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Genealogy

Resources for researching your ancestors and your family history

Introduction to Genealogy and BPL Resources

Introduction to Genealogy and BPL Resources

What We Are Covering

  • Genealogy research basics
  • Overview of BPL resources for genealogy research
    • Print Resources
    • Electronic Resources
  • BPL Catalogs
  • Accessing material
  • Popular Resources
  • Free Resources
  • Other Places to Research

Genealogy Research Basics: Getting Started

  • Start with yourself and work backward
  • Begin with documenting what you and your family know
  • Record as many names, dates, and places as possible
  • Have a clear goal in mind
  • Use as many sources as possible including vital records, church records, family records (i.e. Bibles & scrapbooks,) newspaper articles, and so on
     

Genealogy Research Basics: Documentation

  • Keep your information organized, using whatever format you are comfortable with (i.e. binders, spreadsheets, software, websites, etc…)
  • Make and regularly update back-ups of everything
  • Keep notes on all of your sources so you can refer back to them

Genealogy Research Basics: The Process

  • Know what basic information you want for each person: birth date & location, death date & location, marriage records, did they have children, etc…
  • You will need some information in order to find and/or confirm information for an individual
  • You can use information you already know about a person to find more information
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
  • Be patient, this kind of research can be time consuming!
     

Print Resources Available at the Boston Public Library

  • Biographical Resources
  • Cemetery Indexes (mostly Massachusetts)
  • City of Boston Records (including list of residents and annual reports)
  • City Directories (Including areas outside Massachusetts)
  • Early Massachusetts land, probate records and indexes
  • Ethnic Collections
  • Published and privately printed genealogies
  • Local History Resources (including town and county histories)
  • Handbooks and Manuals
  • Maps and Atlases
  • Military Indexes, Records, Biographies and Histories (mostly relating to Massachusetts or New England)
  • Newspapers and Periodicals (including some outside of Massachusetts)
  • Obituary Indexes (for some Boston newspapers and New York Times)
  • Passenger Lists
  • Vital Record Indexes (for many cities and towns in Massachusetts)

Genealogy and local history materials can be found in the following departments:

  • Research Services (2nd floor of McKim Building)
  • Delivery Desk (maintains most collections housed in the closed stacks area of the McKim Building)
  • Norman B. Leventhal Map Center (a nonprofit organization established as a public-private partnership between the Library and philanthropist Norman Leventhal)
  • Some materials are available in other subject departments depending on the person you are researching and what kind of material you are looking for.

Recommended Databases for Genealogy and Local History

Recommended BPL Research Guides (guides.bpl.org)

Catalogs

  • Online catalog – can be searched remotely without a library card at www.bpl.org. (mainly 1974-present)
  • Microfiche catalog – for additional reference materials located in the McKim Building
  • Genealogy card file – located in Research Services, includes published genealogy and vertical file materials. Materials are requested from the Book Delivery Desk unless otherwise noted.

Sample Catalog Subject Headings

In-Person Access

A library card issued within Massachusetts or a research card is required for access to all closed-stack materials in the McKim Building. Patrons may obtain a card, free of charge, at the Delivery Desk on the second floor and at the Borrower Services desk at the Boylston Street entrance.

Materials described here outline the major categories of genealogically-related items available in the Library's subject departments and collections. Many items are obtained from the Research Library Stacks by submitting a request slip with the pertinent information to the Delivery Desk. Turnaround time is approximately 15-30 minutes. Some materials are stored off-site and may be inaccessible; we suggest that you call ahead for details.

Please ask a librarian for assistance.

Remote Access

Access to certain online resources (i.e. databases) is restricted to the following:

  • People who reside permanently in Massachusetts
  • People who live in-state for most of the year to attend school
  • People who commute to a Massachusetts employer on a sustained and regular basis
  • People who own property in Massachusetts

Limited remote reference services are available to everyone. We cannot perform genealogical research, we can usually check on one specific fact about one person per request.

Limited email reference is available via ask@bpl.org.

Popular Resources at the BPL

  • Vital records
    • What Are They?
      • ​Government produced records documenting births, marriages, and deaths
    • Why Are They Useful?
      • They can contain information about a person’s residence or occupation in addition to information about their parents, spouse, or children.
    • What Does the BPL Have
      • Published indexes for most cities and towns in Massachusetts
      • Electronic access via Ancestry Library Edition
  • Obituaries & death notices
    • What Are They?
      • Notices placed in newspapers after a death
    • Why Are They Useful?
      • They can contain information about the person’s family, occupation, and residence
    • What Does the BPL Have?
      • Newspapers on microfilm
      • Digitized newspapers in various databases
  • Census records
    • What Are They?
      • A Federal Census taken every ten years, counting the population of the U.S.
    • Why Are They Useful?
      • It can contain wealth of information such as names, ages, occupations, and addresses
    • What Does the BPL Have?
      • Electronic access via Ancestry Library Edition and FamilySearch.org
  • City directories
    • What Are They?
      • A listing of residents organized by last name of head of household and/or by street address
    • Why Are They Useful?
      • Can contain name of a spouse, occupation, and occasionally a date of death
    • What Does the BPL Have?
      • Microfilm & hard copies of cities and towns in Massachusetts, format varies depending on year
      • Electronic access via various databases and websites
  • Passenger lists
    • What Are They?
      • Records of people who arrived on a ship. Usually arranged by date and show the ship and the last port.
    • Why Are They Useful?
      • They can contain information about who the person travelled with, where they were from, where they were going, and how old they were.
    • What Does the BPL Have?
      • Microfilm collection mostly for passenger ships arriving in Boston, covering 1820-1943.
      • Electronic access via Ancestry Library Edition  & FamilySearch.org
      • Indexes covering other ports and time periods

Free BPL Resources

The following online resources that provide access to material held by the BPL are freely available to all online:

  • Boston TV News Digital Library (Searchable content from WGBH, WCVB, WHDH, and Cambridge Community Television covering 1960-1999.)
  • Digital Commonwealth (Digitized photographs, manuscripts, books and other material of local and historical interest from the Boston Public Library and other libraries, museums, archives, and historical societies in Massachusetts.)
  • HathiTrust Digital Library (Digitized books, government publications, and other documents from the collections of an international community of research libraries. All material is indexed and searchable, but access to full reproductions is limited to material not under copyright.)
  • Internet Archive (Digitized texts, audio, video, software, and archived web pages, including books, manuscripts, and other written documents from the BPL.)
  • Obituary Database (an index of obituaries that appeared in the Boston Evening Transcript , Boston Globe, and the Boston Herald/Herald American. Currently covers 1932 through 1941 and 1953 through 2010.)
  • Open Library (Over 100,000 eBooks available for borrowing and reading in-browser or on mobile devices using Adobe Digital Editions. Creation of a free account is required for borrowing.)

Recommended Free Websites

  • Boston Historic Burying Grounds Initiative- Manages sixteen different burying grounds located in Boston. These burying grounds range in date from 1630 to 1841.
  • Cyndi’s List- A categorized & cross-referenced index to genealogical resources on the Internet.
  • U.S. Gen Web- Volunteers that provide free online genealogy help and information for every U.S. state and county.
  • Olive Tree Genealogy- Provides links to free genealogy records including searchable transcriptions. Also provides free tutorials and research guides.
  • Ancestry.com Charts and Forms-  Free forms and templates that can be used to organize information
  • Find A Grave- Crowd-sourced website with millions of grave records, many include photos and some include obituaries
  • Family Search- From the Church of Latter-Day Saints, includes millions of digitized records, registration is required

Other Places to Research

Introduction to Newspapers & Print Resources

Introduction to Newspapers and Print Resources

 

            

What We Are Covering

  • Newspaper collection basics: microfilm and databases
  • How to find an obituary in microfilm
  • Other useful things on microfilm/microfiche: City Directories and Telephone Books
  • How to find an obituary in a database
  • Print resources basics: where they are and how to get them
  • Some Useful Print Resources:
    • Obituary indexes
    • Cemetery records
    • Published town histories
    • Vital records
    • NEHGS Register
    • Non-Boston Lists of Residents
    • Society directories (Clark’s Boston Blue Book, the Social Register)
    • Harvard Class Reports
    • Published genealogies
  • Useful Websites

Newspaper Collection Basics: Microfilm and Databases

Before We Continue...

This is microfilm:                             This is microfiche:

 

Newspapers on Microfilm

  • Available newspapers are listed in the Newspaper LibGuide (http://guides.bpl.org/newspapers/microfilm) and in the BPL online catalog (https://bpl.bibliocommons.com/search
  • While our holdings are primarily from Massachusetts, we have newspapers on microfilm from around the world
  • From 2008/9 to the present, the only newspapers we continue to get on microfilm are the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald
  • Microfilm is for in library use only, and must be requested at the Research Services desk (located on the 2nd floor of the McKim Building)
  • You must have a physical library card with the BPL in order to request any microfilm
  • Our microfilm readers are attached to computers and are also scanners
  • Printing costs 15 cents per page for black & white, 75 cents per page for color
  • Scanning and saving (i.e. to a flash drive) or emailing images is free!

 

How to Find an Obituary on Microfilm @ the BPL

  1. Have a name, death date, and location of death ready
  2. Check the Newspapers LibGuide to see if we have a newspaper from the right location covering the right time period
  3. Go to Research Services Desk in Bates Hall
  4. Fill out request slip for the microfilm you want
  5. Library staff will retrieve the film and show you how to use the machine
  6. Search for obituary
  7. If successful, print/save results
  8. If not successful, ask librarian for help!

Example

Name:  Jeannette Ann (Archey) Herman, a.k.a. Mrs. William F. Herman
Death Date: 1 November 1968
Location: Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Results

           

Excerpt from Berkshire Eagle, 1 Nov. 1968, p. 14
(click on newspaper images to see full-size)

Other Useful Things on Microfilm/Microfiche

  • City Directories
    • Boston directories are on microfilm for the years 1790-1960
      • Some volumes are also available online
    • We also have other directories for cities/towns all over the country
  • Telephone Books
    • Phone books from the Boston area are on microfilm covering from 1894-2001 (with gaps)
    • A selection of phonebooks from Massachusetts and other states are on microfiche covering from 1974-2005


1912 Boston City Directory                                   1967 Boston White Pages
Click on images to see full-size

 

 

Newspapers in Databases

  • A listing of newspaper databases can be found on our website (https://www.bpl.org/resources-types/newspapers/
  • You can use either a physical card or an eCard to access databases remotely (not all databases are available for remote access)
  • The most commonly used databases for genealogy purposes are:
    • 19th Century US Newspapers- Boston: Atlas, Congregationalist, Courier, Daily Advertiser, Emancipator & Republican, Investigator, Liberator; Lowell: Lowell Daily Citizen.
    • Boston Globe (1872-1987) Morning Edition only.
    • Jewish Advocate (1905-1990)
    • New York Times (1851-2015)

How to Find an Obituary in a BPL Database

  1. Have a name, death date, and location of death ready
  2. Check the list of newspaper databases to see which one would be most appropriate
  3. Log into the database
  4. Go to advanced search
  5. Enter name and date of death in search form
  6. Click search and look through results
  7. If successful, print or save result
  8. If not successful, ask librarian for help!

Example

Name: John Furlong
Date of Death: 22 March 1913
Location: South Boston, Massachusetts

Results

      

Boston Globe, 23 March 1913, p. 8                                                                            Boston Globe, 23 March 1913, p. 16

Print Resources Basics: Where They Are And How To Get Them

Where They Are

  • Research Services Desk
    • Marked in the catalog with one of the following locations (all preceded by “Social Sciences-”): Bates Hall, Alcove, Reference Desk, Annex, Cabinet, and Balcony
    • In some cases, primarily with government documents, no location will be listed after “Social Sciences"
  • Central Delivery Desk
    • Includes all published family genealogies

 

 

How To Get Them

  • Anything in Research Services that is not in Bates Hall or the Alcove must be requested from the Research Services Desk
  • Anything in Central Delivery Desk must be requested at the Delivery Desk, located on the second floor near the hallway that connects the McKim Building to the Johnson building.
  • You must have a library card with the BPL in order to request anything that is not in Bates Hall or the Alcove.

Useful Print Resources @ the BPL

Useful Print Resources, part 1

  • Non-Boston Lists of Residents (Reference Desk)
    • Years held for each town vary, we do not have complete runs of any of them
    • Some can be found in the online catalog
  • Society directories (Reference Desk)
    • Clark’s Boston Blue Book [1876-1937, some volumes are available online]
    • The Social Register [1890- present]
    • Only included the wealthy and prominent citizens of Boston
  • Harvard Class Reports (Balcony)
    • Volumes held: 1813-present, with gaps
    • Reports are submitted by alumni themselves
    • Usually includes information about class members that have died since the previous report
    • More information available in the School Records section of this guide
  • Published genealogies (Central Delivery Desk)
    • Content and format will vary depending on the author and type of publication
    • Many were privately printed and donated to BPL by family members
    • Genealogies published prior to 1923 have all be digitized, links to online versions can be found in the online catalog

Useful Print Resources, part 2

  • Obituary indexes (Reference Desk)
    • Includes the date of publication and in cases of larger sets, the name of the newspaper
  • Cemetery records (Bates Hall & Reference Desk)
    • Includes the location of the grave, date of burial, and in some cases headstone inscriptions
    • Some published volumes have been digitized and are available online through our catalog
  • Published town histories (Bates Hall)
    • Will usually include histories of towns from their founding to the point that the book was published, sometimes will have a smaller scope
  • Vital records (Bates Hall)
    • Covers births, deaths, and marriages from founding of town to 1849/50
  • New England Historic Genealogical Society Register (Annex)
    • Volumes held:1847-present
    • Available online via the American Ancestors database (currently not available from home)
    • Oldest genealogy journal in the U.S.
    • Focused on New England, includes genealogies and articles addressing genealogical research issues, immigrant origins, and looks at multiple generations of a single family

Introduction to Genealogy Databases and Other Electronic Resources

Introduction to Genealogy Databases and Other Electronic Resources

What We Are Covering

  • Ancestry Library Edition and other genealogy databases available at the BPL
  • BPL Research Guides
  • Free websites with content from the BPL
  • Recommended free websites

Ancestry.com

  • What Is it?
    • A searchable database containing millions of records from all over the world
  • What Does It Have?
    • Vital records, Census records, immigration records, city directories, yearbooks, and much more
  • How Do I Get To It?
  • Some Good Things To Know
    • Normally available for use only at the library, it is now accessible from home while the BPL is closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak
    • You will need a BPL card an PIN to access it, if you don't have BPL card you can get an eCard here that will allow you to access our online resources

Ancestry.com Basic Tips

  • It is constantly being updated, so keep checking back if the record you want isn’t there
  • Be aware of any possible name variations, the name a person went by may not be their legal name
  • If you can’t find a woman under her married name, try her maiden name and vice versa
  • If you can’t find a person, but you know the name(s) of people close to them, try searching for those people
  • There are lots of mistakes due to: transcription error, spelling mistakes, name variations, a record taker writing things down wrong, a person giving the record taker wrong information, and so on
    • Keep this in mind and try any possible way a name might have been spelled
  • For even more search tips, go to the Ancestry.com section of this guide

Other Useful Databases for Genealogy and Local History 

  • American Ancestors (in library-use only)- Multiple collections of genealogical and public records from around the world, focusing primarily on the U.S. and New England. Includes access to publications of the New England Historic Genealogical Society.
  • Biography and Genealogy Master Index- Comprehensive index of current and historical biographical sources containing information on living and deceased individuals of prominence from all over the world.
  • Gale In Context: Biography- Indexed full-text biographies and news items covering a wide range of individuals from many fields, gathered from reference sources and periodicals.
  • Gale NewsVault- Historical newspapers and periodicals, primarily from Britain and the United States, covering the 17th -21st centuries.
  • ProQuest Historical Newspapers
  • 19th Century U.S. Newspapers- Searchable full-page and article reproductions of newspapers from across the country. Massachusetts Coverage: Boston: Atlas, Congregationalist, Courier, Daily Advertiser, Emancipator & Republican, Investigator, Liberator; Lowell: Lowell Daily Citizen.
  • Proquest’s HeritageQuest Online- Genealogical sources and research aids, including city directories, family and local histories, U.S. Census records from 1790-1940, and military records from the Revolutionary War and other conflicts.

Recommended BPL Research Guides (guides.bpl.org)

  • Genealogy- Contains information relevant to genealogy organized by subtopic, including both what is freely available online or through subscription databases, as well as print and microform sources at the BPL that do not yet exist in digital format.
  • Newspapers- A guide that attempts to bring together in one spot links to and descriptions of the newspaper resources of the Boston Public Library and those beyond our own that would be of particular interest to our users.
  • Boston Lists of Residents- Gathers links to digitized Lists of Residents of Boston from 1909-1969 (with gaps)
  • Boston (City) Departmental Reports- Gathers links to various reports produced by city agencies that have been digitized by the Boston Public Library, including the Record Commissioners Reports.
  • Researching at the Boston Public Library- This guide is to help you get started researching at the Boston Public Library. Whether you live in Boston or are visiting, find out how to use the resources available.
  • Directories @ the BPL- This research guide attempts to bring together the more commonly used resources for directory research.

Free BPL Resources

The following online resources that provide access to material held by the BPL are freely available to all online:

  • Boston TV News Digital Library (Searchable content from WGBH, WCVB, WHDH, and Cambridge Community Television covering 1960-1999.)
  • Digital Commonwealth (Digitized photographs, manuscripts, books and other material of local and historical interest from the Boston Public Library and other libraries, museums, archives, and historical societies in Massachusetts.)
  • HathiTrust Digital Library (Digitized books, government publications, and other documents from the collections of an international community of research libraries. All material is indexed and searchable, but access to full reproductions is limited to material not under copyright.)
  • Internet Archive (Digitized texts, audio, video, software, and archived web pages, including books, manuscripts, and other written documents from the BPL.)
  • Obituary Database (an index of obituaries that appeared in the Boston Evening Transcript , Boston Globe, and the Boston Herald/Herald American. Currently covers 1932 through 1941 and 1953 through 2010.)
  • Open Library (Over 100,000 eBooks available for borrowing and reading in-browser or on mobile devices using Adobe Digital Editions. Creation of a free account is required for borrowing.)

Recommended Free Websites

  • Boston Historic Burying Grounds Initiative- Manages sixteen different burying grounds located in Boston. These burying grounds range in date from 1630 to 1841.
  • Cyndi’s List- A categorized & cross-referenced index to genealogical resources on the Internet.
  • U.S. Gen Web- Volunteers that provide free online genealogy help and information for every U.S. state and county.
  • Olive Tree Genealogy- Provides links to free genealogy records including searchable transcriptions. Also provides free tutorials and research guides.
  • Ancestry.com Charts and Forms-  Free forms and templates that can be used to organize information
  • Find A Grave- Crowd-sourced website with millions of grave records, many include photos and some include obituaries
  • Family Search- From the Church of Latter-Day Saints, includes millions of digitized records, registration is required