Monthly Archives: February 2020

In the beginning

Shortly after the founding of the New England Historic Genealogical Society in 1845, the first issue of The New England Historical and Genealogical Register was published. The Register first appeared in January 1847 and was the visionary work of the Society’s first president, Charles Ewer. Mr. Ewer envisioned a society made up of hundreds of members, offering a physical library to house thousands of volumes of books, where a publishing program would expand upon the work of John Farmer’s Genealogical Register.

Mr. Ewer’s goal was to create a quarterly journal of history and genealogy that “would give members of the Society a further vehicle for research, discussion, and writing about New England’s Puritan fathers as well as fill a deficiency in historical literature by providing information on families.”[1] Additionally, he wanted to rescue records that were being destroyed in public offices and present them as transcribed and printed resources for future research.[2] Continue reading In the beginning

O Columbia!

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Just the other day, I found myself humming something that felt like an almost-forgotten song. As I hummed along (mindful of anyone thinking me completely bonkers), the tune brought me to a place I hadn’t expected to arrive. One couplet in particular tripped me up:

O Columbia! The gem of the ocean,

The home of the brave and the free…[1]

As I mulled through the verses of that old patriotic song, one word continually stood out. That word was “Columbia,” and I wondered to myself: “Where did that word come from?” Just who was Columbia? Had she fallen off the boat along with Christopher? (I mean, we Mayflower descendants understand all too well the “falling off” of boats, don’t we, John Howland?) Continue reading O Columbia!

Music of the Pilgrims

The first book published in North America was a book of hymns. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since music has been a connecting force (not only for religious reasons) that has a way of spreading joy and sorrow. It is universal. 

One of the best ways to learn and understand a culture is through its music. So for me, when deciding what to write about for this post, a big question that popped into my head was: What did the Pilgrims sing?  Continue reading Music of the Pilgrims

Preserving collections

Bookplate, Hinman’s Letters from the English Kings and Queens… (1836).

As the conservator at American Ancestors and NEHGS, I spend much of my time conserving our book and paper-based collections while also devoting a little bit of time to thinking about the future preservation of these items. This leaves relatively little time to reflect on past efforts by the organization to preserve these collections, but there is evidence that those efforts were considerable.

Preservation was a major part of the reason for founding the New England Historic Genealogical Society, as outlined in the original Charter.[1] Collecting and preservation have always been tied together; if you are going to collect books and manuscript materials, efforts will need to be taken to make sure they will be available for future generations – particularly important for a genealogical society, where generations really matter. Continue reading Preserving collections

Childhood mortality

Millard Leslie Morse, ca. 1916, of Wareham, Massachusetts.

We are not far removed from a time when parents, as a matter of course, endured the loss of one or more of their children. In fact, each of my grandparents had a sibling who died in infancy or early childhood. Some years ago, as part of a field study in a local cemetery, one of my students, obviously struck by the number of children’s graves, asked me: “Do you think parents back then just didn’t get attached to their children because they knew some of them would die?” My answer to this question has deepened over the years as I have listened to family stories and discerned poignant signs of remembrance. Continue reading Childhood mortality

The first execution

President Garfield’s assassination

While William Bradford himself never delved into the life of my ancestor (and Mayflower passenger) Francis Billington, the same is not true for Francis’s father John Billington. He appears in several items in his ten years in Plymouth, nearly all in a negative light. He was brought before the Plymouth Company in March 1621 and charged with “contempt of the Captain [Myles Standish]’s lawful command with opprobrious speeches: for which he was adjudged to have his Neck and Heels tied together: but upon humbling himself and craving pardon, and it being the first Offence, He is forgiven.” In 1624, he was an outspoken supporter for Rev. John Lyford and John Oldham in their revolt against William Bradford and the rest of the Leiden contingent and the authority of the Plymouth church, but denied any involvement when brought up on examination.[1] Continue reading The first execution

The first women members

Fannie Wilder Brown’s application for membership.

Women’s history throughout American history has been an area of great interest to me. Women were not always permitted to be in the same areas as men, including universities, working as doctors and lawyers, and membership in organizations (including genealogical societies). Prior to 1898, women were not admitted as members of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. This changed in January 1897 when members voted by a special ballot, and the motion to admit women was approved by the majority of voters.[1] Once the ballot was over, the charter had to be changed, which required a petition to the Massachusetts legislature and approval by the governor. The petition was approved on 10 April 1897.[2] Continue reading The first women members

Research via Wikimedia Commons

The database team here at NEHGS posts information on updates to our databases on our blog, dbnews.americanancestors.org. In each post, we try to give you a little information about the database, the new records, and provide some sort of visual.

So I’m always looking for images in the public domain that pertain to various towns and other locations around New England. For some of our ongoing projects like Historic Catholic Records Online or Early Vermont Settlers, it can become difficult to find a new image to illustrate each post, and I have to keep track of what I’ve already used! Continue reading Research via Wikimedia Commons

Mayflower family traditions

Following the author’s wedding to Ian Holland at Old South Church in Boston in 1991.

With all the excitement about the four hundredth anniversary of the Mayflower sailing, I’ve been looking for my own Pilgrim ancestors. While my maternal side is mostly nineteenth-century German and English immigrants, my paternal side does have deep New England roots. So far, I haven’t found anyone who came over on the Mayflower in my family tree. Yet, I still feel a connection to those feisty Pilgrims. Their religious beliefs have rippled down through the centuries, with a few embellishments and changes, but are still flowing strongly in me and my family today.

The Pilgrims were a radical group of Puritans labeled as Separatists. While the Puritans wanted to purify the Church of England, the Pilgrims wanted to take it a step further and separate themselves into their own congregations. They wanted no church hierarchy and no one telling them what their congregation could or could not do. Plymouth Colony was founded on these principles in 1620. Continue reading Mayflower family traditions