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Genealogy and Local History

African American Heritage. African American Heritage is a groundbreaking digital resource exclusively devoted to African American family history research. It provides users a dedicated resource that not only brings together records critical to African American family research; but also connects them to a community of research experts, whose mentoring and assistance can frequently be the difference between research success and futility.

Afrigeneas. Afrigeneas is a site devoted to African American genealogy, to researching African Ancestry in the Americas in particular, and to genealogical research and resources in general. It is also an African Ancestry research community featuring the AfriGeneas mail list, the AfriGeneas message boards, and daily and weekly genealogy chats.

Ancestry.com. Available in a Cambridge Public Library only. The #1 database for genealogists and historians, Ancestry.com contains thousands of family history databases, including vital records, census records, ship passenger lists, military records, Jewish family records, African American history, and more. Visit one of our seven locations to access to this valuable resource.

Boston Public Library Newspaper Database. You can search the BPL’s newspaper databases remotely by applying for a BPL e-card. Search the historic Boston Globe (1872-1979), the Boston Herald (2004-2011), the Worcester Telegram and Gazette (1989-present), and America’s Historical Newspapers (1690-1922).

Boston TV News Digital Library. This online digital television news collection offers freely searchable content from six local television programs: Boston Public Library’s WHDH film collection (1960- mid-1970s), Cambridge Community Television (1988 to 1999), Northeast Historic Film’s WCVB film collection (1970-1979), and WGBH-produced The Reporters (1970-1973), Evening Compass (1973-1975) and the Ten O’Clock News.

Burial Inventory of Catholic Mount Auburn Cemetery
This inventory was created by local historian, William McEvoy, as part of a project to document those buried in Watertown’s Catholic Mount Auburn Cemetery, which borders Cambridge’s Mount Auburn Cemetery. Most of the 23,840 people buried in the cemetery are from Boston’s North End, East Boston, Charlestown, and Cambridge and were buried between 1854 and 1947. Burials at Catholic Mount Auburn Cemetery are often noted on death certificates as “Mount Auburn,” which many researchers and genealogists believe to be Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, leading to confusion when there is no record of the burial at Mount Auburn Cemetery. Be sure to check both cemeteries’ records when researching burials.

Cambridge Buildings and Architects by Christopher Hail.
This comprehensive database, created by Hail when he was a librarian at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, lists Cambridge buildings by street, including the style of the building (i.e., three-decker), when it was built and by who, and any structural changes. There is also an alphabetical listing of personal names of architects and the names of buildings. Available for download are high quality, color images of select Cambridge houses and buildings. Also included are Harvard University buildings located outside of Cambridge.

Cambridge City Directories. Search, browse, and download Cambridge’s City Directories published between 1848 and 1910. These directories contain street listings by last name and by street, business directories and advertisements, maps, ward maps, listings of city services and city officials, schools and colleges (private and public), associations, churches, and clubs. They also contain census data like state and city population totals.

Cambridge CityViewer. The Cambridge CityViewer is a web tool that allows the public to view, search, mark up, and print custom maps using a web browser. Explore maps of Cambridge’s parks, zoning, construction projects, traffic flow, and sewer and water systems. There is even a historical map that goes back to the 1950s.

Cambridge Historic Newspaper Collection. All historic newspapers in the Cambridge Public Library’s collection that do not have copyright restrictions are fully searchable and freely available. Newspapers include the Cambridge Chronicle (1846-1923), the Cambridge Press (1887-1889), the Cambridge Sentinel (1903-1947), and the Cambridge Tribune (1887-1923), with over 650,000 articles covering major historical events from Cambridge’s incorporation as a city in 1846 to the early years of prohibition. Genealogists, historians, local history buffs, and curiosity seekers alike can easily enjoy and discover Cambridge history.

Cambridge Historic Photographs. Search the Cambridge Public Library’s digital collections from the Cambridge Room, the Library’s Archives and Special Collections.

Elephind.com . It is now possible to search digital newspaper collections from around the globe in the aggregate. Elephind.com is much like Google, Bing, or other search engines but focused on only historical, digitized newspapers. By clicking on the search result that interests you, you'll go directly to the newspaper collection which hosts that story.

Ellis Island/Port of New York Records. This site, maintained by the Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation, has a variety of genealogical resources, including a full search of all Ellis Island/Port of New York records. Users can search by passenger, which includes the more than 22 million immigrants, passengers, and crew members who came through Ellis Island and the Port of New York between 1892 and 1924, or by ship, which includes all the ships that entered the Port of New York between 1892 and 1924. The site also has a genealogy learning center with free tips and tools. **Please note that the databases are free to use but registration is required.

Heritage Quest . Heritage Quest is a digital resource that combines searchable images of U.S. federal genealogical census records with digitized books containing family and local histories from around the country. It includes 25,000 family and local history books, U.S. census records, and PERSI, an index of over 1.6 million genealogy and local history articles.

JewishGen. This genealogy website features thousands of databases, research tools, and other resources to help those with Jewish ancestry research and find family members. The site also offers several tools to help genealogists get started, including FAQs about Jewish genealogy, advice for beginners, and online classes. **Please note that the databases are free to use but registration is required.

Massachusetts Civil War Research Center. This site contains a comprehensive collection of information pertaining to soldiers, sailors, and marines who served in Massachusetts units and regiments during the Civil War. Information found on this site was taken in part from documents prepared, compiled, and published by the Adjutant General's Office of Massachusetts in 1888. The site contains a searchable database of over 150,000 soldiers, sailors, and marines as well as brief histories of 73 Massachusetts regiments that fought in the Civil War.

Massachusetts Historical Society. The Massachusetts Historical Society has made available thousands of documents from their collection, including the correspondence between John and Abigail Adams, the diaries of both John Adams and John Quincy Adams, the papers of Thomas Jefferson, manuscripts and photographs of African Americans and the end of slavery in Massachusetts, antislavery images, historic maps of Massachusetts, and manuscripts relating to the American Revolution.

Massachusetts State Archives. The Massachusetts State Archives has three online databases: The Massachusetts Archives Collection (1629 – 1799), which includes a vast amount of archival documents from colonial Massachusetts through the post revolutionary period; Passenger Manifests for the Port of Boston (1848 -1891), which includes the name, age, sex and occupation of the immigrant, the country of birth, last residence, the passenger list number, and the name of the ship and the date of its arrival in Boston for over one million immigrants; and Vital Records (1841 – 1910), which cover birth, marriages, and death indices.

National Archives. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has such a vast amount of information available online, they have created several online research guides. Researchers can search digitized documents on a wide variety of subjects, including American people and family history, government and social studies, military and war, science and environment, and specifically the northeast region of Boston. NARA also has a variety of tools for those who are new to archival research, for those who want to research a particular subject, and for those researching family or military history.

New England Historic Genealogical Society. This website provides a variety of tools, including nine free, online databases to search family history, including Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850 and the Social Security Death Index up its latest release. The website also features a genealogy blog and an online genealogist, who will help answer basic genealogy questions. **Please note that the databases are free to use but registration is required.

Zimmer Index. Complied by Massachusetts State librarians in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Zimmer Index covers newspaper articles of interest, including political conventions, speeches of prominent Massachusetts citizens, dedications of buildings, news on taxation, strikes, and natural disasters, and obituaries. The index covers the following papers between 1878 and 1937:

  • Boston Advertiser
  • Boston Globe
  • Boston Herald
  • Boston Journal
  • Boston Post
  • Boston Transcript
  • Cambridge Chronicle
  • Dorchester Beacon
  • New York Post
  • New York Times
  • Somerville Journal
  • Springfield Republican
  • Worcester Telegram