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Genealogy: Records & Resources

A guide to useful records and various resources available at the BPL and beyond.

Beyond the BPL

Congregational Library and Archives
14 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02108
(617) 523-0470
As the designated archive of the Congregational Christian churches (up through 1957), the Library holds all the major institutional records of the denomination.The Library’s archive of colonial-era church records is also extensive, containing many sets of seventeenth-century documents as well as full collections from large and historically significant modern churches like Boston’s Old South, established in 1669, and Park Street Church, formed in 1809. Many are available in digital form as part of its Hidden Histories collections.The Congregational Library is open to the public and welcomes all researchers.

Family History Centers (FHCs)
FHCs are branches of FamilySearch and the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Their goal is to provide resources to assist you in the research and study of your genealogy and family history by:

  • Giving personal one-on-one assistance to patrons
  • Providing access to genealogical records on the Internet
  • Offering free how-to classes (varies by location)

Family History Centers in Massachusetts

Massachusetts Vital Records Project- Early Vital Records of Massachusetts: From 1600 to 1850
National Archives at Boston- Genealogy and Historical Research
Tufts Digital Collection and Archives- Boston City Directories
Archdiocese of Boston-  Archives
UMass Amherst Libraries- Genealogy
Massachusetts GenWeb- MA Historical Societies 

Amateur genealogy groups are a great place to meet others with an interest in family history. These groups meet regularly to present and share information on a variety of topics. There are also thousands of genealogy groups on social media  from all over the world that can be extremely useful to your research. Here's a link to a list of genealogy groups on Facebook.

Listed below are some Massachusetts genealogy groups, most of which meet regularly:

Polish Genealogical Society of Massachusetts
P.O. Box 835
Chicopee, MA 01014
The society maintains a research library at the Polish Center of Discovery and Learning in Chicopee, MA, 

Cape Cod Genealogical Society 
Dennis Public Library
5 Hall Avenue
Dennisport, MA 02639
The society maintains a research library with limited opening hours, more information available here.

Essex Society of Genealogists
Lynnfield Public Library
18 Summer Street
Lynnnfield, MA 01940
The Essex Society of Genealogists, Inc. (ESOG) has served Massachusetts' and New England's genealogical community with live educational presentations, genealogical projects, and publications to facilitate research in this fascinating, historical region. 
Central Massachusetts Genealogical Society 
P. O. Box 811
Westminster, MA 01473-0811

Falmouth Genealogical Society
P.O. Box 2107
East Falmouth, MA 02536 

Massachusetts Society of Genealogists
P.O. Box 215
Ashland MA 01721-0215
The society has chapters in Bristol County, Martha's Vineyard, Worcester County, Middlesex County, and the Merrimack Valley area. Check out their site for upcoming meetings and events. 

Western Massachusetts Genealogical Society
Meetings are held on the first Wednesday of every month from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Agawam Senior Center, located at 954 Main Street, Agawam.

City of Boston, Registry Division
1 City Hall Square (Boston City Hall)
Room 213
Boston, MA 02201
(617) 635-4175

The Registry Division keeps Boston birth, marriage, and death records from 1630 to the present. If you want a copy of one of these vital records, you must request a certified copy in person or by mail. Certified copies of births, marriages, and deaths are on secure paper, have the raised red seal, and appropriate signatures.

City of Boston Archives
201 Rivermoor Street
West Roxbury, MA  02132
(‚Äč617) 635-1195
Holds many tax, real estate, voting, and other records of great use to people with Boston ancestors. Monday - Friday: 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM by appointment. Please contact the office at least one day in advance to arrange an appointment. Check out a brochure here for more information.

Registry of Vital Records and Statistics
150 Mount Vernon Street, 1st floor
Dorchester, Ma. 02125-3105
(617) 740-2600
The Registry administers and issues copies of vital records that occurred in Massachusetts from 1926 to the present. RVRS also provides statistics on births, deaths, fetal deaths, divorces, and marriages. 

Commonwealth of Massachusetts Archives
220 Morrissey Boulevard
Columbia Point
Boston, MA 02125
(617) 727-2816
The Archives hold births, marriages, and deaths for all Massachusetts cities and towns, 1841 through 1925. 

State Library of Massachusetts
State House (24 Beacon Street)
Room 341
Boston, 02133
(617) 727-2590
The State Library holds geographical and biographical resources including city and town directories, voting lists, tax lists, town reports, published family histories, and legislative biographies.

New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS)
99-101 Newbury Street
Boston, MA 02116
(617) 536.5740 
NEHGS is the nation’s leading comprehensive resource for family history research and the largest Society of its kind in the world. While membership is required, it offers some free online and on-site educational opportunities for non-members, as well as limited access to some databases to non-members.

Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, New England Chapter (AAHGS-NE)
AAHGS-NE offers seminars and workshops on research techniques and methods used to access local public records, national archives and religious databases. The chapter publishes a bi-monthly Newsletter highlighting recent genealogical findings, seminars, lectures and relevant publications. In addition, surnames and geographies under investigation, as well as other reference materials, are shared amongst chapter members.

Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston
P.O. Box 610366
Newton, MA 02461-0366
866-611-5698 (toll free)
Offers monthly educational programs, individual help with research and a comprehensive beginners’ course. JGSGB has an extensive collection of research materials and publishes an award-winning journal, Mass-Pocha. While JGSGB is a membership organization, its website has links to several helpful resources.

American-French Genealogical Society
78 Earle Street
Woonsocket, RI  02895-3108
(401) 765-6141
A 501c3 non-profit organization devoted to people of French Canadian descent. Their mission is to collect, preserve and publish cultural, genealogical, historical and biographical matter relating to Americans of French and French Canadian descent.

The Irish Ancestral Research Association
121 Boston Post Road
Sudbury, MA 01776
A non-profit organization established to develop and promote the growth, study and exchange of ideas among people and organizations interested in Irish genealogical and historical research and education. Our monthly meetings educate and entertain our members, as well as foster interaction with other Irish researchers. TIARA does not provide individual genealogical research services.

Beyond Boston

At other libraries
If your ancestors lived in other states, check out the websites of public libraries and historical societies in those states. County and municipal offices can also be good places to look.Now that the cost of scanning and server storage has become more affordable, many libraries and historical societies are digitizing their collections for their members, or in some cases, for everyone to use. The Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the Clayton Library Center in Houston are among the biggest and best-known, but there are many others.

National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC
The National Archives contains a treasure trove of records for the genealogist. The major categories of records held include US census records (1790-1940), immigration and naturalization records such as ship passenger lists and naturalization records, land records, and military records. The Boston branch of NARA, located in Waltham, also has copies of many of the same records. 

There is a broad range of materials at NARA. Short articles from the NARA magazine Prologue guide you to many categories of NARA records available to help you find your ancestors:

Consult a Professional

Association of Professional Genealogists
You may want to hire a certified genealogist to help you research your family tree, help you organize your documents and photos, or compile your family's history. Try the APG directory to find certified genealogists by state, specialty, and services offered.

Massachusetts Genealogical Council
Founded in 1980 and is the umbrella organization representing Massachusetts genealogists, historical societies, and individuals who are concerned about records preservation and free and unfettered access to civil records. MGC serves as the records access watchdog and provides a reality check for the Massachusetts legislature regarding access issues. Thanks in large part to efforts by MGC, genealogists are able to access all Massachusetts vital records.