If you are coming to Boston for a research visit, you probably plan to spend
all of your time at the NEHGS Research Library, right? However, if you have some
extra time on your hands, there are two other noteworthy repositories in the
immediate area that may help you add a tiny twig or two to your family tree.
Start at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square, just a very short walk
from the NEHGS Library. Here you will find a goldmine of research materials and
fascinating historical collections, including
Especially worthwhile is the Boston Pictorial Archive, which contains the
country's largest collection of early Boston photographs. The BPL also has many
photographs from the Civil War, image collections of the American West, and the
entire archives of the old Boston Herald Traveler (500,000 images from
1906-1972). The archive is organized into both biographical and subject files,
and cover local, national, and international subjects. You never know, your
ancestor may be in there somewhere.
If you feel like a little light reading, the library's rare book and
manuscripts collections are home to the entire library of President John Adams
(3,209 volumes). But that might distract you from your research (and chances
are, the staff won't let you thumb through these volumes anyway!). Although the
rarest titles and manuscripts in these collections are only accessible to
serious researchers, the library's official policy is that "each request is
judged on its own merits." Items that may be of interest to genealogists
Elijah Adlow PapersContains over 10,000 legal documents relating
to Suffolk County and Massachusetts, starting before the Revolution.
Ellis Ames CollectionAbout 2,000 letters and documents detailing
legal cases, deeds, and other related subjects in nineteenth century
Massachusetts. (mainly Norfolk, Plymouth, and Bristol Counties).
Boston Latin School Collection The Boston Latin School, founded in
1634, is the oldest public high school in the United States. The 2,500-item
collection is focused on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and includes
much ephemeral material from this time. Printed items are now online and may be
searched on the computer.
City DirectoriesThe library has about 13,000 directories from
across the country, including bound Boston directories from 1809 to the present.
The earliest one on microfilm is dated 1789.
Mellen Chamberlain Collection of Autographs In addition to his
astounding collection of autographs, former BPL Librarian Mellen Chamberlain
also gathered manuscripts from the end of the fifteenth century through the
nineteenth century. In all there are about 20,000 letters, documents, portraits,
autographs, and engravings in the collection, mostly relating to history and
The Map Collection includes about 500 atlases and 2,300 rare and early
maps of Europe, the Americas, and the world.20th Regiment Collection
This collection, primarily containing materials relating to the Civil
War and Massachusetts, was established from funds donated by the 20th Regiment
Association of Volunteer Infantry.
If you need a diversion from your research, walk around and get acquainted
with this beautiful facility. The library consists of two buildings, one older
and the other more modern. The research library is the older one, opened in
1895. The many architectural details are sure to catch your eye, as will the
John Singer Sargent Gallery, whose mural "Judaism and Christianity" dominates
the third-floor gallery. And while we are on the subject of art, be sure and
tour the Puvis de Chavannes Gallery, named after the French artist who painted
wonderful murals for the second floor corridor; the gorgeous Abbey Room, which
features The Quest of the Holy Grail by American artist Edwin Austin
Abbey; and the Wiggin Room, which displays the Albert H. Wiggin collection of
prints and drawings. There are so many magnificent rooms to explore and
beautiful architecture and art to admire that you may forget what you came here
for. If that is the case, you may wish to take the guided "Art and Architecture
Tour" that the library offers. Whatever you decide, you should stop and take
a breather in the lovely interior courtyard found by the main staircase.
A mile west from the BPL and past the Prudential Center you will find the
Massachusetts Historical Society Library. The society was formed in 1791 and its
library, according to its website, "serves primarily as a repository for
collections of the personal papers of individuals and families who lived in
The manuscript collections are the heart of the MHS holdings, and they keep
over 3,200 such collections comprising more than 10 million pages. Most of these
are personal and family papers, but they also keep some institutional and
business records. The most important of these collections are the John Adams
family papers (over 250,000 pages) and the Coolidge Collection of Thomas
That is all fascinating, you might say, but what is there for me? Well, while
the focus of the Society is more on history than genealogy, there are plenty of
opportunities for the two paths to cross. It is always good practice for
genealogists to know as much as possible about the history of the place being
researched, and if that place is Boston (or anywhere in Massachusetts), you
cannot beat the Massachusetts Historical Society.
First-time visitors will be asked to fill out a registration form and present
valid photo identification. Whenever a collection is available in microtext or a
form other than the original (many manuscript collections have been filmed),
visitors must use the copies instead of the originals. Visitors may only bring
personal computers into the reading room. MHS staff will provide pencils and
BooksThe MHS General Research Collection includes about 12,000
biographies and over 10,000 local histories primarily covering the history of
Massachusetts from the time of European settlement to the present.
Family History ResourcesAs quoted from the MHS website: "While the
MHS has strong collections of published biographical, genealogical, and local
history information that support research on its manuscript collections, its
holdings do not duplicate the exhaustive family and New England local history
collections or services provided by The New England Historic Genealogical
Society. Researchers working primarily on family history should consult the
collections of the NEHGS first."
That being said, you will want to pay attention to the part of the statement
claiming that the holdings of the MHS do not duplicate those of NEHGS - yet
another great reason for researchers to explore the collections at MHS.
Pamphlets"Almost every facet of 19th- and early-20th-century life
in Massachusetts, and to a lesser extent in New England, appears in contemporary
pamphlet literature." The MHS keeps approximately 25,000 pamphlets from 1820 to
the present, covering a wide range of subjects. Among the titles: "Smith's
animadversions upon, and refutations of sundry gross errors, mistakes and
blunders, contained in a certain pamphlet handed about in this government, in
the form of a sermon or speech" and "An answer to the pamphlet entituled The
conduct of the Paxton men, impartially represented: [microform] : wherein the
ungenerous spirit of the author is manifested, &c. And the spotted garment
pluckt off," which apparently denounced "the Paxton men" as murderers.
Early Imprint CollectionThis collection consists of books and
pamphlets printed before 1820 and broadsides and newspapers printed before 1821.
Highlights of the collection include the first historical account published in
English-speaking North America (1645), the first Bible printed in any language
in America (1663), and the first American anti-slavery tract (1700).
Map CollectionThe MHS map collection consists of more than 5,000
maps and charts, mainly of Boston, the state of Massachusetts, and New
Photograph CollectionThere are more than 100,000 images in the
photograph collections of the MHS. These are divided into roughly 200 separate
collections. Photographs of individuals and families make up the bulk of the
collections. Included are hundreds of daguerreotypes, tintypes, ambrotypes, and
cabinet cards as well as thousands of carte-de-visite portraits and glass plate
So there you have it. Between the Boston Public Library, the Massachusetts
Historical Society, and of course, the NEHGS Research Library, you should find
more than enough reasons to spend a research day (or ten) in the Back Bay.
Please consult the Plan a Trip to Boston page on this website to find hotel and
dining information. If you miraculously find yourself with an extra day or two
to see the sights, walk the Boston Freedom Trail and/or take a Duck Tour of the city.
Enjoy your visit!
Ready to Plan Your Visit?
Boston Public Library700
Boylston St.Boston, MA02116Tel:
617-536-5400Hours:General Library & Research Library:
Monday-Thursday 9-9Friday and Saturday 9-5Print Department:
Monday-Friday 9-5Rare Books & Manuscripts: Monday-Friday 9-5
Society1154 Boylston St.Boston, MA02215Tel:
617-536-1608Hours: 9:00 am-4:45 pm Mon., Tues., Wed.,
Fri.9:00 am-8:00 pm Thurs.Closed Weekends
Boston's Official Visitor