It is just a little over a year since NEHGS President and CEO Brenton Simons came to me with the idea for what became the Early New England Families Study Project. I was immediately interested, not only because it is an important institutional project, but because it brought me full circle to my beginnings in genealogy. My first job with NEHGS in the 1970s was to create a bibliography for Clarence Almon Torrey’s manuscript “New England Marriages Prior to 1700.” It took a number of years, with the help of colleague Peter Drummey, to compare Torrey’s short citations to the books in the library and decide which belonged to which. It was an unparalleled education in genealogical literature!
This new project has developed a bit differently than we originally envisioned, but that is not surprising. Our first concepts were for short, simple summaries of information in print. Short and simple is easier said than done. Actually, there is too much information in print about these families already – a good deal of it contradictory, incomplete, and/or wrong. Surveying accounts published over the last 175 years about a New England family and then following the many copies, re-writes, enlargements, diminutions, corrections, and arguments is much like the proverbial peeling of the onion.
Nor is it sufficient to state the information found without critical analysis. A sketch in progress on Samuel Dudley, eldest son of Governor Thomas Dudley, is nine pages! So much for short. Sam married three times and had sixteen kids, and assigning, even tentatively, these children to his wives is a headache. It is not the task of the Early New England Families Study Project to answer all the questions – with 35,000 sketches to do, we simply cannot – but the questions still have to be addressed or we risk perpetuating misconceptions and errors.
I love it. I never know where a family is going to take me, but I know I’ll learn something new and interesting. This first year has been one of development, but the project is off the ground and growing – and I look forward to an excellent second year. To that end, I have thanks to give. To Brenton Simons and Ryan Woods for the job, to all of the staff at NEHGS who provide support, particularly Chris Carter, Sam Sturgis, Scott Steward, and Dave Dearborn. And extra special thanks to my old friend and new mentor, Robert Charles Anderson.