Tracing New England colonial roots

6 years ago

You may have run across the initials NEHGS in a footnote or heard someone refer to “Hist Gen” and wondered what they are.

Hist Gen refers to the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston. Hist Gen houses a library and archive with a great deal of original material including manuscripts. They also publish the Register and their slick publication, American Ancestors, both respected and well-known. In addition, the Society offers online webinars, classes, and onsite lectures and programs.

Hist Gen also has a website,, that is loaded with searchable databases and back issues of the Register helpful to the genealogists with New England roots who can’t make it to Boston.  

Recently, they have been adding names from Boston area Catholic parishes, an incredible resource for people with Catholic heritage. Not all parish records are on the site yet, but many are and more will be available soon.

In one of my early columns I wrote about the Mayflower Society (General Society of Mayflower Descendants) and the estimated 10 million Americans who have Mayflower heritage. The Society has published its so-called “Silver Books” or five-generation descendants project from each Pilgrim, though there are still some in the works as new material emerges.

In 2020 we will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the ship to Plymouth, Mass. There is heightened interest in the Mayflower and her passengers, including names such as Alden, Bradford, Brewster, and Standish as the anniversary nears. Accordingly, Hist Gen has entered into a partnership with GSMD to place information from their five-generation project online. These names are now in a searchable database on the website.  This is the first time that the material from the Silver Books has been online and this is the only site that has it.

The recently completed file contains almost 60,000 names, all in the fifth generation of Mayflower descendants. Five generations from 1620 will take you into the 1700 and 1800s in most cases and you can type in the name of your ancestors to see if you can find a link to a Pilgrim.

Hist Gent is fee-based though they allow researchers to browse through many of their databases for free to see if a membership is worth the cost. Except on special promotional weekends throughout the year you need to be a member to open the material. If you’re in an area where your local library doesn’t have the entire GSMD book collection and you’d like to find out if you’re one of the 10 million Americans descended from one or more Mayflower passengers, you might consider a three-month membership in Hist Gen (currently around $35).

In any event, you can visit the website and explore to give you an idea if you feel a membership would be valuable to you in your research.  Also, if you do become a member and can get to the library in Boston, you’ll find that a rewarding experience for those with New England roots.

Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society. Reader emails are welcome at Her semimonthly column is sponsored by the Aroostook County Genealogical Society which meets the fourth Monday of the month except in July and December at the Caribou Library at 6:30 p.m. Guests are always welcome. FMI contact Edwin “J” Bullard at 492-5501.