Sunday, April 7, 2013

Warning! Don't do THIS

Our basement is a book storage facility.  There are eleven floor to ceiling bookcases, and several smaller ones around the perimeter of the room.  Books are also stacked beside the book cases, on top of tables, and in boxes.  Two humidifiers run constantly from May to October, removing the damp air.  During flooding rains and hurricanes we run up and down the stairs making sure the books are safe.  Most people have no idea there are so many books down there, since our living room and bedrooms are overflowing with books.  They can’t believe there are MORE downstairs.

Every once in a while I take a box and purge books.  The extra books, VHS movies and magazines go to the library as a donation at least twice a year.  A few years ago I looked at the two and half shelves full of journals full of over 20 years’ worth of NEHGS material.  I knew this stuff was online at the website www.americanancestors so I had a major spring clean.  It all went to friends or the library.  I gained valuable book real estate that is already filled with new collections.  It felt great!

Then last week I was writing up a sketch of an ancestor for my weekly Surname Saturday series.  As usual, I rechecked all my research.  Most of my surnames were researched decades ago, so I usually start with a peek at Martin Hollick’s book New Englanders in the 1600s.  This valuable book is not in my basement, but right at my elbow at my desk, next to Elizabeth Shown Mills’s Evidence Explained, Michael Leclerc’s Genealogist’s Handbook for New England and other genealogy reference books.   New Englanders in the 1600s, which summarizes research published between 1980 and 2010, mentioned an article in the NEXUS journal.

Yes, I use an old lottery ticket as a book marker
in this book, because you never know!
I need all the help I can get with certain ancestors

When I checked online at the NEHGS website for the NEXUS article, I couldn't find it.  It seems that all the NEHGS Registers are online, and American Ancestors, and New England Ancestors are there, but NEXUS (which preceded New England Ancestors) has not been digitized, and was not listed under journals on the database.  I was devastated!  I found some of the articles from Volumes I to X listed (not in the database but on an impossible to find page called “articles” which was only available through Googling “NEXUS genealogy”) but the article I needed was in Volume XIV.  I even discovered that the old search box that was on the previous version of the NEGHS website is no longer on the new version, thus forcing me to resort to Google to find the NEXUS archive instead of easily finding it on the home page.

Don’t do what I did.  Keep your old paper journals.  Not everything is available, nor is it all online.   The NEHGS website does not explain any of this, so let this be your fair warning.

Scenario #2:  I was writing up a second sketch of an ancestor for Surname Saturday.  Again, I double checked my records and consulted New Englanders in the 1600s and found a new reference to my ancestor in a Register article.  I ran to my computer to call up the article, but it was not online.  The volume of the Register I wanted was there, but the page with the desired article was unavailable.  Puzzled, I ran to my basement to check the paper version only to remember I no longer had the paper versions.  Arrrggggh!

I quickly consulted with David Lambert, the online genealogist at NEGHS, and learned that not all the articles from the Register are online because some authors of "certain articles" have not given permission for their works to be distributed digitally.  Did you know this?  I had no idea.  It was not explained at the website. Of course, again, it had to me MY ancestor. 

Now, for both these sketches I will have to wait until I get back to Boston to search the paper versions- which both should have been in my basement.  But that’s another story!

UPDATE -  A response from NEHGS prompted a Part 2 of this blog post-


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "Warning!  Don't do THIS", Nutfield Genealogy, posted April 7, 2013, ( accessed [access date]). 


  1. Hi, Heather:

    The few Register articles for which authors or their estates denied electronic publishing rights (this really only happened during the CD-Rom period from about 1985 to 1998 - pre website) are accessible by contacting, per the onscreen message.

    Regarding NEXUS, we have scanned all issues and need to continue mobilizing a volunteer corp to index the issues. As the former newsletter of the society, it contains a lot of non-genealogical material, so recent efforts have been directed towards digitizing journals with a greater density of research articles. We can also send NEXUS articles, as needed, via

    Regarding, full site search: the search field on the homepage, the keyword field on the advanced search page and the search field on the top right of all other pages, will produce a site search of all NEHGS web pages. See "other" tab of results pages.

    Thank you for your feedback!

    Best regards,
    Ryan Woods

    1. Hello Ryan, Thanks so much for your comment. I did not see the onscreen message about the webmaster sending the NEXUS and the Register articles (I was probably in a panic!) This is great to have your message here for everyone who reads this post. However, the full site search is not intuitive, I don't think most (or any) of your users would have figured that one out. ~ Heather

  2. Whew. Your house is like ours, overflowing with books. As a pair of college teachers, we are buying more books all the time. It's like they are our life blood. We think we should "purge" some, so that our descendants won't have to sell them all on eBay, but we hesitate and hesitate.

    Your experience certainly supports our hesitation. No, I did not know that some authors of journal articles withhold permission for their articles to be digitized.

    And here we are as genealogists, being constantly told to archive our materials and then "back up" everything digitally. Somewhat confusing. But it's reassuring that NEHGs answered you!

  3. Cousin Heather I feel your pain!

    It is stories like this that feed my pack rat proclivities ("disease" my wife might say). I too am a saver and suffer real discomfort when I have to make decisions about trimming things down. A refrain builds up in my head each time I start the winnowing process (particularly with books), "But what if I need this or can use this in the future. . . ." ;-) Thanks for the reminder -- or as my family might say "for the enabling." ;-)

  4. Let's hear it for pack rats everywhere! This is a perfect example of why I cling to my "stuff."

  5. Wow, upon reading the title and then seeing the word "basement", I jumped to some awful conclusions... Glad your dilemma didn't turn out to be a case of sump pump failure!

  6. Heather, this sounds scarily familiar. One of the reasons I'm missing the NERGC is because I have a climate-controlled storage unit full of boxes of books in Maine that I am having moved to my new home in Falmouth, MA that weekend! This includes things like: all the annual town reports for Hamilton, MA from 1951-2000, which my mother saved and which contain valuable vital records. Do I need these?? I intended to digitize them...and then get rid of the original space-hogging books. We'll see...(I'm sure they will still be with me, this time next year - hard to let go!)

    1. Wow! My Mom and her entire family (cousins, etc) lived in Hamilton (still do!) at that time period. I'll bet you'll find a lot of Allens in those town reports. Who was your Mom? I'll bet they know each other.