Book Review: Vital Record Manuscripts (Paul Friday)

A new reference has just been published that will make a “reasonably exhaustive research” a little less exhausting for New England genealogists,  Vital Record Manuscripts at the State Historical Societies in New England.

In New England, most of us are familiar with the government held records, found in town halls, court houses and state archives.  But each of the six New England states also has its own historical society, each with its own significant manuscript collection.  Much of this consists of letters, diaries, scrap books, etc., material that often narrowly focused on the family that donated the material.  But within these collections are also found manuscripts that are, essentially, vital records, that have lists of person names, and place those specific persons at a specific place, in a specific context, at a specific time.  So they are of genealogical interest and value.  Think of things like lists of students at a school, members of a garden club, payroll lists, petitions and church records.

So the question then becomes, how do you find the nuggets of genealogical value hidden within folders within boxes within collections at each of the state historical societies?  In some cases, finding aids (written descriptions of the topics covered within a manuscript collection) tell you all you need.  But, in many cases, such finding aids are at a rather high level.

What Friday has done with his Vital Record Manuscripts is review the finding aids for the manuscript collections held by each of the historical societies (many of which are not yet online) and identify vital records within them.  In some cases, the finding aid clearly identified the contents.  But in around 55% of cases Friday had to examine the underlying items. The result is a valuable consolidated finding aid of vital records manuscripts, one that will save the researcher a lot of time, leg work and false starts.

Counting the pages, the coverage is approximately:

  • Connecticut 13 pages
  • Maine 29 pages
  • Massachusetts 31 pages
  • New Hampshire 23 pages
  • Rhode Island 53 pages
  • Vermont 99 pages

Also included are five indices: general, name, place, regiment and ship.

I think this will be an important resource.  I’ve certainly found a few leads here that will keep me busy for a while.  My one suggestion would be to provide an e-book version of this material as well.   Being able to do a computer search of the text would have some advantages over the printed version.

Title: Vital Record Manuscripts at the State Historical Societies in New EnglandAuthor: Paul Friday
Publisher: Self Published
Year: 2016
ISBN: 978-0-9860722-2-2
Pages: 297
Format: Paperback
Level: Intermediate/Advanced
Coverage: All New England States, 17th to 20th Century

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