Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Essential Sites:

I have a love-hate relationship with As a gateway to the resources of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, the website is essential to my work. But when using the site, I feel that I've stumbled into the The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919.

Anyone with early New England roots will find the website useful, especially those with Massachusetts connections. The database of digitized Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841-1910 would alone be worth the price of admission for many (the index is complete, with available page images as recent as 1880). Members also get the The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 1847-1994, as well as print subscriptions to the Register and the glossy New England Ancestors. Subscription Members ($60/year) get these periodicals and a few other perks. Research Members ($75/year) get the same, plus access to the Society's Research Library in Boston and to the New website. (See the website for other membership benefits and levels, including a substantial student discount.)

The Research Membership offer has gotten sweeter lately, with access granted to two "collaborate websites": Early American Newspapers, 1690-1876 (with bonus access to recent electronic editions of Massachusetts newspapers), and HeritageQuest Online.

Two problems with should be mentioned. The Master Search feature is somewhat clumsy, and doesn't include three major databases: Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841-1910, the Social Security Death Index, or Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850. Each of these must be searched independently.

Even more frustrating is the speed of the website. Some searches take an eternity to complete. The Vital Records database comes with a warning attached: "Please refrain from using the forums for comments about the speed of downloading images or search results." Members with only dial-up Internet access may find time to finish an epic novel between page views.

Nevertheless, with the recent addition of HeritageQuest Online (census images, family and local history books, PERSI database, Revolutionary War pensions, etc.), is now unquestionably worth the cost of joining, if only for a year.

Update (Nov. 19, 2005): The website seems to have sped up a bit in the past few weeks. A new membership benefit has also recently been added: access to the Digital Sanborn Maps, 1867-1970, for New England, New Jersey, and New York.

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