Three years in

Alicia Crane WilliamsWe are just about to start the fourth year of the Early New England Families Study Project. There are presently 72 sketches online, and now the first of the hard copy publications covering 50 families is available as well. New sketches scheduled to be uploaded in January include Samuel Maverick and his wife Amias (Cole) (Thompson) Maverick.

These sketches have definitely developed into far more detailed and complex endeavors than we originally conceived. It isn’t that we thought it was going to be easy, but we did have some hopes that “summarizing” a couple of centuries of collected works on these families would be simpler that it is turning out to be. So why is that?

It has already been done before and I am only looking for my ancestors: As each “big” volume on a family was published, the genealogical readership was satisfied to accept it as the “one true word” about that family. Hard core genealogists may have contested conclusions and published corrections in periodicals such as the NEHGS Register or in their own versions of a portion of the family, but without universal finding aids for new researchers, these corrections and updates might as well have been written on confetti and thrown to the wind. Each beginner, being directed to the “big” volume, will copy what is there and feel erroneously secure that what is in the book is “done.” Their focus will be more on “how do I connect to this big genealogy,” not on “how do I improve it.”

At the Fireside Chat a few weeks ago, Bob Anderson explained that he conceived the Great Migration Study Project because he realized genealogists were still relying on much information that had last been evaluated more than 150 years earlier. In his previous professions in military intelligence and microbiology, Bob was accustomed to reference material that was up to date. It takes time to catch up 150 years.

An invasion of overachievers: The settlement of the New World, particularly New England, was no accident. This was not just a motley crew of expatriates who happened to do well by accident, it was a thoroughly planned (Mayflower Pilgrims aside) invasion of overachievers let loose on a blank wilderness. These people, as Bob notes, left comfortable middle class homes in England to literally camp out in the backwoods, and then, more often than not, move on to camp out again in another new settlement, all for an ideal of a better life for themselves and their descendants in one way or another. To thrive, let alone survive, in this new world, every man, woman, and child had to be an overachiever. Summarizing the lives of overachievers takes longer.

Dawn of a new age of research?: The Internet provides both disappointment and promise for genealogical research. Clearly, just providing a way to disseminate large quantities of information without consideration of quality is not the answer, but we will undoubtedly find ways of addressing some of those problems. Already, in the three years since the Early New England Families Study Project began, the expansion of access to original records, books, and manuscripts has been phenomenal. Of course, the other side of the coin is that more reference material means longer “summaries.” Oh, well.

I wonder what lies between 2016 and our tenth anniversary?

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

26 thoughts on “Three years in

  1. Alicia, I have been reading your works for so long now it seems as if you are an old friend who’s correspondence is always anticipated and happily received. Todays post is terrific and I love the description of the “invasion of overachievers”. Thanks for all your hard work…. a “groupie” from Colorado.

  2. I’m still blown away at how many decades worth of sketches there are to be done. While you may have already answered this, how do you choose who gets written up when? Do you pull the names out of a hat, or do you do the most important ones first (very undemocratic!).

    1. Bruce, thanks. Way back in Vita-brevis, I wrote some blogs about how I separate “the apples” into baskets, but in the end I get to pick the ones I want as long as they are in the time frame (married 1641 or earlier, not in Great Migration). I keep looking for “easy” ones, but I’ve come to accept that there are no easy ones!

  3. Alicia, thank you for knowing that the Early New England Families Project simply must result in a series of “sketches” that are as accurate and dependable as possible. This foresight and your perseverance will add yet another level of confidence to the great work sponsored by NEHGS. To achieve this level of credibility certainly is not easy, but it is extremely important. I applaud you for taking the time required to create what will be an enduring contribution to the present body of American genealogical research.

  4. Yes, kudos for taking on this important project. To clarify, consider, and correct 150 years of research on a whole community of “overachievers” is mind-boggling. Thank you for taking it on.

  5. Yes, Congrats! 3 years of producing not-likely-to-need-revision-for-another-150-years genbio-sketches. Takes an excellent historian to be a very good genealogist. Thinking of the lot as Type “A”s, dragging the Bs & Cs along, is apt. The country has been called A Nation of Strivers before, of course; a people on the make, always ready “to light out for the Territory”. Chasing Change.

    So, it is NOW time to Change The Model for exactly the original reason Bob A. cites: Why do we put up with “old information” with poor accessibility, still? (Savage is more correct than people like to admit, while Bob A cites Austen all the time; still ….)

    If it took Bob A. 25 years to write up what he thinks is about half the 20K names (GMD ix), we are looking at another, say, 30 years for the next 10K migrants–IF done by a very competent single genealogist Starting NOW. UNACCEPTABLE. (Not least because I’ll be 98 then.) And especially so, given the technology at hand.

    Yeah, I’ve soap-boxed this before, BUT what I outlined Will Work:
    1) securing Named Funding,
    2) securing Inter-Society institutional and hands-on support,
    3) developing a cadre of volunteers through the Volunteer Service office to actually “write genealogy” rather than only image it for a new database, and
    4) edit oversight of volunteer copy by a team of experienced genealogists reporting to the Project Editor for ultimate quality control.

    Helen and Scott B. already do a version of this. So why not The Big Two Projects? Right; not the original deal Brent offered. Well, past time to revisit Whither EFNE? as well as Whither The GM? with Brent. (I’m assuming that Bob Anderson has “retired” per his podcast statements.)

    16 years ago I urged Ralph to develop a plethora of proprietary DBs building off the start made by GMB for enhancing the Society’s brand for membership development. More than what I recommended has actually happened or is in the process of happening, but THIS–what I called Savage Revised–has not. I am bemused and disappointed.

    Heck, even Jacobus used everybody of note who were to hand to research The Bulkeley Genealogy. He just didn’t put their names on the title page. Ditto Savage himself. Let’s crowd-wisdom those Project DB title pages with ALL the contributing writers.

      1. Alas, as I don’t have the wherewithal to make Brent an offer he can’t refuse, I guess it is time to agitate. The range of talent and institutional capacity is in place. Impetus is all.

  6. Thank you, Alicia, for all you do. If you really want a fun family, try straightening out the many James Haynes of New London, CT. Barber is driving me crazy – I know, just a short putt.

  7. This a resource that will benefit many researchers. Can you tell me if a sketch on SKINNER (John Skinner of Hartford) is planned?

    1. Hi Ric, John Skinner of Hartford is planned as part of the second half of the Great Migration Study Project, since he arrived in New England in 1638. At the moment, unfortunately, there is no schedule for completion of Great Migration and since that project is working by immigration year and needs to do 1636 and 1637 first, John’s light is not on an immediate horizon.

  8. Alicia, I have always enjoyed reading your posts on Vita Brevis – both for their informative content and your wonderfully conversational style of writing. I am particularly intrigued by your new investigation of Samuel Maverick and his wife Amias (Cole) (Thompson) Maverick. Might this include Amias’ son John Thompson, son of David Thompson and his later life? There are many clues that suggest that John Thompson of Weymouth and Mendon, MA was the son of David; his many descendents would like very much to find proof of it!
    Betty Lou Morris

    1. Betty Lou, see the article by Douglas Richardson published in New Hampshire Genealogical Register, 9:110-61 (available on for the reasons why David’s son John Thomson is not the man of Weymouth and Mendon. Sorry.

      1. Is the NHG RECORD already up as a DB or will it be shortly? At the moment it doesn’t appear in the drop down list of Journals and Periodicals. I’d like to finally check the first part of the Thomas Hanson article, re his supposed brother in law whose name escapes me at this late hour!

          1. No sorry needed. You had the Best Info To Date on a query the answer to which the inquirer wouldn’t have known how to find. Finding Best Up-to-date Work remains Hugest Problem in this field. Which is why BOTH Big Projects must proceed with alacrity. Maybe Society should Have an Ask The Librarian aka the NYPL.

      2. Alicia — and Bob —
        There are many facets to the question of whether John Thompson, son of David and John Thompson of Mendon were the same person or not. They were the same age and there are many reasons for thinking they were one person, but the name is a common one. The article by Douglas Richardson which points out that the two men were addressed differently, in a way, contributes to the theory of their being the same man because of the drastic change in John’s fortunes and status when he was still a young man. John, son of David, became a merchant mariner (See the Aspinwall notary papers) and lost everything, including the ownership of Thompson’s Island which he had inherited from his father. That is when he settled in Weymouth where he had earlier acquired property and became a farmer, later moving to Mendon. Hence his change in status and title. I am told that in Mendon he was referred to as “of Thompson’s Island”. Perhaps this could be found in Mendon records. Or, perhaps, if some record of John, son of David, could be found after his financial downfall and after John of Mendon appears in the records there, the question of whether there were two men of this name or only the one, might be answered. Betty Lou

        1. Time to start digging into Worcester County Deeds imaged online at Family Search, Betty Lou! Also, Wills should be there too! But not town records as I’ve found. Your concepts are testable, so go test ’em.

          (Now if Ipswich town land records, which were filmed in 1971, were only imaged at FS, I’d be a lot happier this afternoon and a lot more productive regarding George Bunker and his wife Jane. But I can’t find them. So, on to something else.)

  9. Hello! I am new to this site but it is fascinating to me. I am a Brown from Massachusetts. My great great grandfather was Samuel Brown Jr., who married Calysta Green in 1840. That was in Heath MA and they raised their family there. I would like to find which Browns we descend from, as I am aware the name has been in Massachusetts since the first English settlers arrived. How best for me to start? Best regards from Martha Brown Dawson.

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