For the Love of Libraries: New England Historic and Genealogical Library

Today’s post is written by Melinda Marsden. A wonderful tour guide of Civil War sites and my aunt by marriage, she is also an alumna of Bucknell University’s Education program and has an MBA from Frostburg State University. She is the former Executive Director of the Washington County Historical Society and currently volunteers for Breast Cancer Awareness-Cumberland Valley, Citizen’s Assisting and Sheltering the Abused, and the Maryland Symphony Orchestra.

This post is an installment in my For Love of Libraries series, about the intersection of libraries and travel, and is intended to show my personal support for the 2010 Columbus Metropolitan Library levy. These posts are not meant to imply the guest authors’ support.


My Library Vacation Story (or What I Did on My Summer Vacation)

In August 2000, my husband took a business trip to Boston. I went on these trips when I could and spent the days sightseeing and shopping and then told him and some of his associates what they missing in the evenings. I had been to Boston two or three times before so I had done many of the tourist things and I am not much of a shopper. However, we needed to make a side trip to Middlebury, Vermont, so I decided to go.

Since I knew that I had several New England ancestors, I decided to take a couple of days and check out the collections at the New England Historic and Genealogical Library in the Back Bay area of Boston.  I arrived about 15 minutes before the library opened and as I waited for the doors to be unlocked, I started an idle conversation with a woman from Kansas. We were both visiting with our husbands, who were there attending meetings.

New England Historic Genealogical Society

New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts

When the library opened, I went to one of the reading rooms, where I investigated some Vermont town histories on the trail of some of my Amsden and Buck ancestors. The library was not very busy as August is the slow time for this facility. I happened to hear a man at the next table speaking with an acquaintance and he mentioned the name Buck. When his conversation was over, I spoke to him and mentioned that I heard him talk about a Buck family and wondered if it was part of my Buck family. The man’s name was William Buck and he was visiting the library from Rhode Island. I told him that I was researching a Samuel Buck. He asked if that was Samuel Buck who was married to Lydia Allen. I said that it was and he said that we are cousins. He then went on to describe to me where the Buck Family Cemetery is located outside of Reading, Vermont. I thought this was a great coincidence. I thanked him and went back to my research.

The following day I was working in the microfilm reading room where I was reading Vermont Town records and Massachusetts wills and probate records. The woman that I had spoken to the day before was at the next reader. William Buck came by and asked me how I was doing. I told him that I was reading the 1668 will of Isaac Amsden of Charlestown, Massachusetts. My acquaintance from Kansas looked up from her reader and said that she was descended from Isaac Amsden! She was descended from Isaac’s daughter, Elizabeth, and I am descended from his son, Isaac.

I only talked to two people besides the library staff and I am related to both!


This is a wonderful story. It’s implausible and makes me smile with its Francis Hodgeson Burnett-style serendipity.

I’m trying to come up with a greater lesson for it–to connect it to why you should travel or how, or why libraries are great–but it’s troublesome. Travel (like genealogical research) is a fickle mistress. Some days, it’s magical and you discover a traveler’s gift–a secret mountain view, a back alley restaurant that sells wine grown in the proprietor’s backyard, a long-lost relative sitting next to you–some days, that magic moment doesn’t happen. But then, that’s what magic is, isn’t it? Your results may vary.

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