Boston Public Library
Genealogy and Family History Resources
Social Sciences Department
Boylston Room, 2nd Floor, McKim Building, Central Library

The Boston Public Library contains extensive collections of materials of interest to the genealogical researcher, and because of its large holdings, the collection is not limited to one physical area. Materials can be found throughout the research collections (i.e. McKim Building). Primary locations are Microtext, Social Sciences and the research collection stacks, although staff may refer patrons to other subject departments as well. All materials are required to be used within the library.



The Library receives numerous forms of requests daily in every subject department. All forms of correspondence are handled and responded to in the order in which they are received. The staff cannot undertake genealogical or heraldic research, nor can it check our holdings to determine if they contain passages or sections of genealogies pertinent to a particular family.

Telephone queries are gladly received; however, staffing levels necessitate giving in-person queries a higher priority. Your patience is greatly appreciated. We regret that detailed checking of materials cannot be done by telephone. Staff can only provide limited searching of sources.

Arrangements can be made to photocopy pages of certain of our published genealogies and armories, but only if citations to author, title, and specific pages are provided.

Requests for photocopies must be made in person or in writing. Telephone requests will not be accepted.

Photocopies can be made from most volumes within the Library, unless prohibited by the condition of the volume. Photocopy machines are located throughout the library.

Computers are available for genealogical research in the Research Services Department.


Curators' Notes

Material described below outline the major categories of genealogically related items available and include a small selection of the titles available in the Library's subject departments and collections. Many titles, other than those in microform, must be obtained from the closed stacks by submitting a request slip with the pertinent information to the Book Delivery Desk. Volumes will be delivered to the seat number you choose within Bates Reading Hall; turnaround time is approximately 15-30 minutes. Some materials are stored off-site -- please call ahead for details.

This is a highly selective list of the collected resources available within the Boston Public Library. Acquisition is ongoing and the staff welcomes recommendations of particular works.

Please consult with a librarian if you have difficulties locating any of the works noted herein.

All locations are in the McKim Building:

Department Abbreviation
Government Information Gov
Microtext Micro
Book Delivery - Closed Stacks BD
Social Sciences Soc

Micro, Soc, BD
The Research Services Department maintains an index of family coats-of-arms, chiefly from the British Isles, with over 20,000 entries. The Library also holds works on public and official heraldry in addition to collected European family heraldry.

This is a partial listing of collected biographical/historical information. Some collections provide brief to detailed informational entries, while others give bibliographic notes to locate further sources. The Research Services Department and the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department should be consulted for information about holdings of personal and family papers.

Biographical Dictionaries and Bibliographies
Micro, Soc, BD

  • Biography and Genealogy Master Index
  • Black Biographical Dictionaries
  • British and Irish Biographies
  • Clark's Boston Blue Books, 1878-1937
  • Harvard Class Reports, 1833-present
  • Social Registers, 1900-present
  • World Biographical Archives
  • World Biographical Index

Genealogical Dictionaries and Gazetteers
Micro, Soc, BD

  • Colonial Families in the United States of America
  • Gazetteer of the State of Massachusetts
  • Genealogical Dictionary of the First Settlers of New England
  • Genealogical Notes...of Some of the First Settlers of Connecticut and Massachusetts

Micro, Soc, BD
The Library attempts to collect, by purchase or gift, nearly all of the published genealogies of New England families or of families of New England origin.

The Research Services Reference Department maintains a separate catalog of family genealogies which includes analytics and vertical file materials not represented in the Research Library Catalog, although researchers are advised to refer to the Research Catalog for recently acquired titles. Materials are requested through the Book Delivery Desk, unless otherwise noted.

This collection of genealogies is supplemented by such titles as the microform Local History and Genealogy collection, and electronic resources such as Ancesty: Library Edition (available only within the library).

Soc, Micro
The Library's resources include guides to research techniques and sources of information for both the novice and experienced researcher.

The Library attempts to collect published histories of New England towns and cities. The Library also holds an extensive collection of county histories, many of which include genealogical and biographical entries for noted families and citizens. This collection is also supplemented by the Genealogy and Local History Collection.

Maps and Atlases
Micro, Soc, BD
Among the Library's map holdings is a particularly strong collection of Boston and Massachusetts maps.

  • Irish Townland Maps (for selected counties), 1846
  • Bromley Atlases
  • Street Guides (Historical and current)
  • Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

City Directories
Micro, BD
The Boston Public Library has one of the most comprehensive collections of city directories in the country.

The Library has extensive newspaper holdings from Massachusetts and from major New England cities, as well as selected titles from the rest of the United States and Europe. Titles may be found in the Research Catalog. Most newspapers are usually not indexed by subject.


  • Boston Globe, 1872-present
  • Boston Evening Transcript, 1830-1941
  • New York Times, 1851-present
  • Times of London, 1785-present

Micro, Soc, BD
The periodicals collection also covers a wide range of subject publications from the 18th century to the present. Some titles of interest to the genealogical researcher include:

  • American Periodicals Series, 1700-1900
  • Essex Institute Historical Collections
  • Massachusetts Historical Society. Collections and Proceedings
  • New England Historic and Genealogical Register
  • Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts

Periodical Indexes
Micro, Soc

  • Genealogical Periodicals Annual Index: Key to the Genealogical Literature
  • Index to American Periodicals Series I-III
  • Periodical Source Index


Federal Records

  • Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940
  • Population Censuses, 1790-1920 (New England)
  • New England Naturalization Petitions Index, 1790-1906

Land and Probate Records
Micro, Soc

  • Book of Possessions (Boston)
  • Suffolk Deeds, 1653-1697
  • Middlesex County Probate, 1648-1871
  • Suffolk County Probate, 1636-1852

Massachusetts Records
Micro, Soc, Gov

  • Boston City Documents
  • Boston Town Records
  • City of Boston Lists of Residents (Voter Lists), 1861-present
  • Early MA Records--Middlesex County--through 1830
  • Plymouth Colony Records, 1633-1692
  • Records of the Court of Assistants of the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay, 1630-1692
  • Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay, 1638-1686

Cemetery Descriptions
Among other resources of this type, the Library's collections include gravestone inscriptions, epitaphs, and inventories of graves in Boston's historic burying grounds. The Library also continues to acquire published transcriptions of gravestone inscriptions from cemeteries throughout New England.

Military Records and Histories
Micro, Soc, BD

  • Negro in the Military Service of the United States, 1639-1886
  • Massachusetts Soldiers in the French and Indian Wars, 1744-1755
  • Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors in the Revolutionary War
  • Naval Officers in the Revolutionary War
  • Officers of the Continental Army
  • Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783
  • Revolutionary War Rolls of All New England States
  • Abstracts of Graves of Revolutionary Patriots
  • Massachusetts Volunteer Records, 1812-1814
  • Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors in the Civil War
  • Civil War Unit Histories
  • Regimental Histories of the Civil War
  • Black Soldiers, Black Sailors, Black Ink

Military Indexes and Bibliographies
Micro, Soc, BD

  • Bibliography of Military Name Lists, pre-1675-1900: A Guide to General Sources
  • General Index to Compiled Military Service Records of Revolutionary Soldiers
  • Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers, CT, MA, NH, RI, VT
  • Indexes to Pension Applications
  • Roster of Confederate Soldiers
  • Roster of Union Soldiers

Passenger Lists and Indexes
Micro, Soc, BD
The Library collects transcribed passenger lists and related records, in addition to microform copies of official lists and indexes, primarily for ports of New England and for New York City.

European and Other Record Collections

  • American Loyalist Claims
  • British Record Society
       Cornish Probate Records, 1800-1857
       Hereford Probate...1407-1581
  • Griffith's Valuation of Rateable Land, 1846-1864
  • Records of the Diocese of Louisiana and the Floridas, 1576-1803
  • Surname Index for 1796 Spinning Wheel Premium Entitlement
      Lists of Ireland
  • Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society Archives

This is only a brief listing of works. More detailed lists of contents are available at departmental Reference Desks and in the Research Catalog.

Vital Records
Micro, Soc, BD

  • Holbrook's MA Vital Records (list of BPL holdings)
  • Marriage Indexes to the Columbian Centinel, 1784-1840
  • Torrey's New England Marriages Prior to 1700
  • Published Vital Records for Massachusetts Towns to 1850

Obituary Printed and Card File Indexes
Micro, Soc

  • Boston Evening Transcript, 1875-1941
  • Boston Globe and Boston Herald, 1953-1969; 1975-
  • Columbian Centinel, 1784-1840
  • Gavit's American Deaths and Marriages, 1784-1829
  • Military Death Index (Korean and Vietnam Wars) on CD-ROM
  • New Bedford Obituary Index, 1900-1968
  • New York Times, 1858-1978
  • The Times of London, 1951-1975

Micro, Soc

  • American Genealogical-Biographical Index
  • Boston Almanac, 1836-1871
  • Boston Evening Transcript Genealogical Pages and Index
  • Hartford Times (CT) Genealogy Columns, 1940-1967
  • Lloyd's Captains Register, 1851-1949
  • National Inventory of Documentary Sources in the United Kingdom and Ireland
  • National Inventory of Documentary Sources in the United States
             Part 1-Federal Records
             Part 2-Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress
             Part 3-State Archives/Libraries/Historical Societies
             Part 4-Academic and Research Libraries and Other Repositories
  • Passenger Lists of the Holland-America Line, 1900-1940
  • Shaker Collection

The Boston Public Library staff would like to suggest the following facilities to supplement your genealogical research:

New England Historic Genealogical Society
99-101 Newbury Street
Boston, MA 02116

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Family History Library

150 Weston Avenue
Weston, MA 02193

Registry of Vital Records and Statistics
150 Mount Vernon Street, 1st floor
Dorchester, Ma. 02125-3105
(vital records from 1921-present)

Commonwealth of Massachusetts Archives
220 Morrissey Boulevard
Columbia Point
Boston, MA 02125
(vital records from 1841-1920)

National Archives and Federal Records Center
New England--Waltham Branch

380 Trapelo Road
Waltham, MA 02154

National Archives and Federal Records Center
New England--Pittsfield Branch

100 Dan Fox Drive
Pittsfield, MA 01201

General Information


A library card issued within Massachusetts is required for access to all closed-stack materials in the McKim Building. Patrons without such a library card may get one, free of charge, at the Book Delivery Desk on the second floor or at either of the library's Circulation Desks, located near the Boylston and Dartmouth Street entrances.

Metro Boston Library Network member libraries include the public libraries of Boston, Chelsea, Malden, selected middle and high school libraries within the Boston Public Schools system, and Roxbury Community College.


Photocopy Charges
Self-service copies from microforms depend on size, $.25 minimum per copy.

Microfiche Duplicates
$ .50 each*
Microfiche Duplicates can be made where not restricted by copyright.

Photocopiers (paper)

$ .15 (coins or printcard)

Printing (from computers)
$1.00 (printcard), $ .25 (black and white), $ .75 (color)


This information was revised by:

Mary Devine, Social Sciences Department
Marta Pardee-King, Social Sciences Department

Henry Scannell, Microtext Department

(Revised 5/15/06)