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  • The Weekly Genealogist

  • The Weekly Genealogist
    Vol. 14, No. 41
    Whole #552
    October 12, 2011
    Edited by Lynn Betlock, Jean Powers, and Valerie Beaudrault


    Greetings from the New England Historic Genealogical Society! This newsletter has been sent to people who asked to receive it. If you would like to unsubscribe or change your email address, please click on the link at the bottom of the email and follow the instructions provided.

    NEHGS collects, preserves, and interprets materials to document and make accessible the histories of families in America.

    * New NEHGS Book and Gift Catalog
    * 2012 Great Migration Tour to England
    * RootsTech 2012
    * NEHGS Database News
    * A Note from the Editor: A Name Origin Case Study
    * Name Origins
    * This Week’s Survey
    * Spotlight: Statewide Resources: Minnesota and Oklahoma
    * Stories of Interest
    * Upcoming Education Programs
    * NEHGS Contact Information


    New NEHGS Book and Gift Catalog

    Check out the new NEHGS 2011-2012 Book and Gift Catalog!

    Browse essential resources, must-have classics, family genealogies and beautiful new gift items — something for you or a genealogist in your life!

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    2012 Great Migration Tour to England

    Next year’s Great Migration tour, from August 15 to 25, 2012, will focus on the migration of the Winthrop Fleet in 1630. The group will be based in East Anglia, at the Angel Hotel in the ancient Saxon town of Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. Participants will tour the area along the border between Suffolk and Essex, and visit the home parishes of Governor John Winthrop and some of the other early Great Migration immigrants he recruited for this voyage. The itinerary contains more detailed information about the tour activities.

    Robert Charles Anderson, director of the Great Migration Study Project, will be leading the tour. He will be joined by Sandi Hewlett, an NEHGS councilor who assisted with last Great Migration tour.

    If you would like to sign up for the tour, please fill out a registration form and mail it or fax it (617-536-5740) to NEHGS. If you have questions, please contact Lynn Betlock at or 617-226-1284.

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    RootsTech 2012

    February 2–4, Salt Lake City, Utah

    NEHGS is one of the sponsors of RootsTech 2012, a family history and technology conference. The conference will bring together major technology creators and family history technology users. Participants will:

    • Discover emerging technologies and devices to improve research
    • Learn from hands-on workshops and interactive presentations
    • Collaborate with technology creators to advance family history through technology
    • Educate technology providers about the needs of genealogists

    Sessions are designed to interest novice, intermediate, and advanced technology users. Sessions will include:

    • Hands-on workshops
    • Interactive presentations  
    • Sneak peek demonstrations of upcoming new products and services
    • Panel discussions
    • Common interest gatherings
    •  “Unconferencing discussions” (last minute sessions requested by attendees)

    An early bird registration rate of $129 is in effect until November 30; after that date, the price will be $189.

    For more information, visit

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    NEHGS Database News
    by Sam Sturgis and Ryan Woods

    Search The Essex Genealogist

    The leading publication for genealogical research in Essex County, Massachusetts, this quarterly journal has been published since 1981 by the Essex Society of Genealogists (founded in 1975).

    Within the pages of this journal are selections of cemetery transcriptions, Bible records, and vital and church records relating to families from Essex County. Over the years, The Essex Genealogist has published numerous member ahnentafels (ancestor tables), as well as transcriptions of lectures.

    Currently, volumes 1 to 10 (publication years 1981 to 1990) are available. Additional volumes will be added throughout the year.

    The database is searchable by first and last name; volume and page; and article title and subject.

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    A Note from the Editor: A Name Origin Case Study

    We recently received a query from Margaret DeMarco of Lynchburg, Virginia, who asked about a name origin. She wrote, “I would like to know more information regarding the female name ‘Mahala.’ It does not appear in my reference book, Who's Who in the Bible. I did find it in 35,000+ Baby Names, which indicated the name is of Arabic derivation, meaning ‘fat, marrow, tender,’ or of Native American derivation, meaning ‘powerful woman.’ I am wondering why an early nineteenth-century family in Shaftsbury, Vermont, would use an Arabic or Native American name for their daughter.”

    Although we normally do not research name origins upon request, Mahala proved to be such an interesting example that we have made an exeption and offer Julie Helen Otto's analysis here.

    * * *

    I don’t trust baby-name lists not prepared by language scholars. It’s healthy to suspect ANY name labeled generically as “Native American” (rather than as a specific tribe or language). There’s no single “Native American” language; rather, there are thousands, in dozens of language families that developed millennia ago over two continents.

    If the parents were Bible readers, this MAHALA may derive from “MAHALATH,” daughter of Ishmael and wife of Esau — or (depending on when this child was born) a novel whose readers liked the character, or her name. People (especially girls) have been named from novels from the time the form arose. For much of the nineteenth century, people also favored names coined for “euphony” [i.e., it sounds pretty].

    In the world’s thousands of languages, words or names may form, coincidentally similar to words in completely different languages spoken hundreds or thousands of miles away. A Wikipedia article on this word notes that in several Balkan languages “mahala” means “quarter” or “relatively independent sector of a town or village,” from the days of Ottoman Turkish rule (ca. 1525 to the early 19th century), derived from Arabic through Turkish — an unlikely name source for someone in Vermont. The article later mentions the American given name, alleging a meaning of “Woman: Tenderness,” and repeats the “Native American Indian” origin, sourced from a baby-name site.

    I turned to, the website of Native Languages of the Americas, a Minnesota-based nonprofit run by Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis, Native Americans who study these languages and have given name questions much thought. I found the website very informative and refreshing in its correction of errors (especially Internet-spread ones) about Native American culture and Amerindian languages — including popular child-naming notions:

    To me, their entry for MAHALA rules out a Native American angle for the reader’s Vermont ancestor. The tribes and languages referred to are Southern, so would not be relevant to the Northeastern languages of that time. Here is their analysis:

    “MAHALA: This name is usually said to mean "woman" in an unspecified Native American language, or sometimes a more fanciful meaning like "eyes of the sky" or "tender fawn." Those translations come from 19th-century romance novels and are fictional; however, Mahala does have at least two distinct Native American sources. One is that "mahala" (pronounced mah-hah-lah) was a slang word for an Indian woman in 1800's California. It came from a Mission Indian mispronunciation of the Spanish word "mujer" (which means woman.) As far as we know no Indian women have this name, but it is used in some place names in California, and "mahala mat" is another name for the plant also known as "squaw carpet." This is probably where the idea that Mahala means "woman" came from. It is less derogatory than the word "squaw," but is not really a native word. The second source of this name is the woman's name Mahala (pronounced mah-hey-lah) or Mahaley, which was fairly common among the southeastern Indian tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, etc.) during the 1800's. Unfortunately the origin of this name isn't clear; the word "mahala" does not have any meaning in any Indian language of the southeast. It may have been one of many Indian variants on the name Mary, or possibly a variant of Michaela. Or it could have been a corrupted or shortened form of a longer Indian woman's name or names. In the Tutelo and Saponi languages (two closely related southeastern Indian languages that are extinct today), the word for "woman" was "mahei," so it's possible that a name or set of names including the word "mahei" got corrupted into Mahala at some point in time. Or it's also possible that the name might have had African origins (many of the southeastern Indian tribes, especially the Saponi, were known for taking in African-Americans).”

    Again, credit for this information goes to Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis of Native Languages of the Americas.

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    Name Origins
    by Julie Helen Otto

    GERSHOM (m) (Hebrew ‘stranger in a strange land’): GERSHOM is famous as a marker name for the Walter Palmer family of Stonington, Connecticut. The first GERSHOM among the Palmers was a second-generation son (ca. 1644–1718) of Walter Palmer and his second wife, Rebecca Short. Palmer daughters (of whom there were many) transmitted the GERSHOM given name into many neighboring families.

    A “marker name” is sufficiently unusual as to suggest (not prove, in itself) descent, by blood or marriage, from a family that used it in previous generations. (Another famous ‘marker name’ is HATEVIL, found among descendants of the Hatevil Nutter family of Dover, New Hampshire, a Puritan name instructing the bearer [and hearer] to hate evil.)

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    This Week's Survey

    Last week’s survey asked whether you’ve used manuscript sources in your research. The results are:

    • 77%,  Yes
    • 23%,  No

    This week's survey asks what types of manuscript sources you’ve used. Take the survey now!

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    Spotlight:Statewide Resources: Minnesota and Oklahoma
    by Valerie Beaudrault

    MNopedia: Minnesota Encyclopedia

    MNopedia is the prototype of an online encyclopedia about Minnesota created by the Minnesota Historical Society. It is a work in progress. You can use it to explore the places your Minnesota ancestors lived and discover what life was like for them during various time periods by reading the site’s essays on a number of topics. The topics included on the site are African Americans, agriculture, American Indians, architecture, business and industry, cities and towns, education, environment, health and medicine, immigration, labor, politics, religion and belief, sports and recreation, technology, the arts, transportation, and women. You will find resources in text, image, audio, and video formats. There are links to related articles, chronologies, bibliographies and related resources. The eras will be Pre-Contact to 1650; Contact and Fur Trade, 1600-1810; Early Settlement and Statehood, 1810-1860; Industrial Era, 1865-1914; World Wars I and II, 1914-1945; Post-World War II to Present.

    On the homepage you will find links to Recently Added Articles and links from a map titled History Near You. Click on the topic links in the thumbnail images on the homepage to view related articles.

    Click on the Topics link in the menu bar to open a new page with links to the various topics. Click on a topic to open a new page listing articles on the topic with a snippet description. From this page you have the option to limit your search by era or choose a different topic from the drop down lists. Click on the title link to view the article and associated images and resource information.

    The Minnesota Historical Society is looking for feedback on the beta version of the MNopedia website. They are in the process of “testing, improving and expanding a small working model” to a more robust site. If you create a MNopedia account you can contribute to the process of improving the website.

    Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department’s Genealogy Section

    The Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department has announced a new feature on its website, which assists visitors seeking to research their ancestry in Oklahoma. The Genealogy Section guides website visitors through family history research destinations and resources from throughout Oklahoma. The resources in the genealogy section are organized by county. Click on a county on the state map to open a new page containing a brief overview of the county’s history with links to websites of points of interest within the county. Below the overview you will find links to organizations and repositories where resources can be found.

    For Cimarron County, which is in the northwestern part of the state, the resources include contact information for the Cimarron County Courthouse and a list of the types of records they hold, a detailed county map, a list of existing towns with links to their Wikipedia pages, a list of ghost towns, a list of cemeteries with links to their Find a Grave pages, a list of libraries, historic newspaper archives, additional online resources (i.e. OKGenWeb), and a list of places to visit while researching your family history. The resources for Logan County, which is in central Oklahoma, are organized into the same categories, and includes historic schools in Logan County. Logan County has both a genealogical and a historical society. There are links to the societies’ websites in the additional resources section.

    In the upper right hand side of the page there is a photo exhibit. Click on the View All Photos link to view the other photos in the collection. On each page you will find the photograph, a brief description, and one or more links to other web pages on the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department.

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    Stories of Interest

    A Hero’s Legend and a Stolen Skull Rustle Up a DNA Drama
    The Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine used DNA testing — and a variety of other methods —  to determine whether a stolen skull was the missing skull of Australian outlaw and folk hero Ned Kelly (1854–1880).

    Jacksonsville Woman Finds Family Again Through Genealogy Website
    A two-week trial subscription on led to a reunion of seven siblings who had been separated as young children.

    Prologue: Pieces of History
    The National Archives blog highlights interesting stories and images from the repository’s vast collections.

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    Upcoming Education Programs

    Each year the Society presents a number of dynamic lectures, seminars, and tours for genealogists and the general public. Programs are held at 99–101 Newbury Street unless otherwise indicated. For more information, please contact call 617-226-1226 or

    The Clamorgans: One Family’s History of Race in America by Julie Winch
    October 19, 6 p.m., NEHGS

    In her multigenerational history, Julie Winch traces how one family navigated race in America from the 1780s through the 1950s. The Clamorgan clan traces to the family patriarch Jacques Clamorgan, a French adventurer of questionable ethics who bought up, or at least claimed to have bought up, huge tracts of land around St. Louis. On his death, he bequeathed his holdings to his mixed-race, illegitimate heirs, setting off nearly two centuries of litigation. The result is a window on a remarkable family that by the early twentieth century variously claimed to be black, Creole, French, Spanish, Brazilian, Jewish, and white.

    The talk at NEHGS (99-101 Newbury St., Boston) is free and open to the public. No registration is required.

    View a listing of upcoming programs.

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    NEHGS Contact Information

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    Copyright 2011, New England Historic Genealogical Society
    99–101 Newbury Street, Boston, MA 02116

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New England Historic Genealogical Society
99 - 101 Newbury Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116, USA

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