Our chief genealogist Daniel Horowitz was recently in Boston, Massachusetts for the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies’ 33rd conference. While there, he visited the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), at 101 Newbury St.
Daniel met with NEHGS chief genealogist David Allen Lambert, who provided a wonderful and complete tour of the building, including some backstage areas. Here's Daniel's report of his visit.
It was great to meet with another Chief Genealogist!
As visitors enter the building, its wonderful architecture is apparent. David explained that the original three-floor building (now eight floors) was a bank and that they kept the original design, including the vault, where some NEHGS records are stored.
This is the second genealogical society that I've seen housed in a bank facility. Two years ago, I visited the Genealogical Society of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, where their facility is also a former bank.
The NEHGS, as a historical society, has a good collection of portraits and historical artifacts from Boston, the New England region and other US locations, including such objects as John Hancock’s chair.NEHGS also has more than 250,000 books in its library, including vital record transcriptions for Massachusetts and other states.
I asked David why they continue to hold and produce genealogy books in this digital age. Without so much as a pause, he said that he can often find things in books much faster than waiting for an image to load on the screen.
Also, he shared that some people - like him - still like enjoy holding a book in his hands and turning its pages.
David shared that his passion for genealogy began thanks to a book belonging to his grandmother. It was about her family history and, when he opened it, a photo of his great-grandfather fell out. That was the beginning, he says, of a great journey he has not yet finished, and may never finish.
I was impressed with the restoration department, particularly when I learned NEHGS uses digital technology to reproduce old books. Their staff also analyzes materials used in the the books and artifacts, to understand the items' origins and dates.
In 1845, the society received its first donations of personal papers and military services records. Today, 98% of its manuscript collections come from donations. As an historical society, its first objective is to collect and conserve all documents and artifacts that reflect local and American history.
Among services provided to visitors, Family Search microfilms can be delivered to the NEHGS for personal research by patrons.
The society has partnered with the American Jewish Historical Society - which shares part of the building - not only to store its collection, but also to conduct research, preserve and digitize its material.
On its website (www.americanancestors.org), visitors can search and access millions of records as well as the complete library catalog. NEHGS website also has many educational videos. Its education department continually develops new material to post, as well as presenting lectures presented in the building to members and others.
NEHGS is happy to greet everyone. Non-members are asked to pay a $15 day fee, which can later be used to offset his or her membership fee. Members receive free entry.
David shared an anecdote about the first time he tried to enter the NEHGS, when he was 13. They refused to let him in without his parents. But how could be bring them if they weren't interested in genealogy?
“Today,” says David, “things are different and we allow minors to enter and do research without problems.”