"Whenever possible, arrange to have your ancestors born in New England.
This is the happy hunting ground for genealogists." So said noted
genealogist, Archibald F. Bennett, on the first known TV show devoted
to genealogy, way back in 1954. As secretary for the Genealogical Society
of Utah (forerunner of the Family History Library) and the moving force
behind the massive microfilming of original records, Bennett knew what
he was talking about. Yet that statement is just as true today, almost
half a century later, despite increasingly easier access to records for
all parts of America.
While we certainly can't "arrange" to have New England ancestors,
those of us who do quickly learn that, as the birthplace of American genealogy,
it is a great place to seek ancestors. More books have been published
and original records preserved (on microfilm and in print) for the six
New England states (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode
Island, and Connecticut) than for any other area in North America. This
is good, since estimates are that a quarter or more of all North Americans
have some New England ancestry.
It is also significant since the large number of published sources means
that New England research can be done almost anywhere in North America,
as research libraries from east to west have most of the major sources,
and many minor ones. Indeed, today many are also available electronically,
on CD-ROM and the Internet.
The genealogical interest in New England has generated thousands of compiled
records, including family histories, genealogical dictionaries, and local
(town and county) histories. According to the Family History Library Catalog,
at least 85,000 book-length family histories have been published since
the 1840s. Many thousands of these deal with the descent (usually in the
male line) of an immigrant who came to New England. It is often difficult
to find a surname in New England for which there is not such a book. While
these volumes do not include every person to share that surname, or even
who descend from the same immigrant, and they do have errors, they are
an excellent place to begin your research. Then, each time you get a generation
further back, review these sources. Eventually your line will connect
with one or more family histories. You will find them on the shelves of
all research libraries, with the larger libraries naturally having the
larger collections. A useful source to identify many of the major family
histories for early New England immigrants is Meredith B. Colkett's Founders
of Early American Families: Emigrants from Europe 1607-1657 (Rev.
ed. Cleveland, Oh.: Order of Founders and Patriots of America, 1985).
More than 20,000 family histories published since about 1969 are listed
in Genealogical Publications, part of the Ancestry Genealogy
Library on CD-ROM.
Genealogical dictionaries provide briefer treatment of a select group
of families, usually the earliest settlers. The information is very abbreviated
and usually only extends about three generations. Such sources exist for
virtually every New England state. Since later generations are usually
not listed, these serve the beginning researcher by suggesting where the
family originated in America, and therefore point to the local records
where later generations may be found. The earliest such publication, and
one of the most popular, is James Savage, A Genealogical Dictionary
of the First Settlers of New England.... (4 vols. 1860-62. Reprint.
Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1965).
Although superseded by more
recent family histories, it is worth checking for an overview of early
persons sharing a surname. A more select, but much more scholarly and
accurate source is Robert Charles Anderson, The Great Migration Begins:
Immigrants to New England 1620-1633 (3 vols. Boston: New England Historic
and Genealogical Society, 1995). This dictionary profiles every person
whose existence in these early years can be documented in any original
record. It sites sources for every statement, and some of those sources
are excellent referrals for further research into later generations.
Local histories, especially town histories, are full of collected genealogical
information. Often they profile every family who lived in the town, providing
as complete a family structure as the early records (often including family
Bibles) permit. Of course, you can learn in which towns your family resided
by searching the census indexes available online and on CD-ROM and
on microfilm in many libraries.
Much of the compiled literature for New England genealogy has been published
in periodicals. The three most significant periodicals are:
The American Genealogist. 1923- . Published by David L. Green,
P.O. 398 Demorest, GA 30535.
The Mayflower Descendant. 1899-1937, 1985-. Published by the
Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Boston, MA 02116. Available
on CD-ROM from Search and Research.
The New England Historical and Genealogical Register. 1847-.
Published by the New England Historic and Genealogical Society, 101
Newbury St., Boston, MA 02116. Available on CD-ROM from the New England
Historic and Genealogical Society.
Articles from some of these, and other periodicals, have been reprinted
in handy, indexed, book form and are identified in the list of other sources
below. A comprehensive subject index to all English language periodicals
has just been released on CD-ROM and should revolutionize how research
is done. The Periodical Source Index (PERSI), published by Ancestry,
references more than one million articles, and more than 28,000 pertain
to the six New England states.
Of course, to find the right family in all of these compiled sources, genealogists
love to use indexes. No area in America has better indexes with better coverage.
Some of the most popular, and widely available, are:
Don't forget the International Genealogy Index (IGI) which has more than
10 million entries for New England births and marriages. These names were
taken from vital records as well as compiled sources, and virtually every
entry can be traced to the original source. It is available at every Family
Index to American Genealogies...(5th ed. Albany: Joel Munsell's
Sons, 1908. Reprint, Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1967).
This is a surname index to virtually any source published prior to 1900.
It references family histories, some periodicals, and hundreds of local
histories. Any surname, treated with about a page or more of information,
is indexed. The citation includes the author's name and a brief title
of the book, with a page number if the source is not alphabetical.
Clarence Almon Torrey's New England Marriages Prior to 1700
(Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1985) is not just a list of
virtually all early marriages, it also serves as an index to the published
literature where Torrey found the marriage reference. However, the book
edition does not reference the source. For that, turn to six rolls of
microfilm available from the New England Historic Genealogical Society
which reproduce Torrey's manuscript, with source abbreviations.
The Greenlaw Index of the New England Historic Genealogical Society,
edited by William Prescott Greenlaw, (2 vols. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1979)
picks up where Munsell's Index to American Genealogies leaves
off by citing references to genealogies of three or more generations
published in sources prior to 1940. The books reproduce library catalog
cards with complete source information.
Fremont Rider began one of the greatest indexes in the American
Genealogical-Biographical Index (Middletown, Conn.: The Godfrey
Memorial Library, 1952-). This is a continuing series with almost 200
volumes (to the letter W) that indexes every name in almost 800
family histories and 50 other genealogical books, including most Revolutionary
War sources. It also indexes the "Boston Evening Transcript"
genealogy column, with answers to thousands of New England genealogy
Vital records, land deeds, probates, censuses, court records, town minutes
and more are all available for virtually all parts of New England. Many
have been published in paper or microfilm format, especially the vital records.
In addition, a growing collection of them are being posted on the Internet.
As noted above, New England research can be done at most genealogy libraries,
but researchers should know about the tremendous collection of the New England
Historic Genealogical Society (101 Newbury Street, Boston, MA 02116; Tel.
617-536-5740). In addition to virtually every book published for New England,
their manuscript collection of genealogical material is without equal. Of
course the Family History Library (35 N. West Temple Street, Salt Lake City,
UT 84150; Tel. 801-240-2331), with its network of Family History Centers,
can also provide access to many New England records, including microfilmed
original records available no place else (except in the county and town
For Further Reading
It is of course impossible to cover the breadth and scope of New England
in a brief article such as this. Excellent, helpful guide books are available
to provide additional information as you learn about sources, techniques,
and repositories for your research. Three books cover different aspects
of New England research.
Ralph J. Crandall, edited Genealogical Research in New England
(Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1984), a collection of essays
about research in each New England state.
Marcia Wiswall Lindberg, Genealogist's Handbook for New England
Research (3rd ed. Boston, Mass.: New England Historic Genealogical
Society, 1993) provides addresses, founding dates of towns and descriptions
of records and their locations.
Kip Sperry's New England Genealogical Research: A Guide to Sources
(Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 1988) is a most comprehensive bibliography
of published and manuscript sources. He includes brief annotations for
most of the sources.
Lastly, don't overlook a series of eight bibliographies for each of the
New England states that lists virtually every book or article published
about the state, and the region. Most were edited by Roger Parks or John
D. Haskell and published by University Press of New England or G. K. Hall,
1977. Look for them in major libraries.
Other New England Sources
In addition to the sources mentioned above, check out the following books
at your favorite research library.
Compendia and Dictionaries
Hinman, Royal Ralph. A Catalogue of the Names of the First Puritan
Settlers of the Colony of Connecticut.... 1846. Reprint. Baltimore:
Genealogical Publishing Co., 1968.
Noyes, Sybil, Charles Thornton Libby, and Walter Goodwin Davis, Genealogical
Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire. 1928-39. Reprint. Baltimore:
Genealogical Publishing Co., 1983.
Pope, Charles H. Pioneers of Maine and New Hampshire, 1623 to 1660.
1908. Reprint. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1965.
Maine Genealogical Society. Maine in 1790. Multiple volume series
Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony: It's History and People,
1620-1691 Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, 1986.
Pope, Charles Henry. The Pioneers of Massachusetts. Reprint.
Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1965.
Austin, John Osborne. The Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island:
Comprising Three Generations of Settlers Who Came Before 1690... 1887.
Reprint with additions and corrections. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing
Vermont Genealogical Society. Vermont in 1790. Multiple volume
series in process.
Periodical Article Reprints
New England Historic Genealogical Society. English Origins of New
England Families: from the New England Historical and Genealogical Register.
First Series, 3 vols., 1984. Second Series, 3 vols., 1985. Baltimore:
Genealogical Publishing Co.
New England Historic Genealogical Society. Genealogies of Connecticut
Families from the New England Historical and Genealogical Register.
3 vols. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1983.
Genealogies of Rhode Island Families: From Rhode Island Periodicals.
2 vols. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1983. This indexes six
Wright, Norman E. Genealogy in America. Vol. 1, Massachusetts, Connecticut,
and Maine. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1968.
Kemp, Thomas J. Connecticut Researcher's Handbook. Detroit:
Gale Research Company, 1981.
Sperry, Kip. Connecticut Sources for Family Historians and Genealogists,
Logan, Utah: Everton Publishers, 1980.
Frost, John Eldridge. Maine Genealogy: A Bibliographical Guide.
1977. Rev. Ed. Portland: Maine Historical Society, 1985.
Schweitzer, George K. Massachusetts Genealogical Research. Knoxville,
Tn.: by the author, 1990.
Towle, Laird C. New Hampshire Genealogical Research Guide. Bowie,
Md.: Heritage Books, 1983.
Sperry, Kip. Rhode Island Sources for Family Historians and Genealogists.
Logan, Utah: Everton Publishers, 1986.
Eichholz, Alice. Collecting Vermont Ancestors: A Guide to Genealogical
Research in Vermont. Montpelier: New Trails, 1986