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Boston History

Resources and tips for researching the history of Boston's people and places

Search Tips

What we call it and how we spell it now may not be what people called it or how they spelled it three centuries or even three generations ago.

If a digitized document keyword search returns no hits, check for an index, usually at the back of the document, for your terms.

Always search for alternative words or phrases.  It may be there after all.

Do You Know Me?

Phillis WheatleySam AdamsMaria WestonHayden LewisSacco and VanzettiJames Michael Curley

Boston has many prominent sons and daughters.  Some have families who came over on the Mayflower and some arrived on airplanes.  Some made their name in trade and others in politics.  Some may be famous only for being your grandparents.  There are as many possible resources as there are countries they came from or jobs they held.  See below for research suggestions.

Researching the People of Boston

Biographical research can, and should, go beyond obvious choices like general biographical dictionaries and encyclopedias.  County and town histories will profile early settlers and prominent citizens.  Business and industrial histories will offer background on business people and investors.  Histories of the bench and bar discuss lawyers and judges.  Military records record the residence, service and enlistment details for soldiers and sailors.  Just about any area of endeavor (Arts, sciences, sports) will include biographical sources specific to that field.

The Boston Public Library does not collect public school yearbooks (Check with the school's library or the City of Boston Archives.)  We do have Harvard Class Reports, Social Registers, City Directories, Lists of Residents and more.

You will find it helpful to search the catalog by location:

Boston (Mass.) -- Biography

Massachusetts -- Biography

or by group:

African Americans -- Massachusetts -- Boston

Jews -- Massachusetts -- Boston

or by topic:

Lawyers -- Massachusetts -- Biography

Women -- Massachusetts -- Biography

Primary source materials also may be found in special collections and databases.  A small sample is listed below:

Selections from the Catalog