The following was written by Drew Bartley: Free guides to finding ancestors in Boston and Suffolk County, Massachusetts are now available online at FamilySearch.org. This continues a series of free, detailed guides to genealogical research in Massachusetts counties and towns (see also Plymouth County).
The crown jewel is surely the Boston Massachusetts genealogy guide. It is the most comprehensive guide to the city and its records ever created. It includes a brief history, town histories, vital records, city directories, historical maps, city wards and streets, cemeteries, church records, town and city records, city censuses, newspapers, archives, and local libraries and historical societies. This guide covers Boston proper, East Boston, South Boston, and the Harbor Islands. The special features include guides to city streets (a street name can be reused in a different area) and ward boundaries descriptions with a link to a contemporary map to see where your ancestor lived.
The largest section of the Boston guide and never before available is the church guide. In downtown, there were 108 churches established by 1846 (the current stopping point of this guide). Entries for churches up to 1800 detail their every name change, location, notes about the church, a list of known records and where to find them, online resources, all historical and genealogical publications (with links), and a list of ministers (most go to the present). This minister list feature allows the user who has a civil marriage record that names a minister to go to this guide and search it using the browser’s find to identify the church your ancestor married in. Churches up to 1830 have less research regarding their locations or publications, but all other data is presented. Churches after 1830 have only their names, locations, notes, and location of records if not found with the church itself. Several new churches appear on this list and no other.
Another new section is an inventory of the records for the town (1630-1822) and city (1822-present) in all the major Boston repositories. There has never been a complete guide to these records until now. This guide identifies all major groups of records (i.e. not individual documents) that historians and genealogists might find helpful to round out any type of research on individuals or businesses of Boston. Many who want to know every place their ancestor lived will find the List of Residents (1909-1960), used in conjunction with the census and city directories, useful to lay out these often yearly moves. These street by street lists walk you down every block in the city giving the name of every male of voting age their occupation, current age, and previous year’s address (it adds women after 1922). In the next few years, we will be adding links to online access of the voter registration lists now being digitized.
A recent newly accessible source for researchers is newspapers. This guide lists in chronological order every newspaper published in the city up to 1855. The papers running over 30 years and those over 75 years are noted. If there is a digital copy (most all up to 1830 are digitized), you will learn where to find it in this list.
The Suffolk County guide covers a brief history of the county, a table of county border changes, a list of towns and cities in the county (and those annexed by Boston) with links to their separate pages, a clickable town outline map of the county and surrounding area, notable histories that include cataloging and digital online version links, discussion of land, probate, court (detailed) records and online sources, maps, and research libraries in the county.
Boston being so large, the annexed towns have their own detailed guides and include:
- Brighton (1807-1874)
- Charlestown (1630-1874)
- Dorchester (1630-1870)
- Hyde Park (1868-1912)
- Roxbury (1630-1868)
- West Roxbury (1851-1874)
Guides were also prepared for other towns in Suffolk County:
Each of these town guides include a brief history, border changes, histories, vital records, city directories, cemeteries, church, town records, newspapers, and local libraries and historical societies. There are many links for each topic to digital books, online databases, and free transcriptions when found. This is especially helpful with the cemeteries and churches. If records were found in local repositories, links were added to their entry.
These guides would not have been possible without the help of archival and librarian staff at:
- City of Boston Archives
- New England Historic Genealogical Society
- Boston Public Library – Rare Books and Manuscripts, and Microtext
- Congregational Library
- Massachusetts Historical Society
- Andover Newton Theological School
- Harvard Divinity School through their detailed online guides
- Boston University School of Theology through their detailed online guides
- Bostonian Society
- Boston Athenaeum
If you do any amount of research on Boston or its residents, you will find yourself coming back to this guide time and again. Having this information at your fingertips anytime will no doubt quicken any research you start. During the time of developing this guide, I have found that I use this guide over and over to locate books and databases faster than googling for it. May you find this guide helpful for all your Boston research. This guide sprang from knowledge of Boston experts like Ann Smith Lainhart and all those before her. The guide will be continually improved with help from genealogists, historians, librarians, and archivists.
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