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Genealogy: Records & Resources

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


This section covers free resources available at libraries and other institutions, as well as helpful free websites. It doesn't cover database services such as GenealogyBank, which charge individual subscribers for access.


Below is a list of some BPL databases and their means of access, followed by a description each of the databases and of two online names dictionaries, the Dictionary of American Family Names, and the Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland.


There are several types of websites for family history research. Some, like and FindMyPast, serve a purpose similar to online databases--they organize many types of records into searchable collections. 

Other websites, such as Cyndi's List, are portals which guide you to information available elsewhere on the web. 

Another category includes such sites as Internet Archive and Hathitrust, which are repositories of published histories and genealogies (but which don't contain vital records or other genealogical resources).

Historical societies, libraries, archives, and other institutions have useful information and some records on their sites. These are covered in other parts of this guide.

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

  • Atlascope- A project of the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library, Atlascope is a tool for exploring historic urban maps in metropolitan Boston and telling stories about how places have changed over time.
  • 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.

The below are just a few other websites useful for genealogy research:

  • CastleGarden‚ÄčA free database of information on 11 million immigrants who made their way through Manhattan's Castle Garden immigration station between 1820 and 1892. More than 100 million Americans can trace their ancestors to this early immigration period.
  • Cyndi's List- A portal to contains roughly 332,000 links to genealogy resources in more than 200 categories.
  • Ellis Island Foundation- Has made available more than 25 million passengers and members of ships' crews entered the United States through Ellis Island and the Port of New York between 1892 and 1924. Information about each person was written down in ships' passenger lists, known as "manifests." Manifests were used to examine immigrants upon arrival in the United States. These archives are currently being expanded to include arrival records in the Port of New York from 1925 through 1957. All of the 51 million records are searchable. In the Passenger Record Archive, you'll find:
    • Passenger Records - Given passenger name, date of arrival, ship of travel, and age on arrival. You can do name searches for "sounds like" names.  Original Manifests - Showing passenger names and other information. 
    • Ship Information - including photographs of more than 900 passenger ships. You can keep copies of the passenger records, manifests, and ship images in Your Profile, which you can open by registering for free on the website.
  • A website containing over five billion searchable records from dozens of countries. Access is free. FamilySearch is the largest genealogy organization in the world. While the site is free, you need to sign in with your email address and create a password.
  • Linkpendium- A 10,000,000+ resource directory to everything on the Web about families worldwide and genealogically-relevant information about U.S. states and counties. It covers free and subscription sites, with a strong emphasis upon free resources provided by libraries, government agencies, genealogical and historical societies, and individuals.
  • One-Step Webpages by Stephen P. Morse- Contains tools for finding immigration records, census records, vital records, and for using calendars, maps, foreign alphabets, and other applications.
  • Relationship Calculator- From, assists in determining the names of complicated familial relationships.