Boston Massachusetts genealogy
This is a historical and genealogical guide to the town and city of Boston. You will find help town histories, vital records, city directories, cemeteries, churches, deeds (i.e. land records), town and city records, newspapers, maps, and libraries. There are general history and genealogy topics such as ward boundaries, census, street guides, and much more. There are detailed guides for the towns Boston annexed: Brighton (1807-1874); Charlestown (1630-1874); Dorchester (1630-1870); Hyde Park (1868-1912); Roxbury (1630-1868); and West Roxbury (1851-1874)
- 1 Brief History
- 2 Historical Data
- 3 Town Histories
- 4 Resources
- 5 Repositories
- 6 Societies
- 7 Websites
- 8 References
Historical Boston, then only the land of a peninsula, was a faction of the land mass it is today after massive land-fill projects of the mid- to late-19th century (the rubble from the Great Boston Fire of 1872 help fill in the waterfront) and the annexing of six towns from two counties (as listed above). Boston was first settled by passengers of the Winthrop Fleet of 1630 who first lodged in Charlestown. These first settlers were Puritans, the religious group wanting to change the Church of England from working inside the church. Called the "City on the Hill" by Gov. John Winthrop, the "hub" as we now call it became the center of trade, education, government, wealth, and power. It was the capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, then the Royal colony of Massachusetts, and finally the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Shortly after its settlement, Boston had become a major settlement. It was the largest town in British North America for the first hundred years. Because of that, the town and later city became a draw for immigrants from around the world. Though the first two hundred years saw mostly English arrivals, Scots, Irish, and French were found here, too. It was after 1820 that immigrants from other European countries started arriving in large numbers. The gate was opened by the Irish fleeing the potato famine in 1847. The next wave included more Irish (their dominance starting in the early 20th century is a testament to their number), but also Germans, Italians, and Syrians. The end of the century saw French Canadians, Russian and Polish Jews, and Swedes arriving. The 21st century brought African Americans from the South, Southeast Asian immigrants (especially Chinese and Vietnamese), Muslims, and Puerto Ricans. Many other ethnicities can be found in pockets all over Boston, and walking in downtown one will likely here many languages being spoken.
The basic data is from the "Historical Data" publication series with additions from various sources.
Boston at times was called Shawmut, Tremont, and Trimountaine.
Sections (excluding most of the named squares) in downtown Boston [see annexed towns listed above for names in those areas] include Back Bay, Bay Village, Beacon Hill, Boston Common, Boston Harbor, Chinatown, City Point, Copley Square, East Boston (Eastie), Faneuil Hall, Fenway, Financial District, The Flat (i.e. of Beacon Hill), Fort Point, Government Center, Haymarket Square, Kenmore, Leather District, Logan Airport, Longwood, North End, Scollay Square, Seaport, South End, South Bay, South Boston (Southie), and West End.
Islands that are currently part of Boston are: Apple Island*, Belle Island (formerly Hog's Island)*, Bird Island*, Breed's Island*, Calf Island (formerly Apthrop Island), Castle Island*, Deer Island*, Gallop's Island, George's Island, Governor's Island, Great Brewster Island, Green Island (or North Brewster Island), Little Brewster Island, Little Calf Island, Long Island, Lovell's Island, Middle Brewster Island, Nixes mate, Noddle Island*, Outer Brewster Island, Rainsford Island, Shag Rocks, Spectacle Island, The Graves, Thompson's Island, and Wood Island*. [* denotes land-fill has made it part of the mainland now and the others are part of the Boston Harbor Island National Recreation Area]
|7 Sept. 1630||The first reference was "that Trimountaine shalbe called Boston ...." [Mass. Bay Rec., 1: 75]|
|7 Nov. 1632||It was "... ordered, that the necke of land betwixte Powder Horne Hill & Pullen Poynte (now Winthrop) shall belonge to Boston ...." [Mass. Bay Rec., 1: 101]|
|4 Mar. 1633||Border between Boston and Roxbury established.|
|14 May 1634||"... Boston shall haue convenient inlargemt att Mount Wooliston, ... & Prsent it to the nexte Genall court ...." [Mass. Bay Rec., 1: 125]|
|3 Sept. 1634||It was "... ordered, that Wunetsemt shall belonge to Boston, ... as pte of that towne." [Mass. Bay Rec., 1: 125]|
|25 Sept. 1634||It was "... ordered, that Boston shall haue inlargemt att Mount Wooliston (now Quincy and Braintree) & Rumney Marsh (now Revere)." [Mass. Bay Rec., 1: 139]|
|4 Mar. 1635|| Border between Boston and Dorchester, at Mount Wooliston and Wessaguscus (now Weymouth) to be determined.|
Deer Island, Hog Island, Long Island, and Spectacle Island granted to Boston. [Mass. Bay Rec., 1: 139]
|8 July 1635|| Border between Boston and Charlestown established.|
Border to be established between Boston and Saugus about Rumney Marsh (now Revere).
|28 Mar. 1636||Border between Boston and Charlestown, and Boston and Dorchester established.|
|9 Mar. 1637||Noddle Island (the largest of five islands that made up East Boston) annexed.|
|6 June 1639||Border between Boston, Charlestown, and Lynn to be settled.|
|13 May 1640||The part called Mount Wollaston set off as the new town of Braintree.|
|7 Oct. 1641|| Border between Boston and Roxbury established at Muddy River (now Brookline).|
Border between Boston and Cambridge established.
|13 Nov. 1705||The part called Muddy River set off as the new town of Brookline.|
|10 Jan. 1739||The parts called Winnissimet, Rumney Marsh, and Pullen Point, except Noodle Island and Hog Island, set off as the new town of Chelsea.|
|6 Mar. 1804||The section of Dorchester called Dorchester Neck (and now called South Boston) annexed.|
|4 Mar. 1822||Boston was incorporated as a city per act of 23 Feb. 1822.|
|22 Feb. 1825||Border between Boston and Brookline established.|
|25 Mar. 1834||Thompson's Island was set off from Dorchester and annexed to Boston as long as it is used for charitable purposes.|
| 16 Mar. 1836
19 Apr. 1837
|Border between Boston and Roxbury established.|
|3 May 1850||Part of Roxbury annexed and border established.|
|21 May 1855||Part of Dorchester annexed.|
|8 May 1860||Part of Roxbury annexed and border established per act of 3 Apr. 1860.|
|5 Jan. 1868||City of Roxbury annexed by Boston per act of 1 June 1867.|
|3 Jan. 1870||Town of Dorchester annexed by Boston per act of 4 June 1869.|
|2 Apr. 1870||Border between Boston and West Roxbury established.|
|4 Nov. 1870||Part of Brookline annexed per act of 18 June 1870.|
|12 Apr. 1872||Mount Hope Cemetery in West Roxbury annexed to Boston.|
|27 May 1873||Border between Boston and Brookline established.|
|5 Jan. 1874|| City of Charlestown annexed by Boston per act of 14 May 1873.|
Town of Brighton annexed by Boston per act of 21 May 1873.
Town of West Roxbury annexed by Boston per act of 29 May 1873.
|8 May 1874||Part of Brookline annexed.|
|29 May 1874||Border between Boston and Newton established.|
|1 July 1875||Part of Newton annexed by Boston per act of 5 May 1875.|
|27 May 1890||Border between Boston and Brookline established.|
|4 May 1891||Border between Boston and Somerville established.|
|13 Apr. 1894||Border between Boston and Brookline established.|
|29 Mar. 1898|| Border between Boston and Newton established.|
Border between Boston and Cambridge established.
|1 Apr. 1898||Border between Boston and Hyde Park established.|
|13 May 1898||Border between Boston and Newton established.|
|29 Mar. 1910||Border between Boston and Cambridge established.|
|1 Jan. 1912||Town of Hyde Park annexed by Boston per act of 24 May 1911.|
]]Works written on the town include:
[NOTE: This page is under construction and will take several months to fill completely, so please be patience. The old page that had content is maintained below.]
- Dickinson, S.N. The Boston Almanac for the Year 1842. Boston: Thomas Groom & Co., 1842. A digital copy of this book is available online at Internet Archive.
- Dickinson, S.N. The Boston Almanac for the Year 1844. Boston: Thomas Groom & Co., 1844. A digital copy of this book is available online at Internet Archive.
- Coolidge, George. The Boston Almanac for the Year 1850. Boston: B.B. Mussey & Co. and Thomas Groom, 1850. A digital copy of this book is available online at Internet Archive.
- The Boston Almanac and Business Directory for the Year 1872. Boston: Sampson, Davenport & Co., 1872. A digital copy of this book is available online at Internet Archive
- The Boston Almanac and Business Directory for the Year 1879. Boston: Sampson, Davenport & Co., 1878. A digital copy of this book is available online at Internet Archive
- Fold3.com ($) has 116 years of Boston City Directories spanning 1789-1926 available online.
- DistantCousin.com users can access the following Boston city directories: 1800, 1860, and 1904.
- Internet Archive has made the following Boston city directories available online:
- 1789, 1805,1825, 1831, 1834, 1835, 1836, 1848-1849, 1849, 1852, 1855, 1856, 1858, 1862, 1879, 1916 pt.1, 1916 pt. 2, 1922, 1955 (A-K), 1955 (L-Z),1956 (A-K), 1956 (L-Z), 1957 (A-K), 1957 (L-Z), 1958 (A-K), 1958 (L-Z), 1959 (A-K), 1959 (L-Z), 1960 (A-K), 1960 (L-Z),1961 (A-K), 1961 (L-Z), 1962, 1962 (L-Z), 1963 (A-K), 1963 (L-Z), 1964, 1964 (L-Z), 1965, 1966, 1967 (A-K), 1967 (L-Z), 1968 (A-K), 1968 (L-Z), 1969 (A-K), 1969 (L-Z), 1970 (A-K), 1970 (L-Z), 1971 (A-K), 1971 (L-Z), 1972, 1972 (L-Z), 1973 (A-K), 1973 (L-Z), 1974-1975 (A-K), 1974-1975 (L-Z)
- Google Books has the following Boston city directories available online:
Emigration and immigration
Wiki articles describing online collections are found at:
- Massachusetts, Boston Passenger Lists, 1820-1891 (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Massachusetts, Boston Passenger Lists, 1891-1943 (FamilySearch Historical Records)
- Lainhart, Ann S. A Researcher’s Guide to Boston. Boston, Massachusetts: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2003. (FHL book 974.461 D27L)
- Lainhart, Ann S. “Research in Boston through the Centuries.” New England Ancestors 2 (Spring 2001): 11-17.
- Morton, Sunny McClellan. "Boston: City Guide." Family Tree Magazine 12 (March 2011): 33-36.
Also see: Biography, Genealogy
- Cook, A.M. Boston Goes to Massachusetts. Boston: The Church House, 1945. FHL fiche 6019387.
- Holman, Louis A. Boston: The Place and the People. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1903.
FHL film 1710436 . Digital version at Internet Archive.
- Scudder, Horace E. Boston Town. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1881. FHL film 1482273. Digital version at Internet Archive.
- Snow, Caleb H. A History of Boston, the Metropolis of Massachusetts from Its Origin to the Present Period; with Some Accounts of the Environs. Boston: Abel Bowen, 1825. FHL book 974.461 H2sc. Digital version at Internet Archive.
- Sumner, William H. A History of East Boston; with Biographical Sketches of Its Early Proprietors, and an Appendix. Boston: J.E. Tilton and Company, 1858. FHL book 974.461 H2sw. Digital version at Internet Archive.
The Norman B Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library has 200,000 historic maps and 5,000 atlases documenting the evolution. The geographical focus of these maps, atlases, and globes is the World, Europe, and America, with particular attention to New England, Massachusetts, and Boston from the 15th century to the present day.
- Newspaperarchive.com ($) has historical newspapers available on-line including Boston City newspapers. Some libraries including the Boston Public Library provide free access to this database.
- Boston Globe and the Boston Herald obituaries 1953-2010 available from the Boston Public Library.
Notarial records - Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775
Early notarial records for the city of Boston were published in volume 32 of the Boston Record Commissioners Reports.
- Volume 32. A Volume Relating to the Early History of Boston, containing the Aspinwall Notarial Records from 1644 to 1651. Boston: Municipal Printing Office, 1903. (FHL book 974.461 H2b v. 32). Digital version at Internet Archive
Orphans and orphanages
- Holloran, Peter C. Boston's Waywards Children: Social Services for Homeless Children, 1830-1930. Boston: Northeastern University Press, c1989. FHL book 974.461 J3h.
- Downer, Lawrence W. "The Indentures of Boston's Poor Apprentices: 1734-1805," The Colonial Society of Massachusetts (Mar. 1962):417-434. Digital version at Primary Research - free.
- Nellis, Eric and Anne Decker Cecere. ed. The Eighteenth-Century Records of the Boston Overseers of the Poor. Boston: Colonial Society of Massachusetts, c2007. FHL book 974.4 B4cs v. 69.
Early vital records for the city of Boston were published in volumes 9, 24, 28 and 30 of the Boston Record Commissioners Reports.
- Volume 9. A Report of the Record Commissioners, containing Boston Births, Baptisms, Marriages, and Deaths, 1630-1699. Boston: Rockwell and Churchill, City Printers, 1882. (FHL film 982237 item 1). Digital version at Internet Archive
- Volume 24. A Report of the Record Commissioners of the City of Boston, containing Boston Births from A.D. 1700 to A.D. 1800. Boston: Rockwell & Churchill, City Printers, 1894. (FHL film 14734). Digital version at Internet Archive
- Volume 28. A Report of the Record Commissioners of the City of Boston, containing the Boston Marriages from 1700 to 1751. Boston: Municipal Printing Office, 1898. (FHL book 974.461 H2b v. 28). Digital version at Internet Archive
- Volume 30. A Volume of Records Relating to the Early History of Boston, containing Boston Marriages from 1752 to 1809. Boston: Municipal Printing Office, 1903. (FHL book 974.461 H2b v. 30). Digital version at Internet Archive
- Dunkle, Robert J. and Ann S. Lainhart. Deaths in Boston 1700 to 1799. 2 Vols. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, c1999. FHL Book 974.461 V2dr v.1-2.
City of Boston Archives
201 Rivermoor Street
West Roxbury, Massachusetts 02132
Hours: Monday-Friday, 9:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. by appointment only
The Congregational Library has an impressive collection of records documenting the history of American Congregationalism for the last 300 years. Equally impressive is their collection of New England local, town, and family histories. They also have a strong collection of published Massachusetts vital records. Congregational church records include membership lists, dismissals, baptisms, marriages, minutes of meetings, etc.
The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) has a substantial collection of published New England genealogies and local histories. They also have a strong microform collection that contains copies of original town, probate, land, and vital records; censuses; city directories; and immigration records for most of the New England states and neighboring Canadian provinces. Their manuscript department, which is open only to members, houses over 2 million manuscript items. Some of the items date to the late fourteenth century. Much of the collection emphasizes the New England area. Included in the collection are thousands of unpublished family histories and genealogies, bibles and bible records, church, cemetery, town, and vital records, maps, photographs, etc.
- FamilySearch.org Family History Library Catalog for the City of Boston