strengths in New England, New York, and out-migrations from New England. At the same time, our editors will seek articles covering more recent time periods, such as nineteenth- and twentieth-century origins, compiled genealogies, and source records, as well as dedicate attention to populations and communities that have heretofore been underserved in the pages of our journal.

    Our newly updated format will include expanded editorial commentary by editors Henry Hoff and Helen Schatvet Ullmann. They will use this opportunity to provide expert advice ― for example, pointing out why certain source material or a particular analysis is important, and, in doing so, help educate our readers by advancing their research and methodological skills.

    To better serve our constituents, we have taken advantage of the recent redesign of AmericanAncestors.org to better showcase our easy-to-use electronic version of The Register. Now we will also provide new images and supplementary material for it online, as well as preview one or more feature articles in advance. In this way, you will receive more of The Register, and receive it more quickly, too!

    Ultimately, by refreshing and expanding the content of The Register, we aim to ensure that both new and existing scholars continue to find the most effective venue for their discoveries and a platform for their influential research to be shared. We are deeply committed though our publications — and indeed through all of our services at NEHGS ― to increasing the skills of family historians of all ages and across all cultures. In the coming weeks, we will issue a challenge to our members to submit new works to The Register, to take advantage of the rigorous editing process that trains new authors in the best practices of genealogical research, meticulous analysis, and clear and effective writing.

    Finally, I am delighted that our electronic newsletter, The Weekly Genealogist, has also benefitted from a new design. Every edition now reaches more than 73,000 friends across the United States and abroad. I hope you will continue to enjoy these offerings, and many others from NEHGS, in what will be a wonderful 170th anniversary year!

    Happy new year!

    D. Brenton Simons
    President and CEO

    Dear friends,

    I am delighted to underscore my recent announcement that over two years we will add 2.2 billion records to AmericanAncestors.org! This will happen through a strategic partnership that will totally transform our online presence. I am also pleased to first share with you, a close friend of NEHGS, that we will launch a completely new version of our website, AmericanAncestors.org, later this month. It will include the first 100 million of these records, nearly doubling overnight the number of searchable records we offer you and tens of thousands of our loyal users.

    We have worked hard behind-the-scenes for more than a year to transform, upgrade, and improve our website. I want to thank our dedicated staff, board, and council members, as well as our partners and members at large, for valuable help in this important process. The all-new AmericanAncestors.org will have many exciting features, includingthe opportunity to “browse,” and thus improve your searches and the discovery process. We have also simplified navigation, with more user-friendly organization of our content; and we added a new “help” section, including tool tips to assist with any questions you have during your searches. Finally, we will launch with an interface that instantly adapts to smart phones, tablets, and other mobile devices, upgrading our site to accommodate the growing needs of researchers working remotely from home. Personally, I am really looking forward to using the all-new AmericanAncestors.org on my iPad at home!

    In the fullness of time, our databases will also include the complete U.S. federal census transcripts, civil registrations for Italy, Germany, Scotland, and the Netherlands, data for other countries around the globe, and a panoply of birth, marriage, and death records for states across the USA.

    In related news: last month, we crossed the historic milestone of raising $50 million of our $55 million Capital Campaign goal. We set ambitious goals, and with your help, we are reaching them! Your tremendous support of this campaign is vital to our continued work to make more collections and services available to genealogists, historians, and educators. It will enhance our technological functionality to meet your needs, and will preserve the rich heritage of American families and communities for generations to come.

    All of these resources and more are made available because of the vital support of our members and donors, like you. This help ensures our ability to Connect Families and Advance History. Your help is more important than ever to fulfill the great promise of our Capital Campaign as we raise the final $5 million of our goal.

    Thank you for your love of family and local history, and thank you for your dedication to helping NEHGS in our mission to ensure that present and future generations have access to unique family stories and to high-quality, carefully vetted information ― attributes that set us apart from so many others. With your help, we can make great things continue to happen at NEHGS and beyond!

    Warmest regards,

    D. Brenton Simons
    President and CEO