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Historical Company Research

Introduction to this Guide

This guide will provide you resources both online and in paper to help you find information about the company you are researching.


Some reasons for researching old companies

There are many different reasons for researching a company or business person. The following are some questions you may be trying to answer, along with a starting place in your research:

  • Are you researching for family history purposes, such as an uncle who owned a type of business in Boston and how successful was it? 
  • Are you researching the company that took an old photograph so you can get a rough idea of when the picture may have been taken? 
  • Did you purchase something from EBay and you want to know more about the company so you can see if the item has more value than the price you paid? 
  • Did you see a picture of a business and were just curious about how long they were located at that store front?
  • Are you looking for records, such as employment records, financial records, or company history records?
  • Did the company you are looking for merge with another company?

Your reasons for researching are unlimited. 

Beginning Steps for Your Research

Your reasons will determine what kinds of databases, books and newspapers along with Internet resources you research to achieve your goal.

1. Using the City Directories is often a good start with your historic company research. They can be located on the Internet Archive, on Ancestry Library Edition (see database section of this research guide) or on microfilm in the Research Services Department

2. You may want to check the newspapers next. A list of newspapers on microfilm at the Boston Public Library can be found here. In addition, the library has many historical newspaper databases that are useful in your research. 

3. The Boston Public Library subscribes to many databases that include historical and biographical information about the company or owner. Using these database would be a great next step. 

4. There are many books at the Boston Public Library that may have information about the company, especially if they have/had been in business for many years or the owner is well known in an industry or location.  This guide includes some useful books that in our collection. Some books have been digitized either on a subscription database or the Internet Archive. You can search BPL Catalog with the name of the company or owner. If a book is digitized, a link to the book will be available on the BPL catalog

You do not need to conduct your research in the order listed above. It is just a suggested plan. Some people will search on the Internet first using their favorite search engine. You may find some basic information about the company or owner to get you started on your research. A reliable source should provide the names of the resources consulted. 

Check out the other Related Guides on the left to help you with additional research.