Monday, October 31, 2016

The Spirit(ualism) of Massachusetts

Happy Halloween! Salem, Massachusetts may be considered America’s “spookiest town” today due to its well-known past, however, that was not always such the case as the Halloween traditions that are familiar to us now were not always accepted customs due to the rigid practices of the Puritan’s Protestant belief systems. It wasn’t until the second half of the 19th century that the influx of Irish and Scottish immigrants to America helped popularize Halloween, whose origins are presumed to date back over 2,000 years to the annual Celtic festival of Samhain. For centuries, “All Hallow’s Eve” has been widely thought by many who believe to be the day when the veil between this world and the spirit world is at its thinnest point.

What may not be as known is that the adoption of these ancient Halloween celebrations and traditions into the mainstream culture in the United States also coincides with the rise of the Spirtualism movement. This influential movement at that same time in history started in the 1840’s in upstate New York and soon spread to Massachusetts. Spiritualism is defined by as “the belief or doctrine that the spirits of the dead, surviving after the mortal life, can and do communicate with the living, especially through a person (a medium) particularly susceptible to their influence.”  The longest lasting and most influential spiritualist newspaper of that era, Banner of Light, with a nationwide circulation happened to be published in Boston from 1857 until it ceased publishing in 1907. While perhaps not as famous as the well-established community of Lily Dale in western New York, two Massachusetts villages have the distinction of starting as popular Spiritualist summer camps—Onset Bay Grove (now known as Onset Village) in Wareham and Lake Pleasant in Montague. Lake Pleasant, founded in 1870, claims to be the oldest continuously existing Spiritualist center in the United States and both Onset Village and Lake Pleasant today still host spiritualist churches and treasure their open communal spaces and rich sense of community traditions in the “spirit” of their founding.

The State Library’s historical collections happen to be rich in materials on Spritualism as the fascination with the supernatural was a phenomenon that captured both the imagination and skepticism of the nation in the late 19th century as it probably still could be said to do still today here in the 21st!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Did Someone Say “Report”?

The word “report” shows up everywhere in state government, but it might not always mean what you think it means.  In fact, the word has many different meanings, which can be really confusing to researchers.  Here’s a helpful guide we hope will provide some clarification for this multi-faceted word.

Report (published):  Reports that are published (or commissioned) by state and federal agencies, by governor’s commissions, legislative committees, etc.  Examples include annual reports, progress reports, research reports on specific topics of interest, investigative reports, and studies.

Report (special legislative):  These are reports authored by special legislative committees and commissions that are established for the purpose of investigating and studying a particular issue, and then filing a report by a set deadline.  A large portion of these reports are filed with the bills as part of the legislative documents series.  For more information, see also: Special Reports Authorized by the General Court

Report (media):  Journalistic pieces based on the author’s own investigations or research are also often referred to as “reports” (examples: “investigative report”, “special report”).  These types of reports serve as secondary resources, and sometimes are themselves about the state government or legislature (so don’t get them confused!)

Report (committee):  All bills have to be reported out of the legislative committees to which they were assigned.  A committee report is simply the committee’s recommendation that a particular bill “ought to pass” (favorable report), “ought not to pass” (adverse report), or be given a study order (which is never a good sign).  Committees can also file a “discharge report” if it believes that a certain bill subject is out of its jurisdiction.

Report (conference committee):  When a bill is particularly contentious and neither the House nor the Senate can agree on the language of the bill, it will then go to Conference Committee where three members of each branch meet to some to a resolution.  The report issued by the Committee is their agreed upon version of the bill, which must be voted on and may not be amended.

Are you looking for a particular report?  Search the library’s online catalog or browse our online DSpace digital repository.  You can also email or call the library for further assistance.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Monday, October 17, 2016

Researching the History of Your Property in Massachusetts

The doorway of "The Stearns House,"
which was built in 1776. Image from
Historic Doorways of Old Salem (1926)
by Mary Harrod Northend.
Massachusetts has some of the oldest and most historically significant buildings in the United States—in fact, you may own or live in one.  Researching the history of your home can be fun and informative, in understanding both past ownership as well as learning about the original footprint of the structure and surrounding property; the latter is especially important if you’re interested in preservation and restoration.  Below is a list of essential and supplementary resources that will help you gather documentation that traces the history of your home.

Online resources:
Massachusetts Land Records:  A database provided by the Registry of Deeds that maintains both historical and current land records for properties across the Commonwealth.

State and Federal Censuses:  The census population schedules record who and when people were living on certain properties.  They also include additional information, such as age, place of birth, occupation, and property value.  Most, if not all, early censuses are now available online.

Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS):  A database of historical properties provided by the Massachusetts Historical Commission.  Since this database should not be considered exhaustive, it may be good to contact the MHC to see if they have additional properties on file.

Partial image of a plate taken from the 1906 atlas
of the city of Lowell.
Real Estate Atlases: The State Library has digitized a large portion of its collection of real estate atlases that cover many of the cities and towns in the state.  These atlases, mostly from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, document the names of property owners, the foot print of structures, as well as what the structures were made of.  The library also has atlases that were not able to be digitized; please check our online catalog for additional materials.

Historic New England Collection Database:  Users can browse or search for architectural drawings and interior photography of historic homes in this online database of Historic New England’s collections.

Resources not available online:
Massachusetts Directories:  City and town directories, which were usually published on a yearly basis, list residents alphabetically by last name (much like a phone book), along with their street address and occupation; the volumes also include the names and addresses of businesses.  Some directories have house guides with listings sorted by address and not by the residents’ last names.  Many Boston directories have been digitized and are available online.  Make sure to check with your local library to see if they have historical directories for your area.

City and town annual reports:  Early municipal fire department reports often list the location at which a fire-related event occurred, sometimes including the owner’s name(s), and, if known, the physical and monetary extent of the damage.  If you suspect that your house once experienced a fire, these reports may help you track down what happened and when.  Other departmental reports may also provide data about neighborhoods and development.  The State Library has a large collection of such reports, and your local library may also have their own collection.

Tax Valuations:  Tax valuations help identify individuals’ names and property holdings.  The library has valuations for various cities and towns up to 1811 on microfilm.

Probate Records:  These court records are especially helpful if a piece of property transferred ownership through an inheritance.

Private publications:  There are many books that compile the histories of cities and towns, as well as local architecture.  You can check our online catalog for such materials, and also make sure to check your local library.

Historical Newspapers:  Do you suspect something happened on your property on a specific date or within a certain time frame?  Maybe the event was covered in a local newspaper.  If you’re having trouble locating a particular title or issue, the Boston Public Library has one of the largest historical newspaper collections in the area. The State Library also has a collection of newspapers; peruse our online list to see which titles we have available.

Local government and cultural institutions:  Municipal departments oversee many functions that record changes to properties, such as building permits (the City of Boston even provides an online permit database) and tax assessments.  Most cities and towns also have a public library, an archives, and/or an historical commission.  Many of the resources listed in this blog, as well as records unique to the institution’s collections (photographs, maps, building plans, newspapers, etc.), can be accessed without having to travel too far from home.  In the case of local historical commissions, many homes already have compiled research on file.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

October Author Talk: Julie Winch

Between Slavery and Freedom: Free People of Color in America from Settlement to the Civil War by Julie Winch
Tuesday, October 25, 2016—Noon to 1:00 pm
State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, Massachusetts State House

On Tuesday, October 25, the State Library of Massachusetts will welcome author and UMass Boston history professor Julie Winch, who will be speaking about her most recent book, Between Slavery and Freedom: Free People of Color in America from Settlement to the Civil War.

Named a Choice magazine Outstanding Academic Title of 2014, Between Slavery and Freedom explores the lives of free people of African birth or descent from the colonial era to the beginning of the Civil War. According to the publisher’s description of this book, “noted historian Julie Winch shows the struggle of black people to gain and maintain their liberty and lay claim to freedom in its fullest sense. Refusing to be relegated to the margins of American society and languish in poverty and ignorance, they repeatedly challenged their white neighbors to live up to the promises of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.”

A prolific author, Dr. Winch has written numerous journal articles, book chapters, and a number of other books, including The Clamorgans: One Family's History of Race in America; A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten; and Philadelphia's Black Elite: Activism, Accommodation, and the Struggle for Autonomy, 1787-1848. Dr. Winch is currently at work on two more books: Reflections on Freedom: The Multiple Meanings of Freedom in the Lives of Free People of Color, 1776-1865, and Blessed Are the Cheese-Makers: Thomas Jefferson and the Mammoth Cheshire Cheese.

We invite you to register online for this free event at the State Library. Dr. Winch will be available after the talk to answer questions, and she will bring copies of her book for audience members to examine. She will also provide flyers from the publisher offering a generous discount for anyone who would like to order a copy of Between Slavery and Freedom.

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Monday, October 3, 2016

Latino Heritage in Massachusetts

National Hispanic Heritage Month takes place between September 15th to October 15th and, appropriately, you may see events celebrating Latino heritage, culture, and community throughout Massachusetts. While the date range may seem odd, the period was chosen in order to encapsulate the independence days of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua (all on September 15), Mexico (September 16), Chile (September 18), and Belize (September 21) as well as the date on which Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas (October 12, 1492). The Southwest United States has long been home to many Latino or Hispanic communities, but New England’s Latino population has a shorter, though not less substantial, history.

“Individuals of Latin American descent who today would be called Latinos have lived in Cambridge [Massachusetts] for decades,” Deborah Pacini Hernandez wrote (Torres). In the early 20th century, many of the earliest Latino immigrants would have moved to the greater Boston area to attend Harvard, MIT, and other prestigious universities. One of these students was Pedro Albizu Campos, a student who contributed to The Harvard Crimson regarding Puerto Rican perspectives to international contemporary events. Campos graduated from Harvard Law School in 1921 and went on to become a leader of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, fighting for independence from the United States.

Large numbers of Latino immigrants did not begin to arrive in Massachusetts until the 1950s. The first major group came from Puerto Rico, which is part of the United States and therefore does not require immigration documents, and travelled to the major cities on the East Coast, especially New York and Boston. Many settled in Cambridge and Cambridgeport, which had been a large manufacturing center since the 1800s. Other Spanish Caribbean immigrants, specifically those from the Dominican Republic, often settled within or close to emerging Puerto Rican neighborhoods. Immigrants from Mexico as well as Central and South American countries began arriving in large numbers in the 1980s, many leaving their original countries due to economic issues or political conflict. However, these communities did not flourish without impetus. Many school systems were not equipped to serve Spanish-language students, a struggle which lead to Massachusetts implementing the first state-mandated, transitional bilingual-education program in the United States in 1969 (Uriarte, Chavez). Further, many Latino students were involved in the 1970s busing desegregation. But as communities continued to grow and Latinos became the largest minority group in Massachusetts, so did their impact in state-wide and local politics.

Today, the number of those that identify as Latino is steadily increasing in Massachusetts. Over all, Latinos grew more than any other ethno-racial group in both New York and New England between 1990 and 2000 and almost all communities in Massachusetts saw an increase in their Latino populations between 2000 and 2010, with an overall 46% population increase in the state (Torres).  Boston neighborhoods like East Boston and Jamaica Plain have large Latino communities and the Hyde Square Task Force has been campaigning to label their neighborhood Boston’s “Latin Quarter”, succeeding in gaining approval for the designation from the Boston City Council in April 2016. Lawrence, Massachusetts in Essex County is now almost 75% Latino (US Census 2015). Other Massachusetts cities and towns with large Latino populations include Springfield, Worcester, Lowell, Holyoke, and Chelsea (Hardy-Fanta, Gerson).  Despite the growing diversity of Latino immigrants to the North East, Puerto Ricans continue to be the largest Latino community in our state and the Festival Puertorriqueño de Massachusetts continues to be the largest Latino cultural festival in New England.

So this Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrate Massachusetts’ fastest growing community by attending events like the Festival Latino of the Berkshires in Lee, MA or checking your city, neighborhood, or networking organization calendars for events celebrating the history or culture of the many different Latino communities throughout our state.

Further Reading:

Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff