Treasure Chest Thursday –Samuel Burnham Shackford’s Donation to the New England Historic Genealogical Society (Blog 346)

The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) is an incredible Treasure Chest itself.  It’s in a great part of Boston in a beautiful building full of very helpful staff, genealogists, archivists, volunteers, and researchers.  The collections are vast – an extensive book collection, an incredible archive of special collections and donated genealogical material, a major digital collection, and probably much more.  Fortunately I’d read and watched videos from many genealogy bloggers who described how to prepare for such a trip – it’s most important to know what you want to look for before you arrive and know where it is located,.  They also advised that one call ahead to be sure the material is available and read the organizations Website so you know if and how you can copy materials and other important site guidelines.

New England Genealogical and Historical Society Description of Samuel Burnham Shackford Collection.JPG
Description of Samuel Burnham Shackford’s Donation from NEGHS Website

We were only going to be in Boston for one day and I knew that I would spend that time
looking at the items that Samuel Burnham Shackford had donated, a goal that I’d had written about in Feb 2014.  I reviewed the collection description and discovered the collection listed as SG SHA 5, called Shackford collection, [manuscript] and wrote to the archivist  to ensure the materials would be available.

Even though I’d reviewed the NEHGS collection description, had read the, newspaper article describing his donation, and had reviewed many newspaper articles where S.B.S. asked for input on his research, I had no idea of the vast size of Samuel’s donation. I also didn’t realize that seeing and touching Samuel’s research would have such an emotional impact on me!

I spent nine hours reviewing just a few of the boxes of the collection SG SHA, titled Shackford collection, [manuscript].  Here’s a bit of what I learned:

Samuel B Shackford’s work shows that he had goal of connecting all the Shackfords, interestingly a goal that I also had when I got stuck determining my own Shackford ancestry.

  • Samuel reviewed all the published material that existed on Shackford’s that he could find which was probably a lot as he was on the NEHGS Committee on Collection of Records. He then documented his research on Shackford families; keeping an alphabetical list of each Shackford he discovered along with the sources he could find relating to that.
  • He wrote to many vital records offices asking them for the cost of obtaining copies, then often purchasing copies of the records of the vital records from each person. The vital records copies that he received are included in his collection. (Interestingly, this is how I started my research)
  • Samuel published lists of questions related to research he couldn’t resolve in the Genealogy Sections of newspapers and articles. Usually these were posted under S.B.S., his initials (I posted many questions on genealogy research boards)
  • He wrote general letters to every Shackford or person who knew about Shackfords that he could find telling them he was researching Shackford genealogy and asking for general information about their family lines. Those letters and the replies to the letters are in this collection!  I found letters that he received from my grandfather and great grandfather written on company letterhead that gives me insight about my own relatives that I didn’t have.  The collection even includes the returned mail! (I started writing to Shackford’s around 1998 but did not keep copies of the letters that I wrote but I did keep many of the hard copies of letters that were returned.)
  • Samuel then replied to many Shackford’s with a list of detailed questions that were very personalized focused on obtaining specific information he wanted to complete his genealogy quest. Many people hand wrote the answers to the questions on the letter he sent and returned the letters.
  • He shared the results of his genealogy research with people who wrote to him. (I’ve done this too)
  • People with whom he started to correspond sent him clippings, photographs, wedding invitations, funeral notices and more. Some people sent letters they had saved from their correspondence with other researchers including Samuel Shackford of Chicago/Winnetka.  This collection of letters is in itself a gem!  I only had time to review one box of the letters which had been opened, flattened and placed in manila folders but believe there are more boxes that have not yet been organized (very understandable as this library receives huge amounts of donations of genealogical material!!).
  • Samuel tried hard to identify the ancestors of William Shackford, the immigrant ancestor and kept extensive notes of this research but decided that he could not resolve that question.
  • He handwrote a genealogy descendency of William Shackford with some biographical information of some of the descendants – focusing on the positive items people had shared and choosing to not include negative newspaper articles or information that he’d received. He typed and updated his manuscript and shared all or parts of the typewritten versions with individuals looking for their input and critique.  The letters box includes some critical responses and other responses thanking him and asking for a copy of the final document.  It’s probable that there were multiple versions of the typewritten manuscript.  The final edition has some handwritten notes which may be from him or someone else.  Some pages and notes that appear to be added by his brother Moses A.C. Shackford.  The sources in the manuscript often refer to a person who sent him a letter, a published material, include the word Conjecture, or in some cases are missing.
  • Samuel appears to be hoping to publish this or another manuscript as he kept copies of letters which included the cost breakouts for publishing a manuscript. He did donate it to NEGHS but stipulated the he would have access to his donation.

I knew that Samuel B. researched Shackfords thoroughly but had no idea that he had compiled such a comprehensive manuscript.   Many of the Shackford family connection puzzles that I’ve worked out would have been solved had I had a copy of this manuscript but then again, doing that research independently 80 years later has taught me a lot about research and forced me to find sources that independently verify the research.

It will take months if not a year or two to sort out the information I learned from my short review of this enormous collection. I’m already trying to visualize how I can spend 4-6 months in Boston in the future volunteering at the Society to help sort through, organize and review more of Samuel B Shackford’s donation but that’s also a question to think through after this year’s genealogy/sightseeing RV trip is over in October 2016.

I’d encourage anyone with Shackford ancestry to make the time to look at Samuel’s collection, especially the correspondence boxes as they may contain letters that your direct ancestors sent to Samuel.  Be sure to call ahead as and it takes 7-10 days for the archivists to pull the materials from their offsite location.  I’d love to hear from anyone else who has reviewed this collection to learn about your perspectives!

I wish to thank Judy Lucey, the archivist who helped guide me to the boxes I might find most helpful, pulled some other boxes for me during my visit and ensured I was able to maximize my time during my short visit.  I hope that someday I can meet her again in the future and stay longer!

Lastly I just have to add that I’m in awe with the amount of research Samuel B Shackford created sometime between 1900-1925 with pen and paper, letter writing, a lot of collaboration, and a typewriter (thank goodness as his handwriting is sometimes difficult to read).  I am very thankful that he kept so much of his material and donated it to the New England Historic Genealogy Society.  I hope by describing the importance of this collection to others interested in Shackford Family History, I’m helping to meet Samuel’s desire to “have the fullest use made of it.”


Shackford Samuel Burnham 1871-1934, “Shackford Collection, SG SGG 5, R Stanton Avery Special Sollections,”; SGA SHA 7, New England Historic Genealogy Society, Boston, Massachusetts. (only reviewed a small part of this immense collection)


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