A decade of growth: content

With Judy Lucey on Free Fun Friday in 2013, working in a space that is now shared with the Society's Jewish Heritage Center.

In addition to laying foundations for progress, over the past ten years NEHGS has greatly increased an already-impressive collection. Better still, we now find it much easier to access vast quantities of content.

When I first volunteered at NEHGS in 2006, its new leader, D. Brenton Simons, reached out to NEHGS members. “In my new role as president, I ask for your help in expanding our collections and increasing donor support in order to preserve our invaluable holdings. Together we can move our remarkable institution forward while still valuing our great traditions.”[1] Within the year, NEHGS launched Preserving New England’s Records: An Initiative for Family and Local History, and its goal has been to gather additional and varied materials for the R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.[2] We still have a vibrant collecting program, and you can learn more about donating here.

Beyond simply collecting manuscript and published materials, NEHGS’s focus on preservation has expanded. As a volunteer, I joined Deborah Rossi up at the very top of the library, where she had a conservation work station tucked in amongst the rare books. I was one of the first of an increasing number of assistants with ever-increasing experience in book and paper repair. With the added helpers and growing collection, the conservation area needed more space and equipment. In 2013, right when I was joining the Publications team, a beautiful, well-equipped lab was constructed next to the archives. Now, as Deborah retires, we are looking for someone to continue her legacy of making the best use of that lab.

Even as the physical items are being repaired and maintained, digital images of many manuscripts are continually being made available via AmericanAncestors.org. As early as 2010, some digitized books and manuscripts became available through the library catalog. Then in 2016, NEHGS launched Digital Collections, which has the flexibility for featuring a wider variety of materials. Every month, about 400 new digital pages are uploaded that are easier to view, learn more about, and find.

Having a digitization program and a website that can host billions of images allowed NEHGS to establish significant partnerships with other institutions.

Providing online access to materials has really allowed NEHGS to expand collection offerings, both within the library and far beyond. Having a digitization program and a website that can host billions of images allowed NEHGS to establish significant partnerships with other institutions. As Brenton told me, “One of the things I’m very proud of in this last decade is that our culture is to be very partnering and to be very collaborative.”

During the current decade, NEHGS has partnered with three religiously-affiliated institutions in ways that have significantly extended the scope of our offerings. Just as I was joining the Research Services team, the American Jewish Historical Society-New England Archives joined NEHGS at 99-101 Newbury Street. A few years ago, their collection of institutional and personal records from New England Jewish organizations and individuals was further integrated here, and their staff now runs the Jewish Heritage Center at NEHGS.

Meanwhile, partnering with FamilySearch, the world’s largest genealogy organization, allowed for the addition of about two billion records, resulting in an upgrade to AmericanAncestors.org. In return, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would receive affiliate access. Most recently, NEHGS has begun to digitize and index the sacramental records of the Archdiocese of Boston. Covering 1789–1900, this collection will make about 1,000 volumes of Roman Catholic baptisms, marriages, and other records available. All three partnerships have exponentially increased and diversified the collections NEHGS can share with the world.

By partnering with the publishers of certain journals, we can now search an entire series with a few key strokes.

As a researcher, one of the most useful results of partnering has been the suite of scholarly journals searchable on AmericanAncestors.org. Journals traditionally have been a strength of the library collection but usually require checking issue by issue for tables of content and indexes. By partnering with the publishers of certain journals, we can now search an entire series with a few key strokes. In 2009, NEHGS added The American Genealogist to its website and really launched the trend that, as of 2015, now has NEHGS editing and publishing Mayflower Descendant. Brenton takes pride in hosting these journals because “we’ve helped them to develop their membership and to develop their offerings at the same time as put resources online that would have been otherwise hard to access.”

Along with these additions, NEHGS has also improved upon its own publications. As I mentioned in the previous post, in 2010 the magazine changed its name to American Ancestors to reflect the national (beyond regional) content of its articles. In 2013, just as I was joining Publications, American Ancestors magazine turned full-color and began offering more features highlighting NEHGS strengths. Efforts also have been made to broaden the geographic scope of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and in 2015, that quality content was repackaged with an engaging cover design. These interior and exterior changes have kept these publications fresh and informative.

Perhaps the most fun and handy addition to NEHGS’s offerings first was published in 2013. Ginevra Morse, then Publications Coordinator and now Director of Education and Online Programs, created the Portable Genealogist series with the idea that researchers would appreciate having durable, quick guides for conducting research and writing that easily could be added to a research binder.

An ongoing activity that has at least quadrupled in size in the past decade are the study projects. When I first worked at NEHGS, I helped sell the first five volumes (of seven) of Robert Charles Anderson’s The Great Migration series. This series followed the three-volumed The Great Migration Begins series of the 1990s. I also subscribed readers to the online and print versions of the Newsletter (which ran for 25 years). The Great Migration Study Project continues and is even more searchable online. Following a similar format, NEHGS has since added three more study projects with online and published sketches of settlers, families, and heads of household living in certain localities during set time ranges. How lucky we researchers are to have experts in their fields comparing sources to compile the most accurate data and connections for these ancestors.

As a repository, NEHGS has always kept in mind its collections, but in the last decade, scholarship and content accessibility have reached new heights. For more about online content, stay tuned for the final post in this series.

Concluded here.


[1] D. Brenton Simons, “Greetings from NEHGS,” New England Ancestors 7: 3 [2006]: 5.

[2] D. Brenton Simons, “Greetings from NEHGS,” New England Ancestors 8: 3 [2007]: 5.

Kyle Hurst

About Kyle Hurst

Kyle, Genealogist of the Newbury Street Press, holds a B.A. in both history and anthropology from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and has a master’s certificate in Museum Studies from Tufts University. With experience at the National Archives and Record Administration in Waltham, Kyle has worked on a wide variety of research projects as part of the Research Services team at NEHGS and, with Newbury Street Press, has contributed to a number of family histories. She has been credited for her contributions to The Root, TheRoot.com, and she has also written for American Ancestors magazine.View all posts by Kyle Hurst