Monday, January 27, 2014

Challenges and Discoveries

One of my favorite places to work is the Reading Room at the Rhode Island Historical Society Library. Since its recent closure (see their website /, with deadlines looming, I have been forced (let's say challenged, instead) to seek out alternative repositories for my research. I've already posted about how much I love the Providence Public Library, but to avoid a trip downtown, where parking is difficult, I went off to the library at Rhode Island College. I had never been, but it was their school break, and they had one of the ProScan 2000 microfilm readers for my perusal of the Providence Journal. While I didn't have time to explore, it is definitely on my list of places to return to, particularly for it's special collections, The Cape Verdean Collection ( and the Joseph R. Muratore Collection of Italian American materials (

My other trip was to Woonsocket, both the American-French Genealogical Society ( library, and the Woonsocket Harris Public Library ( While I have been to AFGS many times, the addition of the Family History Center, new computer databases and some lovely new donations (that I am not allowed to reveal), their collection of French Canadian and RI and MA resources is fantastic. I also found a unique source for records of the Catholic Diocese of Providence. Check them out for yourself, because I was amazed at the parish records they have on film. The public library was also a wonderful discovery. While I usually would use the microfilm at the RIHSL for the local newspaper, The Call, RIHSL does not have a ProScan microfilm reader to digitize the films. Everything on microfilm has to be printed. The digital microfilm reader at the Woonsocket Public Library was a boon! No printing out the pages and taking them home to scan. A bit of a drive, but perhaps more efficient in the long run.

While it's not much fun to truck around RI in the winter snow (and it snowed on my way to Woonsocket), the unfortunate closure of my main research library has helped expand my horizons, and forced me to be creative and more adventurous for my research, and that's not a bad thing, at all. Maybe I'll find some other new places while the library remains closed, and I'll have something new to write about!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Martitime History and Newport

I've been enjoying all the beauty that Rhode Island can offer this summer, as my family bought a sailboat and spent the summer out on the water. Sailing on Narragansett Bay reminds me of how significant maritime trade and the navy have been to my home state.The maritime history of RI has left records all over the state including the admiralty records at the RI State Archives (including letters of marque for privateers during the Revolution), whaling ships logs in the Nicholson Collection at the Providence Public library, and a host of materials at the Newport Historical Society (

Newport has a fascinating history as a haven for Plymouth Colony rebels who wanted religious freedom. The area is the home of the Seventh Day Baptists, a haven for Quakers and boasts the oldest Jewish Synagogue in the US. And Newport was one of the largest ports on the east coast. As early as the late 1600's, Newport has been a significant port of call first for the Royal Navy, then for trade along the eastern seaboard.

The Newport Historical Society has recently updated their website to include a list of their significant manuscript and special collections.They have an amazing amount of genealogical material on Newport families, and an emphasis on the maritime history of Newport in the form of ship's logs, diaries and merchant's records. The staff is fabulous, and the building itself is an historical gem. They are cataloguing their collectionsr and putting more online and have found a bunch of treasures lurking within their collections. Check out their "FOUND!" page to see some of their unique treasures!

If you have Newport families make sure that you check out this fabulous gem hidden in downtown of one of the oldest seaports in the United States!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Providence City Archives

Do you have Providence, RI families? In July 2010, the City of Providence hired a new archivist, Paul Campbell. He has an impressive resume as an author and archivist including 8 years as the Director at the Rhode Island Historical Society. Since he started the improvements to their website have been phenomenal (check it out at He has been delving into the far reaches of this vast repository (you'd be amazed at the stuff they've found so far, including the Providence Town Charter from 1648! See a picture of it here: and assembling finding aids for their materials. He's been restoring town records, with help from various organizations including the Rhode Island Genealogical Society (yeah, that's a shameless plug for my home genealogy society, check out If you have old Rhode Island families from Providence or the surrounding area including Glocester, Scituate, North Providence, Johnston, etc, you should really check them out. They have maps, city directories, town meeting records (some of which are published in the 2006 and 2007 issues of Rhode Island Roots: Gleanings, by RIGS, though 2007 is out of print), aldermen papers, photographs, licenses and vital records (the turn of the century peddlers licenses are amazing). Genealogists will find the Naturalization and Voter records helpful, along with the reform school records. If you do house histories, the building permits might be a goldmine for your research. There are ton of other fun, quirky and potentially valuable family history research materials here.

And they're finding new things every day. They've gotten experienced archivists, historians, librarians and students to volunteer their skills to help organize and catalog the materials. Some are even being digitized for access via the web (see their photo gallery at
So check it out, be creative and see if they have anything that you can use to flesh out your family history.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Little Rhody's Manuscript Collections

The most fabulous new site that I've been using lately for my research is RIAMCO, The Rhode Island Archives and Manuscript Collections Online ( This website allows you to search several manuscript collections at repositories all over RI with one website. The website is sponsored by a consortium of 10 members including Brown University, Providence College, the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Historical Society and others.

It's a great way to search for unique items related to the history of RI and our families from one search engine, rather than going to search each one independently. Many universities and colleges have fabulous special collections that are available for research, and a search of those resources should be included in any "reasonably exhaustive" search for information. They may not be well publicized, but you never know what unique gems you may discover.

There are some caveats to using RIAMCO that I've discovered already. Not everything that the participating members have in their collections "pops up" when you do a search. And not all the RI repositories that have unique collections are represented. For example, while the RI State Archives has a variety of fabulous and unique manuscript collections (particularly those relating to Narragansett tribal affairs), they may not all show up in your search. The information that you get out is only what the consortium members have added to the database. Additionally, there are some possible repositories that we can think of that aren't represented such as Rhode Island College, and the West Warwick Public Library (they have a really fabulous photograph collection!) But, I think what it does is that it reminds us that there are a number of special collections that deserve attention in our family history research, and that can provide in-depth and unique materials that can make our work come alive.

Check them out, and encourage any repositories you use that aren't members already to join the Consortium! By using these resources, we are showing the value these materials have, and why they should continue to be preserved!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Great State Censuses - Continued

Have you checked out any of the RI State Censuses I wrote about last time? I hope so, because now we'll talk about the last two that are available from

The 1925 RI State census is another great way to get additional information relating to your family research. In fact, this census is quite nice since it puts families into family groups, similar to the US censuses. Here is an example for a family in West Warwick, RI (

The information is very limited, but the people are generally grouped by family, you can see who was living in a particular house, and their ages. Another interesting bit of info is whether or not any of the immigrants had been naturalized. Using this information, you can narrow a search for naturalization papers for RI residents a bit more by splitting the gap between the 1920 and 1930 US Federal census.

The 1935 RI state census is much more like the 1915, where you need to reassemble the family groups. Check out this punch card for Angiolina Lautieri.
They were using punch cards as an early computer system to tabulate the data that they collected. This census is not as helpful as the 1925 in terms of the family groupings, but some additional information, such as the date of birth (FYI, Angiolina's had 3 years shaved off her age!) may help fill out some of that vital information.

Probably one of the most useful aspects of the 1935 RI state census, is that it can help pinpoint people's locations, so that you can find them in the 1940 US Federal Census before the name index is completed. (Getting ready for the 1940 US Federal Census is another story for another day!).

I hope that everyone with RI people in the late 19th and early 20th century takes advantage of using's offerings of the RI State Censuses.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Great State Censuses

One of the interesting things about RI researchers that I've run into is that they are often looking for those old 17th and 18th century families. If that's what you're searching for, skip to the end, because this post is about a fabulous resource that's free online for those of us with 19th and 20th century RI ancestors.

My RI families are late 19th century and 20th century immigrants, and many of the published materials deal with the older, Roger Williams era families. For those of us with immigrant ancestors from Ireland, French-Canada, Italy, and the Azores, the Family History Library has digitized and indexed the 1885, 1905, 1915, 1925 and 1935 RI state censuses. The 1895 census doesn't exist. The other censuses, however, can be searched online at

The index will bring you directly to the images of the census that you're interested in.  There are funky things to know about each census year, for example, the 1885 census list men and women in separate records, so it doesn't put people into family units. But by using the 1880 US Federal census to fill out family groups, you can then search the 1885 for each family member. The census will give District, family number and number in family as well as relationship to head of family, so you can cross reference the people you know, and perhaps find some that you don't. It also gives occupation and number of months attending school. Check it out for one of my guys Frank E. Noyes

The 1905 State Census entry of Frank E. Noyes is on index cards and covers 2 pages (don't forget the 2nd page!).
 This census gives  additional information such as years living in RI, religious affiliation, whether the individual is a registered voter, etc. For women, it identifies the number of children, as well as the number of children living as of June 1, 1905. All good information for our family history. See
for Frank's wife, Dora's, 2nd page, for more info about her parent's birthplaces.

For immigrants, it can be great to know how long they've been in the US, and other information about their employment, naturalization status and how long they've been in RI, if different from how long they've been in the US.

In the next post, we'll check out the 1925 and 1935 RI censuses, see you then!

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Providence Journal Bulletin

The local RI newspaper, The Providence Journal, has been doing a ton of advertising lately, radio, TV, in their own pages (I wonder if they have to buy space?). They have changed their website, and now offer an electronic version you can get for your Ipad or phone or whatever. While that's all fabulous for the 21st century, for RI genealogists, the most significant thing about the ProJo (as we locals call it), is that it has been publishing in some form for over 200 years.

One of the lesser known RI resources that I love is the daily index to the Providence Journal that is at the Providence Public Library ( It runs from 1900 to 2004 and can help you find articles published contemporaneously with events in RI history. The microfilm collection maintained by the library is a complete run from 1829 to the present. And while you're at the library, you can access articles on their computers from 1983 to the present. Through newspaper research, we can find marriage notices, deaths and obituaries, and local stories about war heroes, political villains (we tend to have a lot of those locally), and just your average Rhode Islander, waiting out a blizzard or hurricane. We can access history as it's being made, and find things that may have been left out of the textboooks (and when it comes to RI research, that tends to happen a lot).

While getting the bare bones of names and dates for the vital information about our ancestors is the beginning of our genealogical research, putting the meat on the bones by understanding the historical context of our ancestors lives, how they may have been influenced by major events occurring in their communities, is what helps us to see them as real people, living real lives. They were affected by storms and economic downturns, and some may have even influenced the news themselves, and it's worthwhile to take a peak at what was happening in RI during their lifetimes. It may help us understand their motives and moves, marriages and misdemeanors.

As I work on a project about my great-grandmother, I started with the family oral history about her being active in politics, being a leader in her community and influencing striking workers at the local mill. I plan to use the index to find the written accounts of the tumultuous time during the Natick Mill Strike, to put together a better picture of the woman, her strengths and weaknesses, and her trials and triumphs. I'm sure that even if she is not mentioned specifically, by reading newspaper accounts, I'll know what the local authorities were saying to the media, and what was the general mood on the street. And that, is what makes genealogy into "family history" and make our ancestors come alive.