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  • Ethnic Manuscript Collections at NEHGS

    Timothy G.X. Salls

    What surnames come to mind when you think of NEHGS — Alden, Bradford, Cooke, Fuller, Standish, and Winslow or perhaps Adams, Cabot, Forbes, Lowell, Quincy, and Winthrop? While our library has many sources on the prominent families of New England history, the NEHGS acquisitions committee has placed significant emphasis on acquiring resources that assist research on nineteenth and twentieth-century immigrant families as well as African-American and Native-American families. Unfortunately, for long the manuscript collection was not a particularly strong source for ethnic research, but this situation is slowly changing. Descriptions of some of the collections recently acquired by the R. Stanton Avery Special Collections Department (all since 1997) will illustrate the kinds of records NEHGS is seeking to enrich our holdings.

    Brotherton Indian Collection (Mss 395)

    NEHGS received the Brotherton[1] Indian Collection in 1997. It contains the research of Rudi Ottery, tribal genealogist for the Brothertons and Certified American Indian Lineage Specialist. The collection contains records on the Brotherton Indians including tribal rolls, censuses, charts of descendants from Brotherton progenitors, and enrollment files collected from individuals of Brotherton descent wishing to be placed on the Brotherton Indian rolls. The enrollment files include supporting documentation such as notes, family group sheets, correspondence, vital records, newspaper articles, land records, and some photographs. The collection also contains photocopies of historical records, including treaties, deeds, government reports, powers of attorney, letters, and other documents primarily concerning the tribe’s land dealings.

    Clifford Abbott Papers

    NEHGS received this collection in 2002. Besides researching his own ancestors, NEHGS member Clifford Abbott has been documenting Polish families who settled in Newmarket, New Hampshire. The first Polish family settled in Newmarket around 1893, but the majority came between 1900 and World War I. Clifford conducted one-on-one interviews with many of the immigrants, as well as members of subsequent generations. He supplemented this information with data from town reports, federal census, obituaries, and naturalization records. It would be wonderful if more towns had genealogists as dedicated as Mr. Abbott to record the personal knowledge of immigrants — knowledge invaluable to future generations. This collection is currently being processed and will be available to patrons soon.

    A chart from the Clifford Abbot 

    Diary of Edwin Swan Dahl

    NEHGS received these diaries in 2003. Edwin S. Dahl immigrated to America from Sweden with his widowed mother and two older brothers in 1889. He graduated from Garrett Theological Seminary, now part of Northwestern University, and kept a diary each year of his ministry, from 1900 to 1977. There are ninety volumes all. The diary entries primarily concern ministerial duties and notes on family activities; however, some volumes also include baptisms, marriages, and funerals that he attended. Edwin was a minister for predominately Swedish congregations in the Chicago, Illinois, area, then in Brooklyn, New York, and Chelsea and Worcester, Massachusetts. Edwin finally ended his career and a second retirement job in East Douglas, Massachusetts, at the age of eighty-one. He moved to Lynchburg, Virgina, to be near his two daughters and died in 1985, only two months shy of his one hundred and fourth birthday. This collection is currently being processed and will be available to patrons soon.

    The special collections department does have a few other collections of this type, although their primary focus isn’t specifically ethnic or single families. The Richard Andrew Pierce papers (Mss 484), for example, consist of client research that includes many Irish and a few Italian families. The Society has three boxes of papers, 1685–1787, kept by the Company for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England and Parts Adjacent in America, that contains data used by scholars researching Native-Americans. In 2002, the special collections department received probably our first genealogy in Chinese called The Chou’s family from China: original inhabitants of the village of ZhouHan, town of JiangShanzhen, county of YinXian, province of ZheJiang (in traditional Chinese) written by Thomas Chou. The forty-two page genealogy focuses on the ancestors of Mr. Chou who emigrated from China and settled in Connecticut. In addition, the Ed Friendly Papers, currently waiting to be processed, is our first significant Jewish collection.

    Ethnic Manuscripts Collection

    Traditionally, NEHGS manuscript sources for ethnic genealogy were limited in scope and often “buried” within other collections. Good examples are manuscript resources held by NEHGS for African-American research described in Beth Anne Bower’s “African American Family History Resources at NEHGS” on (see Educational Center>Articles and Publications>African American Research in New England). As more of the manuscript collection is processed and cataloged, finding “hidden gems” will become easier. In addition, a better understanding of the kinds of data within our collection will enable the Society to expand those holdings in both quantity and quality. NEHGS will continue to acquire collections like those discussed above, in addition to more “traditional” material, to assist all patrons in researching their ancestors. Perhaps soon surnames such as Aupaument, Skeesuck, Jablonski, Kartaszewicz, Wojcik, and Chou will come to mind also when you think of NEHGS!

    Timothy G.X. Salls is archivist at NEHGS.


    1 Also known as Brothertown.

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