An historic collaboration

archdiocese-and-nehgs-project-branding-square-format-croppedOn Tuesday, NEHGS announced the first fruits of an historic collaboration with the Archdiocese of Boston, one where – over a period of years – Archdiocesan records will be digitized and made available on the NEHGS website, In the fullness of time, this collaboration will preserve and make accessible unique records to tell the stories of some 10 million people from the earliest days of the Catholic community in Massachusetts through the twentieth century. These records are key because they often include events not captured in civil registrations. Whether because of a home birth or a conscious decision not to report an event to a civil authority, these documents might include the only written record for a birth or a death. Their importance and value cannot be overstated.

There is an innate yearning amongst people to know from where we come. Whether one is reflecting solely on the past or trying to understand our forbears’ impact on the present and future, here at the New England Historic Genealogical Society we work to help our visitors discover and understand their heritage. At the very heart of what we do, and what we help others to do, is exploring the stories and the histories of people, their families, and their unique place in the human experience.

Over the history of this organization, we have engaged in many collaborations to make important record sets available and to ensure the preservation of those records for future generations of historians, genealogists, and the public. From our earliest days, when we saved 1790s tax and property lists from fire, the preservation of those records allowed us to better understand Massachusetts in the eighteenth century; beginning in the first years of the twentieth century, we worked with cities and towns across Massachusetts to transcribe and publish more than 2 million birth, marriage, and death records that were being lost to time and the elements – records that dated from the 1620s through the end of the nineteenth century. Most recently, we have collaborated with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court archives to make accessible online, for the first time, the historic probate records of the Commonwealth.

Over the history of this organization, we have engaged in many collaborations to make important record sets available…

We hold three aims within our institutional purpose, to educate, inspire, and connect people. Our historic collaboration with the Archdiocese of Boston is a fulfillment of those aims.

In addition to the records we are bringing online, which are the foundation for research, we also seek to educate and provide context for what the records contains. So through the efforts of a very talented staff including Thomas Lester, Archivist and Records Manager at the Archdiocese of Boston; Jean Maguire, Library Director here at NEHGS; Claire Vail, our Director of Digital Strategy; and our web team including Sam Sturgis, Molly Rogers, Kelsey Jarboe, Andy Hanson-Dvoracek, John Phlo, and Don Leclair, along with Abbey Schultz, we have created a companion website for this project – – which provides an interactive narrative history of the growth of the Catholic community in Massachusetts, and gives insight into key people and events in that history.

Family history is our passion and purpose. From it, we can discover much about community, about faith, about politics, and about the human condition. We are very proud to be working with Archdiocese to bring these materials to the public.

About Ryan Woods

Engaged in museum and library management for more than a decade, Ryan Woods oversees the day-to-day operations of NEHGS and is responsible for the strategic implementation of technology and content services. Since joining NEHGS in 2007, he has held successive roles developing education programs, supervising the research library, and leading business and technology initiatives, including the creation of the Society’s flagship website, Prior to arriving at NEHGS, Ryan served in several key capacities at the Mary Baker Eddy Library and at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, where he was recognized by members of Congress and the Archivist of the United States with a special commendation for outstanding achievement in public service. A licensed educator and author of educational and genealogical articles, he earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in history, education, and non-profit program management from Boston University. In addition to his work at NEHGS, Ryan serves on several boards of historical and educational institutions and is a member of the Society of the Cincinnati, the Society of Colonial Wars, the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem.

6 thoughts on “An historic collaboration

  1. First, I love the use of the phrase, “In the fullness of time.” Very ecclesiastical language!

    Secondly, while these records are unlikely to be of use to me personally, I can appreciate what a boon they will be to many of your members and to thousands of other genealogists.

    When I discovered the identity (including pictures) of a great-great-grandmother born in Los Angeles in 1843, I assumed that it would be the end of the trail since so few civil records were kept in “Wild West” California. I was very pleasantly surprised to find out that the old Catholic mission records are preserved and searchable free online through the Huntington Library (with the exception of two missions, whose records were lost). Through them I was able to find out some very cool things: her godmother Luisa Avila grew up in the oldest surviving house in Los Angeles; her godfather Manuel Garfias was involved in drafting Mexican California’s terms of surrender to Fremont in 1847; and her brother’s godfather Andres Pico signed that agreement, the Treaty of Cahuenga, as the last titular Mexican Governor of California.

    Since the records were freely written by the officiating priest, rather than in the form of filled in registers, many details are provided which can be helpful. For instance, the identity of my great-great-grandmother’s mother was tricky. Some sources seemed to indicate that she’d been born a couple of years after her father died! Fortunately the priest who officiated at her baptism was kind enough (for posterity, anyway!) to indicate that she was the illegitimate daughter of one Rafael Valdez (age 24) and Dolores Lugo (age 40), the widow of Fructuoso Ruiz.

    I am so thankful to those priests, laboring in remote and often lonely circumstances, whose diligence enabled me to trace my family back to the earliest Spanish settlers of California… including Juan Francisco Reyes, a mulatto and the first non-white alcalde (mayor/magistrate) of Los Angeles.

  2. This is incomparable news for many. Dare we hope that others, especially in NYC, will follow suit. I am going to donate to the Boston effort tho I have no known Boston ancestors and I hope I may do the same for NY and Brooklyn one day.

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