Category Archives: Historical Societies

New GeneaGem: The American Antiquarian Society: 200+ Year Old Treasure Trove

The American Antiquarian Society isn’t a destination that rolls off the tongue of most Americans. In fact, aside from scholars, I doubt that many Americans, even genealogists, are aware of the society’s existence.

That, in itself, is a travesty, given that the American Antiquarian Society was founded in 1812!

Therefore, today, I’d like to share a bit about the history and resources of what I believe is the oldest NATIONAL American historical society.

The AAS, as it is often called, is located at 185 Salisbury Street in Worcester, Massachusetts. It was founded by a Revolutionary War patriot and printer, Isaiah Thomas.

The main calling of the AAS is as a national research library, focused on American history and culture, up until the centennial of the United States – 1876.

However, don’t think that there is nothing of interest to genealogists who are not scholars because history AND culture are the very fabrics of our lives. No one lives in a vacuum.

How large is the AAS collection? Well, according to the orientation film which I viewed online, 4,000,000 items fill 25 MILES of shelves!

I would love to visit the American Antiquarian Society, but Tucson isn’t exactly near Worcester. Therefore, I browsed the website to see what resources are available online that would interest me in terms of family history and genealogical research.

First, I have to state that serious scholars would no doubt need in person visits to accomplish their academic goals.

On the other hand, those of us who want to learn more about American social history and culture can benefit from AAS’s online offerings.

AAS has been in the forefront of digitization of books and items to be posted online and the collection is extensive. AAS houses everything form newspapers and magazines to books, sheet music, valentines, board games and playing cards. In other words, it provides many ways to understand what our ancestors’ daily lives were all about.

The home page is constantly changing, introducing visitors to upcoming programs and exhibitions.

There are two ways to learn about online resources. First, look at the tabs in the blue border near the top of the screen. Third choice form the right is DIGITAL AAS.

A new page opens and here is a partial view of the list:

A complete list of the online collections can be browsed from the Digital Resources, A-Z option at the top of the page.

Additional choices include these categories:

Recently Added
Virtual Programs
At AAS/By Subscription
K-12 Digital Resources
Online Exhibitions
Research Guides
Social Media  and
Digital Humanities Projects Using AAS Materials (DH Projects)

Those are a lot of options to browse!

My first visit was to the K-12 Digital Resources. Many readers might skip it, thinking school materials will be too basic, especially with the wide K-12 range. Not so. How many of us are experts or even would consider ourselves VERY knowledgeable about The News Media and the Making of America, 1730-1865 or The Letters of Abigail Adams? Those are two of the sets of educational materials.

Do you have an ancestor who attended the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama? AAS has an online collection of 56 photographs of life there between 1890-1915.

Next,  I took a look at Open-Access, which is an inventory of its digital images which can be accessed online. Items are categorized, with the first being an Ambrotype photo collection, with most subjects identified by name. Oh, would I love to find one of my ancestors there!

Lastly, I wanted to see what was offered in Research Guides. There are four collections here – African-American Resources, Architectural Resources, Indigenous Peoples Resources and Judaic Resources available at the society.

That’s just a quick overview, as I wanted to give you a sense of the types of works to be found online.

The second way to view online offerings is by clicking on the JOIN US ONLINE tab near the bottom of the home page. A new page provides three new categories – Virtual Programs, Virtual Book Talks and Webinars. All are free to view and are housed on YouTube. It is possible to attend events live, but advance (free) registration is required.

If you choose Virtual Programs, a list of ten upcoming or recent programs comes up. Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the list, where there is another link to PREVIOUS PROGRAMS, which can be viewed on YouTube.

Here are some of the topics:

Rescued from Oblivion: Historical Cultures in the Early United States

Boneyarn: A Poetry Reading and Discussion about Slavery in New York City

How Baseball Happened: A Conversation with Thomas Gilbert

Before COVID: Illness in Everyday Life in Early New England

Cultivated by Hand: Amateur Musicians in the Early American Republic

My Name is ʻŌpūkahaʻia: A Performance and Discussion Panel Commemorating the First Missionaries to Hawaiʻi

Frontier Rebels: The Fight for Independence in the American West, 1765-1776

As you can see, there are a wide variety of topics and these represent just a small sampling.

The American Antiquarian Society is a true GeneaGem that provides us all with glimpses into the past lives of our ancestors.



Revisiting Digital State Archives and Local Historical Societies

I have written about state and local historical societies as GeneaGems, but I still firmly believe that they are 1) a vastly underused resource and 2) one of the quickest expanding resources, usually for free, on the web today.

As I have roots in Passaic, New Jersey, I am going to focus on that area, but I strongly suggest that each reader seek out these resources for your own locations of interest.

First, the New Jersey Digital State Archives is a fabulous site. It recently moved, so if you happened to have bookmarked it, you’ll need to update your link.

You’ll want to choose the “Search the Collections” link on the left top menu. Another page opens:

Overview of Genealogical Collections Link

The Overview of Genealogical Collections (green arrow, above) is a five page PDF file of the genealogically related holdings of the New Jersey State Archives. There are some live links to some works in progress, including a NJ Marriage Index 1848-1878 and a Death Records Index 1878-1890, some early military records, dating back to the Revolution, NJ state census data, and NJ Supreme Court records.

The “Searchable Databases” link includes 14 databases containing thousands of images relating to vital records, land records, legal name changes and a great section on old photographs – Department of Agriculture photos, NJ National Guard pictures and historical Federal Writers’ Project photos.

The new page looks like this, although I couldn’t quite capture it:


Databases online

There is also a link to digitized Documentary Treasures.

Access to all of these resources is FREE!

My next website visit is the Passaic County Historical Society, housed at Lambert Castle. The “go to” link fro online digital resources on this website is the “Genealogy Club” link. I couldn’t capture the whole home page in one image, so there are two. Genealogy Club Home Page

However, one must scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to find the link to the online resources offered by the PCHS Genealogy Club:

Next, I will click on “Resources On Line From the Collection.” Up comes another page too long to capture in one image. Here is a shot of just the top portion of the page:

There are fabulous GeneaGem nuggets in here like selected lists of Passaic and Paterson High School graduates from 1873-190, lists of deaths from the cholera epidemics of 1832 and 1847 and an inmate list from November 1877.

Categories in the list include Selected Articles from the Passaic County Historical Society, Schools and Associations, Bible Records, Biographies, Industry and Business, Cemeteries, Census, Churches, City Directories, Map, Military, Newspaper Extracts, Orphan Research, Passaic County and Its Environs and a list of links to other New Jersey sites.

I’ve hit the motherlode for sourcing information on the history of Passaic County.

Much of this information doesn’t come up directly in a web search. It takes some digging, which is why you should search out (whichever state) Digital Archives and (whatever place) Historical Society to discover what may be waiting for you. Many of these organizations are adding new data and photos almost daily. You may be more than pleasantly surprised!

Another Plug for Local Genealogical Resources – Lawrence County, OH

In past posts, I’ve mentioned the fabulous treasures that can be found not on the big genealogy sites, but on smaller local ones or possibly not yet online at all. I just can’t sing the praises of these sites enough.

A great example of an area with rich genealogical resources and a strong presence both online and on location is Lawrence County, Ohio. If you have followed my posts for a while, you might recognize Lawrence County as the marriage place for black sheep Isaac Sturgell and his young wife, Mary Bandy, back in 1844. The Sturgells and the Bandys both settled in that area in the mid-1830’s. When I first began researching them, all my contacts were by U.S. mail as there was no internet.

If I were just beginning to research in Ohio today, let’s say in Lawrence County, my steps would be vastly different.

First, a quick search of “Lawrence County Ohio genealogy” brings up multiple hits. Notice that with the exception of, none of the other sites are linked to the most common subscription websites.

The first site on the list is The Lawrence Register. This site is a combination of free items, some transcribed and some digitized, and a choice to hire researchers.

The Lawrence Register Home Page

Part of the scrollable index on the left includes an intriguing sounding item. Knowing that Isaac Sturgell had four wives and probably at least two, if not all four, divorced him, I clicked on “Divorces.” Look at the last item:

The last bulleted item is “Scanned Divorce Records from Lawrence County Ohio Courthouse Attic.” The bottom of the alphabetical list says that 681 records with 1491 documents are in this scanned list! A treasure trove, online and free.!

There are also transcribed Bible records, biographies taken from old histories, two early tax lists, and even some stories about murders that happened in the area.

Next, I clicked on the Lawrence County, Ohio Genealogical Society:

Lawrence County Genealogical Society Home Page

What caught my eye here was the box to access old newsletters from 1984-2013. Those newsletters always contained all sorts of odd little tidbits, like local voters in the 1860 presidential election and their political affiliations. There were always lots of queries, too, which could lead to some great finds.

There is another link on the home page to “Courthouse Records Index” with images. I clicked on that to find:

I then chose the option for burial records of indigent soldiers. I then randomly chose “Thomas Ackerson” and up came a digitized record of his burial costs.

Burial Expenses Report for
Thomas Ackerson

Another gold mine if you have a soldier in your family who died in Lawrence County and was in poor economic circumstances.

Next, I clicked on “Lawrence County, Ohio Local History and Genealogy Room,” which happened to be a link to their Facebook page.

Lawrence County, Ohio Local History and
Genealogy Room Facebook Page

The Facebook page features a variety of information, ranging from news stories of past natural disasters to links for searching Ohio land records to features on early residents.

Although the site didn’t come up in the first few hits, Lawrence County also has a historical society.

I hope I’ve convinced you to step away from the most common genealogical research sites and to actually seek out smaller, lesser known local entities to see what else might be available. You never know what you might find.