Rhode Island Research

Introduction

Seal of Rhode Island

Although Rhode Island is the smallest state in the U.S., it holds a vast treasure trove of genealogical source material. Its four original towns—Newport, Portsmouth, Providence, and Warwick—started keeping records in the 1630s and much is now available online. This subject guide lists a small selection of important resources available online, at NEHGS, or at other repositories.To explore our resources in greater detail, search the NEHGS library catalog by town, family surname, or time period. Note: Because of shifting town and state boundaries, it's important to check surrounding towns when researching!

General Guides

“A Guide to Genealogical Research in Rhode Island” by Maureen A. Taylor, and “Sources for Rhode Island Research in the NEHGS Collections” by Michael J. Leclerc in New England Ancestors: Newsmagazine of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2005, v. 6, no. 2.
NEHGS, 7th Floor Reference F1 .N49 v. 6, no. 2

Genealogies

The Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island; Comprising Three Generations of Settlers Who Came Before 1690… by John Osborne Austin
NEHGS, 7th Floor Reference F78 .A935 1887

Genealogies of Rhode Island Families from Rhode Island Periodicals
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks F78 .G46 1983

Genealogies of Rhode Island Families: from the New England Historical and Genealogical Register
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks F78.G462 1989

Representative Men and Old Families of Rhode Island
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks F78 .R422 1908 (also available online)

Runaways, Deserters, and Notorious Villains from Rhode Island Newspapers, by Maureen Alice Taylor
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks F78 .T37 1994

Census Records

Workers at Lorraine mfg. co, Westerly_LOCPre-1790 Census records

Ancestry.com

Rhode Island Freemen, 1747–1755, by Bruce MacGunnigle
NEHGS, 7th Floor Reference F78.M32 1877

Census of the Inhabitants of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations 1774, by John R. Bartlett
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks F78.A59 1969

The Rhode Island 1777 Military Census, by Mildred M. Chamberlain
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks E263.R4 C48 1985

Rhode Island 1782 Census, by Jay Mack Holbrook
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks F78.H47 1979

1790–1940 Federal Census Records

Ancestry.com

1865–1936 State Census Records

Rhode Island state census information was gathered beginning in 1865 and is available online on Ancestry.com and from 1885 forward on Familysearch.org. In addition, microfilms of the state censuses from 1865 are available at NEHGS, Microfilm F78 .R57 1865 Microfilm.

Vital Records

Before 1850, vital records were kept by individual towns. Two collections by James N. Arnold and Alden Gamaliel Beaman compiled vital records from a variety of town, probate, land records, etc. Statewide vital record collection began in 1853. Because Rhode Island borders were fluid, Massachusetts vital records should also be checked.

Databases

Familysearch.org

  • Births and Christenings, 1600–1914
  • Marriages, 1724–1916
  • Deaths and Burials, 1802–1950
AmericanAncestors.org
  • Vital Record of Rhode Island: 1636–1850, by James N. Arnold
  • Providence, Rhode Island, Alphabetical Index of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1636–1930
  • Jamestown, Rhode Island, Vital Records, 1671–1800
  • Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries Database Index
Published records at NEHGSNEHGS microfilm

Colonial and Court Records

Barn on Block Island_LOC

Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England, 10 vols.
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks F76.R29 1856 (also on CD)

Rhode Island Court Records
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks F82 .R4 1920

Supplement to the Rhode Island Colonial Records: Comprising a List of the Freemen Admitted 1747–1754
NEHGS, 5th Floor F76.R29 Suppl. 1875

Rhode Island General Court of Trials 1671–1704, by Jane Fletcher Fiske
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks F78 .F57 1998

Probate Records: 1779–1915
NEHGS, Microfilm Collection F89.N5 N49

Providence, RI: Index to Probate, 1646–1899
Database on AmericanAncestors.org

Gleanings from Newport Court Files 1659–1783, by Jane Fletcher Fiske
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks F78 .F565 1998

Land Records

Most land records were kept by individual towns. NEHGS and the Family History Library have microfilms of Rhode Island town records, including the land records. See Town Records below.

Rhode Island Land Evidences, vol. I, 1648–1696, Abstracts
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks F82 .R5 1921

Military Records

2d Rhode Island Infantry_LOC

Civil and Military List of Rhode Island, 1647–1800, by Joseph Jencks Smith
NEHGS, 7th Floor Reference F78.S65 1900 (also available online)

Civil and Military List of Rhode Island, 1800–1850, by Joseph Jencks Smith
NEHGS, 7th Floor Reference F78.S66 1901

New Index to the Civil and Military Lists of Rhode Island, by Joseph Jencks Smith
NEHGS, 7th Floor Reference F78 .S65 1900 Index (also available online)

Rhode Island in the Colonial Wars: A List of Rhode Island Soldiers & Sailors in King George's War, 1740–1748, and a list of Rhode Island Soldiers & Sailors in the Old French & Indian War, 1755–1762, by Howard M. Chapin
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks E198 .C467 1994

Rhode Island Privateers in King George's War, 1739–1748, by Howard M. Chapin
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks F82 .C483 1926

So Few the Brave: Rhode Island Continentals, 1775–1783, by Anthony Walker
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks E263.R4 W34 1981

Town Records

Town records include vital records, town meeting minutes, and other records. Most Rhode Island records were kept on the town level. The Family History Library and NEHGS have large collections of Rhode Island town records on microfilm. In addition, NEHGS has town records in its local-history book collections.

RI Town Records in NEHGS Collections

Town records include town council minutes, probates, deeds and other records. NEHGS has microfilms for the following towns: Barrington, Bristol, Burrillville, Central Falls, Charlestown, Cranston, Cumberland, East Greenwich, Exeter, Foster, Glocester, Hopkinton, Jamestown, Johnston, Little Compton, Newport, North Providence, Pawtucket, Providence, Smithfield, and Woonsocket. For more information, see our Town Guide for Rhode Island.

Church Records

Vital Record of Rhode Island: 1636–1850, vols. 6–8 and 10–11, by James N. Arnold
NEHGS, 7th Floor Reference F78 .A75 (also available as a database on AmericanAncestors.org)

Individual towns

NEHGS has a print collection of Catholic Church records of baptisms, marriages, and burials, published by the American-French Genealogical Society. Most records are post-1850.

Maps and Atlases

Rhode Island, 1797_LOC

The Rhode Island Atlas, by Marion I. Wright and Robert J. Sullivan
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks F79 .W73 1982

Gazetteer of the States of Connecticut and Rhode Island, 1819, by John C. Pease NS John N. Miles
NEHGS, Rare Book Collection F92 .P36 1819

Official Gazetteer of Rhode Island
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks F77 .U53

A Geographic Dictionary of Connecticut and Rhode Island, by Henry Gannett
NEHGS, 7th Floor Reference F92 .G2 1978

Maps of Providence, R.I., 1650–1765–1770 by Henry R. Chase
NEHGS, 5th Floor Oversize F89.P9 C53 1914

Map of the Town of Providence: From Actual Survey, 1823, by Daniel Anthony
NEHGS, Technical Services Map Case G3774.P9 1823.A5

Owners and Occupants of the Lots, Houses and Shops of the Town of Providence, Rhode Island, in 1798, etc. by Henry R. Chace
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks F89.P9 C531 1914

Manuscripts

NEHGS has over 100 manuscript family genealogies, cemetery transcriptions, and other materials pertaining to Rhode Island.

Vital Records of Newport, R.I.
NEHGS, Mss 805

Little Compton, R.I. Wills
NEHGS, Mss A 801

Abstracts and extracts copied from Smithfield, R.I., council books containing vital statistics, with inventories and probate records, 1733–1797, held by the city of Central Falls, R.I.
NEHGS, Mss C 3610

Periodicals

Rhode Island Roots, by Rhode Island Genealogical Society
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks F78 .R2 (also available on AmericanAncestors.org)

Rhode Island Genealogical Register
NEHGS, 7th Floor Reference F78 .R55

Rhode Island Historical Society Collections
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks F76 .R47 1918–1941

Organizations

Rhode Island Genealogical Society, rigensoc.org
Rhode Island Historical Society, rihs.org
State of Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, preservation.ri.gov

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.