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Genealogy

Resources for researching your ancestors and your family history

Introduction

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

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 directories would primarily list only men for many years, women would be included only if they were considered the head of their household (which usually meant they were widowed)
  • Married women started being included in the 1930s, in parentheses next to their husbands' names
  • All adult women began to be listed under their own names around the 1950s
  • Children were not listed at all

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:

  • 1789: First edition published; sorted by first letter only
  • 1790-1795: None published
  • 1796: Second published
  • 1797 - 1819: Irregular publication; not issued every year
  • 1804: South Boston annexed
  • 1813-1848/49: People of Color listed separately
  • 1820: Annual publication started
  • 1836: East Boston annexed
  • 1847: First complete separate business section organized by category
  • 1868: Mission Hill & Roxbury annexed
  • 1870: Dorchester & Mattapan annexed
  • 1873: Brighton & Roslindale annexed
  • 1874: Allston, Charlestown, Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury annexed
  • 1912: Hyde Park annexed
  • 1930: First to include a separate listing organized by address
  • 1933: First to show the names of wives alongside their husbands
  • 1961: Last edition to publish death dates
  • 1968: First to include a numerical telephone directory
  • 1978 & 1981: Last two editions published

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

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:

  • Many of these directories were biased and would exclude certain sections of the population based on race, religion, or other perceived differences
  • Names were frequently shortened to initials, i.e. Mr. J.M. Smith
  • Married women were frequently listed under their husbands' names, i.e. Mrs. John M. Smith or Mrs. J.M. Smith
  • Unmarried women would be listed with the formal title Miss, i.e. Miss Jane Smith
  • Listings could be organized by address or alphabetically by last name, depending on the directory

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:

 

Some editions of the Brookline Blue Book are available online at the links below:

  • 1885 (Includes Longwood)
  • 1887 (Includes Longwood)
  • 1888
  • 1889
  • 1890
  • 1891 (Includes Allston)
  • 1892 (Includes Aberdeen & Allston)
  • 1894 (Includes Aberdeen, Allston, & Brighton)
  • 1895 (Includes Allston & Brighton)
  • 1897 (Includes Allston, Brighton, & Chestnut Hill)
  • 1898 (Includes Allston, Brighton, & Chestnut Hill)
  • 1899 (Includes Allston, Brighton, & Chestnut Hill)
  • 1900 (Includes Allston, Brighton, & Chestnut Hill)
  • 1901 (Includes Allston, Brighton, & Chestnut Hill)
  • 1903 (Includes Allston, Brighton, & Chestnut Hill)
  • 1905 (Includes Allston, Brighton, & Chestnut Hill)
  • 1906 (Includes Allston, Brighton, & Chestnut Hill)
  • 1907 (Includes Allston, Brighton, & Chestnut Hill)
  • 1908 (Includes Allston, Brighton, & Chestnut Hill)
  • 1909 (Includes Aberdeen, Allston, Brighton, & Chestnut Hill)
  • 1910 (Includes Aberdeen, Allston, Brighton, Cambridge, Chestnut Hill, Milton, Newton, & Wellesley)
  • 1912 (Includes Allston, Brighton, & Chestnut Hill)
  • 1914 (Includes Aberdeen, Allston, Brighton, & Chestnut Hill)
  • 1915 (Includes Allston, Brighton, & Chestnut Hill)
  • 1916 (Includes Allston, Brighton, & Chestnut Hill)
  • 1917 (Includes Allston, Brighton, & Chestnut Hill)
  • 1918 (Includes Allston, Brighton, & Chestnut Hill)
  • 1919 (Includes Chestnut Hill)
  • 1920 (Includes Chestnut Hill)
  • 1921 (Includes Chestnut Hill)
  • 1923 (Includes Chestnut Hill)
  • 1924 (Includes Chestnut Hill)
  • 1926 (Includes Chestnut Hill)
  • 1928 (Includes Chestnut Hill)
  • 1932 (Includes Aberdeen, Chestnut Hill, & Longwood)
  • 1941 (Includes Chestnut Hill, Longwood, Wellesley, & Weston)

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:

Other Directories

Telephone Directories
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 ask@bpl.org to ask about a specific place and year.