Boston is the third largest genealogical research center in the country after Washington, DC, and Salt Lake City because of the high concentration of libraries and archives in the area. Not only that, but many of them are either within walking distance of each other or on public transportation lines. The oldest public transportation system in the United States, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA, <www.mbta.com>), affectionately known as the “T” by residents, is organized by color and easy to use. Rail lines connect to Logan Airport and Amtrak, and the MBTA offers a special visitor package ($6 a day) that you can purchase online. So leave your car at home and save on parking.
A first stop for any genealogist is the astounding hub of facilities in the Back Bay neighborhood. The New England Historic Genealogical Society (101 Newbury St., 617-536-5740, <www.newenglandancestors.org>) has extensive holdings on New England, of course, but also has one of the largest collections of Canadian materials in the United States and a reading room dedicated to British resources. This membership organization collects genealogies and local histories from across the country. Visitors pay a $15 per day fee applicable to a membership. Recently renovated, the library features five floors of books, manuscripts, CDs and microfilm packed into one building with librarians on every floor.
A very short walk from the NEHGS, even in winter, deposits you on the steps of the Boston Public Library (700 Boylston St., 617-536- 5400, <www.bpl.org>), the first public library in the United States. The Research Library will keep genealogists enthralled for days with the breadth of its contents: everything from patent materials, US census records, newspapers and city directories to collection-specific reference desks. You’ll find genealogical resources in either the social sciences reading room or in the microtext division. To use microfilm, apply for a library card in the main section of the library. A longer walk down Boylston Street brings you to the Massachusetts Historical Society (1154 Boylston St., 617-536-1608, <www.masshist.org>) with collections dating from the 17th century.
Located outside the city proper are the Massachusetts State Archives (220 Morrissey Blvd., 617-727-2816, <www.state.ma.us/sec/arc/arcgen/genidx.htm>) and the Northeast regional branch of the National Archives (380 Trapelo Road, Waltham, 781-647-8104, <www.nara.gov/regional/boston.html>). Both are worth the trip. The State Archives is on the MBTA Red Line. You can take a “T” bus to reach the National Archives, but it’s worth renting a car to travel there because of its distance from downtown.
There are so many resources open to researchers in Boston it’s important to plan your trip carefully beforehand. Try the list on BostonFamilyHistory.com, a Web site developed especially for genealogists. It includes a directory of research materials and facilities as well as neighborhood history at <www.bostonfamilyhistory.com>.
Boston is known as an Irish city, and indeed 26 percent — 1.6 million people — in the state of Massachusetts claim Irish ancestry. The city has a rich history of Irish political figures including the Kennedys. But the ethnic diversity of Boston surprises visitors. It’s important to remember that Boston was one of the largest ports of immigration in the 19th century and those immigrants settled in the city’s neighborhoods. Even today, different parts of the city reflect their ethnic heritage. You can learn more about your immigrant ancestors’ experiences in Boston by visiting the new Dreams of Freedom museum (1 Milk St., 617-338-6022, <www.dreamsoffreedom.org>).
To experience the city’s rich history firsthand, walk in your ancestor’s footsteps. Irish-Americans can follow the Irish Heritage Trail <www.irishheritagetrail.com>. Or see what your Revolutionary ancestors were up to on the Freedom Trail <www.thefreedomtrail.org>. Additional options appear in Boston Neighborhoods: A Food Lover’s Walking, Eating and Shopping Guide to Ethnic Enclaves in and Around Boston by Lynda Morgenroth and Carleen Moira Powell (Globe Pequot Press, $15.95).
You’ll be hungry after all that research and walking, so why not try the culinary treats that beckon visitors, from the tony cafés of Newbury Street in the Back Bay to the tourist spots of Fanueil Hall Marketplace? Restaurant reviews appear every Thursday in the Boston Globe Calendar section <www.boston.com/globe/calendar> and monthly in Boston Magazine <www.bostonmagazine.com>.
Don’t forget to take time to enjoy some of the finest museums in the country. Try the Museum of Fine Arts (465 Huntington Ave., 617-267-9300, <www.mfa.org>) or the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (2 Palace Road, 617-566-1401, <www.gardnermuseum.org>), which remains just as Mrs. Gardner arranged it back in 1903.
Peak seasons for visitors to Boston are spring and fall. But don’t be scared away by the winter weather; hotel rates drop and with everything so close, you won’t mind the cold. As in most major cities, lodging is expensive here. For help finding accommodations, contact the Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau (888-SEE-BOSTON, <www.bostonusa.com>) for a free guide.
– Maureen A. Taylor
• Rhode Island Genealogy Forum
<genforum.genealogy.com/ri>: Post queries for help on Rhode Island research.
• Rhode Island Genealogy Links
<geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Balcony/1123/rhodeisland.html>: Forty links to Rhode Island research sites.
• Rhode Island Mailing Lists
<www.rootsweb.com/~jfuller/gen_mail_states-ri.html>: Free subscriptions to state and county mailing lists.
• Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
<www.usgennet.org/usa/ri/state>: Many links to Rhode Island information, counties, historical topics and more.
• Rhode Island Resources at RootsWeb
<resources.rootsweb.com/USA/RI>: Search engines, personal Web pages, archives and mailing lists.
• Vital Records Information — Rhode Island
<vitalrec.com/ri.html>: Whereto obtain copies of birth and death certificates marriage licenses and divorce decrees.
The oldest synagogue in the United States, built in 1763, offers tours to visitors. The active congregation also holds open services.
(401) 847-4794 <www.tourosynagogue.org>
Experience the “Mile of History” and visit colonial homes.
(800) 233-1636 <www.providencecvb.com>
• Genealogical Society of Vermont
Box 1553 St. Albans, VT 05478 <www.rootsweb.com/~vtgsv>: Browse the tables of contents of recent issues of Vermont Genealogy.
• Vermont Historical Society
Pavilion Office Building 109 State St. Montpelier, VT 05609 (802) 828-2291 <www.state.vt.us/vhs>: Includes a list of local societies and a link to statewide manuscript listings.
• New England Family Histories and Genealogies: States of New Hampshire and Vermont by LuVerne V. Hall and Donald Virdin (Heritage Books, $18.50)
• “Vermont Research” lecture by Alice Eichholz (Audiotapes.com, $8.50)
• “Vermont Sources: Where They Are and How to Use Them” lecture by George Sanborn (Audiotapes.com, $8.50)
• Genealogy Researchers in Vermont
<www.state.vt.us/vhs/genames.htm>: A list compiled by the Vermont Historical Society Library.
• Vermont in the Civil War
<vermontcivilwar.org/index.shtml>: Search the largest online repository of information documenting Vermont’s Civil War participation.
• Vermont Genealogy
<www.rootsquest.com/~usgwvtus>: Basic overview of Vermont’s genealogical resources.
• Vermont Genealogy
<middlebury.edu/library/genealogy.html>: Genealogy resources at the Middlebury College Library.
• Vermont Genealogy Resources
<freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~vermontgenealogyresources>: Links to Vermont history and maps.
• Vermont History and Genealogy
<vtgenealogy.com>: Vermont histories, genealogies and documents.
• Vermont Mailing Lists
<rootsweb.com/~jfuller/gen_mail_states-vt.html>: State and county mailing lists.
• Vermont Resources at RootsWeb
<resources.rootsweb.com/USA/VT>: Personal Web pages, archives, search engines.
• Vital Records Information — Vermont
<vitalrec.com/vt.html>: Where to obtain copies of birth and death certificates, marriage licenses and divorce decrees.
Vermont Folklife Center
Explore gallery exhibits of folk arts and the oral history and folklife archive.
(802) 388-4964 <www.vermontfolklifecenter.org>
Billings Farm & Museum
APRIL 28-OCT. 31, MAIN SEASON; SELECTED WEEKENDS IN WINTER
Experience Vermont’s rural heritage and tour this historic and still-operational dairy farm.