Although the State Library is primarily a government research library, it does hold some materials useful for genealogical research. The information below lists publications available here at the State Library as well as materials available online. While the State Library is unable to answer complex genealogical research questions, reference librarians are available to help guide you through our materials.
Massachusetts Town Reports
These publications provide details of transactions recorded by town officials. Some towns published the names in recorded births, marriages, and deaths, though some recorded only the statistics of these events. Some reports contain jury lists and taxpayer lists and assessments.
Histories of Towns, Cities, and Counties
The State Library has an extensive collection of histories for cities, towns, and counties across the Commonwealth. Search the Library's online catalog for specific holdings.
The Library’s collection includes some early probate records for Barnstable, Bristol, Essex, Middlesex, and Plymouth counties, as well as some index volumes for Middlesex (1648-1870), Suffolk (1636-1922), and Worcester (1731-1904) counties. Search the Library's online catalog for specific holdings.
Vital Records Series (to 1850)
Compiled and published in the early 20th century for many municipalities in Massachusetts, these volumes include birth, marriage, and death information transcribed from town and church records, cemeteries, and private sources. Some town records exist only on microfiche.
Historical Newspaper Collection
The State Library has a large selection of historic newspapers covering the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. This collection, which primarily focuses on newspapers from Massachusetts, is split between the main library and the Special Collections Department.
City/Town Directories and Voting Lists
This collection covers most Massachusetts communities and dates from the first Boston directory of 1789 through the last Boston directory published in 1981. Directories contain a list of persons, organized by last name, residing in a town or city. However, some directories do have house guides, which contain listings by address and not by individual. Many contain lists of businesses grouped by type as well as advertisements. City Directories and Voting Lists are found in the State Library's Special Collections Department.
This material can help identify residents and land owners during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Valuations lists are particularly useful because they provide a very detailed picture of the property holdings and personal wealth of an individual. Aggregates, or summaries, of valuation data are part of this collection. Lists for Maine are also part of the collection. The collection is located in the Special Collections Department.
Additional Resources for Geographical Resources
The State Library's collection has many histories of the Commonwealth, including regimental histories and official reports by the Adjutant General of Military Personnel. These include Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War and Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the Civil War, and many other series. For other specific holdings, please refer to the online catalog.
Legislative Biography File
The file cards list basic information, such as years of service, political party (when available), education, occupation, birth and death dates, and other relevant information for all members of the Massachusetts General Court and Constitutional offices from 1780 to the present.
Published Family Histories
The Library has a historical collection of published family histories. For specific holdings please refer to the online public catalog.
Institutional and Historical Society Publications
The Library’s collection includes some histories of academic institutions such as Harvard College and Boston University, as well as publications of the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Bostonian Society, and some of the local historical societies. The NEHGS Register, the quarterly journal of the New England Historic Genealogical Society (1847-date) and New England Ancestors, the Society's magazine, are in the State Library's collection. For specific holdings please refer to the online catalog.
"Zimmer" Index to Late 19th and 20th Century Massachusetts Newspaper Articles
In 1892 the Massachusetts legislature passed "An Act to Authorize the Preparation for the State Library of an Index of Current Events" (St. 1892, c.140). Commonly called the "Zimmer Index", it was intended to be a card index to "current events" which would be of use to Massachusetts legislators and to the public.
The main index generally covers the years 1878-1937, although there are selected entries for earlier and later dates. Entries include obituaries, coverage of political events, speeches, dedications, visits of foreign dignitaries and general news events. The Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Boston Journal, and Boston Transcript were indexed most consistently, although there are entries for other newspapers as well. A later index, covering the years 1960 to 1983, includes articles from the Boston Globe and Boston Herald which are primarily political or governmental in nature.
Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics
150 Mt. Vernon St., 1st Floor
Dorchester, MA 02125-3105
Repository for all Massachusetts birth, marriage and death records from 1921 to the present.
220 Morrissey Boulevard
Boston, MA 02125
The Massachusetts Archives is the repository for Massachusetts vital records (births, marriages and deaths) for the period between 1841 and 1920. In addition, the Archives has federal and state census records for Massachusetts, some probate records, and more. They have posted a guide to their genealogical resources on their web site.
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Northeast Region (Boston)
Frederick C. Murphy Federal Center
380 Trapelo Road
Waltham, Massachusetts 02452-6399
Repository of federal records, including population censuses for all states, passenger arrival records for Boston and other New England ports, New England naturalization records, and more.
Boston Public Library
700 Boylston Street
Boston, MA 02116
A comprehensive collection of governmental records, city and town directories, New England newspapers, family and town histories, and more. They have posted a guide to their resources on their website.
New England Historic Genealogical Society
101 Newbury Street
Boston, MA 02116
The Society operates an extensive genealogical library. Free to members; daily fee for non-members.