Monthly Archives: March 2016

Browse the images online

Jesus Badia 1
Click on images to expand them.

Often, when I’m looking at records on, I find source records in two categories: 1) “Browsable” (images only, no searching capability), or 2) “Searchable” (abstracted with various fields from the record). Sometimes, within the Searchable category, records will be linked to the images of the source records. In other instances, no image is available, but a link to the Family History Library film number is given. One can always then rent the microfilm to view the original record. However, before you rent the film, check the catalog, as you may be able to view the original record online, albeit in a slightly roundabout way. Continue reading Browse the images online

Modern book conservation at NEHGS

Abbey 1Douglas Richardson’s Magna Carta Ancestry isn’t a particularly old or rare volume, but it is a frequently used resource in our collections. This massive reference book tracks family lines between medieval England and colonial America, making it a valuable source of information for researchers. Unfortunately, as our conservation technician Deborah Rossi discovered, the original binding of this book was too weak to support such frequent use. To help understand why, here’s some book anatomy 101: Continue reading Modern book conservation at NEHGS

Probate records: Part Five

[Editor’s note: Alicia’s series began here.]

Joseph Alden LetterIntestate probate

For this exercise we will use the records from both the files of the Plymouth County Probate Court (i.e., images of the original documents) and from the copy books. The original files for Plymouth County are accessible and searchable on, but you can access the scans of both the originals and the copy books at – on the Search page fill in the box “Find a Collection” with “Massachusetts, Plymouth County.”

It will autofill the two selections: Continue reading Probate records: Part Five

ICYMI: Puritan Pedigrees

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 22 August 2014.]

Robert Charles Anderson_June 2014_1Now that my book on genealogical research methods (Elements of Genealogical Analysis) is out, I have turned my attention to the series of lectures I will be delivering in October and November [2014]; these, in turn, will form the basis for a future book entitled Puritan Pedigrees: The Deep Roots of the Great Migration to New England.

In most of the Great Migration volumes, I have been able to examine the motivations of the migrating families only in the context of events at the time of migration. A few years ago, while working on The Winthrop Fleet, I began to get a better feel for the deeper connections and influences which had been developing for decades and for generations leading up to the migration decision.  Continue reading ICYMI: Puritan Pedigrees

“Brought to ‘attention’”

FJB and Barbara for VB
My mother and her father, Frederick J. Bell, in Falls Church, Virginia.

The recent gift of some family photos reminds me that, well as in some ways I knew my maternal grandfather, there will always be things one cannot know, save by lucky chance. My grandfather was a career Naval officer, one who later went into business and then, in retirement, was ordained an Episcopal minister. A native of Norfolk in Virginia, Frederick Jackson Bell (1903–1994) was appointed to the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1919, when he was 16, and for the next 28 years he led a peripatetic existence, from Scotland and the Mediterranean to California, Hawaii, and the Pacific Theatre during the Second World War. Continue reading “Brought to ‘attention’”

An 1890 census substitute

William Boucher
William Boucher Jr. (1822-1899)

As we are missing (most of) the 1890 Federal Census, the value of city directories for the years around 1890 is all the greater. Looking at the Boucher family of Baltimore, the 1880s proved somewhat chaotic, with the family shop and household changing location (or perhaps just street address) more than once. As the Boucher sons grew up, they joined the family business, William Maria Boucher (1867–1921) in 1885 and Louis Albert Boucher (1871–1914?) three years later. As in 1888, Wm. Boucher Jr.,[1] “mus[ical] inst[rument]s,” appeared in the Baltimore city directory with a shop at 414 East Baltimore Street and a residence at 716 West Lanvale Street in 1889, 1890, and 1891.[2] Continue reading An 1890 census substitute

Middlesex County court records

Roger Touthaker
Some of Roger Touthaker’s testimony.

When researching a family, one can quickly become focused on names, birthdates, and death dates. It is easy to get caught up on going as far back as possible until reaching the metaphorical brick wall, and being left with a “well, what do I do now?” mentality. Seventeenth-century immigrants can be incredibly difficult to trace and track, but learning about them in public records can help add meaning and information about their lives. Continue reading Middlesex County court records

Probate records: Part Four

[Editor’s note: Alicia’s series begins here.]

Dixon Inventory 1
Click on the images to expand them.

The inventory

Two important dates to remember to note are the date an inventory was taken and the date it was filed with the court. There are many instances where these dates can give clues to the date of death or reveal irregularities such as delayed proceedings. On the top of the first page of John Dickson’s inventory is the date 27 June 1737, which looks like it is the date the inventory was taken, but on the back of the second page is the date 30 March 1737, which is more likely when the inventory was initially made. Because of the delay caused by the contested will it was not filed until June. The inventory may also have been updated before being made official, as there are noticeable corrections made in a darker ink, including the date. Continue reading Probate records: Part Four

ICYMI: Tips for searching on

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 17 July 2014. Since the time of that posting, we have made enhancements to our search functionality on that return broader results without using wildcards.  The wildcard strategy still works as advertised, however.]

When we were deciding how our database search would work, one of the key considerations was that we didn’t want to return search results that contained a lot of ‘noise.’ On other websites, the database architects allowed for a certain (sometimes significant) number of irrelevant search results. This was undoubtedly intended to be helpful, but it is actually quite frustrating. So we decided to do ‘exact’ searches with a couple of twists. The goal was to give results that were exactly what you searched for. We spent quite a lot of time tuning our search algorithm, trying different approaches and analyzing the results. We’re pretty happy with our final approach, but it’s definitely helpful to understand how it works. And what the twists are. Continue reading ICYMI: Tips for searching on

“An elderly groom”

PP231.236 Regina Shober Gray. Not dated.
Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue mall features monumental statues on most blocks, and the block closest to NEHGS boasts a representation of Alexander Hamilton given to the city by Benjamin Tyler Reed (1801–1874). Mr. Reed, a founder of the Episcopal Theological School, appears with some frequency in Regina Shober Gray’s diary, and it is safe to say that to Mrs. Gray he did not present a very heroic figure.

I’ve already written about Mrs. Gray’s dismay at her friend Mary Coolidge’s engagement to Mr. Reed.[1] The Grays and the Coolidges were close – Mrs. Gray writes on 23 January 1860 of having had “a few minutes racy chat with Mary C.”; in fact, as was usually the case in the Gray diary, Mary Coolidge was also a Gray family connection (as the younger sister of Mrs. Gray’s stepmother’s brother’s sister-in-law).

Boston, 16 April 1860: “An unusually full meeting of the ‘circle’[2] at Mary Coolidge’s, and a very entertaining one too. She was full of spirits and kept us on the broad laugh with her droll way of telling things.” Continue reading “An elderly groom”