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How to Use the American Ancestors Research Center



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.



The New England Historic Genealogical Society has been collecting information about families in America since 1845. Our collections are international in scope and contain significant materials for Canada and Europe. A summary of library collections is below.

Resource Description Location in Library
Published Genealogies 30,000 titles covering families in America, Canada, Europe, and around the world. 7th Floor
Local Histories and Records 40,000 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 Periodicals 4,500 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 Works Compilations, study projects, finding aids, and how-to guides. 1st, 4th, 5th, and 7th Floors
Rare Books 12,000 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
Manuscripts More 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 an authorized Affiliate Library of FamilySearch. Record collections on the website which are restricted to Affiliate Libraries can be viewed by visitors at the NEHGS Library.

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 can also access some of these databases from home. Learn More


19th Century U.S. Newspapers

Full text and images from hundreds of newspapers across the U.S. throughout the 1800s. Includes birth, death, and marriage notices.

NEHGS databases—including vital, probate, cemetery, church, and other records for New England, New York, and beyond; the New England Historical & Genealogical RegisterThe American GenealogistThe Virginia Genealogist, and other periodicals.

Census, 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.


A resource for Swedish genealogy which includes historical documents such as church records, court records and inventory of estates. (Please note: This database has a limited number of simultaneous users.)

Boston Globe (1980—Present)

Access to full text of the Boston Globe from 1980. Includes a simple obituary search.

Cape Breton Genealogy & Historical Association

Parish, 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 Collections at NEHGS

Contains digitized collections from the American Jewish Historical Society – New England Archives (Jewish Heritage Center) and the Library and R. Stanton Avery Special Collections at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. The digital collections include letters, diaries, photographs, newspapers, business records, organizational records, and other materials for historians and genealogists.

Early American Newspapers, Series I, 1690-1876

Over 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.

Records from countries worldwide, including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, U.K., Ireland, and many more.


This 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, and National Wills index. Also includes the PERSI index of periodicals, containing full text of many titles.


U.S. military records from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam eras.

Gale Databases

Includes Biography in Context, Massachusetts History Online, and general interest and academic databases.


Offers core and unique records for the U. K. including: National Tithe Record Collection, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Records, Peerage and Heraldry resources, and voter rolls. Other records include Griffith’s Valuation for Ireland, Land Owner Records for Scotland, 1841-1911 Channel Island Census and directories. (Please note: this database has a limited number of simultaneous users.)

Genealogy Quebec

A source for Quebec and French-Canadian genealogy research spanning from 1621 to the present, from the Drouin Institute.

Godfrey Scholar

Features content from the Godfrey Memorial Library collection, including Connecticut cemetery, church, and funeral-home records and the American Genealogical-Biographical Index (AGBI).

Interactive maps and data on original landowners from Public Land States and Texas. Also includes a collection of historical maps.

Irish Ancestors

Created by John Grenham, aims to provide a single reference source for any records needed to research Irish Ancestors, as well as being a starting point for those with a surname historically found in Ireland. Search by surname, placename and ancestor's name is available. (Please note: This database has a limited number of simultaneous users.)

Irish Newspaper Archives

Through the Irish Newspaper Archive you will find a large collection of Irish newspapers from 1738 to current day. The archive consists of over 6 million images of pages of newspaper content from titles North and South of the Irish border, and includes newspaper obituaries, and birth, death and marriage notices.

The Jewish Advocate (1905-1990), (1991-Current)

The primary newspaper for the Jewish communities of Greater Boston and New England.

Jewish Heritage Center at NEHGS Digital Collections

The Jewish Heritage Center at New England Historic Genealogical Society is a resource for exploring and preserving the histories of Jewish families and institutions in New England and beyond. Their digital archive includes more than 1.2 million documents from the American Jewish Historical Society – New England Archives, including the Jewish Community Relations Council, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Y.M.H.A.-Hecht House, and various family papers.

The Jewish Times, Boston, Mass.

The Jewish Times (alternate titles: Boston Jewish Times, The Jewish Weekly Times) was a weekly paper that ran from 1945 to 1992. It covered much of the same ground as The Jewish Advocate but is another perspective on events impacting the Jewish community. It is also a rich source of information for genealogists.

Marquis Biographies Online

Profiles 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.

New York Times (1980-present)

Search the full text of the New York Times.

NEHGS Library Catalog

Catalog of books, periodicals, manuscripts, microfilm, CDs, and other resources held by the NEHGS library, including links to digital resources which may be accessed from home.

An extensive online database of 3,000+ historical newspapers from the early 1700s into the early 2000s, including regional and local newspapers in the U.S. and other countries.

Parchemin Notarial Database

Contains hundreds of thousands of records from Notarial minutes recorded in early Quebec between 1626 and 1799.


The Programme de recherche en démographie historique (PRDH, Research Programme in Historical Demography) includes Québec records for the 17th and 18th centuries, including parish registers, census records, genealogies, and more.


On the ScotlandsPeople site you have access to a wide range of records kept by the Scottish Government, churches and courts of law.


Allows users to search across different national databases using geographic place names. Data comes from The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, The National Records of Scotland and The National Library of Scotland.

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 hire a Personal Genealogist for the Day. This service allows you to consult with a genealogist, who will actively research alongside you and is a great opportunity to observe and to learn research methodologies. You are able to submit any family information prior to your appointment and the consulting genealogist will conduct research on your project online over the course of a 3 or 5 hour session. You may also consider hiring a researcher to conduct research on your behalf.


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. 

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 Collections. Researchers can find thousands of links there to online versions of books and manuscripts from our collections. Some of these online resources have been created by NEHGS ( browse our digital collections here), and some are found on other organizations’ websites. Certain books may be borrowed online by one user at a time and then returned. Here is an example.


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.orgLearn 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, over the phone, or online and may be scheduled for 30 minutes to two hours. NEHGS members receive special pricing on consultations. Schedule your consultation today or contact for more information. NEHGS also offers a Personal Genealogist for the Day service of five hours at the library. Please contact to see if this is the right service for you and your research project.

  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. 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.


Admission to the Research Library is free for NEHGS members. Non-members are always welcome and may purchase a day pass for $20. Admission on Tuesdays is $10. 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

Hours of Operation

Due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, our building is closed to the public until further notice.

During this time, our dedicated staff will be working remotely and we remain available to help you with your family history endeavors by telephone, email, and video-conference.

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

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. Copies from the photocopiers and microfilm scanners may also be saved to flash drives. Flash drives are available for purchase at the library.


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.


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.

Chat live with our experts!

Do you have a genealogy or local history question? Consider our free, online live chat service! The service is available to all, Tuesday—Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET.

Sample questions:
  • I recently heard that the Wales Family Association collection was donated to NEHGS. Are these papers available online?
  • What is the 19th century definition of a homesteader?
  • How or where would I be able to locate volume 4 of the Newport, RI Probate Records Index?
  • What resources could I use to find more about local Massachusetts regiments from the Civil War?
  • I discovered that my ancestor was christened 45-50 miles away from where he was born in Norway. Could you tell why my ancestors would have traveled so far?

Visit and type your question in the window in the lower right corner.

Meet one-on-one with our genealogists

Want hands-on research guidance from a professional genealogist? Take your experience to the next level with an extended research session with our Personal Genealogist for the Day service. In-person and online sessions are offered as half-day (three-hour) or full day (five-hour) options.

  • 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 session today or contact

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