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10 Boston Collections You’ll Love

By Sunny McClellan Morton Premium

Over the years, Bostonians have compiled information on local forebears into several excellent collections. These are some of our favorites:

  1. 20th Regiment Collection: This massive collection focuses on materials pertaining to Boston’s 20th Regiment’s participation in the Civil War, but additional materials relating to Massachusetts’ participation in other conflicts has since been added. Located in the Rare Book Department of the Boston Public Library.
  2. Boston Churches and Ministers: Several publications compile lists of Boston’s substantial numbers of churches and ministers dating from the earliest years. Two to try are John Hayward’s A Gazetteer of Massachusetts and Frederick Lewis Weis’ The Colonial Clergy and the Colonial Churches of New England. Find histories and record summaries for Boston’s “numbered” churches (First, Second, etc.) in An Inventory of the Records of the Particular (Congregational) Churches of Massachusetts by Harold Field Worthley. Look for these books at major genealogical research facilities.
  3. The Boston Pictorial Archive: The largest collection of early Boston photographs. Collection house at the Boston Public Library; call ahead with your research interests and the staff will pull photos that may of interest to you.
  4. Boston Streets: Mapping Directory Data: This online collection brings together in a unique format city directory data, historical atlases, photographs, and other data on early Bostonians.
  5. Family History Resources at the Massachusetts Historical Society: About 12,000 biographies, more than 10,000 local histories focusing on Massachusetts, and other records comprise a unique collection that, while not nearly as exhaustive as that of the NEHGS, contains items you may not find there.
  6. The Great Migration Project: Offers biographical sketches on all known New England immigrants from 1620-1640. Only NEHGS members can search sketches; anyone can consult the website’s name index. Michael Leclerc of NEHGS calls this collection “the most authoritative information” available on New England settlers for this time.
  7. The Massachusetts Archives Collection: The focus is the Massachusetts Bay government (1630-1799), but genealogists will find information on land grants, estates, military records, tax lists, and other relevant topics. Search a partial index by surname at, and find the original collection at the Massachusetts Archives.
  8. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors in the War of the Revolution: A 17-volume, indexed compilation of about 176,000 records pertaining to Revolutionary War soldiers and sailors. Read this online at the State of Massachusetts’ Online Government Documents portal. The data is also searchable online at Ancestry
  9. New England Marriages before 1700, a comprehensive compilation by Clarence Torrey. A paperback version that includes all source citations was recently released by NEHGS [due out Jan 2011-confirm], but Boston researcher Robin Chalmers Mason uses the NEHGS subscription database version to cross-reference women’s maiden and married names.
  10. The Thwing Index of data on 60,000 people, extracted from wills, deeds, vital and church records, dairies and other sources. The original card index is at the Massachusetts Historical Society; a CD version is available from Picton Press. Mason finds this particularly helpful for piecing together family relationships and locating land records.
Read more in the Boston City Guide.