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Genealogy Research

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Locating Sources

Online Records

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If you cannot visit us in person, we’re happy to provide assistance. We can provide reference help and fulfill scan requests, but, due to staff limitations, we are not able to provide in-depth research. Contact us.

Boston College instructors can also request instruction sessions at Burns Library to meet their specific subject or class needs. To do so, please fill out our Instruction Request Form as far in advance as possible.

Types of Records

Records that can be used for genealogy are plentiful and the list of examples here is far from exhaustive. Some types of records and the kind of information they may include are: 

Vital Records

Vital records are government records of life events including certificates of birth, marriage, and death. Search or browse them at Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org. Church records may also include this information. For example, in the digitized baptismal records of the Boston Archdiocese Archives, found at AmericanAncestors.org.

U.S. Census Records

U.S. census records from 1790 through 1940 can be found online (except the 1890 records which were destroyed by fire). Subject guides about the census can be found on the major genealogy websites. The U.S. census is taken every ten years. The records may include an address, names of family members, and information about occupation, education, immigration, value of real and/or personal estate, veteran status, marital status, etc. Look for additional censuses for cities, states, and territories. Find census records at Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org.

Census Substitutes

Census substitutes are resources that offer information similar to census records. Use them to fill in the gaps between years of the U.S census. City directories are an example. When available, they list a city or town’s inhabitants and provide address and occupation. College yearbooks can also be used to locate individuals or confirm graduation. Find published works like city directories and school yearbooks online at Archive.org.

Immigration

Evidence of immigration can be found in passenger lists and border crossing records. Look for clues in 1900-1930 U.S. census records which asked the year of immigration. Look for family members travelling together in passenger lists and border crossings. Find immigration records at Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org. 

Naturalization Records

Naturalization records vary by location and date. Learn what to look for in each era by consulting a subject guide on the National Archives or one of the major genealogy websites. Look for clues to naturalization status/dates in U.S. census records, 1900-1930. Records can be found at Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. 

Military Records

Military records tell of individuals’ experiences in the military, and may include dates of birth, death, and service. Draft records sometimes include address, occupation, and physical description. Don’t forget that women also serve in the military. Also search for histories of individuals’ military units. Look for these records at Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. The National Archives has a guide to Military Records.

Obituaries

Obituaries or death notices can include date of death, names and relationships of family members, burial place, etc. Look for them in newspapers, and on Legacy.com. They were often published in local newspapers. Find newspapers online using Boston College Libraries guide to Historical Newspapers.

Probate Records

Probate records include estate inventories and wills. Wills often name relatives, and may shed light on financial and family circumstances. Look for these records at Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.

Grave Markers & Burial Records

Grave markers and burial records can provide birth and death dates, and suggest family relationships. Look for these records at Ancestry.com and Find A Grave. In addition, some individual cemeteries have websites, and funeral home records may occasionally be found online. 

Collections of Papers

Collections of papers and records of specific individuals, families, and organizations may be available at a local library or through a historical society. Use Archivegrid to look for collections.

Burns Library

Burns Library has some material of interest to genealogists including a record of burials at Boston’s St. Augustine cemetery kept by undertaker Thomas Murray, 1832-1840, and records of the J.D. Fallon & Son funeral home in Jamaica Plain, 1907-1943. For those seeking university archives information about alumni or other members of the Boston College community, a guide is available.