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Phillips Library Offers A Wealth Of Genealogical Material

There are many fine genealogical libraries in the U.S. and the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, is one of them.


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There are many fine genealogical libraries in the U.S. and the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, is one of them. Contained in its neo-classic building are over 5,000 hard-to-find printed family histories, depicting life and culture in New England since the 17th century. Printed town histories, genealogical reference books, periodicals, and local newspapers, as well as over a million photographs, also contribute to the largest local history collection on the North Shore of Massachusetts.

The library is obviously richest in materials relating to Salem, but the collection also covers Essex County towns and people extensively. Maryann Campbell, librarian archivist, admits the library is weak in 20th century materials.

Family "trees" or charts are available for some families. But the Library treasures its collection of what Campbell refers to as "manuscript genealogies." These genealogies consist of manuscript notes, charts, and other information given to the library, especially for prominent Salem families.

A variety of tax, town, land, military, church, school and association papers are also part of the manuscript collection. For some towns there are shipping and business papers, account books and scrapbooks. The largest collection of these papers belongs to Salem, but there's considerable variation by town.

The Library's reading room contains vital records, covering births, marriages, and deaths through 1849, for more than 206 of 364 Massachusetts cities and towns. Campbell said librarians have culled records from town, church, cemetery, and privately-held sources, however, these records cannot be considered totally comprehensive. It offers a family name index on microfiche. In addition, vital records for many other New England towns are also available.

The Phillips Library contains only the earliest New England census indexes. It has the federal census records for Essex County, Massachusetts towns from 1790 through 1920, except 1890. State census records from 1855 and 1865 for a number of Essex County towns are also available.

In addition, the Library has a two-volume index to Essex County probate cases, 1638-1840, although the probate records themselves will be found at the Massachusetts State Archives at Columbia Point. Nine indexed volumes contain the records and files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts, from 1636-1686 include some wills and estate inventories, and many minor court cases, both civil and criminal. The library also has on deposit from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts the original file papers and docket/record books of the Essex County Quarterly Courts (1634-1694), Court of General Sessions of the Peace (1694-1828), and Court of Common Pleas (1694-1620).

State and county histories, as well as town histories for most Massachusetts towns can be found in the reading room. The Library also holds numerous histories of other New England towns. In addition, there are cemetery records for Salem and other Essex county towns.

Also available are city and town directories of Essex County towns–including a nearly complete set for Salem beginning in 1837–as well as for numerous Massachusetts cities such as Boston, Cambridge, and Lowell. These directories include occupations well as names and addresses, making them helpful in "tracking" someone through the years. Those for cities and towns outside Essex County tend to be incomplete sets and usually stop around 1900.

Early newspapers, especially from Essex County and Boston before 1800 are available on microfilm, or in some cases in printed form. Essex County and some Boston newspapers are well represented. An extensive collection of Essex County newspapers after 1800 is also available, including the Salem Gazette (on microfilm 1761-86, 1790-1881) , the Salem Register (on microfilm 1800-1918), the Salem Observer (on microfilm 1823-1919), and the Salem Evening News (on microfilm from 1880 up to present day).

Other towns whose newspapers have been filmed include: Amesbury, Beverly, Boston, Bradford, Byfield Danvers, Essex, Georgetown, Gloucester, Haverhill, Lawrence, Lynn,

Marblehead, Merrimac, Newburyport, Peabody, Rockport, and Swampscott.

The Library also holds 62 volumes of newspaper scrapbooks comprised of clippings from the late 19th century, noting births, marriages and deaths primarily from Salem and Boston newspapers.

Bible records, representing many Essex County families, have been filmed from a collection of Bibles owned by the Essex Institute in 1956.

Unfortunately, the Phillips Library doesn't have passenger arrival lists for immigrants to the U.S. However, shipping registers–lists of ships that registered in a port–exist for ports in Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, as well as for the ports of New York and Philadelphia. The period of coverage ranges from 1776 to the l930s, but not all ports are covered for that entire period.

For more information, contact the Phillips Library at (978)745-9500, ext. 3053. The Library is open year-round Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M., and Mondays in summer the same times.

Source Information: Everyday Genealogy, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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