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Benjamin Franklin and the Hist-Gen

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View from the Family Tree

Last summer I had the pleasure of visiting the New Hampshire Antiques Show with Susan Sloan, a trustee and board secretary of the New England Historic Genealogical Society.  The former publisher of Sloan’s Green Guide to Antique Dealers, Susan has a keen eye when it comes to discovering “treasures,” especially those with intriguing genealogical connections. Seasoned hunters, we were both surprised by a discovery there associated with the early history of NEHGS, a time when the Society played an important and visible role in the civic events of Boston.


Shortly after arriving at the show, I was approached by the affable Richard Thorner of Resser-Thorner Antiques. Richard, who has been a member of NEHGS, enticed me with his greeting: “I’ve been hoping to see you at a show for several months; I’ve got something you will want.”  “What could it be?,” I wondered.  Like all genealogists, I have a tendency to collect too many things, and Richard is well acquainted with my interests. We proceeded to his booth, where he opened an envelope with a slightly crumpled piece of paper.  What he revealed was the original printing proof and receipt for a “badge” or ribbon printed for the New England Historic Genealogical Society on the occasion of the inauguration of a statue commemorating Benjamin Franklin in Boston on September 17, 1856. Added to this was a red silk ribbon used at the same event.  Happily, all three items are now in the collections of NEHGS.

Benjamin Franklin Large

The so-called “badges” used at the “Franklin Festival” were undoubtedly worn by officers of NEHGS, who must have walked in the public procession behind the institution’s lustrous silk and gold tasseled banner, a fragile and beautifully decorated item still in our collections. Tellingly, both the “badges” and receipt identify NEHGS as the “N. E. Hist-Gen.” For me, this settles the question of whether the founding generation intended our organization’s name to be abbreviated as “Hist-Gen” or “His-Gen,” a variation favored by some. Either way, these strange sounding nicknames are not ones we especially cherish today. Our branding efforts have moved in other, broader directions as our national identify becomes better known. But these small objects found by a friend of NEHGS commemorate our institution’s early role in celebrating American history and recognizing one of Boston’s most important native sons.


This month marks the anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin on January 17, 1706 (o.s., January 6, 1705). We know from Franklin’s writings of his interest in family history and NEHGS has some interesting associations with it. Michael Leclerc, our Director of Special Projects, has extensively researched descendants of the Franklin family and in 2010 NEHGS acquired a magnificent, hand-drawn Folger family tree (representing Franklin’s maternal ancestry) made in 1866 by William C. Folger “and executed by me at the age of sixty with my left hand.” This rare and decorative family tree complements the extensive genealogical collections of its author already in our archives. These connections are just a few of the many millions of items and artifacts at NEHGS that tie us not only to significant events and individuals in American history but also shed light on the everyday world our ancestors knew intimately and directly.

D. Brenton Simons
President and CEO
New England Historic Genealogical Society
99 - 101 Newbury Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116, USA

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