Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dear Randy: What is the AGBI?

A reader asked:

" I found an ancestor is mentioned in the AGBI. I am not exactly sure what that means? Do I need to look it up in the index to find what other source it points to?"

The answer:

The AGBI is the American Genealogical Biographical Index. Back when I started doing genealogy research (not really the dark ages...), it was one of the most important resources to use to find published information about a person. The AGBI provided a reference for specific books or periodicals for a specific name. The Ancestry.com description of the AGBI reads:

"One of the most important genealogical collections, the American Genealogical-Biographical Index, or AGBI, is the equivalent of more than 200 printed volumes. This database contains millions of records of people whose names have appeared in printed genealogical records and family histories. With data from sources largely from the last century, each entry contains the person's complete name, the year of the biography's publication, the person's state of birth (if known), abbreviated biographical data, and the book and page number of the original reference. In addition to family histories, other genealogical collections are indexed. These include the Boston Transcript (a genealogical column widely circulated), the complete 1790 U.S. Federal Census, and published Revolutionary War records. The most recent update to this database reflects the inclusion of volumes 196-206. For researchers of American ancestors, this can be one of the most valuable databases available at Ancestry.com.

"Most of the works referenced in the AGBI are housed at the Godfrey Memorial Library in Connecticut. A photocopy service is available. Please contact Godfrey Memorial Library at 134 Newfield St, Middletown, CT 06457 or via e-mail at referenceinfo@godfrey.org to make use of this service.

"To learn more about the AGBI, read the extended description below, but also read Kory Meyerink's article 'Genealogy's Best-kept Secret: American Genealogical-Biographical Index.' "

The AGBI is available on the Godfrey Memorial Library site, www.godfrey.org, and on www.Ancestry.com, both subscription sites. Using Ancestry.com's database, I used the AGBI collection to search for one of my ancestors, Burgess Metcalf. Here is the search screen:

The results page shows three specific items for Burgess Metcalf (and 14 matches for other people because I have my search set to include initials):

The first match is shown below:

This match refers to the citation in AGBI is in Volume 117, page 91. "miscellaneous Rev. docs. Of NH. Ed. By Albert Sillman Batchellor. Manchester, NH, 1910. (17,658p.):112 Rev.War Recds:N.H: 2:384; 3:924." I must admit that I have not seen this record before, and it might be helpful to provide more detail about Burgess Metcalf's military career.

The second match is:

This match references "Stat of Vt: Rolls of the soldiers in the Rev. War, 1775-1783. By John E. Goodrich. Rutland, Vt. 1904. (22,2,927p.):23." I have not seen this record before, either.

The third match for Burgess Metcalf was his entry in the 1790 US Census in "Heads of Fams. at the first U.S. census. NH. By U.S. Bureau of the Census. Washington, 1908. (146p.):36."

One of my early genealogy finds at the San Diego Public Library were these 226 volumes of the AGBI on the shelf. I spent several days looking for my ancestors in them, writing down the citations and information that might lead me to the information about them.

Having many New England ancestors, one of the primary resources quoted in the AGBI for many of my people was the Boston Transcript newspaper clippings with genealogy queries published from 1896 to 1941. The AGBI provided the volume and page number, and I tabulated and ordered those and made an organized search through the Boston Transcript microfiche's available at the San Diego Public Library and Carlsbad Library. These were queries that often had useful information in the query, and many were answered with more family information.

"In the old days - BC" (before computers), this is how genealogy was pursued. You used finding aids such as the AGBI to find references to surname books, locality books and other books or periodicals that might have useful information. There were many other very useful finding aids - and they are still on the shelves at many libraries. The ones that come to mind are the Meredith B. Colket, Jr. book about Colonial New England Families (on the shelf at CVPL), the Sutro Library book index (on the shelf at CVPL, I could obtain items by Inter-library Loan), the New England Historic Genealogical Register Index for Volumes 1-50 (and later volumes 51 to 145), etc. (all volumes were on the shelf at SDPL). Ah the good old days - BC.

Now, of course, most of these reference books are available on Google Books. But the references in the AGBI are still valid and useful. Have you looked in that neglected bookstack of AGBIs at yourl ocal library? Or looked at it online at Ancestry.com? If not, you should, and you might find some long forgotten but very useful reference about your ancestor.

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