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Ask a Genealogist: Looking for 19th century Boston criminal records.

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Are there any surviving arrest records for the Civil War period? If so, how would I access them? Thank you very much for your help.


Reply from Alice Kane, NEHGS Genealogist

The Boston Police Department does have an archive (1555 Hyde Park Avenue, Hyde Park, MA, 02136; phone: 617-343-5166) which holds some historical records, however, much of its holdings relate to contemporary police records from the 1980s and forward, and is not open to the public. The few historical records at the police department archive are being digitized by the Boston Public Library and other sponsors, so give Archivist Margaret Sullivan a call to find out what is available and where to access the images. While the Boston City Archives (201 Rivermoor Street, West Roxbury, MA, 02132; phone: 617-635-1195; email:  holds the records of the Charles Street Jail in Boston for 1862-1990 (finding aid: ), Police Department records in city archives custody date from the 1870s and forward. The Massachusetts State Archives (220 Morrissey Boulevard, Dorchester, MA, 02125; phone: 617-727-2816; email: holds some county level records, so you may wish to query the reference archivist there for information about Suffolk County Sheriff records. At NEHGS the library holds microfilm copies of the records of the State Prison at Charlestown, MA, covering 1805-1930 that were microfilmed by the Family History Library (film numbers 1977970 through 1977973). Our online library catalog entry can be viewed at  for the reel descriptions.

Alternately, you may wish to follow the arrest story in 19th century Boston newspapers. The Boston Public Library's Microtext Department (700 Boylston Street, Boston, MA, 02116; phone: 617-859-2018) holds a comprehensive collection of Boston newspapers on microfilm; their list can be viewed at . Contemporary Boston court records may give details about what fine or punishment the person received for his offense. Send an inquiry with details about the arrest case to Elizabeth Bouvier, Head Archivist for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Archives (3 Pemberton Square, 16th floor, Boston, MA, 02108; phone: 617-557-1082; email: to find out whether the arrest led to a court appearance.

Posted by David Lambert at 01/09/2014 04:51:21 PM | 

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