This week we continue an occasional feature designed to familiarize readers with the many departments at NEHGS. This week’s profile of Special Collections is written by department director Timothy Salls.
The NEHGS Special Collections consists of the Society's manuscript holdings, visual materials, and institutional archives. Named in 2008 for R. Stanton Avery (1907–1997), the department is staffed by Manager of Manuscript Collections Timothy Salls; Archivist Judith Lucey; Archives Assistant Robert Shaw; and Special Collections Assistant Sally Benny; as well as a dedicated team of volunteers and college interns.
The NEHGS R. Stanton Avery Special Collections complements the print, microform, and electronic holdings of the Society’s Research Library by collecting, organizing, preserving, and providing access to manuscripts and visual material that support the research of American families and local history. A manuscript is an unpublished manually produced document such as a handwritten letter, Bible record, or a diary. The Society's holdings of visual materials include photographs, prints, broadsides, and other graphics.
Donations to the Special Collections are solicited through articles and announcements in American Ancestors magazine and website, staff discussions with patrons; lectures; and the Preserving New England Records initiative led by Ralph Crandall. Recently some capital raised through the Society’s "Connecting Families, Advancing History" campaign has been used to establish a new fund to acquire manuscripts, visual materials, and other items that enhance the Society holdings.
Appraisals of potential donations to ensure a fit with the Society’s collection guidelines are usually accomplished by email or telephone. Some appraisals require the staff to travel and review the items in person. Although most donations are either delivered or shipped to NEHGS, special collections staff have traveled to various locations throughout New England to pack and transfer collections to NEHGS. Once the manuscript arrives at NEHGS, an acknowledgement letter and deed of gift (for primary source material) are produced for the donor. A deed of gift transfers intellectual and physical ownership to NEHGS, which is necessary for the long-term stewardship of a collection.
Discrete manuscript items that fit in a single archival folder are immediately placed in the queue for cataloging. Large collections are sent to an offsite storage facility until retrieved and assigned to an intern or staff member for processing. Processing prepares collections for researcher access while supporting their long-term survival. The collection is arranged in a logical and useful order, if one does not already exist, and a collection guide is produced. A list of finding aids available through the library database catalog (as well as manuscript items with images in the digital archive) is available on our website. Once the finding aid is completed, a catalog record for the collection is produced for the OCLC WorldCat database and NEHGS library database catalog.
NEHGS members may request manuscripts at the reference desk, Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The reference desk staff member or volunteer calls the Special Collections office for the items to be pulled and brought to the reading room for the patron, assists with use of the collection, supervises the proper handling of documents, and records details concerning the manuscript’s use.
Access to the R. Stanton Avery Special Collections is a benefit of NEHGS membership. For more information on the Special Collections, please visit our website or email Tim Salls.
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In response to the June 27 article by George McKinney on “Free eBooks for Genealogy Research,” two Weekly Genealogist readers shared their own recommendations for eBook sources.
Mollie Lynch of Clarkston, Michigan:
As a retired librarian, I needed a hobby and wanted to assist people doing genealogical research so I started genealogybooklinks.com. I began locating and providing links to freely available digital books, focusing on American biographies, genealogies, and history books. Today there are over 30,000 links from more than 35 sources (only the top sources are listed on the site). The current focus is on surnames, directories, vital records, and identifying smaller sites with local area-specific books.
Dee Grimsrud, a retired Wisconsin Historical Society archivist from Madison, Wisconsin:
The Wisconsin Historical Society has numerous county histories scanned, searchable, and free.