Wednesday, October 19, 2016

My Visit to the New England Historic Genealogical Society Library

I recently traveled to Boston to attend my college reunion and catch up with some dear friends.  I love Boston.  I only lived there for a few years, but it's very much a place I consider home.  It was wonderful to explore my old haunts and wander through the historic downtown area.  Boston truly is the most fascinating city for history buffs, with sites of major colonial-era importance on literally every corner downtown.

While I was in Boston, I scheduled a full day to do some research at the New England Historic Genealogical Society Library.  Believe it or not, I had never been to a dedicated genealogy library.  I've been to libraries that have genealogy collections, including the Boston Public Library, which has wonderful New England-focused family history resources, but this was my first time visiting a library completely devoted to genealogical materials.

Before arriving at NEHGS, I had visited their website and watched a helpful video they've created called "Preparing for Your Visit to NEHGS."  I also utilized their library catalog and searched for surnames and regions I've been researching.  In Evernote, made a big list of the books I was interested in accessing, categorized by importance, in case I ran short on time and needed to prioritize.  I brought with me my laptop, so I could access my and RootsMagic trees and take notes in Evernote, my iPhone, loaded with the scanning app GeniusScan, and a small notepad and pen.  As prepared as I felt, I was still a little nervous.  Would I be able to find anything useful in just one day of research?

Wanting to make the most of my time, I arrived on Newbury Street early and had coffee and breakfast at The Thinking Cup, a wonderful cafe just a couple of doors down from NEHGS.  I was ready and waiting (and fully caffeinated) at NEHGS when the doors opened at 9:00am.  It costs $20 for non-members to spend the day in the library.  I paid the fee, was given a map and directions to the various collections, and sent up to the 7th floor to begin my research.

My major areas of focus that day were as follows:
  • Smith - My Smith ancestors were from Massachusetts and New Hampshire. One of our early Smith ancestors is Capt. Samuel Smith of Winchester, New Hampshire.  I have been surprised by how little I've been able to find about him online, given that he was a prominent man in his community and a Revolutionary War veteran.  I was hoping that NEHGS would have some local records that mentioned him.
  • Griffin- As readers of this blog know, I've been researching the biological family of my great-grandfather, George Roscoe (Griffin) Rutherfurd for some time.  I've been trying to locate more conclusive proof of that lineage in Westchester County, New York, and hoped I might find some information in the NEHGS stacks.
  • Campbell- I've hit a dead end with my Scotch-Irish Campbell ancestors from North Carolina.  I was hoping NEHGS might have some resources that would be helpful.
  • Short- I recently learned that the ancestors of my fifth great-grandmother, Elizabeth Short, may have arrived in America on William Penn's ship, "Welcome."  I was looking for one book in particular in the NEHGS collection that might have more information.

The 7th floor at NEHGS

The two floors visiting genealogists will likely use most at NEHGS are the 7th floor and the 5th floor.  The 7th floor is devoted to family genealogies, indexes and periodicals.  The 5th floor contains local histories and records.  I spent my time on the 7th floor researching specific family names, then moved to the 5th floor where I read about geographical areas of interest.  On both floors, there were several librarians present who were happy to answer questions, help find books that I could't locate, or suggest other collections I might want to see.

In one frenzied day of research, I accomplished quite a bit.  I went home with a bunch of scanned documents, which I have yet to fully dissect or upload to my trees, but I hope to get to that soon. I was especially successful in finding information related to my Griffin ancestors.  In particular, the book Early Wills of Westchester County, NY 1664 to 1784 by William S. Pelletreau was enormously helpful.  It included wills from numerous relatives, not only the Griffins but also my Sutton and Cornell ancestors.  Also, History of Westchester County, New York by J. Thomas Scharf had some fantastic details about the area and local family lines.  I found several books that may be helpful with my Campbell ancestors, and which provided good information about early Scotch-Irish immigration to the Carolinas. Sadly, I had no luck researching my Smith ancestors, as all the books I pulled did not contain my specific Smith line.  However, I was able to locate the book concerning my Short ancestors, The Welcome Claimants Proved, Disproved and Doubtful With an Account of Some of Their Descendants, by George McCracken.  The book indicates that my Short ancestors almost certainly did arrive on the Welcome and, despite the lack of a ship's manifest, McCracken carefully pieces together the evidence to identify people who are likely have been on board that particular vessel.  It was fascinating reading, and very exciting to picture my ancestors as a part of this moment in history.

I am so glad to have had the opportunity to spend a day at the New England Historical Genealogical Society Library.  I hope to return and spend more time there.

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