Presentation Notes: 2007-2008

Genealogical Resources at the Rhode Island Historical Society

Presented by Lee Teverow - October 10, 2007

Notes by Carolyn Weiss

Ms. Teverow asked the audience the reasons for their genealogical research. Various answers were: the opportunity for travel, to educate grandchildren, to make family connections, to study a living history, and to find a feeling of rootedness. She also asked how many of the family stories passed down through generations are true and gave some examples from among her colleagues.

She spent some time in her on-line presentation exploring the library's website at There is a new online catalog called NETOP which is actually the word for friend used by the Indians of Rhode Island upon first greeting Roger Williams. Approximately one-third of the society's collections are listed in the catalog. This also includes materials from the John Brown House as well. None of these materials are available for interlibrary loan, but the reference librarians will be happy to copy up to 30 pages of specific items, if requested, for a fee.

The collection includes Vital Records indexed by city or town, not county, and from the 1600s through 1850. These are on microfilm and there is a printed index at the library. The resource sheet will explain where to look for records. They have probate records from the 17th through the mid 19th centuries. These are also on microfilm.

Cemetery Records: Rhode Island has a statewide cemetery database pre-1900s, and ninety of percent of that is indexed. This online index lists the contributor, dates, and cemetery code. Given this information, the reference librarians can locate the full cemetery record at the library, including transcription of tombstone (if there is one) and location of grave in the cemetery. There is also a master list of cemeteries in Rhode Island. This does not include Catholic cemeteries, but their records are available at the library or in the diocese. "Ready Reference" at the library will copy anything the librarian can find easily.

Newspapers & Periodicals: RIHSL is the repository for the Rhode Island newspaper project; however, when searching for obituaries, it is important to know approximate date of death. Most newspapers did not start publishing obituaries until the 20th century. They have microfilm of the Rhode Island Gazette in 1732/33 and a partial index to the Providence Journal; the Providence Library has a complete index. Through the website one can search for periodicals, such as the Rhode Island History Magazine. This is a particularly good place to look for material on legends and family stories. Again, Ready Reference will copy newspaper and magazine articles for a fee.

Census: They have the Rhode Island federal census; state census from 1865 through 1935 (complete state census is available at the Rhode Island State Archives); three military censuses, 1774, 1777 and 1782; and the Freeman's Census of 1747.

City Directories: These vary by city and town. There is an online list showing what towns and years are available. They also can do a quick lookup in Ready Reference.

Tax Records: Availability also varies by city and town. Some tax records have been retained by the city or town involved.

Telephone Books: Available on microfilm.

Family Histories: These can be accessed directly from shelves at the library. There is a card catalog with linked family names, which should be the first finding aid used. At the desk there is a copy of "Rhode Island Biographical and General Sketch Index," which has short biographies from city and state histories. One can look up specific names online or the Ready Reference librarian can look it up via e-mail or a phone call.

The library is open to the general public, free to Rhode Islanders. Out-of-state users must pay a $5.00 daily esearch fee, unless they are members of the RI Historical Society.

Ms. Teverow talked about the Manuscript Collection, which can be searched online using the "Master List of Finding Aids". In order to receive copies of material, one must have the box number and folder number plus the manuscript name and number, which can be found by online searching. Graphics, such as photographs, postcards, maps and oral histories are also available at the library. They have photocopies of original photographs, which they can copy for a fee. Photocopies of the original document can be made by the Reproduction Department.

The website contains information on rules and regulations for using the library. Some materials can only be photocopied by a staff member. The website also contains a link to driving directions to the library; Ms. Teverow suggests that visitors park on Wickenden Street, immediately after exiting 1-95, since the library is only a three or four block walk from there. Parking becomes more difficult due to its close proximity to Brown University.

Also online, there is a "paging schedule" which explains the times that items come down from stacks. There are computer plug-ins available but no wireless access yet. Also, no cameras may be used on the premises.

Several pages of specific materials were distributed at the meeting.

Lee Teverow is reference librarian at the Rhode Island Historical Society.

See the Presentation Notes Index for summaries of other presentations given at the Society's monthly meetings.