Using the NEHGS Library

Introduction

The NEHGS library—located at 99-101 Newbury Street, Boston—is one of the nation’s leading research centers for genealogists of every skill level. In it are housed millions of documents, manuscripts, records, books, microfilms, photographs, artifacts, electronic resources, and other items that preserve and reveal our history. Whether you are planning your first visit, are one of our "regulars," or simply accessing resources from home, this subject guide will help you get the most out of your library visit.

Resources at the NEHGS Library

Collections

The New England Historic Genealogical Society has been collecting information about families in America for more than 165 years. Our collections are international in scope and contain significant materials for Canada and Europe. A summary of library collections is below.

ResourceDescriptionLocation in Library
Published Genealogies30,000 titles covering families in America, Canada, Europe, and around the world.7th Floor
Local Histories and Records40,000 state, county, and town histories and record collections covering all U.S. states, eastern Canadian provinces, West Indies, and Europe.5th Floor
Genealogical Journals and Periodicals4,500 titles, including core journals such as The American Genealogist and The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, plus 700 other current journals, magazines, and newsletters from around the world, focusing on surnames, geographic areas, or general genealogy topics.5th and 7th Floors
Reference WorksCompilations, study projects, finding aids, and how-to guides.1st, 4th, 5th, and 7th Floors
Rare Books12,000 rare genealogies (many with author annotations), church records, local and military histories, heraldic works, and atlases.7th Floor (requests)
Records on Microform
  • New England: vital records, census records, court records, city directories, newspapers, and pre-1906 naturalizations.
  • Canadian: records for Québec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, including vital records, deeds, census records to 1901, and parish registers.
  • Irish: Griffiths Valuation, Tithe Applotment Books, and Ordnance Survey maps.
  • Portuguese/Azorean: Catholic parish registers and civil records of the Azores islands of Portugal, consisting of birth, baptism, marriage, and death records from the 16th to 19th centuries.
  • Scottish: parish register index.
  • English: city directories and parish registers.
4th Floor
ManuscriptsMore than 28 million original documents and objects, including family papers, diaries, account books, family Bibles, church records, cemetery transcriptions, photographs, and other items dating back over four hundred years.5th Floor (requests)

NEHGS is also an authorized center for the use of microfilm from FamilySearch. The microfilm holdings of FamilySearch cover records from all over the globe. Simply visit the FamilySearch microfilm ordering website to order the film you want to use, and select New England Historic Genealogical Society as the location where you would like the film to be delivered. For most film, you will have use of it at NEHGS for 90 days.

Database Access

As a library patron working within our building, you have free access to a number of subscription-based, online databases. Links to the databases listed below can be found on the welcome screen of each computer in the library. NEHGS members who are logged into AmericanAncestors.org can also access three of these databases from home. Learn more.

DatabaseDescription
19th Century U.S. NewspapersNewspaper content from throughout the 1800s. Full text and images from hundreds of papers from every region of the U.S. Includes birth, death, and marriage notices.
African American Biographical DatabaseThe largest electronic collection of biographical information on African Americans, 1790 to 1950.
AmericanAncestors.orgMore than 500 databases maintained by NEHGS, including: vital, probate, cemetery, church, and other records for New England, New York, Canada, and beyond; the New England Historical & Genealogical Register, The American Genealogist, The Virginia Genealogist, and other periodicals. Learn more.
American Jewish Historical Society, New England Archives Digital ArchiveA work in progress, this digital archive includes many personal and institutional collections, including the Jewish Community Relations Council, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Y.M.H.A.-Hecht House, and various family papers.
Ancestry.comCensus, vital, military, immigration, family-tree, newspaper, city-directory, and court records, primarily for the U.S., Canada, and U.K. Also includes Swedish church records.
Boston GlobeAccess to issues of the Boston Globe from 1872 to the present.
Cape Breton Genealogy & Historical AssociationParish, census, cemetery, military, school, funeral-home, ship, obituary, and land records for Cape Breton and other regions of Nova Scotia. (Login required; please ask librarian for assistance.)
Digital Sanborn Maps, 1867–1970Sanborn fire insurance maps for Connecticut, Maine Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
Early American Newspapers, Series I, 1690–1876Over one million pages of fully-searchable early newspapers, such as the Boston Gazette, New-York Evening Post, and many more. Includes marriage, death, and court records.
FamilySearch.orgRecords from countries worldwide, including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, U.K., Ireland, and many more
FindmypastThis new world edition of FindMyPast contains historical records covering England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, United States ,Australia, New Zealand, and other parts of the world. Includes UK census, vital and parish records, Griffith’s valuation for Ireland, National Wills index and PERSI index of periodicals.
Fold3U.S. military records from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam eras
Gale databasesIncludes Biography Resource Center, Biography in Context, Massachusetts History Online, and general interest and academic databases.
Heritage Quest OnlineU.S. census, Revolutionary War, and Freedman’s Bank records; over 24,000 family and local history books; and the PERSI index of periodical articles.
Historic Map Works1.4 million historic U.S. and international maps, including over 800,000 U.S. property maps from the late 1700s to the present.
HistoryGeo.comInteractive maps and data on original landowners from Public Land States and Texas. Also includes a collection of historical maps.
The Jewish Advocate (1905–1990)The primary newspaper for the Jewish communities of Greater Boston and New England.
Marquis Biographies OnlineProfiles of over 1.4 million individuals from all fields of endeavor. Includes biographies from Who’s Who in America; Who’s Who in the East; Who’s Who in the Midwest; and other titles.
NEHGS Library CatalogCatalog of books, periodicals, manuscripts, microfilm, CDs, and other resources held by the NEHGS library. Also includes the Digital Library and Archive, which contains online versions of items from the NEHGS collections.
New York TimesProvides access to issues of the New York Times from 1980 to the present.
PHRDQuébec records for the 17th and 18th centuries, including parish registers, census records, genealogies, and more.
ScotlandsPlacesAllows users to search across different national databases using geographic place names. (Login required; please ask staff for assistance.)

Expert Staff

Our staff of expert genealogists are available to help you find library resources during your visit. If you have a question needing more in-depth assistance, you can schedule a one-on-one consultation to be held in person at our library or by telephone. We select the genealogist you will work with by matching staff expertise with the area you are researching. Consultations may be scheduled for a minimum of thirty minutes and a maximum of two hours. Please contact us at least two weeks in advance to schedule your appointment. Schedule your consultation today or contact consultations@nehgs.org for more information.

Library Catalog & Accessing Resources from Home

Library Catalog

Our library catalog is an important tool for anyone planning a trip to our library or patrons needing to locate a certain resource while they are at the library. You can access the catalog from home or from the computers on every library floor. You do not need to be an NEHGS member or even be logged in to search the catalog. Learn more about using our library catalog or watch a recording of our previously broadcast webinar, "Get the Most from the NEHGS Online Library Catalog" (below).

Get the Most from the NEHGS Online Library Catalog
Live broadcast: June 26, 2014
Presented by: Anne Meringolo and Emily Baldoni
Intended audience: Anyone using our online library catalog
Level: Beginner Running Time: 1:07:41
Description: Join Technical Services Manager Anne Meringolo and Technical Services Librarian Emily Baldoni as they show you how to get the most out of the NEHGS online library catalog. Learn how to search for resources, organize your research, borrow e-books, and access digital editions and manuscripts—all through our online catalog.

You can search by keyword (anywhere in record), title, author, subject, call number, or advanced. A good place to start is with the keyword search.

Keyword Search

Subject searches are the most effective way to search for items about a family or place because they retrieve only the most relevant results. Enter a surname here (begin by excluding first names from your search) or a town, county, state, region, or country name. You can also search by topic, such as “Italian Americans.”

Subject Search

Once you execute a search and select a result of interest, you can add the record to a list for emailing or printing by clicking on “Add to email/print queue” at the top. Once you have a number of records added to the queue, click “View Queue” and print, email, or save the list for your visit to the library. If you are an NEHGS member, you can also save records permanently to a list in your library catalog account by clicking “Save to My Lists.”

Save Search

Accessing Library Resources from Home

The library catalog is also the portal for our expanding Digital Library. NEHGS members logged on to AmericanAncestors.org from home or within the library will find thousands of links to online versions of books and manuscripts from our collections. Some of these online resources have been created by NEHGS ( browse our digital library here), and some are found on other organizations’ websites. Certain books published since 1923, and still subject to copyright restrictions, may be borrowed online by one user at a time and then returned. Here is an example.

Preparing for Your Visit

To make the most of your visit to our library, consider taking advantage of the following resources and services before you arrive:

  1. Make a list! The first step is to create a list of family lines you'd like to investigate or specific questions you'd like to focus on during your visit. If you are new to genealogy, you may want to first talk to family members and start filling in a multi-generation chart to bring with you.

  2. Familiarize yourself with our library's layout. Print or download a floor-by-floor plan of our building.

  3. Search our library catalog. Create an initial list of resources you'd like to consult during your visit. You can save a list of books and print it out for easy reference. See above for more information.

  4. Request manuscripts and rare books. Accessible only to NEHGS members, the contents of the R. Stanton Avery Special Collections may be searched through our library catalog. Items may be requested ahead of time and made ready for your visit by contacting library@nehgs.org. Learn more about accessing our Special Collections.

  5. Book a consultation (at least two weeks in advance). Our experts can assist you with just about any kind of genealogical inquiry. Consultations may be conducted in person at our library or over the phone and may be scheduled for 30 minutes to two hours. NEHGS members receive special pricing on consultations. Schedule your consultation today or contact consultations@nehgs.org for more information.

  6. Check our calendar. Plan your visit to coincide with an NEHGS lecture or other educational event. Many of these are free and open to the public. We also hold a New Visitor Welcome Tour at the start of every month.

  7. Order FHL film. NEHGS is an authorized center for the use of microfilm from FamilySearch. Simply visit the FamilySearch microfilm ordering website, order the film you want to use, and select New England Historic Genealogical Society as the location where you would like the film to be delivered. For most film, you will have use of it at NEHGS for 90 days.

  8. Know your research. To best assist you, our staff may ask you questions about research you have already done, or may wish to see some of the records you have already located. That may mean you have to reacquaint yourself with some of the work you've already done. Be sure to bring along your family trees and other relevant records.

Preparing for Your Visit to NEHGS
Live broadcast: May 26, 2015
Presented by: Jean Maguire
Level: Beginner Running Time: 50:35
Description: While some NEHGS resources are now available online, a visit to our acclaimed research center in Boston can yield amazing results. Learn how best to prepare for your visit to our library and archives from Library Director Jean Maguire: search our online catalog, create a resource checklist, schedule an in-person consultation, request manuscript materials, and more.


What to bring:

  • Printed charts
  • Your laptop, iPad, or smart phone—we have wi-fi!
  • Digital cameras are allowed
  • A pencil (or two!)
  • Scanners, such as the Flip-Pal, that don't press on a book's spine are allowed
  • A flash drive (we also sell these at the 4th and 7th floor reference desks)
  • Snacks to fuel your research muscles (not to be open on library floors). A snack room with vending machines is open to library patrons on the 1st floor.

Note: Lockers are available to store items while using the library.

Visiting

Admission to the Research Library is free for NEHGS members. Non-members are always welcome and may purchase a day pass for $20. Print or download a floor-by-floor plan of our building. Get directions to our library and archives and learn where to park.

New England Historic Genealogical Society
99-101 Newbury Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116-3007
1-888-296-3447

Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday: 9 am–5 pm
Wednesday: 9 am–9 pm
Sunday and Monday: Closed

Group Visits

NEHGS welcomes visits by groups from genealogical societies, historical societies, schools, churches, and more. Our staff can provide an orientation and tour of the library, as well as customized presentations about our resources, website, collections, or other special topics as needed. Please provide at least one month’s notice before bringing a group of ten people or more to the library. Group discounts for nonmembers are available. Availability for group visits on certain days may be limited due to special events at the NEHGS library.

To schedule a group visit, or for more information, please call our Education Department at 617-226-1226 or toll-free, 888-286-3447, or email education@nehgs.org.

If your group is new to genealogy research, a helpful video can be found in our Online Learning Center: Getting Started in Genealogy

Please use this guide and our Library Collections Overview to familiarize your group with the resources available here.

Photocopying and Image Saving

Photocopies and printouts (from computer and microfilm printers) cost 25 cents per page, except library catalog printouts, which are free. Copy cards for use with the photocopiers are available from a vending machine in the seventh-floor reading room. Copies from the photocopiers and microfilm scanners may also be saved to flash drives. Flash drives are available for purchase at the library.

Accommodations

The NEHGS library is located in the heart of Boston's Back Bay neighborhood. Hotel reservations may fill up quickly depending on the time of year. Consult a list of nearby accommodations.Note: NEHGS members receive a special discount at the Charlesmark Hotel, located approximately two blocks from us.

Need help?

Want to maximize your research? The experts at NEHGS can help! We offer a number of services that can help you break down brick walls and expand your research.

Meet one-on-one with our genealogists

Want research guidance from a professional genealogist? Our experts provide 30-minute to two-hour consultations in person or by phone.

  • Find elusive ancestors—Whether you are searching in the U.S. or abroad, in the 17th or 20th century, our genealogists have the knowledge to assist you.
  • Locate and use records—Vital records, military records, deeds, probate, and more—if you’re wondering where to look for them, how to read them, or what data you can find in them, we can guide you.
  • Get more out of technology—Feel like you could be making better use of your genealogy software? Curious about websites and databases that might be relevant to your research? Let us help!

Schedule your consultation today or contact consultations@nehgs.org.

Hire our experts in Research Services

Whether you are just beginning your family research or have been researching for years, NEHGS Research Services is here to assist you. Our team of experts can:

  • Conduct hourly research
  • Break down “brick walls”
  • Retrieve manuscript materials
  • Obtain probate records
  • Research and prepare your lineage society application
  • Organize your materials and files
  • Write narrative biographies about your ancestors
  • Create customized family charts

Hire Research Services today or contact research@nehgs.org, 617-226-1233.