The Great Migration Study Project
The New England Historic Genealogical Society’s Great Migration Study Project has the following mission:
The aim of the Great Migration Study Project is to compile comprehensive genealogical and biographical accounts of every person who settled in New England between 1620 and 1640. Between these years about twenty thousand English men, women, and children crossed the Atlantic to settle New England. For a century and a half genealogists have been studying these families, and thousands of books and articles have been published as a result.
The result of this project has been two series of books which serve as the standard source for New England genealogy during this period, and another series is planned. A flyer for the books produced thus far, under the leadership of Robert Charles Anderson, FASG, is located here and linked from the Great Migration Study Project web page.
But I am writing today about another product of that endeavor. The Great Migration Newsletter is issued four times per year and addresses topics and issues that would naturally come to light during a decades-long study. I subscribe to the newsletter electronically but I tend to read it when it is compiled in book form; I have an earlier compilation and the most recent volume.
The newsletter covers topics and knowledge that are amassed during the course of compiling over 2,400 biographical sketches (so far), and yet, don’t fit into the sketches themselves.
The Newsletter covers:
- sources of information town-by-town
- detailed lists of the travelers on certain ships
- the process of solving certain puzzles (most frequently, distinguishing between people with similar names)
- the meanings of archaic terms or legal proceedings
- The “Recent Literature” column provides excellent tips about publications (mostly articles) concerning this period.
- The “Editor’s Effusions” take you inside the decades-long project to help you understand the concerns, procedures, and, more than anything, the thought process involved in assigning identities from such a varied set of sources. The idea of studying all such sources deeply, and using them to reconstruct a population, is staggering. It sort of makes me tired just thinking about it.
What I learned from the Newsletter
Last weekend, I made the following discoveries in the compiled volumes of the Newsletter:
- I am not descended from a Native American, not this time, anyway. An article on my ancestor Joseph Daggett of Martha’s Vinyard was published in the NEHG Register (161 (2007): 5-21) that clarifies his two marriages, one to a native American and one to Amy Eddy. I am descended from the latter. The article, by R. Andrew Pierce, is cited on page 15 of The Great Migration Newsletter, vol. 16-20.
- There has been new work done on my Tefft line. Older works on the Teffts are clearly inaccurate, but knowing that didn’t help with my brick wall ancestor, Nancy Tefft. An article by “Pat Hatcher” was published in the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record 139 (2008): 103-8. The article, “Peter Tefft and Occam’s Razor” clarifies the first three generations of John Tefft’s line. I never thought of looking in the NYGBR, and the 2008 volumes are not included in the NEHGS online index. This article was mentioned on page 48 of The Great Migration Newsletter, vol. 16-20.
- An analysis of the earliest Providence record books. If you think this subject is not complicated, try explaining the following: “The Second Book of the Town of Providence Otherwise Called the Old Town Book, the Short Old Town Book, the Old Burnt Book and Sometimes Called the Book With Brass Clasps.” And it gets more confusing from there. The “Focus on Providence” article is an intelligent discussion of the various records available from this period. In the Vital Records section, for instance, the interesting conclusion is drawn that both Snow (Alphabetical Index of the Births, Marriages and Deaths Recorded in Providence from 1636 to 1850 Inclusive) and Arnold (Vital Records of Rhode Island, 1636 – 1850, vol. 2, Providence County) were working from transcripts for these earliest records instead of originals. This article is on pages 247-250 of The Complete Great Migration Newsletter, vol. 1-15.
- Work has been done on the English background of my ancestors Lawrence and Cassandra (Burnell) Southwick of Salem, Massachusetts, by John C. Brandon and Janet Ireland Delorey. Published in the American Genealogist 71 (1996):193-97, the article was cited on page 195 of The Complete Great Migration Newsletter, vol. 1-15.
- I now know what “a cheese fat”, a “bill-hook”, “furniture in the kitchen” and “lumber in the chamber” are, and none are what I would have thought. An article on Household Goods – Part 1 attempts to help readers be more knowledgeable about their ancestors’ probate inventory lists. It is found on page 145-146, 152 in The Great Migration Newsletter, vol. 16-20.
Why the Newsletter is so valuable
The The Great Migration Newsletter is a thoughtful look at the painstaking process of turning details into stories, which lies at the heart of genealogy. Whether they are examining groups of ship’s passengers before and after the journey, piecing together the process of becoming a freeman, using clues to find a wife’s family, reviewing books in terms of accuracy, or agonizing over the provenance of records for a town, they are doing exactly what all of us, on our best days, should be doing. Finding, and knowledgeably accounting for, all available sources.
Would you like some of the best genealogists in the country to show you their methods? Try reading The Great Migration Newsletter.
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