Five Best Resources for Researching Family History in Massachusetts

Much of my United States family history research is centered on ancestors who lived in Massachusetts.  In the course of that research, I found many useful resources that I use over and over again.  Five of the best resources are:

  1. The New England Historic Genealogical Society
    Located in Boston, the NEHGS was founded in 1845 and owns the nation’s oldest genealogical library.  Despite the name of the organization, the collection includes materials from many places outside New England, with especially large collections for Eastern Canada.  The organization’s website includes several online databases, some of which are restricted to members.  In particular, the online database for Massachusetts Vital Records 1841-1910 includes images of the original documents prepared from the original sources, not just scans of microfilm images.
  2. The Boston Public Library
    The Boston Public Library was founded in 1848 and was the first large free municipal library in the United States.  The collection includes American Loyalist Claims, Civil War Histories, town and county histories, genealogies, genealogical newsletters, city directories, and a collection of newspapers on microfilm that includes more than five thousand titles.  Virtually all Massachusetts newspapers and many newspapers from surrounding states are included in the collection.  The library’s website includes an “Ask a Librarian” link that can provide incredible assistance in breaking down brickwalls.
  3. The Massachusetts State Archives
    The Massachusetts State Archives in located in the Dorchester Section of Boston, adjacent to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and the UMass Boston campus.  The collection includes Massachusetts Vital Records from 1841-1915 and is the only repository that currently holds Vital Records for the entire state for the period from 1911-1915.  Other collections include Post of Boston Immigration Records, Massachusetts Federal and State Census Records, Naturalization Records, Probate Records, Adoption Records, and Witchcraft Trial Records.
  4. The Massachusetts Registry of Deeds
    The Massachusetts Registry of Deeds maintains an online database with images of original documents from Massachusetts property transactions.  The database mainly lists more recent property transactions and does not yet cover the entire state.  However, this database provides an opportunity for those who have not yet researched Massachusetts property records with a way to easily access those records for free.
  5. The Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics
    Massachusetts Vital Records from 1916 to the present can be viewed at the Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics.  The facility is located near the Massachusetts State Archives in the Dorchester section of Boston.  The facility charges nine dollars an hour to conduct research there.  Indexes to Massachusetts Vital Records from 1916 to the present can be searched by researchers who may then request to view the original record books.  Researchers may not photocopy these records, but may order certified copies which are rapidly prepared by the staff.

There are many other important resources for family historians studying their Massachusetts ancestry.  These five resources are just the ones I have used most in my research.

Copyright © 2007 by Stephen J. Danko

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