The New England Historic Genealogical Society is one of the nation’s oldest genealogy societies. It was founded in 1845 by five men from Boston, with the purpose of exploring not only the history of New England but the genealogical history of the people who lived there or had roots there. The story of New England, after all, is the story of the settling of America by Europeans, and the founders of the organization knew this. Interestingly, Charles Francis Adams, a grandson of 2nd U.S. President John Adams and son of 6th U.S. President John Quincy Adams, objected to the organization’s name, as he was already president of the Boston Historical Society, and did not like the similarity in names. Despite his objections, and that of some of the founders who thought the name was too long and cumbersome, it was adopted, and is still called the New England Historic Genealogical Society today.
Almost from its beginnings, the New England Historic Genealogical Society (or NEHGS) has been printing quarterly genealogical journals. The journals are still being published today. The earliest ones are indexed and searchable on the NEHGS website (AmericanAncestors.org) and provide some really valuable genealogy information using primary sources that are no longer available to us today, due to them being lost through the centuries. If it weren’t for these early journals, our knowledge of early New England wouldn’t be nearly as comprehensive as it is.
The best-known publication is the NEHGS Register, which has been published quarterly since 1847 and focuses on scholarly historical and genealogical information regarding New England and its families. More recently, the organization has been publishing a quarterly magazine called American Ancestors, which is more of a contemporary magazine for genealogy hobbyists. Instead of the scholarship of the Register, American Ancestors has historical articles about New England, as well as tips about how to conduct genealogy research, information on new collections at NEHGS, projects in progress by members, information on New England-based DNA studies, and ads for books and other resources that are available from NEHGS.
NEHGS is a paid membership society, but its prices are reasonable, and anyone who has New England ancestry and does genealogy will find the membership fees worth it for what they get in return. You can join on a yearly basis, or even get a lifetime membership, depending on your budget and your research needs.
In addition to the publications that are sent to all members, members also get access to the NEHGS website. You will be given your own login credentials when you join. On the website, you will find a variety of original genealogical sources that aren’t located anywhere else online. Searchable databases point you to scans of original documents of such things as New England town vital records, land records, church and Bible records, tax records, cemetery records, and more. There are also links to partner sites where you can look at searchable early American newspapers for free. Since you can search by name, you have a good chance of finding your ancestor in these newspapers, often with information that doesn’t exist in any other source.
The organization has an extensive collection of genealogy books, and you can buy them at discounted member prices from the NEHGS bookstore. You can access the store on the website, or in catalogs the society will periodically send you. Many of these are published family histories, but some are historical studies, and others are genealogy “how-to” books. There is something in the NEHGS bookstore that can benefit everyone who has New England ancestry and does genealogy
In addition, NEHGS sponsors several research trips every year. If you like organized trips where all of the research locations are mapped out and arranged for you to visit, with experts on site to answer your questions and assist you with your research, you will enjoy these trips. There is usually one annual member trip to the Family History Center in Salt Lake City, as well as trips to places in New England, and even European locations where many of the original New England settlers were born.
If you live near the NEHGS headquarters in Boston, you can access the NEHGS research library, as well as attend the numerous genealogical and historical seminars they put on at their offices and local libraries throughout the year, each year. Even if you don’t live in the area, it’s a terrific idea to look at their calendar and make plans to attend one of these seminars if you will be traveling there during a time one of the seminars is being held. At the very least, a trip to the NEHGS library whenever you’re in town is always in order.
NEHGS is an ancient and venerable genealogical society that has enormous value for anyone with New England ancestry. Even today, the society keeps things fresh and new by keeping up with modern genealogical trends and methods, while still making its historical collections from its early days available to members. If you haven’t checked out NEHGS and all it has to offer the New England genealogist, this is an ideal time to do it.