Saturday, March 11, 2006, AGBI, Boston Transcript, OCPL,, ProQuest, FindUSA,

Let's give credit, where credit is due...

Near the end of last year a furor arose from many of the subscribers to the Godfrey Library on-line resources. - Horror of horrors, Godfrey was canceling, or being dropped by, some of the data bases that they provided to their $30 per year "Godfrey Scholar" subscribers. Some of you may remember that I have written about Godfrey both in blogs and on my website favorites and have called it "the best bargain on the Internet!"

Well I will admit that I was upset about losing some of the resources such as FindUSA (which was fabulous for locating missing living relatives,) and ProQuest and some others, but Godfrey either could not absorb the enormous price hike from the vendor, or that the vendor just plain stopped offering the data to everyone. I still would like to know the true story of FindUSA. Is it offered anywhere, at any price? Perhaps the information from the following url might indicate some of the problems are certainly not Godfrey’s fault.

Any way, during the midst of the conflagration of angry messages, accusations and people just plain spouting off and not knowing what they were talking about, I renewed my subscription to Godfrey and I am certainly not sorry that I did.

Looking back twenty or thirty years ago when I was in a library some where at every free moment, I used to marvel at a huge collection of books that was an early index to American colonial, revolutionary war, and post rev war families. Some of the librarians called them "The Green Books," some called them the "Rider Index," and they are more properly known as the "American Genealogical-Biographical Index, (AGBI)."

These beauties were just about my first grab when working on a new family line, or when wanting to add more meat to the bones of some previously discovered early ancestors.

There were over 200 volumes of these large green books, starting in 1936, and they had been issued in two parts. By that I mean that the first volumes A through W had been published and then a second edition started with much more information, so the early volumes were retired as the second edition contained the same data plus a whole lot more, at the rate of about four volumes per year.

Knowing what I know now, I can appreciate these books and the Godfrey Library even more.

Fremont Rider was a librarian for the Wesleyan University at Middletown, CT., and an avid genealogist. He and several volunteers started indexing previously published genealogies, local histories, the 1790 census, the Boston Transcript, and several hundred resources that they had at hand to create a finding aid for researchers that pointed where to look for further information. When the AGBI was completed there were over 6 million names indexed!

From a Brief History of the Library, on the Godfrey website,

"The Godfrey Memorial Library was founded by Fremont Rider and was incorporated on 26 Nov 1947 as a “…free public library of books, pamphlets, periodicals and other materials in the fields of American biography and genealogy and in related fields; to carry on and promote investigation and research in these fields and to publish the results thereof…”

A site was selected on a hill near Wesleyan University and construction for the new Library began. Fremont Rider, the Library’s founder and first librarian named the building for his brother-in-law, the late Brig. General Stuart Chapin Godfrey who died in WWII. Just before the Library opened on May 6, 1951 Rider’s wife, Grace (Godfrey) Rider, passed away and the Library was dedicated jointly in memory of his wife and brother-in-law.

The Library has continued with its mission of collecting genealogical materials and publishing. Its’ list of titles include a number of genealogies, reference books and indexes, including the 226 volume American Genealogical-Biographical Index (AGBI). AGBI is the largest genealogical reference set ever published."

So here is a library built expressly by, and for genealogists. To my knowledge it might be the only one with those credentials in America.

Whenever I found a reference in the AGBI to the "Boston Transcript." I would get doubly excited and anxious to read these newspaper column queries posted by genealogists from the period of about 1898 to 1941. The person submitting the query would be issued a query number as would anyone posting a follow-up answer or additional information on the same query. The submitters were only identified by their initials, but you could always gain new ideas about where to look for further information. Almost none of the details published were authenticated by any documentary evidence, but it would get the juices flowing and off you could go to new research projects. The Onondaga County Public Library (OCPL) in Syracuse, NY., owned a full set of these Boston Transcript articles on microfiche, so they were readily at hand and I took advantage of every one of those queries that tied into the families I was researching.

You can still take advantage of all of these resources at and some are also available through by subscription. If you do not have a set of the Boston Transcript microfiche at hand you can send for a photocopy of the query at Godfrey.

This exciting news showed up today on the Godfrey listserve newsgroup:

“Godfrey Library's Board of Trustees met yesterday and decided to go ahead with the digitizing process of our own holdings. We are in the process of choosing a company to do that for us, but it will be a gradual process since we do not have a lot of money.

In the mean time we will add a paid database about once a month and add links whenever we find a good source that might interest you.

We intend to start with a small collection of family Bibles that we own. They are being transcribed now. When they are ready we will digitize both the transcription and the actual text so anyone interested can make a comparison.

We will not digitize any of our holdings unless they are beyond copyright.

We are perfectly happy to begin with
New England oriented materials. We have a lot of them, after all. So my next request is for any of you who wish to take a look at our online catalog to see if there is anything that is particularly important. Access to our catalog is at the bottom of
our home page. Remember that we will not digitize anything published after 1923 nor will we digitize anything labeled as "digital."

Catalog listings are not complete. Most of our vertical files (about 8,000 items) do not appear there and most of our special collection materials (about 500 items) do not appear either. There is currently about a month delay from the time we acquire something new until it appears in our catalog, so that is another group of materials that will not appear.

With all those exceptions, take a look and tell us what you want to see first. We don't promise to do it first, but we really want to start with the materials that interest you most.

We have an excellent collection, in my opinion, of city directories. Here are a couple of examples:
Chicago: 1844, 1877, 1880, 1896, 1902, 1904, 1905, 1906 and the 1920 street guide.
Hartford: Every two years from 1842 to 1922.

Now, to answer some of your individual questions.
We will not digitize the Barbour Collection (
Connecticut vital records) because they have already been published and because they are gradually appearing on other sites. However, a few cities and towns, such as Norwich and New Haven, are not part of that collection and we can digitize them if there is an interest.

We will think about the Hale Collection (
Connecticut Tombstone Inscriptions.) We will talk to the Connecticut State Librarian, who holds the originals, to see what we might be able to work out.

As much as we want to, we will not be able to offer the New York Times. ProQuest wants us to pay over $110,000 a year for that newspaper alone, and we simply can not afford it. We do, however, own some years of the Times on microfilm, and we may be able to digitize them sometime in the future.

By deciding to digitize materials that we own, as opposed to depending on outside vendors, we feel that we are in better shape to control our own future. The downside is that we will not be able to digitize materials as quickly as you may wish.

Stay tuned.

Bruce Tyler, Chairman
Godfrey Library Board of Trustees.”

How’s that for service above and beyond the call of duty?

So, "Thank You" Fremont Rider, you visionary, another one of my favorite people, that I wish had had access to computers, and "Thank You" to the Staff and current Board of Trustees of the Godfrey Library, for so generously sharing your vast holdings, and purchasing databases that are light years beyond the capacity of individual researchers to be able to afford. "Thank You" for most recently meeting and voting to digitize your library's personal holdings, I for one can not wait!

Dick Hillenbrand

Upstate New York Genealogy (UNYG)



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