|by Kory L. Meyerink, MLS, AG|
"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.
PeriodicalsMuch of the compiled literature for New England genealogy has been published in periodicals. The three most significant periodicals are:
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.
IndexesOf 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 History Center.
Original RecordsVital 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.
RepositoriesAs 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 courthouses).
For Further ReadingIt 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.
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 SourcesIn addition to the sources mentioned above, check out the following books at your favorite research library.
Compendia and Dictionaries
Periodical Article Reprints
About the Author
Kory Meyerink is an accredited genealogist who lives in Salt Lake City where he currently conducts professional research for ProGenealogists.com, a division of Ancestral Quest, and for Genealogical Research Associates. He is the author of Ancestry's Printed Sources, past president of the Utah Genealogical Society, founder of the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, and teaches at many national and local conferences.