American Ancestors New England Historic Genealogical Society - Founded 1845 N.E. Historic Genealogical Society Seal View Your Shopping Cart Join NEHGS
  • #34 Royal Descents, Notable Kin, and Printed Sources: Spotting Easy-to-Trace Lines, Part 1

    Gary Boyd Roberts

    At this summer’s two sessions of “Come Home to New England,” I have spoken and will speak on identifying lines readily traceable in printed sources. As my readers well know, a large quantity of my research concerns the “New England family” - probably 100 million contemporary Americans descended from 5-8,000 Great Migration immigrants of 1620-50. If you have 50 or more sets (husbands and wives) of Great Migration immigrant forebears, you are probably related to almost all of the 100 million, within the range of 8th-12th cousins. The probability of kinship to notables is fully 100 percent, and the number of such “household name” distant kin probably surpasses 500, possibly 1000.

    I trace notables, including new American presidents, by first looking at biographies in large bookstore chains or new-book racks at leading libraries. I also check Current Biography, sometimes “Names-in-the-News” New York Times profiles, and if the person is the child of someone who is somewhat notable, the National Cyclopaedia of American Biography (75 vols., completed in the late 1970s, sometimes still useful for living Americans), social registers (consolidated since the late 1970s), Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Dartmouth class books, and New York Times obituaries. For notables with Massachusetts origins, or with a parent or grandparent from Massachusetts, I usually check the post-1841 vital records on microfilm here at NEHGS; for natives of Maine (born after 1892), New Hampshire (born before 1900), Vermont (born before 1955), or Rhode Island (born before the early 1890s), I can check pertinent vital records at NEHGS as well.

    I sometimes consult the often erroneous but still useful Compendium of American Genealogy, edited by F. A. Virkus between 1925 and 1942, especially volume 1, for the parents or grandparents of notables. I also often check county mugbooks for natives of the mid- or far West esp., and when in Salt Lake City, I sometimes use the Mormon family group sheets compiled between 1942 and 1969 for the immediate ancestry of Mormons who have become prominent in American life. Thereafter - for earlier forebears of notables -- I use the usual printed genealogical sources. For notables or socially prominent persons, biographies, social registers, college class books, and obituaries in national newspapers “of record” serve as a substitute for oral knowledge and “family sources.” Five generations back, the ancestry of notables is much like anyone else’s - in fact, five generations back is probably about the point at which you will begin to share ancestors with “household names” of whose kinship to your family you are completely unaware.

    With a set of charts or a few names of ancestors - which I usually have for Society library patrons or notables for whom I have culled available information from the above sources - I usually begin by checking “classic” (1860-1914) or “modern” (post-World War I) “revisionist” genealogies. About these, and the remainder of the sources I shall list below, I have written in more detail in previous columns - or in articles no doubt indexed in PERSI. I then check New England “town genealogies,” of which the best cover 1) Cambridge, Charlestown, Watertown, Lexington, and Newton (Middlesex Co., near Boston); 2) Braintree (the Sprague collection on microfilm), Hingham, Weymouth, Cohasset, Scituate (the manuscript H. W. Welch collection) and Hull (the 1988-89 Register articles by Ethel F. Smith on its 17th century families); 3) Bridgewater, Plymouth, Barnstable (these three only partial and with some mistakes), Cape Cod (“Genealogical Notes on Cape Cod Families” on microfilm, and sometimes the 2-vol. Library of Cape Cod Genealogy), Martha’s Vineyard (NEHGS owns the original notes of C. E. Banks, with one further generation for all families), and Nantucket (Starbuck’s history, plus the lavishly annotated published VRs); 4) Salem, Rowley, and Salisbury/Amesbury (Essex Co.); 5) Springfield (the typescript by T. E. Warren), Northampton and Pittsfield (in the Corbin Collection on microfilm), Hadley, Hatfield, Deerfield, Northfield, Amherst, Sunderland, and Whately (western Mass.); 6) Hartford (Barbour), New Haven and Fairfield (both 3-vol. sets by Jacobus), New London (manuscript by C. D. Parkhurst), Woodstock (8 vols., Bowen), Milford (Abbott), and Guilford (Talcott) (Conn.); and 7) Little Compton (Wilbour) and Bristol (Saunders) (R.I.).

    If your family is from Connecticut or Rhode Island, check Genealogies of Connecticut Families From NEHGR, 3 vols., Genealogies of Rhode Island Families From Rhode Island Periodicals, and From NEHGR,4 vols. total, the (L. B.) Barbour Collection of civically-recorded pre-1850 Conn. VRs, and the printed Rhode Island vital records by Arnold and Beaman, plus those for Providence through 1940, and the R.I. VRs on microfilm mentioned above. If your ancestors are from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont or Maine, check the VRs mentioned above plus, for Maine, the Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire (for N.H. also), Maine Probate Abstracts (3 vols., to 1850), Maine Families in 1790 (6 vols. to date), and Massachusetts and Maine Families in the Ancestry of Walter Goodwin Davis (3 vols., consolidated in 1996). For Vermont ancestors, check Vermont Families in 1791 (2 vols. to date). For New Hampshire families, check the surname index to New Hampshire town histories by William Copeley.

    To check the periodical literature, which one should do for all hard problems especially, consult PERSI (Periodical Source Index); the Register every-name indexes (vols. 1-50, 51-148, in 6 vols.); Jean Worden’s Register (vols. 51-142), TAG (1-60), and Record (1-113) subject indexes, with a supplement by Harry Macy covering vols. 114-25 of the Record; M. B. Colket’s Founders of Early American Families (1976), Jacobus’s Index to Genealogical Periodicals (through the early 1950s, with “My Own Index” for early multi-ancestor works); and M. L. Sanborn’s 1991 and 1995 Supplements to Torrey’s New England Marriages Prior to 1700.

    I shall continue with these short summaries of “best sources” for major areas or genealogical topics - often a review of previous lists - in my next column. I hope this “QuickSearch” guide for “easy-to-trace lines” proves helpful to many readers.
New England Historic Genealogical Society
99 - 101 Newbury Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116, USA

© 2010 - 2014 New England Historic Genealogical Society