Archive for the ‘Local Resources’ Category

Yearbooks and How They Can Be Used

Part of Newton Free Library’s Collection of Yearbooks

Most of us are familiar with high school yearbooks. We probably have at least one from our own senior year. They may be filled with signed comments from our fellow graduates, some funny, some not so much. … Going through them brings back all sorts of memories and can spark stories. You may have tucked graduation programs and other loose mementos into it that were important to you. Collections of high school yearbooks in public libraries are potent resources that are used often and for various purposes. They can be consulted by reporters for news stories, checked by people writing biographies, searched by people looking for pictures of their parents or grandparents or for birth parents whom they have never seen.

One Special Yearbook

The yearbook with its acid-free archival case.

What is it that sparks my current focus on yearbooks? A local high school is making available to our library whatever yearbooks we need or would like to add to our collections.  A member of our reference staff, Kim Hewitt, is working with materials in our Special Collections room. In this capacity she visited the high school library to take a look at what it has. When Kim checked a copy of one 1937 Newtonian yearbook for loose ephemera, she discovered something extraordinary. Someone had kept clippings about the graduates, especially those who served in World War II. On almost every page there were tipped-in newspaper articles about graduates pictured on that page, usually stories about their military service. Some described their current activities overseas. Some were death notices. The articles span events and battles over a number of years. Personal milestones, such as marriages, are the subject of other clippings. In short, it is a genealogist’s gold mine of information.

If something has been “tipped in,” it means you can lift the material and see what’s underneath.

This yearbook has now become a part of Newton’s Special Collections. If you have a relative who graduated from Newton High School in 1937, it’s worth a look. If you are interested, its catalog title is Newton High School Class of 1937 and World War II.” The call number is N 373.34 N38M.  Clicking on the preceding title will take you directly to its entry in our online catalog.  It does not circulate and must be used within the library.

Compact Shelving with one opening. If you want to get into the first bay on the far left, all the other bays have to be moved forward.

A Note about Compact Shelving and Viewing Material from Newton’s Special Collections

Since the 1937 yearbook mentioned above is so unique and also fragile, it will be kept in what is known as compact shelving, not on the open Special Collection shelving.   Using compact shelving saves a great deal of space but requires the movement of heavy shelving electronically. Newton’s compact shelving is run by machinery that is old and can be somewhat cranky.  It needs two people to open it to retrieve material kept there. If you are thinking of coming in to look at this item, or other collections from compact shelving, it would help if you let us know in advance. If we know when you are coming, we can pull material for you ahead of time.

Actually it’s always a good idea to plan ahead with any library you are visiting. Check in advance for any special restrictions or rules for viewing or copying fragile or unique material. What are the library’s hours? Do they change depending on the season? Will the library be closed due to construction or maintenance during the period you are planning on coming? Are all its collections on site or does it need time to retrieve them from offsite storage? Whenever you request an item from a library, having its name and call number will speed up the process. Any library should allow you to search its online catalog, no matter where you live.

You and Your Own Family’s Yearbooks

Do you know if your family members, especially aunts, uncles, and grandparents, have yearbooks they would be willing to show to you? They might even share memories of their high school years and their friends.  Don’t forget that many local libraries actively collect and also accept gifts of high school yearbooks. Each one that has been owned by a graduate has unique inscriptions by classmates and some may have the owner’s own notations. Public libraries located near where your relatives or ancestors lived may have their own such treasure troves from their local schools.  Some may even have been given to them by your relatives or their friends. It’s worth checking. While you’re at it, don’t forget to look in your own attic, basement, or bookcase. Do you have your parents’ or grandparents’ yearbooks?  You might want to take a closer look at them. You never know when you’ll strike unexpected gold. And if you find them in the basement or attic, you might want to move them to a bookcase on your main floor. They’ll last longer.

Good luck with your quest, wherever it takes you.

vea/13 June 2017
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  

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DSC06538Are you related to the Metcalf family? Be sure to join us for the second in the series of special family research days at the Dedham Historical Society & Museum on February 4, from 1:00 – 4.00pm, when we focus on holdings that relate to the Metcalf family.

Members of the Metcalf family were involved in the beginning of the Town of Dedham in 1636.  Featured research materials available for review include archival and genealogical records such as histories, wills, deeds, and other Metcalf manuscripts.  Also included are documents that have recently been added to the Metcalf family archival collection.  This program is by appointment only. Please contact Sandra Waxman at 781- 326-1385 or library@dedhamhistorical.org to reserve a place. This program is free for members; $5 fee for non-members.

As a special note; the historic 1652 Metcalf chair is always on view in the museum, as are a blanket chest, coat of arms, and clock, all related to the Metcalf family.

The Dedham Historical Society & Museum hours are: Office is open Tuesday – Friday 9:00am – 4:00pm; Museum is open Tuesday – Friday 12noon – 4:00pm, and the Archive is available by appointment on Tuesday and Thursdays from 9:00am – 4:00pm. The Museum and Archives are also open on even dated Saturdays from 1:00 – 4:00pm. For more information about the Dedham Historical Society & Museum please contact them at 781-326-1385 or society@dedhamhistorical.org. The DHS is located at 612 High Street, Dedham.

Announcement written by Sandra Waxman,
Dedham Historical Society
Posted by vea/31 January 2017
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  



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Newman Congregational Church, East Providence RI (2012). Photograph by Kenneth C. Zirkel.

Newman Congregational Church, East Providence RI (2012). Photograph by Kenneth C. Zirkel.

I was recently doing some online research relating to the records of the Newman Congregational Church in East Providence, Rhode Island.  A number of my ancestors, though Massachusetts residents, attended this church. I always wondered how a church in Rhode Island became the church of choice for families in Massachusetts, especially in an age when horses and walking were the two main means of transportation. I decided to do some investigating. As it turns out, the church began its existence in Massachusetts and has actually gotten around quite a bit in the intervening years.

To begin at the beginning, according to the Newman Congregational Church itself and the East Providence Historical Society, the church was founded in 1643. (But, according to the Rhode Island Historical Society, it was founded a bit earlier, in 1641.) It was built on land that was originally part of an area known as Seacunck, then renamed Rehoboth by a community of new settlers, English Puritans. Rehoboth was officially established as a town in 1645.  In other words, the church has been around for quite awhile, 370 years, give or take.

The Newman Congregational Church remained in place for the first 170 years of its history. Then in 1812 Rehoboth’s borders changed. The western part of Rehoboth split off and became Seekonk. The church was on Seekonk land and became part of this new town. To complicate matters further, Seekonk and Rehoboth were part of an area that had been a bone of contention between Rhode Island and Massachusetts since the colonial period. In 1861 the United States Supreme Court awarded part of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to Seekonk. According to the Rhode Island Historical Society, in “1862, the western part of the town of Seekonk was set off to the state of Rhode Island, and renamed East Providence.” When the dust settled, the Newman Congregational Church was now in an entirely different state. The church moved from Rehoboth to Seekonk, within Massachusetts, and then to East Providence, Rhode Island — without moving, physically that is. To complicate matters still further, the church’s address is listed as being in Rumford, which is actually a section of East Providence. Details such as these can be confusing to those researchers not used to the idea that divisions and villages such as Rumford can be parts of towns and cities rather than entities unto themselves.

In my classes I am always stressing the importance of local history and knowing the borders and boundaries for the locations where ancestors lived. What do you do if you can’t find records where you expect them to be? Look at a period map. Check the town or city history. If your ancestor’s family lived near a border, they may have belonged to organizations or attended religious services across that border in another town or county or state or province. Then again, it may be the border that changes.  As the saga of Newman Congregational illustrates, “location” can be a most changeable factor, encompassing people and their homes and even their places of worship. Though this is the first instance that I’ve found of a church having border issues, I have a hunch it won’t be the last.  And that, by the way, is how my Massachusetts ancestors ended up going to a Rhode Island church.


Additional sources consulted:

Historical Data Relating to Counties, Cities, and Towns in Massachusetts, prepared by William Galvin, Secretary of the Commonwealth. Boston, MA: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1997. “Rehoboth, Bristol County” pp. 96-97; “Seekonk, Bristol County” pp. 103-104.   MASS 974.4 M38H  Note: Only the 1920 and 1948 editions of this reference work are available at Internet Archive.

History of Fall River: With Notices of Freetown and Tiverton as published in 1841 by Orin Fowler; Together with a Sketch of the Life of Rev. Orin Fowler, an Epitome of the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Boundary Question, an Account of the Great Fire of 1843, and Ecclesiastical Manufacturing, and Other Statistics. Fall River, MA: Almy and Milne Printers, 1862. “Massachusetts and Rhode Island: Boundary Question” pp. 67 – 71. Title linked to copy at Internet Archive.


vea/23 September 2016
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  



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The Newton War Memorial was dedicated on Armistice Day, 11 November 1931, to honor all those in the military who served, who fought, and who died to protect our country’s freedoms. The following photographs depict parts of that ongoing memorial.

DSC01752 front

The Entrance to Newton’s War Memorial





The Vietnam War was fought from November 1, 1955 to April 30, 1975.



The Korean War was fought from June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953.



World War II  was fought from September 1, 1939 to September 2, 1945. The United States entered the war on December 8, 1941.



The conflicts before World War II are represented by dioramas.


World War I was fought from July 28, 1914 to November 11, 1918. The United States formally declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.

DSC06232“Somewhere in France” 1917 – 1918


The War Between the States was fought from the firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861 to Lee’s surrender to Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865.

DSC06237Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863


The War of 1812 was fought from June 18, 1812 to February 18, 1815.

DSC06229The American Constitution vs. the British Guerriere on August 19, 1812


The Revolutionary War was fought from April 19, 1775 to September 3, 1783.

DSC06245Valley Forge, the Winter of 1777 to 1778


DSC02075 flags horizontal pixThe MIA and American Flags, Still Flying, in Front of the War Memorial


vea/26 May 2016
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy



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The Art of Research and How to Find Local Resources

DSC05030 Genealogy Files by FamilyA curiosity about family history always starts with a question, a need to know.  It can start with a question we ask ourselves or something that is asked of us. Once engaged, we may ask relatives about the individuals who make up our family and are our ancestors. We then look at what we have and what is missing. We form more questions. What do we want to know? What piques our curiosity? One family? One ancestor?  One question expands into several. What quest are we on? What pieces of information do we want to discover?  Where do we think they are likely to be?

websites VerticalHaving committed ourselves to find the answer, we often continue our genealogy quest by going online. We could be looking for books relating to our ancestors in an online catalog or searching databases for records. Many libraries pay for subscription databases such as Ancestry, American Ancestors, and Heritage Quest so their patrons can use them at no cost.  If we want to get started on our home computer, FamilySearch.org is a good option. FamilySearch.org has millions of records online and access is absolutely free.  It was created and is maintained by those members of the Mormon Church particularly interested in family history. This site is just as important as Ancestry to check. As we become more experienced we also discover websites that are especially useful for our particular areas of research, favorites that we keep returning to.

Front of Library 17 October 2012At some point, inevitably, we come up empty handed and are not sure what to do next.  This is when we turn to people or institutions that we think can help us. These include public libraries, historical societies, genealogy/family history societies, town clerks, librarians, archivists, and subject specialists. We discover many of our personal contacts by first going through the institutions that employ them. It is likely we will first consult the institutions that are nearest to us geographically. Think, however, of your ancestors. Most of them probably moved around, some fairly frequently. Don’t overlook the importance of local history and genealogy resources in the areas where they lived.

Interested in learning more about a location, you may start by looking up a town or city of interest on the Internet. You may also consult books like The Genealogist’s Address Book and American Libraries Directory for likely places to send your question.  Once you discover a likely contact, you need to do two things: check out your contact online and organize your question. To find more information about your contact, see if the institution has a website or a blog, a Facebook or Twitter page.  Learn a bit about what it does and the information or collections it has. Why do you think this institution can help you? Once you check it out, do you still think it can help? Find out if there are guidelines for asking questions. Does it list a preferred email or postal address? Now back to your specific question:

The Importance of Questions

115 Larger Question MarkA question sent by email or through the post should be succinct and to the point while at the same time providing enough information for your contact to work with. Telephone queries may be fine to double-check contact information and hours, but for family research you need to offer a certain amount of detail. Questions that include information such as family names, dates, and places are best exchanged in writing. Anyone who has dealt with census records knows the myriad ways this material can be misheard and misspelled. Your question and accompanying information need to be written.  If you desire an answer, how you pose your question is critical.

Here are some tips for what to include in your question from someone who answers them (me).

  1. Focus specifically on what you want to find out. For example, if you are seeking information about a person, let your contact know the full name of the person you are researching.
  1. What specific piece of information do you want to know? If you are researching a person, do you want to find a birth or marriage or death record? Think about what you are using these records to discover. Are you using them to find parents’ names? Say so in your correspondence. Do not think just of the record you are looking for, but of the information you need. It will be easier for your contact to think of alternate sources for the information needed if they become necessary.
  1. Do you already have other information that would narrow the search to the correct person? Do you have family members (spouse, children, parents) or dates and/or locations of birth, marriage, or death? Include them in your query.
  1. What makes you think the specific person or institution you are contacting has the information you are looking for?
  1. Let your contact know which sources you have already checked. You want the person to help you by covering new territory, not rehashing what has already been searched.
  1. Restate succinctly what you would like your contact to do.
  1. Don’t forget to end with a thank-you. Remember that the people you contact have many demands on their time. Be polite and let them know you appreciate their spending some of this time helping you.


Consider the following email as a model for how a query can be constructed, question by question.

Who are you researching?

I hope that you might be able to help me locate information on my great uncle, [full name] b.[birth date]. His son [same name, Jr.] b.[birth year] – d.[death year] worked for the city of Newton for many years.  Note that the writer not only gave me a very specific question, but also let me know another critical piece of information.  There were two men, father and son, with exactly the same name. The son worked here for many years – hence I may find other records under the name I am researching that pertain to a different person.

What specifically do you want to find out about the person you are researching?

My goal is to locate the death record and burial place of [first name] Sr.

What additional information do you have that might help?

The last-known record that he personally filled out was a WWII registration card in [nearby town] in [year], however  Why are you checking in this location? he was listed in the your city’s directory [page number given] in [year of directory] living at [address] with his son. My correspondent was able to find a copy of the directory, probably online, before she contacted the library.

What research have you already done?

I do not believe that he had a Social Security number as there is no SS death index entry for him. Although he registered for both WWI and WWII, there is no service record for him.  I have spoken to the State Archives, Boston Veteran’s Services, WWI museum in Concord, Military records, NARA, all surrounding towns, our family cemetery records, Find A Grave, Ancestry, Familysearch.org, Social Security Administration office, and pretty much all other resources within my ability. Many people will not have done this extensive amount of research. But whatever you have done, put down. You do not want resources you have already seen rechecked. Given time constraints, this will result in new sources having gone unchecked.

What would you like me to do?

I hope that you might have access to additional directories, perhaps an obituary database or another means to search for the death of [full name of person being researched].

Thank you for your assistance,

[Your name and contact information]

Newton City Clerk's Office 2010Results: When I went to the City Clerk’s Office, I found no record for the father. I found no obituary on our Newton Graphic newspaper microfilm for the son, as well as no death record.  (By the way, when I pay a visit to the City Clerk’s Office, I always bring a family group sheet as a reminder to write down additional information I discover. It is always a paper version. For me, having something in your hand is a better prompt than if it’s buried on a laptop or tablet.)  I found the marriage record of the son and records for the birth of four children (grandchildren of the man she was researching). She did not have information on two of the children and she did not have the marriage record. I checked for other information in a private subscription I have that pointed the search to a bordering town.

Now, how about an example of a bad query:

I have a whole lot of [fill in any surname] with a ton of [fill in common given names] and I don’t know how to put them together.  I’m enclosing printouts from Ancestry that put most of these people in Newton at various times.  Can you help me figure out how or if they fit on my family tree?

Most people would put a query like this in the circular file. No librarian has enough off-desk time to answer a question like this.  I send such a correspondent a two-page letter explaining how to research and put together a family tree, in addition to a list of basic steps, family group sheets, and an ancestral/pedigree chart.  This has often helped clarify the thinking of the person sending the original question. As a result, I have received rewritten queries I can work with, often accompanied by a family group sheet.

An Added Place to Post a Query

Did you know you can also post a query to multiple people at once using an online message board?  Some websites also allow you to do this. If you are using this type of resource, it is important to know the site’s rules and regulations for posting a query.  Some sites will restrict the subjects or locations they will allow. They may have a specific format or word limit.  Be respectful of the places that allow you to do this and follow the rules.  You will dramatically increase your chances of getting an answer and you may even make new friends in the process.

vea/20 May 2016
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy


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In the Newton Free Library’s December Newsletter is a very succinct, well written description of four databases that are made available through the library by the City of Newton. The author is Cathy Balshone, another member of the Reference staff here at the library.

e-RESOURCES for You: Genealogy and More*

American Ancestors:  Access records collected by The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS). View centuries of records that will help trace ancestors as far back as our first American settlers. Use filters to narrow by century and country of origin. Make use of practical aids like family tree templates and research tracking logs. In library use only.

Ancestry Library Edition: Important genealogical reference sources, census and other records are now available online. Explore by Location offers an interactive map listing specific resources by geographic search. Other bonus features include Learning Center and Charts and Forms. Make a memory book from yearbook photos to spark family stories! In library use only.

HeritageQuest Online is equally engaging for students, writers, history buffs and genealogists. Primary source material from census, bank, war and pension records will add context and interesting detail to your writing or research. Available remotely to Newton residents with a Newton library card.

Digital Newton: offers a large collection of Newton materials. Assessed Polls list registered voters, Blue Books and City Directories list residents and street addresses. There are also high school yearbooks, biographical pamphlets, diaries and more. Available remotely to anyone: http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/digitalnewton.  CB

Not from Newton?  Check your own local library to see what they offer. Subscription databases may be provided at no cost through your local library.  Also note that no matter where you live, you can check out Digital Newton.  It’s free.  No cost. No subscription fees.

Quick Tip: Always remember to check the resources that are local to places where your ancestors lived. Local public libraries often have both written and human resources that can be made available to you,  even if that library is a thousand miles away. All you have to do is check them out  — and that includes their librarians.  Local librarians may know of a descendant of one of your ancestor’s siblings still living near by. (Some members of the family may have been happy to stay put.) Or that local library may have a collection that includes material about your family. You may strike gold if only you dig for it. VEA


*Bold face has been added.

21 December  2015/vea and cb
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy


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