Relatively Speaking

Secrets of America's oldest genaeology society

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ou’ve passed it, but you never knew the oldest genealogical society in America was hidden in a former bank on Newbury Street. And yet the ornate lobby of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, founded in 1845—complete with the original safe where the wealthy Brahmins of the Back Bay kept their money—is open to the public, with selections of historic art holdings, including works by John Singleton Copley and Rembrandt Peale, and curiosities including the key to the prison cell where John Brown was held before the fiery abolitionist was hanged for his raid on Harpers Ferry. Of course, you can also trace your own roots in the library, which has 28 million records and artifacts, including family Bibles, some more than 400 years old.

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It was researchers at the New England Historic Genealogical Society who discovered that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are 10th cousins, once removed, each descended from a child of a 17th-century Ipswich bricklayer. Affleck is also related to 16 U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama.

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