Meet Ginevra Morse, Director of Education and Online Programs at The New England Historic Genealogical Society

by Melissa Diberardino

The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) is hidden gem on one of Boston’s most famous streets. Nestled on the corner of Newbury Street and Clarendon, this eight story library and archive building is home to America’s first genealogical society and the largest non-profit genealogical society in the world. Founded in 1845, this massive research and historic center’s mission is, “to advance the study of family history in America and beyond, we educate, inspire and connect people through our scholarship, collections, and expertise.[1]” Currently, their website has 1.4 billion searchable names in their database and they are dedicated to not only uncovering ancestors and history, but they offer services such as how to interpret your DNA results and various classes. Along with their library and archive, there is a conservation and preservation lab on site, they produce publications, and in 2010 they partnered with the American Jewish Historical Society and now house the Jewish Heritage Center among many other outreach and advocacy partnerships.

After making my way over to the NEHGS, which unbeknownst to me was literally right around the corner from one of my part time jobs at the Boston Public Library, I sat down in a grand reading room surrounded by old texts and important looking portraits of older white gentlemen. It was here that I met Ginevra Morse, Director of Education and Online Programs at the NEHGS. Morse is a young vibrant professional in a world where most of their users are older, retired folks interested in a new hobby of family research. She came prepared with pamphlets and flyers as well as an extensively long program calendar. While I had done my basic research, I was unprepared for the amount of work and innovation happening at the NEHGS with the help and leadership of Morse.

Ginevra Morse gained her bachelor’s degree at McGill College in Montreal for religious studies and anthropology. However, her journey to get where she is now started at a young age. By 4th grade her interest in history and the world around her led her to become involved in and volunteer at a historical site in Exeter, NH where she grew up. Upon finishing her undergraduate degree, she landed her first job at a foreign language academic publisher in the marketing department. It was during this time she began gaining her outreach skills. It wasn’t long before she began creating webinars to reach teachers and educators and teach them about the best methods and practices in foreign languages. After four years there, Morse moved on to the NEHGS.

She began her career at the NEHGS in the publishing department where she would work on book production, design, and promoting. After three years in the publishing department, she moved to the education department where she resides today. In her current role, she oversees over 160 programs a year, from research tours to dedicated research projects, all across the country. They organize seminars on various topics and take archivists, researchers, and genealogists to locations around the country (and world) to other genealogical societies and historical societies. Locally they hold free lectures, author events, evening programs, seminars, workshops, webinars, and classes. In 2013, she helped launch their online learning center where they have free materials easily accessible to users.

The traditional user that comes in most often are those of retirement age who have started up their new hobby of collecting information and seeking out their family histories, aka amateur genealogists. Family genealogy has increased as a hobby as the information age has begun digitizing public records and other materials which makes finding out family information easier, including DNA kits. Most of these hobbyists that come into the NEHGS have already started their research and are considered at an “intermediate” level. However, new comers who have not begun their research are more than welcome, and encouraged, to come in and learn about the best of practices and ways one can start their research. While it is a genealogical society, it is also a historical society with many historical texts and materials; thus a good population of users are established historians and researchers.

More recently, Morse has been trying to reach a younger population by creating a new school program. The program, starting as young as 3rd grade to 12th grade, is very new and they are continually adjusting it to improve on. They offer programs such as “Family History Detectives”, “Archivist for a Day”, and “Genealogy 101” for older students. While students and educators may not seem like a non-traditional user to some archives, this demographic of people has been outside the scope that the NEHGS have focused on in the past.

Going further into the non-traditional archivists, I brought up the fact that we were sitting under the portraits of older, important looking white men in an institution that definitely feels more friendly towards those in power rather than those who have often been systematically taken out of Eurocentric history. She agreed that the idea that the collections held within the building are for the people who have been here (New England) forever, but that is not the case. They have partnered with the Jewish Society, they are actively trying to document immigrants and their histories, they have African American and Native American collections, as well as have expertise from Asian to Latin American history. There are a lot of misconceptions which Morse, as well as the NEHGS as a whole, have been trying to battle.

Upon ending our interview, I asked her if she had any advice for those out there in advocacy, outreach, and education. The most important advocacy and outreach she told me is networking. There is a mutual benefit when organizations work together and help each other out. You reach a wider variety of users and audiences and bring others together. Other tips were to keep your ear to the ground, keep up to date with popular culture and trends, see what is popular and try to figure out a way to incorporate that into your organization so that you grow with everyone rather than stay stagnate. By growing, you show that history is still alive.