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!