There are several different kinds of directories that can be useful for family history research. Directories can contain information about where an ancestor lived, what they did for a living, who they lived with, and more.
This section will provide an overview of some directories covering the Boston area and beyond that can be used for family history research.
City directories are commercially published listings of the residents and businesses of a particular city/town. These directories contain the names, addresses, occupations, and sometimes places of employment of the individuals listed in them. They may also include the dates of death of people who were listed in them previously, and information about when and where someone may have moved when leaving the area covered by the directory.
Good Things to Know:
The BPL has a large collection of city directories on microfilm and hard copy that can be requested from the Research Services desk, located on the second floor of the Central Library in Copley Square. For a complete listing of city directories held by the BPL, go to the City Directories section of the BPL's Directories research guide.
City directories can also be accessed via the databases below.
Various editions of the Boston City Directory are available online at the links below:
From the Internet Archive:
City Directories from other places in the country are also available online, and many are hosted on the database Ancestry Library Edition as well as the Internet Archive. Below are links to just a few collections of digitized city directories from other cities in the U.S.
Society directories are commercially published listings of the wealthiest residents of a city/town. They primarily only give the addresses of the people listed, and very little if any other information.
Good Things to Know:
Clark’s Boston Blue Book included residents from Boston who lived in “selected” districts, as well as those who permanently resided in hotels. Early volumes are organized by address, later volumes in alphabetical order by name. Later volumes also expanded to include residents from selected districts in Brookline, Cambridge, Chestnut Hill, and Milton.
The BPL has the Boston Blue Books in hard copy from 1876-1937, they can be requested at the Research Services desk located on the second floor of the Central Library in Copley Square.
They are also available online at the links below:
The Social Register began publication in 1887, when it covered prominent members of New York City’s social elite. Editions covering other cities, primarily in the Northeast, were also produced in the following years. In 1977 the different city editions were consolidated and one volume covering the entire country was published.
Early editions listed married women under their husband’s names, with their maiden name in parentheses. The register would eventually include the names, addresses, educational information, and social club memberships of those that were listed.
The BPL holds the Boston edition of the Social Register in hard copy covering from 1890 to 1976 (with gaps) as well as the national edition from 1977 to the present. They can be requested at the Research Services desk located on the second floor of the Central Library in Copley Square.
Some editions of the Boston Social Register are also available online at the links below:
Some editions of various society directories from other places in Massachusetts are available online at the links below:
North Shore (lists of residents of the summer resorts located along the northern shore of Massachusetts Bay):
Some editions of society directories covering other cities are available online at the links below:
New York City:
Philadelphia (includes Wilmington):
The Research Services department at the BPL holds a large collection of telephone books in microfiche and microfilm format, primarily covering the Boston area. For more information, see the Telephone Directories section of the Directories (People) @ the Boston Public Library research guide.
Boston Lists of Residents
The BPL has a collection of Boston Lists of Residents covering from 1909-2014, many volumes have been digitized and are available online. For links to the online versions and for more information, see the Boston Lists of Residents research guide.
Other Lists of Residents
The BPL also has a limited collection of lists of residents covering other cities and towns in Massachusetts. Please contact Research Services via email@example.com to ask about a specific place and year.