Presentation Notes: 2008-2009

Family History of Houses: How Historic Preservation and Genealogy Connect

Presented by Christopher Skelly - April 8, 2009

Notes by David S. Martin

Christopher Skelly is a planner for the Massachusetts Historic Commission (MHC). He works with local historic commissions in the Commonwealth. He indicated that virtually all old buildings are potentially threatened. But buildings are not the only historic structures of interest to the Commission - they also include bridges, landscapes, walls, and burial grounds, as well as some museums.

Christopher Skelly at CCGSThe Commission is particularly interested in buildings that are still used for their original purposes, and the Commission awards grants to successful applicants who are interested in their preservation. He drew a distinction between historic commissions and historical societies; historic commissions are governmental agencies involved in action to preserve old structures, whereas historical societies are interested in collecting and displaying old structures and other artifacts, although they certainly can advocate for preservation.

He indicated that historical preservation and genealogy are similar in terms of the importance that each attaches to surnames; we should view a historic house as a kind of "family vine" rather than a tree, however.

The National Register of Historic Houses is a federal honor, but which has no authority to require preservation; the process of having a property determined to be on the Register is extensive and requires considerable paperwork.

As genealogists, we need to understand that everyone needs to be grounded in a place. The research tools that both genealogists and historic preservationists can and should use include:

Thus, both historic preservationists and genealogists share common interests and should work cooperatively.

See the Presentation Notes Index for summaries of other presentations given at the Society's monthly meetings.