Reference Collection | PC Resources | RI History | Maps | Genealogy | Cemeteries | Historic Houses | Newspapers | Ready Reference| Independent Researchers | Research Guides | Other Resources | Photocopies & Camera Pass | Reference Policy
We invite you to visit our library to take advantage of everything the collections have to offer. The Reference Staff will be happy to direct you to resources that may provide the information you seek. We realize that an in-person visit is not always possible. For those of you unable to visit, we can suggest several options based on your topics of interest.
ELEMENTARY AND MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS
Do you have an assignment to find out about Rhode Island history? Elementary students click here (pdf), Middle School students click here (pdf) for a Rhode Island guide prepared especially for you. For current facts about Rhode Island, visit Little Rhodies Kid's Zone and Kids Konnect websites.
The reference collection includes printed material (books, pamphlets, magazines), genealogical manuscript notes, microfilm, microfiche, and Internet access to genealogical websites such as Ancestry.com. Our genealogical collection is the third-largest in New England and attracts thousands of researchers from all over the world every year. More specifically, the collection includes:
- microfilms of almost every newspaper published in Rhode Island from 1732 to the present
- the Rhode Island Cemetery Database
- a comprehensive collection of city directories
- a complete set of federal censuses of Rhode Island (1790-1930)
- Rhode Island state censuses for 1865, 1875, and 1885
- a subscription to the AncestryPlus website.
Paging Schedule: Many materials are stored in our closed stack area and are paged by the library staff and brought to the Reading Room for your review. We retrieve materials from the stacks at the following times:
- 4:00 (books only)
The library has three computer terminals for patron use. The first terminal has access to the library's Ancestry database subscription. Use of that terminal is limited to work on Ancestry or other genealogical web sites only. The Links section of this website has listings for local and nationwide genealogical websites.
Another station dedicated to the Rhode Island Cemetery Database (RICD). (An online version is now available as well at http://rihc.info.) The library is one of only six organizations with a complete version of the database. The third station is used for accessing our online catalog.
Printing is available from the Ancestry and one of the RICD computers. Prints cost $.25 per page. Computer stations are available on a first-come, first-serve basis and are limited to one hour segments if other patrons are waiting.
- Start with our Frequently Asked Questions page for answers to popular questions about Rhode Island's history.
- Visit the Rhode Island Facts and Trivia website for more fun and useful information about Rhode Island.
- For a brief history of the state with timeline, see Roots Web.
- See the RI Secretary of State's History of Rhode Island website for history, state symbols, landmarks, lists of Governors, and more.
- Children and parents will find Kid's Zone an entertaining way to explore Rhode Island history, government and state facts.
- For a more in-depth treatment of Rhode Island history, see the General Assembly's RI History Site or their Rhode Island Student/Teacher Guide.
- AskRI: Rhode Island’s Statewide Reference Resource Center is online. This is the place to go with general questions on Rhode Island history. And if you have a card from any of Rhode Island’s public libraries, you can also access a number of electronic resources from this site, including HeritageQuest Online, a resource for genealogy researchers.
The RIHS Library has many historic maps, as well as a listing of historic maps in Rhode Island institutions. The majority of our maps can be found via NETOP, our online catalog. Online sources for Rhode Island maps are also listed on our Links page.
For genealogical queries you may want to utilize free resources at your local public library or at several of the free web sites that specialize in genealogy such as Ancestry.com, Roots Web, Heritage Quest (available through AskRI.org). or Family Search. The Rhode Island Historical Society cannot vouch for the information listed on these sites, but they can be useful for narrowing your search. Another valuable resource is the Rhode Island Genealogical Society. Their quarterly publication, Rhode Island Roots, includes copious genealogical information and is available in our Reading Room (CS 42 .R5; Indexed on CD-ROM). Additionally, federal census and immigration records can be found at regional centers of the National Archives. Use the National Archives website to find your regional office or call toll free 1-866-272-6272. Additional genealogical resources are available on our links page
- SELECTED GENEALOGICAL RESOURCES
Click here for an overview of available genealogical resources.
- RHODE ISLAND VITAL RECORDS
Click here to learn how to obtain your RI Vital Records. View Arnold's Vital Records of Rhode Island, 1636 to 1850 online at the Internet Archive website and online at FamilySearch.org.
- NATURALIZATION RECORDS
Click here to learn how to obtain naturalization records.
- NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION (NARA)
Click here to learn what records are available at NARA.
- GENEALOGICAL RESEARCH IN THE MANUSCRIPTS COLLECTION
Click here to learn about using our manuscripts collection for genealogical research.
- PASSENGER LISTS
Click here to learn about RI passenger lists at RIHS.
RIHS Library is one of six libraries statewide where you can access the complete database of mostly pre-1900 graves in RI cemeteries. The Rhode Island Cemeteries Database is an online version of the database that is still in process. For more information about the project visit the Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Commission.
For questions about the location, registration and care of cemeteries in Rhode Island, contact the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission.
Click here for a sheet on resources for researching the history of a house. Be sure to look at the town surveys published by the Rhode Island Preservation & Heritage Commission. These are also available in print at RIHS Library and most RI public libraries. The Gowdey Files are a valuable resource for researching Providence houses. Printed copies are available in the Reading Room, and an online version is also available.
If you want to register your house as historic in:
- All Rhode Island: Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission
- Providence Only: Providence Preservation Society
- The National Register of Historic Places
Established by Congress under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Register of Historic Places is a list of buildings, districts, historic sites, archaeological sites, and other properties that are officially recognized by the United States government as being especially worthy of protection and preservation. See also National Register Bulletin: Researching A Historic Property, by Eleanor O'Donnell 1991, revised 1998.
The library has a microfilm collection of almost every Rhode Island newspaper ever published. To see a description of our collection, see Rhode Island Newspapers & Periodicals. You can also search for a specific newspaper or periodical through NETOP, our online catalog.
This is a free service and applies only to questions pertaining to our collections that we can answer quickly and easily. Email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Reference and Information Desk at the library, 401-273-8107 x10. Library staff will determine whether your question qualifies as a ready reference request. In-depth research inquiries are beyond the resources of the RIHS staff, as is genealogical research. See our reference policy for more information.
Examples of Ready Reference questions:
- Do you own the book The Browns of Providence Plantations by James Hedges?
- How do I request a copy of a document from one of your manuscript collections?
- Do you have resources on 19th century businesses in RI?
For questions that require in-depth research beyond the resources of the RIHS staff you may want to hire an Independent Researcher to conduct your research for you. Researchers on our List of Independent Researchers are familiar with our collections and may be able to help you; or click on the link to the website for the Association of Professional Genealogists.
- A dozen resources unique to the RIHS Library.
- How to access federal and state records.
- Researching house histories.
- Genealogical research in manuscript collections.
- Using the National Archives and Records Administration.
- Obtaining naturalization records.
- Rhode Island passenger list resources at the RIHS Library.
- Selected genealogical resources.
- Where to obtain Rhode Island vital records.
- Citing RIHS materials.
- Finding military records.
- Click here for a Directory of Rhode Island Historical and Preservation Societies.