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  • #10 Royal Descents, Notable Kin, and Printed Sources: New England Printed Primary Records at NEHGS

    Gary Boyd Roberts

    Published Date : September 26, 1986

    One of my more popular lectures, or at least one often delivered, is a general description of NEHGS holdings on New England. Since we own only somewhat less than everything in print on this region, I have also labelled this lecture "The New England Core in Print." Much of it--the best classic genealogies, the best town histories, the best journals, and the best 19th century immigration material-- have been covered in the last four columns. Even more--on new compendia and databases, English origins, royal descents, Mayflower sources, multi-ancestor works, and new "town" genealogies--are covered in the bibliographical essay on recent progress in 17th century genealogy which I contributed to the Sesquicentennial issue (Oct. 1996) of the Register. Another section, on new sources for the 1750-1850 "century of lost ancestors" became the article I submitted to the 75th anniversary issue (Aug-Oct. 1997) of The American Genealogist. The major other sections of this talk cover what might be called printed primary records--vital data, census indexes and transcriptions, and will indexes and abstracts. Our census holdings I can briefly summarize as all of New England through 1910 (with   Soundex Indexes for the 1880 and 1910) plus NH through 1920.  We have some of the 1910 census for the rest of the country, much material through 1850, and films for scattered other states. Copies of all New England censuses, 1790-1920, plus all Soundexes, are at the local federal records and archives center (the National Archives) in Waltham.


    The Society owns all Massachusetts printed vital records, including the approximately 75 VR volumes we published in the early decades of this century, plus of course our recent volumes on Charlestown (1984,1995), Pepperrell (1985), Swansea and Townsend (1992), and Sandwich (1996), all except Swansea still available from our sales department. A recent acquisition is a sizeable portion of the Mass. VR collection of my longtime friend, Jay Mack Holbrook of Oxford, Mass. Jay and his wife have photographed all VR documents in most Mass. towns; their microfiche includes whatever indexes or guides the town clerks prepared, and of course is in original 17th, 18th, or 19th century handwriting. NEHGS also owns films of all Mass. births, marriages, and deaths, 1841 to 1905 (Boston since 1847 or so), plus indexes; the originals of this series are at the Mass. State Archives. These VRs are the country's oldest, designed by Society founder Lemuel Shattuck. All records, if complete, contain names of parents (even of people dying) and most after say the Civil War include the mother's maiden surname. For the period after 1905 we have indexes only, at present of births for 1906-1910, 1926-1935, 1941-1945  marriages through 1925, and deaths through the mid-1970s. For Connecticut we have the Barbour Collection of civically recorded pre-1850 VRs, but nothing thereafter ( 1851-1897 records are still in the individual towns). We have long owned Arnold's Vital Records of Rhode Island plus Alden Beaman's additions to it (mostly Washington Co. or Newport) and the Providence VR series through 1940. A recent acquisition on film were the Rhode Island births and marriages 1853-94 and deaths 1853-1900. We hold the Vermont VRs from the 1760s to 1908, those of NH through 1900 (cumbersomely arranged, by 1st and 3rd letter of the surname), and 80 Maine towns through 1892, plus the entire state 1892-1954. In general then we own films of all original VRs, not only at the Mass. State Archives, but also at the Conn. State Library, and, pre-1900, at Providence, RI,   Middlesex, Vt., and Concord, NH. When these are combined with our VRs for Atlantic Canada--everything readily available in Halifax, St. John, and Charlottetown, again, I believe, to 1900 or almost so--our holdings include most available pre-20th century VRs for areas north and east of New York City. As we also acquire wills and deeds, for Mass. and northern New England especially, we are becoming a major regional archive of original records.

    Census indexes include all New England states through 1860, and 1870 for Cumberland Co. Maine and Rhode Island, plus 1870 Mass. on CD-ROM. Also available are Ann Lainhart's transcriptions of 1855-65 Mass. state censuses for many towns. Will indexes include those for Suffolk Co. (Boston) through the mid-20th century, and for Middlesex, Norfolk, and Worcester counties, until usually the early 20th century. These volumes are the same as those originally in the four county courthouses, now generally at the State Archives, and cover what might be called Mass. central. For Mass. north there is Melinde Sanborn's index of Essex Co. probates, and for Mass. south (Mayflower country) there are Ralph V. Wood's index for Plymouth Co and two vols. of Bristol Co. abstracts (through 1762) by the late H.L. "Peter" Rounds.

    I will conclude this column by noting the enormous increase in the ease of research when a major collection of genealogical books is accompanied by a major archive of original materials, both growing. Access to the Mormon Family Search program, plus the privilege of borrowing films from Salt Lake City, make the combination even better. I hope other major book libraries will consider acquiring copies of the VRs, wills, and deeds of their regions. I know that some libraries have indeed begun such an effort, or have it considerably underway. The staff and many library patrons at NEHGS are grateful indeed for our much improved coverage of the American and Canadian northeast.
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