NEHGS’ Home Improvement

By Erika Dreifus Premium

If you liked the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s (NEHGS) online home, <>, before its 2004 overhaul, you’ll love it now. The cleaner, simpler site boasts all the benefits it had before, but now they’re easier to find, thanks to a handy “shortcut” menu and site map. Even if you don’t belong to the Boston-based organization — or your genealogical interests don’t center on New England — you’ll still uncover useful research tools here. But be forewarned: This site has so much great members-only content that you might be tempted to join.

The tab tour

When you first log on to the site, you’ll see five navigation tabs (reduced from the former 14): Home, Research, Libraries, Store and Education Center. The nice-and-neat home page points you to key features such as library catalogs, discussion forums and membership information. Members can search NEHGS’ 2,200 online databases directly from the home page; just enter an ancestor’s name and hit Go (or click on More Search Options to narrow your search by location, record type or date range). Nonmembers should click on the link “Search free sample databases and learn from over sixty free research articles.” Those databases recently included the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati Profiles, the Social Security Death Index, Genealogies of Ware [Mass.] Families, and West Farms Cemetery Transcriptions [Northampton, Mass.]. The articles cover a variety of topics, such as “Vital Records in Québec,” “Identifying the Origin of Your Irish Immigrant Ancestor” and “Finding Manuscripts Online.”

Next, click over to the Education Center. In this area, you can subscribe to NEHGS eNews, a free, weekly e-mail newsletter (archived on the site) that offers updates on the society and the genealogical community at large.

If you live in the Boston area or plan to visit, the Education Center has information on NEHGS’ free Genealogy in a Nutshell, Getting Started in Genealogy and Introduction to programs. Click on the events calendars to find out about NEHGS-organized tours and other happenings around the country.

The Libraries section of the site introduces you to NEHGS’ research library, circulating library and R. Stanton Avery Special Collections. The research library holds 200,000 genealogies, local histories, periodicals and microfilmed records, plus more than a million manuscripts. Anyone can peruse the library’s online catalog and access its riches in person for $15 per day (members get in free). NEHGS allows only members to access the 30,000-volume circulating library; borrowing information appears online. Also available to members, the society’s impressive R. Stanton Avery Special Collections contain thousands of unpublished diaries, account books, ledgers, photographs and much more. You can explore digitized items for free on the Web site.

Finally, click on the Store tab to learn about books, software and related genealogy products. The site still features a “daily special.”

For members only

Much more of the Web site opens up to NEHGS members. Click on the Research tab for a preview of these members-only perks:

? Databases: The site’s databases contain more than 100 million names, and there’s no end in sight — NEHGS regularly posts new information. Among the most popular are Cemetery Transcriptions and Massachusetts Vital Records. Thanks to a recent partnership with, members also can access that Irish research Web site once they’ve logged in to

? Research articles: Organized by geographic focus (New England states, Canada, England and Ireland), special topic (such as African-American research, health history and genetics) and columnist, these articles will help build your genealogical knowledge base.

? Reference Room: Here you can access a growing collection of reference materials, such as maps, atlases and gazetteers. A variety of New England town guides offer place-specific research strategies. Have a burning question for the NEHGS library staff? Use the Ask a Librarian feature. (Prepare to wait two to three months for a response, though.)

? Research services: Don’t have time to research in Boston? The NEHGS staff will work on your brick walls for $40 an hour ($60 for nonmembers) for up to five hours. They’ll even photocopy printed sources (only members can get copies from the manuscript collections).

Access to is just one benefit of an NEHGS Research Membership, which costs $75 per year. Research Members also get subscriptions to the quarterly New England Historical and Genealogical Register and New England Ancestors magazine, unlimited use of the research library, and access to NEHGS’ circulating library. Of course, you’ll find more membership information on the Web site.


The New England Historic Genealogical Society’s (NEHGS) retooled Web site provides easier access to the society’s members-only online data. Follow these steps to search the NEHGS databases successfully:

1. From the NEHGS home page <>, click on the Research tab, then on Databases.

2. To scan all databases for a particular ancestor’s name, use the Master Search. Take a minute to review the tutorial, then enter your ancestor’s first and last names and hit Search.

A search for Mary Williams, for example, returns 12,951 hits divided into 13 categories, including cemeteries, church records and vital records. If you’re interested in, say, probate records, click on that category to view the 35 matches.

3. You can narrow a master search by location, date range or record type. For example, if you know your Mary Williams lived in Connecticut, select Region Search on the main search page. A drop-down menu will display states and countries; choose Connecticut. This time, you’ll get just 64 matches. Experiment with the category and chronological searches, as well. If you don’t know the exact spelling of a person’s name, check the Soundex box (see page 23 for more on Soundex).

If you’re not researching a specific person, click Databases by Record Type or Location (on the main search page) to view resources for your interest area. Then you can select a database to search by name or keyword (click on Advanced Search).

From the April 2005 Family Tree Magazine