Monday, December 3, 2012

Small Town Historical Societies as a Genealogical Resource

One day at my mother-in-laws house in Madrid I saw an interesting journal in her mail.  It was “Peña Rota”, a little newsletter put out by the citizens and descendants of citizens of the town of Puerto Seguro in the province of Salamanca, Spain.  My husband’s grandfather had lived there, and his ancestors were from this town.  We had visited there several times, too. 

Peña Rota is the newsletter from the tiny
village of Puerto Seguro, Spain, population 99 inhabitants

This little bi-monthly journal is full of old photos, poems, essays and genealogical information.  There are death, marriage and birth notices from descendants all over Spain and the Americas, reporting how the person or people in the notices are related to Puerto Seguro.  There is a website associated with “Peña Rota” at   This website includes history, photos, and a guest book where I was able to post questions and queries.   There were links to nearby villages with similar websites, which was valuable to me since my mother-in-law’s extended family came from many of the nearby towns.

Thus, without actually going to Puerto Seguro in Spain, I was able to find out much about the town history, the people and the area.  Combined with records found online at FamilySearch (all the baptisms, marriages and deaths going back 250 years) I was able to find many generations of family history.   

Here in the United States, I take advantage of local historical societies and their “inside” information as much as possible.  Usually I like to visit in person, but sometimes they are just too far away, or outside of New England, so I have to communicate via snail mail, email or social media such as Facebook.  Historical Societies have the inside scoop on their communities, so if you are wondering why you can’t find a birth record, or what churches were established, or if your ancestral home or family graveyard is still in existence, this is the place to start.

The Beverly Historical Society (Beverly, Massachusetts) has come to my rescue several times, with specific information that I could not find anywhere else.    When the factory three of my four great grandfathers had worked in was converted to an office park, the Beverly Historical Society was able to send me lots of information about its history.   When I had a query about an ancestor’s business in Beverly in the 1890s, they sent me an envelope full of goodies about him (newsclippings, ads, etc).  They have kept me in the loop by connecting me with other people who are researching the surnames in my family tree, and invited me to events even though I let my membership lapse.  They maintain a research library and exhibits, as well as several museum houses open to visitors.

Beverly is just one example, and there are historical societies, history museums, and local libraries all over New England, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Nova Scotia, Spain and Hawaii that have been equally helpful to me.

Here in Londonderry, the genealogical queries to the Londonderry Historical Society are passed on to me.  As the local person here in town, I do look-ups, and have access to the files at the public library.  I also know the other local people in town, especially those of the older generations, who might know the answer to your particular query, no matter how odd it might be.  I’m not unique. Nearly every town or county has a historical society or a historical commission, and can pass your query on to just the right person who might know the answer.

P.S.  Now my mother-in-law saves her issues of Peña Rota just for me.  I brought several home in my suitcase after our last trip to Madrid.  It was fun to have her point out cousins in the photos!

“History is not just something that happened long ago and far away.
 History happens to all of us all the time. 
Local history brings history home,
It touches your life,
The life of your family,
Your neighborhood,
Your community.”

Attributed to Thomas J. Noel, Denver, CO historian


Puerto Seguro, Salamanca, Spain
Beverly Historical Society
Londonderry Historical Society
New Hampshire Historical Society
Association of Historical Societies of New Hampshire

Blog posts about visits and queries to historical societies:

Brookline, Massachusetts

Hampton, New Hampshire 

Nahant, Massachusetts

Nashua, New Hampshire 

Peabody, Massachusetts 

Windham, New Hampshire 


Copyright 2012, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

1 comment:

  1. I seriously respect local historical societies -- they seem to "ground" all genealogy -- but when they have a website, like the one you found for the newsletters in Spain, I confess I like that even better! Information is precious, but time is even more precious, I find.