New GeneaGem: Nantucket Historical Association

It’s been some time since I shared a new GeneaGem, but today I have an excellent find for anyone with Nantucket, Massachusetts ancestors OR if you have ancestors who worked in the whaling industry. In fact, it was this website that enabled me to crack through my Coleman brick wall several years ago.

The Nantucket Historical Association was founded on 9 July 1894 – yes, 1894!

Of course, if you are lucky enough to live locally in Massachusetts, membership in this association ($55 per year) offers some excellent benefits.

However, I have chosen the Nantucket Historical Association as a GeneaGem because of several online options that are free to the public.

1. If you have whalers in your family tree, there is an interesting audio tour that you can take from the comfort of your home.

2. Digital Exhibitions – There are currently ten digital exhibitions covering various aspects of Nantucket history, including, of course, whaling, but also of Nantucket life from abolition of slavery to women’s suffrage, the Nantucket Art Colony and Cape Verdean (Portugal) heritage, among others.

There is also a substantial archive of previous Digital Exhibitions.

3. There is search capability for the library collections.

4. There is also a page for Research Tools, which is where the most fabulous hidden gem resides. On this page can be found Sanborn maps (1887, 1892, 1898, 1904, 1909 and 1949) of the area and a searchable database of Nantucket cemeteries.

The hidden gem is the Barney Genealogical Record. From the collection description: In the nineteenth century, Eliza Starbuck Barney (1802–1889) created a genealogical record that contained the births, deaths, and marriages of more than 40,000 Nantucketers over two and a half centuries. The original genealogical record comprises 1,702 ledger pages in six volumes. 

This is a fabulous, fabulous record collection which can be searched by name. I mentioned my Coleman brick wall. Well, I had my line documented back to Joseph Coleman, born c1768 in Massachusetts. Joseph as a given name was unusual in all the colonial New England Coleman families with the blatant exception of the descendants of Thomas Coleman, who settled on Nantucket in the 1600s.

I was sure my Joseph Coleman, who died in Bowdoinham, Maine in 1852, was from Nantucket. However, I couldn’t make the link because, although Nantucket Vital Records included several Coleman children, including a boy, Joseph, born about the right year as my ancestor, the parents of these children, Joseph Coleman and Eunice Coffin, disappeared out of Nantucket records.

On the Research Tools list, just click on the Barney Record.

Then, click on Explore the Barney Genealogical Record.

Next, just enter your name/s of interest.

I hoped to find out more information about Joseph Coleman and Eunice coffin- like what happened to them since there were no probate records for either of them and Joseph had supposedly died in 1775, leaving minor children.

I searched for Joseph Coleman and ten hits came up, including the man born in 1739, who was my person of interest.

I clicked on the live link and a family group sheet, which appeared innocuous enough, actually gave me the one tiny clue, which later led to the total breakdown of this brick wall.

See the note at the bottom? This family moved to Newburgh, New York! Never in a million years would I have thought to look for the Colemans there.

I also was able to prove that Joseph Coleman didn’t DIE in 1775, that date was the year he and Eunice sold their Massachusetts property.

Joseph might have died in Guinea, of yellow fever, but he appears in New York land records between 1775 and 1791, when probate on his estate was held.

I don’t know that I would ever have made the connection between Joseph Sr. and my Joseph without the Barney Genealogical Record housed on the Nantucket Historical Association website.

There you have it – four excellent resources that make the Nantucket Historical Association a GeneaGem!




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