Ethnic Groups of Massachusetts

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This entry was originally written by Alice Eichholz, Ph.D., CG, for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
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the Massachusetts Family History Research series.
History of Massachusetts
Massachusetts Vital Records
Census Records for Massachusetts
Background Sources for Massachusetts
Massachusetts Maps
Massachusetts Land Records
Massachusetts Probate Records
Massachusetts Court Records
Massachusetts Tax Records
Massachusetts Cemetery Records
Massachusetts Church Records
Massachusetts Military Records
Massachusetts Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Massachusetts Archives, Libraries, and Societies
Massachusetts Immigration
Massachusetts Naturalization
Ethnic Groups of Massachusetts
Massachusetts County Resources
Massachusetts Town Resources
Map of Massachusetts

African American

From colonial beginnings, African Americans (slave and free) were recorded in the same town and county records as white settlers. The terms 'black,' 'slave,' 'Negro,' and 'colored' are often included in Massachusetts seventeenth- and eighteenth-century primary source material including land, probate, court, and vital records, for example. An annotated version of the 1754 Massachusetts slave census is presently being produced by Melinde Lutz Sanborn. Records of both slaves and free African Americans are found in numerous repository collections for pre-revolutionary Massachusetts (see pages 14-15). However, little has been done to extract the information to make it more usable for genealogical research. One major exception is Joseph Carvalho, Black Families in Hampden County, Massachusetts, 1650'1855 (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society and the Institute on Massachusetts Studies, Westfield State College, 1984), which is an excellent study including families who migrated to Hampden County. See also:

  • Daniels, John. In Freedom's Birthplace: A Study of the Boston Negroes. 1914. Reprint. New York: Arno Press, 1969.
  • Moore, George H. Notes on the History of Slavery in Massachusetts. 1866. Reprint. New York: Negro University Press, 1968.
  • Pierson, William D. Black Yankees: The Development of an Afro-American Subculture in Eighteenth Century New England. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988.
  • Smith, James Avery. History of the Black Population of Amherst, Massachusetts, 1728'1870. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1999.

Native American

For centuries before the Pilgrims' arrival, several tribes of Native Americans lived in what is now Massachusetts. In the early stages of European settlement, friendly relations existed. Following the migration, conflicts continued to escalate through the last part of the seventeenth century, the most well known of which is King Philip's War with the Wampanoag of Plymouth Colony. Before the end of the conflicts in the mid-eighteenth century, significantly fewer native inhabitants were left in the area, many having died of smallpox or been killed, chased farther to the north or west, or sold into slavery. See Howard S. Russell, Indian New England Before the Mayflower (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1980); William Cronon, Changes on the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983); and websites related to Natick Praying Indians.

Other Ethnic Groups

The large Irish and French-Canadian immigration in the mid-nineteenth century preceded the influx of eastern and southern European groups to Boston Harbor in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Latino and Southeast Asian immigrants are more recently arrived.

The Irish American Research Association, P.O. Box 619, Sudbury, MA 01776, commonly known as TIARA, is a group that promotes cooperative research for both Protestant and Catholic Irish (see also American Canadian Genealogical Society; and American French Genealogical Society). The American Jewish Historical Society (see Massachusetts Church Records'Jewish) is an excellent resource for research on Jewish immigration. The American-French Genealogical Society, 78 Earle Street, Woonsocket, RI, has an extensive collection of church and civil records from RI, MA, CT, and Canada pertaining to French Canadian families.