Monday, October 15, 2018

New England Court Records

Tracking down New England court records can be a confusing experience because such records are often spread out in different repositories.  If you’ve found yourself stuck and not sure where to look, the book New England court records: a research guide for genealogists and historians will give you all the information you need and then some.  This comprehensive guide, written by professional genealogist and former attorney Diane Rapaport, includes chapters on the American legal system, the federal and state courts in New England, and the types of records that were and still are produced by these courts; there’s also a helpful glossary of common legal terms one might find during their research.  A large portion of Rapaport’s book is devoted to each New England state, covering the histories of their court systems and breaking down into great detail where court records are kept, what format they are in, and what years are available.  It also includes recommendations for other helpful print and electronic resources to consider while researching.  As this book was published in 2006, some of the websites that are cited may no longer exist or have changed URLs.  Despite this, the information compiled by Rapaport is and will continue to be an incredibly valuable tool for those seeking court records, from colonial times to present, that are housed in this region.

New England court records: a research guide for genealogists and historians can be found at the State Library’s reference desk in room 341 of the State House.  If you have any questions about where certain court documents are located, feel free to email our reference department at or call our reference desk at 617-727-2590.  We’re happy to look it up for you!

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Monday, October 8, 2018

Interlibrary Loan: Lending books at the State Library

The State Library has a vast collection of books that cover a wide variety of subjects,  especially on Massachusetts and New England politics; such topics include politics, history, notable people, the molasses flood, capital punishment, and woman’s right to vote.

Only Massachusetts employees may check books out of the library; however, non-state employees can request to borrow our materials either through their public or academic library. We lend to libraries across the United States, with an average of 550 per year. We do not loan out items that fall into the following categories:
  • local history
  • microfilm or fiche
  • newspapers
  • books before 1930
  • reference materials
  • CDs and most videos
  • genealogical items
  • items from Special Collections 
  • and items from our Mass Room which includes annual reports from state agencies
  • anything that is in too bad of a condition to be shipped

Some books that are requested on interlibrary loan include: Nudge improving decisions about health, wealth, and happinessA short history of BostonGive me liberty! an American historyThe quest for environmental justice human rights and the politics of pollutionNew directions in special education: eliminating ableism in policy and practice.

We also scan articles from books and periodicals as long as the request does not violate copyright law (e.g. copying only one chapter or up to ten percent of a book.)

If you are a state employee and want to learn more about requesting books or articles check out this blog on borrowing materials.  If you would like to submit a request (and are a state employee) you can email our ILL department directly at or fill out a request form on our website.

Naomi Allen
Reference Department

Monday, October 1, 2018

Monday, September 24, 2018

October Author Talk: Barbara Berenson

Massachusetts Leaders in the Woman Suffrage Movement
By Barbara Berenson 
Wednesday, October 17, 2018—Noon to 1:00pm
State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, Massachusetts State House

Photo by Liz McEachern
Hall/Three Twelve
The State Library invites you to our next author talk on Wednesday, October 17, with Barbara Berenson, Senior Attorney at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and author of the new book Massachusetts in the Woman Suffrage Movement: Revolutionary Reformers.

In anticipation of the 2020 centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, Massachusetts in the Woman Suffrage Movement explores the Bay State's pivotal role in the amendment’s passage. According to Berenson, “the women’s rights movement began in Massachusetts, the nation’s most important abolitionist center.” Her well-researched book focuses on the dedication and sacrifices of Massachusetts activists such as Lucy Stone and Abby Kelley Foster, who helped launch the national movement that eventually led to the constitutional amendment securing women’s right to vote.

Barbara Berenson is the author of two other recent books focusing on local history: Boston and the Civil War and Walking Tours of Civil War Boston, and she is the coeditor of the book Breaking Barriers: The Unfinished Story of Women Lawyers and Judges in Massachusetts. A graduate of Harvard College, Harvard Law School, and Harvard Kennedy School, Berenson served as Assistant District Attorney for Middlesex County and Assistant Attorney General of the Commonwealth before becoming a Senior Attorney for the Supreme Judicial Court. She also serves on the Boards of Boston by Foot and the Royall House and Slave Quarters.

To register for this author talk, please visit:

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Upcoming Author Talks at the State Library:

Monday, September 17, 2018

Joy Books and the War Camp Community Service

November 11, 2018 will mark one hundred years since the ceasefire came into effect ending the First World War (1914-1918). Some of our blog’s readers may be familiar with many of the World War I-related materials we have here at the State Library of Massachusetts, including our collection of World War I soldier photographs given to us by the Boston Globe or histories of different military divisions, such as this Pictorial History of the Twenty-sixth Division of the U.S. Army from 1920. But in addition to these fantastic resources, our stacks contain evidence of bright moments amid this dark time. One such item is a thin volume published by the Boston War Camp Community Service Committee on Hospitality in 1918. It’s title? Simply: Joy Book for Soldiers and Sailors.

Cover of Joy Book for Soldiers
 and Sailors

The Joy Book serves as a guide book for soldiers and sailors stationed in and around Boston, with “suggestions of places which the Committee hopes may interest and entertain.” And truly the book includes something for everyone: club rooms, vaudeville and movies, gymnasiums, music, and libraries are listed in their own categories, with the State Library listed under “Books” on page 6. The book also includes a helpful foldout map of Boston for those visiting, and features travel and hospitality information “if your women folks are coming to Boston” (page 4).

Foldout map from Joy Book for Soldiers and Sailors (1918)

Guide books like these were published by the War Camp Community Service, one of the two secular groups involved in the United War Work Campaign dedicated to providing entertainment to American troops at home and abroad (the only other secular group involved with the UWWC? The American Library Association). War Camp Community Service (WCCS) groups were devoted to acting as a facilitator between the community and the soldiers stationed nearby: “One of the manifestations of this spirit is the widespread and wholehearted effort to make the man in uniform feel that, wherever he may be in this country – whether in his home town or a thousand miles from his native state – he has both the friendship and respect of the community, and that his uniform entitles him to feel at home wherever he is stationed” wrote Paul Robert Jacques in an article about the efforts of the WCCS. He also proclaimed that “New England has been a leader in this excellent work. At Portsmouth, N.H. for instance, a committee, representing the summer colony at Rye Beach and Little Boars Head, was formed early last summer to meet the social needs of the men at the Navy Yard… In the vicinity of Boston, a number of delightful homes have also been thrown open for purposes of hospitality to men in uniform. They include the homes of Mr. and Mrs. Stanwood G. Willington at Brookline; Mr. John E. Oldham and Miss Smith at Wellesley Hills; and Mr. George D. Hall at Dedham.”

Photograph of Edward J. Dunlea,
101st Infan. Co. E.
from our World War I
Soldier Photographs collection
By providing entertainment and hospitality, those involved in the WCCS believed they were providing a vital service, one which President Woodrow Wilson called ‘a military and social necessity.’ Paul Robert Jacques went on to explain that the WCCS’s “special care is the comfort, welfare, and recreation of the enlisted men of the Army and Navy, and to this end its ramifications spread through countless activities which touch upon the soldier when he is off duty. To quote the President [Wilson] once more: ‘The spirit with which our soldiers leave American and their efficiency on the battlefronts of Europe will be vitally affected by the character of the environment surrounding our military training camps’” (What We Are Doing for the Boys in Camp).

What would you have recommended to soldiers stationed in Massachusetts? Are they listed in the Joy Book, now available online? Learn more about the State Library’s World War I-related materials and Massachusetts’ involvement via our blog or by searching our catalog.


Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff

Monday, September 10, 2018

New Fall Exhibition: Bird's-Eye View Maps in the State Library of Massachusetts

Opening today at the State Library: Bird's-Eye View Maps in the State Library of Massachusetts. This exhibition draws from the library’s extensive collection of historic bird’s-eye view maps. Dating from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, the maps provide a fascinating view into a town’s past. Every Massachusetts county is represented in the exhibition, and the full collection will be available through our digital repository.  

The exhibition runs from September 10 through December 31, 2018 and can be viewed outside of the Library, Room 341 of the State House. Library hours are Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm. This exhibition will be available to view online as a set of images on the State Library's Flickr site.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Tips When Researching Legislation: Rejected Bills

Histories of bills from the 2005-2006
legislative session that were either sent
to a study order—a common way to
 “kill a bill”—or on which no further
action was taken.
Researching a law in Massachusetts usually involves tracing it back to its beginning, reviewing primary documents(1) and secondary resources(2) along the way.  Bill histories are essential tools that greatly help with tracing laws and understanding their background; however, it’s important to keep in mind that they will only help you trace as far back as a law’s own initial filing.  If you’re researching a law that passed, there may have been several previous attempts at passing the same or a similar law that weren’t so successful.  Here are some things to consider when conducting your research:

  • Have there been any similar bills that were submitted and ultimately rejected in the past?  Even though they might not be part of the direct history of the law you’re researching, they can provide a further backstory on how the law came to be, who was involved, and how it was treated in previous legislative sessions.  It’s even possible that the text of a passed law wholly or partly derives from an earlier version that was rejected.
  • If you do find earlier unsuccessful bills, were public hearings held and were the bills debated?  Even though they were rejected, they still might have gone far enough through the legislative process that the House and Senate were given the opportunity to discuss them during floor sessions.  Looking at the histories of these earlier unsuccessful bills will help determine how far they made it through the process.
  • Are there any patterns?  Did local and/or world events act as a catalyst for previous bill attempts?  What are the differences between the law that passed and the previous rejected bills?  Did the political climate change over time?

An easy way to find bills, passed and not passed, and other legislative documents is by searching the library’s DSpace online repository.  Other materials not available online can be found in the library’s reading room in room 341 of the State House.  In addition, the library’s website also provides helpful information on how to compile legislative histories in Massachusetts.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

(1) Primary materials include, but are not limited to:  legislative documents (bills, reports, communications), House and Senate Journals, and videos of hearings and floor debates (if available).
(2) Secondary materials include, but are not limited to:  news and journal articles, outside commentary, and other unofficial publications that discuss the law or the general subject.