The genealogy column in the Boston Evening Transcript newspaper has been one of the more heavily used resources at the NEHGS Library for the past century or more. The paper was published, under a few different titles, from 1830 to 1941. From 1906 through 1941, it featured a genealogy column in which readers would submit and respond to queries. During most of its run, the column appeared twice a week. According to an editors’ note which appeared in many issues, the newspaper was almost overwhelmed with submissions and had a backlog waiting to be published. The editors also claimed that they had “correspondents in every corner of the country.” By the time it ceased publication, the column had covered an estimated two million names.
Online access to the full text of the Boston Evening Transcript has been spotty. An index to the newspaper (without full text) is included in the American Genealogical-Biographical Index (or AGBI), which is available through Ancestry.com. Many, though not all, issues from the 1850s to 1910s are accessible in the Google News archive, and GenealogyBank.com offers the Transcript from 1842 to 1866 (before the genealogy column was published). Aside from that, to access many of the issues a researcher would need to visit a library and use the print or microfilm copies. Until now, that is. But more on that later…
The fact that the column is indexed in AGBI has led many researchers to seek out the newspaper. While not all the information is sourced, the column often provides leads when none other can be found. In addition to responding to such questions as “Who were the parents of Sarah and where was she born?,” people would send in corrections to published genealogies, and correspondents provided background on longstanding genealogical puzzles along with theories and evidence to support them.
The physical condition of these clippings has been a cause of great concern … for many years.
The Transcript clippings filled about twenty boxes in the cabinets of the seventh-floor reading room in the NEHGS Library. You would always know when someone had been busily searching in them because researchers left behind a sprinkling of confetti-like pieces of the highly acidic and brittle newspaper on the floor. The physical condition of these clippings has been a cause of great concern to the library staff for many years. The paper itself could not be restored or saved, and digitizing the thousands of pages was going to be a large and delicate job requiring proper equipment and handling, as well as a significant investment of time.
Enter FamilySearch. During a partnership project with NEHGS, FamilySearch expressed a willingness to help us digitize the Transcript collection. A little over a year ago, their wonderful volunteers arrived at the library with equipment and energy, ready to go. A few weeks later, they had finished photographing the clippings. As a result, we now have a browsable (i.e., not searchable) online collection of the genealogy column from 1911 to 1941 on AmericanAncestors.org.
To use this collection, you might begin by searching AGBI – either on Ancestry.com or in the AGBI volumes available in many libraries, including NEHGS – to locate columns that contain names that are of interest to you. From the AGBI entry you can obtain the date of the newspaper issue in which the column appeared – e.g., 5 Jan. 1931. If the column appeared between 1911 and 1941, you can then go to the Search page on AmericanAncestors.org, select the Boston Evening Transcript from the “Database” drop-down menu, and choose the year you want from the “Volume” drop-down menu. Be sure not to fill in any other search fields. Click “Search,” and away you go.
You can select any result in order to view the page images, and from the image view you can page through the issues. If you find an entry in AGBI from before 1911, you can see if the Google News archive has the needed Transcript issue. We plan to add pre-1911 columns to AmericanAncestors.org in the coming year.
If you don’t have a particular issue that you’re looking for, and you just want to browse through the columns to see what they’re like, simply choose the Boston Evening Transcript collection from the “Database” drop-down menu and then use the “Click here” link under “Search Tips” to begin browsing from the first 1911 column.
In the time since the entries were written, a great deal of new scholarship has been published…
As with most secondary sources, and especially ones published so many years ago, researchers should attempt to verify information found in the Transcript genealogy columns. In the time since the entries were written, a great deal of new scholarship has been published, and records that may have been unknown or inaccessible 100 years ago may now be available.
We are pleased to be able to offer these columns online so they are available to all of our members, whether they can visit the library or not. The original clippings can now be safely stored to prevent further damage from handling. While we certainly enjoy a good celebration here at NEHGS, that’s not the kind of confetti we like to see!
35 thoughts on “Boston Transcript column now online”
Thank you, Jean — for the news, and for the clear instructions on how to use this collection. Those tantalizing little hints in the AGBI have been a frustration for a long time!
You’re welcome, Jane! I hope those hints turn out to be useful discoveries!
This is awesome! Thank-you N.E.H.G.S.
Thank you for your comment! I will share it with our website staff who helped to make these columns available online. Happy researching!
Yeah, the one last resource I could not access. Okay, not the last, but important because it always pops up and one really wants to know what it says. I have found one of a kind items, and clues many times.
Alicia, I’m glad to hear this might help make your research process a little easier!
I have a long list of references to research. Thank you for this valuable update.
You’re welcome, Karen! Thank you for your feedback.
Thank you, Jean! I was hoping this was coming soon after I saw them being filmed.
You’re welcome, Helen! I’m glad they will be useful to you. Thank you for your comment.
You wrote: If you find an entry in AGBI from before 1911, you can see if the Google News archive has the needed Transcript issue.” For records before 1911, could you give a little clearer instruction. How exactly to I search for a record that ABGI lists as in the index between 1906 and 1909 ? Any other sources ?
David — try this URL:
Howard, thank you for your comment! David, if you are still in need of any assistance, please let us know by commenting here.
Thank you for the directions on finding pages in Boston Evening Transcripts. But I keep getting “This image is not available” even though the year 1935 is on the list. The image keeps reverting back to “Jan:1” or the title page. Is there a trick to finding page 1129 in 1935?
Hello, Barbara. Here is a response from Molly Rogers, our Database Coordinator at NEHGS. “If a date could be supplied, it would be much easier to help find the desired page. Since I’m not sure exactly what you’re looking for, I’m providing a general example. We’ll use the genealogy column that appeared on November 29, 1935 as an example: https://www.americanancestors.org/databases/boston-evening-transcript-genealogy-pages-1911-1940/image?pageName=Nov:17&volumeId=37750. Our page numbers reflect the month and the number of columns that were published within that month; Nov:17 means that the column from the 29th was the 17th genealogy column in November. If you know the month and day, you can then guess what the page number might be. For example, if you are searching for a column from the middle of a month, you could try typing Nov:8 into the page number box and hitting enter. Once you get to that eighth column, you can either try jumping to another page like Nov:12, or you can use the blue arrows on the top right to page back and forth by just one page. If you type in a number that doesn’t exist, you will get the mentioned error message.”
does anyone know about what page that column was usually on? I’ve just surfed the 8 march 1902 issue and I’ve not found the column.
The Genealogical column appeared only on Mondays and Wednesdays. So, I tried March 10. As I recall it was usually in the upper left corner of a left-hand (ie. even numbered) page. I set the search area there and paged thru and quickly found it on p. 12. The heading was only one column wide. In other years it was two columns wide.
If you need a calendar for past years, go here:
Excellent, thanks, that helps!
Do you know if _The Bill Family_ by Ledyard Bill, published in the 1860’s, is an acceptable primary accounting of the Bill Family.
My line is Calvin Bill who married Lois (supposed daughter of John Gibbs and Sarah Cushman Gibbs) in Lebanon, CT in 1869. However, I can find no marriage record, either church or civil, for my 5th great-grandparents. Their first child Aaron Bill was born in Lebanon, CT, 1770 per the Wilmington, VT town clerks record which states Aaron Bill was born in Lebanon, CT even though his parents were registering his birth in VT.
Thank you for the helpful info about the AGBI.
Linda Alcott Maples
I was so excited to find this, but I have spent the last hour frustratingly trying to find an article on americanancestors.com. My source on ancestry says “9 Mar 1931, 1141”. I can’t find a way to put the date in to search, and looking manually (scrolling page after page after page) it is not listed. Help!!
Hello, Marilyn. Here is a response from Molly Rogers, our Database Coordinator at NEHGS. “Here is the page for which you are looking: https://www.americanancestors.org/databases/boston-evening-transcript-genealogy-pages-1911-1940/image?pageName=Mar:3&volumeId=37746 Our page numbers always take the format “Mon:#” (Month (represented by a 3-letter code), colon, column number). If you know the month and day, you can then guess what the page number might be. So in this case, I figured I’d start by looking at Mar:3, the third genealogy column published in March. Mar:3 happens to be the column published on March 9, 1931. If it wasn’t, I could use the blue arrows on the right to page left or right by one, or I could type a new guess (like Mar:6) into the page number field and hit enter.”
I’m pretty sure I found those on google books.
I’ve discovered that Transcript issues seemingly missing in the Google online version are not always missing – ie, a “no editions available” Monday issue may be attached to the previous Saturday issue, especially when Saturday is listed as being over 60 pages. This seems to be an error in the posting of these files, where the daily paper scans were not split and filed properly into the relevant day of the week.
Another thought: Where did Google get their source clippings? They are in fantastic condition, compared to the heavily used and crumbling versions in the NEHGS archives. Surely somebody else somewhere kept copies of this column over the years (probably in individual collections).
A final thought: The Transcript images now posted at FamilySearch often duplicate the pages found on American Ancestors (ie, the exact same image was used but FS further edited and improved them), but in other cases their copy is too tightly cropped or is of a more damaged page (where NEHGS has posted a less damaged copy).
Have pre-1911 columns been added to the online database yet? Google News archive does not have the specific dates I am looking for. I see a reference to a 1902 article possibly being accessible in the previous comments, but I do not find any pre-1911 columns on your site.
Chris, what dates are you looking for? I saved the entire Google News collection of Transcript columns starting in 1896 and found seemingly “missing” columns that were not properly indexed.
I do not find a Databases drop-down on the search page. Can someone send me an e-mail so I can check a single reference in the Boston Transcript?
Hi there. Thank you for the article. I went to see the records but it looks like I have to be a member to view. Is that correct? Seems a steep price to look up a record.
I saw that and wondered the same thing. There’s not enough info in what little I found in Ancestry to have any way to know for sure if this is my ancestor or not so I’m not inclined to sign up to buy a subscription for something I can’t be sure I can even use. I would be more inclined to pay a small fee for the particular article, once I can see enough of it to know it’s relevant to my family and research,
I too have been going around in circles, trying to find this but it’s not showing up. This search engine is a good start, but it needs a lot more work to truly be user-friendly. This is what I’m trying to locate, as found in Ancestry:
American Genealogical-Biographical Index (AGBI) –
Name: Sarah Paine
Birth Date: 1760
Birthplace: New York
Page number: 367
Reference: Gen. Column of the “Boston Transcript”; 1906-1941. (The greatest single source of material for gen. Data for the N.E. area and for the period 1600-1800. Completely indexed in the Index.): 29 May 1918, 1822
Charles, I checked a scan of that page but there is no entry for question or answer “1822” and seemingly no mention of Sarah anywhere on the page. I also checked other pages in May 1918 but don’t see “1822”.
Hi Mike. Thanks for checking this for me. I wasn’t sure what the 1822 was representing regarding this 29 May 1918, e.g., a date, page number, column heading, etc. Is there any mention of the Paine family? I was so hoping there might be some badly needed clues about Sarah and her Paine/Payne family.
When it says “Completely indexed in the Index” does this mean each issue is indexed? Since I’ve never seen this collection or one of these issues, I have no idea what it is or how these are put together, if the “Boston Transcript” is a magazine, newspaper or what. Thanks again.
Hi Mike. To close the loop on my original post, I finally figured this out, and, after all this, it turns out the indexing was apparently off in the “American Genealogical-Biographical Index” (AGBI) so for anyone else searching, keep that in mind. Here is a good, older article on this topic, from July 4, 2012, by Diane Boumenot, One Rhode Island Family, including various useful links she shares:
One of the links (see Update) is to FamilySearch where it is manually searchable by the year so I found the issue I needed for 29 May 1918:
Massachusetts, Suffolk County, Boston, newspapers : clippings from the Boston Evening Transcript, 1839-1940
I discovered the *1822 reference is apparently regarding the number assigned to each inquiry when published by the newspaper but in my case, it was transposed. It is actually 1882 and I did indeed find Sarah Paine listed but she is merely one of many in a large list of untraced settlers someone extracted from the 1790 census for the East Hoosick, NY area. I found no reference to her DOB being 1760 or that she was born in NY; this post was just a list of names. It appears this was someone’s response to the original post of *1882, this response being printed as “Note *1882”, rather than the original post, which would be formatted (*1882.) followed by the family surname in question, I may find more if I can find the original post (*1882). These assigned numbers don’t appear to always be in chronological order so this may be impossible.
So, I’m not completely shot down yet, but at this point, this lead doesn’t look very promising for being who I’m looking for (my Sarah Payne/Paine was married to Joseph Cody by 1790). In any case, I hope this post might help others that may read this while trying to figure out the indexing format and what it may mean for them, including making sure to cast a wider net to account for any potential transcription errors when searching for the original source in the Boston Transcript, aka Boston Evening Transcript newspaper. Happy New Year. Cheers!