Background Sources for Rhode Island

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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
RhodeIsland sil.png
the Rhode Island Family History Research series.
History of Rhode Island
Rhode Island Vital Records
Census Records for Rhode Island
Background Sources for Rhode Island
Rhode Island Maps
Rhode Island Land Records
Rhode Island Probate Records
Rhode Island Court Records
Rhode Island Tax Records
Rhode Island Cemetery Records
Rhode Island Church Records
Rhode Island Military Records
Rhode Island Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Rhode Island Archives, Libraries, and Societies
Rhode Island Immigration
Rhode Island Naturalization
Ethnic Groups of Rhode Island
Rhode Island County Resources
Map of Rhode Island

Comprehensive town histories with genealogies, abundantly found in other New England states, do not exist to the same extent in Rhode Island. Particularly for the seventeenth century, much of Rhode Island's local history is found in the town council records available in print (see Town Resources). However, there are good general history materials for the state, genealogical research guides, and compendium family genealogies such as:

  • Andrews, Charles M. The Colonial Period of American History. 2 vols. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1938. Presents a good view of history useful to genealogists.
  • Arnold, Samuel Greene. History of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. 2 vols. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1859'60. Detailed chronological history of the state.
  • Austin, John O. Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island. 1887. Reprint. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1969. Comprehensive in its coverage of 485 families for three or four generations. No references are indicated, but the researcher can often surmise the source, and thus check the original. The reprint edition supplements the original and has corrections.
  • Bartlett, John Russell, ed. Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England. 7 vols. Providence, R.I.: A. Crawford Greene and Brother, 1856'62. A helpful edited transcript of the General Assembly proceedings.
  • Bridenbaugh, Carl. Fat Mutton and Liberty of Conscience: Society in Rhode Island, 1636'1690. Providence, R.I.: Brown University Press, 1974. A social history of the seventeenth century.
  • Coleman, Peter J. The Transformation of Rhode Island, 1790'1860. Providence, R.I.: Brown University Press, 1963. A comprehensive portrait of the effects of social and political life in the state during early statehood until the Civil War.
  • Fiske, Jane Fletcher. 'Genealogical Research in Rhode Island.' The New England Historical and Genealogical Register 136 (July 1982): 173-219. A superb guide to research in Rhode Island that follows the types of resources century-by-century. It is reprinted in Ralph J. Crandall, ed., Genealogical Research in New England (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1984).
  • Gannett, Henry. A Geographic Dictionary of Connecticut and Rhode Island. 2 vols. in 1. 1984. Reprint. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1987. Serves as a place-name guide for the state.
  • Parks, Roger, ed. Rhode Island: A Bibliography of Its History. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1985. An excellent, comprehensive bibliography.
  • Sherman, Ruth Wilder. Peleg Burroughs' Journal, 1778'1798: The Tiverton, R.I. Years of the Humbly Bold Baptist Minister. Warwick, R.I.: Rhode Island Genealogical Society, 1981. An extraordinary example of day-to-day living in the late eighteenth century, including genealogical information and social history.
  • Sperry, Kip. Rhode Island Sources for Family Historians and Genealogists. Logan, Utah: Everton, 1986. Alphabetical organization of source records that can be found, with basic research maps, in the state and in the FHL.
  • Taylor, Maureen A. Research in Rhode Island. Arlington, Va.: National Genealogical Society, 2001.