Press Room

Locating Ancestors through the Freedmen’s Bureau

Posted on May 3rd, 2016 by BPL News in General

bureauDiane Boucher, a lecturer in history at the United States Coast Guard Academy, gave a presentation titled “The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands: Securing Freedom During and After the Civil War” on April 27 in conjunction with the BPL’s Local and Family History Lecture Series, detailing the Freedmen’s Bureau’s functions and its tie to Massachusetts. The Freedmen’s Bureau, established in 1865 by the War Department, was in charge of providing education, health care, housing assistance, and employment arrangements to former slaves as a temporary means to get them situated as they began a new life. Former slaves fought to gain economic and social status, along with finding their families, establishing their own land, and gaining an education. The Bureau also gave assistance to families and others fleeing north after the war.

Field offices were established to help people post-war across the east coast, and in 1866, the Walnut Street School, later the Howard Industrial School, was founded by Anna Lowell in Cambridge, serving as a trade school and housing for former women slaves and women in search of work. Most women were anxious to earn wages, and desired to be independent. They moved quickly into employment once arriving. An average of 30 people lived there at any given time, with most people from the Washington, D.C. area. The school served 355 people its first year. In 1868, Congress voted to end funding for the Freedmen’s Bureau, and it is likely the Howard Industrial School dissolved not long after.

The lecture concluded with conducting a sample search for an audience member’s ancestor.  Transcriptions of documents from the Freedmen’s Bureau are ongoing, and resources vary in their search capabilities. Below are a variety of resources that may be helpful for genealogical research related to that time period. The Local and Family History Series concludes on Wednesday, May 11, with Joseph Bagley speaking about his book A History of Boston in 50 Artifacts.

Free online databases available at Boston Public Library:

  • Ancestry Online: This site has some of the Freedmen’s Bureau records online at the Learning Center. Select digital copies of microfilmed reels are searchable by field office, but a name search is not available.
  • US Congressional Serial Set: This contains reports generated by the federal government in conjunction with Freedmen’s Bureau activity, available through Archive of Americana.

Additional Resources:


Boston Public Library’s May Author Talks and Programs

Posted on April 27th, 2016 by BPL News in Media Releases
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Desktop291Events take place at Central Library and Branches Throughout the City

Boston Public Library’s May schedule is filled with author talks and lectures, book sales, and programs honoring Mother’s Day. Visit for a full schedule.

  • Make a gift for a special mother in your life with clay artist Sabrina Pilet-Jones on Wednesday, May 4, at 4 p.m. at the South End Branch, located at 685 Tremont Street.
  • Make homemade bath products for a mother or yourself on Thursday, May 5, at 7 p.m. at the Uphams Corner Branch, located at 500 Columbia Road in Dorchester.
  • Create your own comic book-themed drink coaster for Mother’s Day on Saturday, May 7, at 11:30 a.m. at the Uphams Corner Branch, located at 500 Columbia Road in Dorchester.
  • Hear stories celebrating mothers on Saturday, May 7, at 11 a.m. in the Children’s Library at the Central Library in Copley Square, located at 700 Boylston Street.
  • Paul Lewis, editor of The Citizen Poets of Boston: A Collection of Forgotten Poems, 1789–1820, speaks about mostly anonymous works that reveal the vibrant, lost world of Boston’s post-revolutionary poetry and provide access to the culture and daily life of the city. He is joined by Danielle Legros Georges, Poet Laureate of Boston, on Monday, May 9, at 6 p.m. in the Commonwealth Salon at the Central Library in Copley Square, located at 700 Boylston Street.
  • Local author Lisa E. Pearson discusses her book Arnold Arboretum, the newest addition to Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series, on Monday, May 9, at 6:30 p.m. at the Connolly Branch, located at 433 Centre Street.
  • In honor of Asian-Pacific Heritage Month, children’s author Thanhha Lai discusses her novel Inside Out & Back Again, which won numerous accolades including the National Book Award and the Newbery Honor Medal. It is the story of a young girl in 1975 who, along with her family, leaves her home in Vietnam to start a new life in Alabama. Tuesday, May 10, at 12 p.m. at the Adams Street Branch, located at 690 Adams Street in Dorchester.
  • Joseph Bagley, author of A History of Boston in 50 Artifacts, highlights some of the city’s fascinating past —from ancient fishing grounds to Jazz Age red-light districts—and demonstrates how historical objects offer a unique and accessible introduction to Boston’s history and physical culture. Wednesday, May 11, at 6 p.m. in the Commonwealth Salon at the Central Library in Copley Square, located at 700 Boylston Street. Part of the Local and Family History Series.
  • Hear the incredible story of a Holocaust survivor persecuted by the Nazis and victimized by the American court system in When God Looked Down and Wept. This presentation includes a short film followed by a discussion with the lawyer who represented the survivor in his fight for his First Amendment rights. Thursday, May 12, at 6:30 p.m. at the West End Branch, located at 151 Cambridge Street.
  • Award-winning Boston Globe journalist Emily Sweeney gives a slide lecture regarding her book Boston Organized Crime, which explores the region’s shadier side, taking a closer look at the mobsters and racketeers who once operated in the greater Boston area. Saturday, May 14, at 2 p.m. at the Brighton Branch, located at 40 Academy Hill Road.
  • The Friends of the North End Branch hold their annual book sale on Saturday, May 14, from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. at the North End Branch, located at 25 Parmenter Street.
  • The Mayor’s Office of Arts & Culture in collaboration with the Boston Public Library present Boston’s Poet Laureate Danielle Legros Georges reading from her new collection of poems The Dear Remote Nearness of You on Sunday, May 15, at 2 p.m. in the Abbey Room at the Central Library in Copley Square, located at 700 Boylston Street.
  • Join bee experts Joseph Wilson, Olivia Messinger Carril, and Thomas Seeley for a bee keeping panel, which will include an introduction to the many different types of bee species, as well information on the lost pastime of bee hunting, on Monday, May 16, at 6 p.m. in the Commonwealth Salon at the Central Library in Copley Square, located at 700 Boylston Street.
  • Peter Grinspoon discusses Free Refills: A Doctor Confronts His Addiction: A Memoir, which describes his journey to overcoming addiction and ultimately becoming a more compassionate doctor for it on Monday, May 16, at 6:30 p.m. at the South Boston Branch, located at 646 East Broadway.
  • The Friends of the South Boston Branch hold their springtime book sale on Saturday, May 21, from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the South Boston Branch, located at 646 East Broadway.
  • The Lower Mills Branch at 27 Richmond Street welcomes mystery author and investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan for a talk and book signing on Monday, May 23, at 6:30 p.m.

Read more »

Boston Public Library to Commemorate 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s Death with Two Exhibitions in Fall 2016

Posted on April 22nd, 2016 by BPL News in Media Releases
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F1_title-pageFree and open to the public; presented by Iron Mountain

2016 marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, and Boston Public Library and the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center will honor the Bard’s lasting legacy with two exhibitions at the Central Library this fall, as well as programming at library locations citywide. Boston Public Library holds one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of Shakespeare in a public institution, including the first four folios of his collected works, 45 early quarto editions of individual plays, and thousands of volumes of early source material, commentaries, translations, manuscripts, and more.

“At some point in life, everyone has experienced the work of Shakespeare,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “These opportunities at the Boston Public Library give all the chance to learn more about the creative genius of Shakespeare and how his legacy lives on today.”

Shakespeare Unauthorized: Experience the original works of “The Bard”

Shakespeare Unauthorized, a major gallery exhibition on view from October 14, 2016 through March 31, 2017, will include extraordinarily rare first and early editions of familiar and beloved plays like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, and The Merchant of Venice, as well as all four Shakespearean folios, most notably the BPL’s own copy of the world-famous First Folio. Through the pages of these precious books, visitors can experience Shakespeare in his original language and spelling, just as he would have been read by book lovers and theater-goers hundreds of years ago.  Shakespeare Unauthorized will take place in the McKim Exhibition Hall on the first floor of the McKim building at the Central Library in Copley Square.

Shakespeare Unauthorized is made possible through the financial support of Iron Mountain Incorporated (NYSE: IRM), a leader in storage and information management services. Based in Boston, Iron Mountain provides charitable grants of funding and in-kind services to cultural and historical preservation projects like Shakespeare Unauthorized all over the world through its Living Legacy Initiative. Read more »

Boston Public Library Celebrates Money Smart Week April 23-30

Posted on April 21st, 2016 by BPL News in Media Releases
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moneysmartFree programs offered at Central Library in Copley Square, Codman Square Branch

Boston Public Library celebrates Money Smart Week April 23-30, a national initiative designed to help consumers better manage their personal finances. Adult programming at the Central Library in Copley Square is presented by the BPL’s Kirstein Business Library; please register for these by contacting 617.859.2142 or

“Basic financial literacy is an essential life skill that everyone needs, for everyday planning like managing your paycheck or a weekly budget, to decisions regarding buying a first home, starting a small business or planning for retirement,” said David Leonard, Interim President of the Boston Public Library. “BPL is committed to providing resources that can make a difference in our users’ lives, helping everyone be prepared to take advantage of opportunities that come their way.” Read more »

Mayor Walsh Announces Office for Immigrant Advancement and Launches Immigrant Information Corners at All Boston Public Library Locations

Posted on April 14th, 2016 by BPL News in Media Releases
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Mayor Martin J. Walsh today announced the strategic rebranding of the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement, formerly known as the Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians, to help encompass the evolving needs of Boston’s immigrant community. As part of a concerted effort to empower immigrant residents and recognize their contributions to our city, Mayor Walsh also launched Immigrant Information Corners at the Boston Public Library’s Central Library in Copley Square and 24 neighborhood branches to provide information about resources and services available to help advance the well-being of the city’s immigrant residents.

The Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement signifies the administration’s proactive engagement of the immigrant community by encouraging their active participation in the city’s policies and programs. Twenty-seven percent of Boston residents are foreign-born, and nearly half of Boston Public School students have a foreign-born parent.

“In the City of Boston our immigrant population represents a dynamic and growing landscape and it is our hope that with this rebranding effort and the launch of Immigrant Information Corners, we are better able to serve our immigrant residents,” said Mayor Walsh. “Immigrants interact with the city’s library branches more than any other city agency, which offers us a great opportunity to engage our residents in their neighborhoods. The impact that immigrants have on our city will continue to grow in the years ahead and it is important that we plan for this growth and make sure it reaches everyone.” Read more »