Massachusetts Studies Project
for Local History:

Harvard MA Voting Results 2005Introduction: Most Massachusetts residents and organizations left a paper trail documenting their existence. In most cities and towns, the local library, historical groups, preservation societies, and museums serve as excellent starting points for locating documentary materials about local communities. On the state level, historical societies, archives, and museums are valuable depositories for useful primary materials. Many of these agencies offer specific programs for students, and many would welcome suggestions for joint projects.

General Teaching Tips: Make sure that the historic records you select to use are readable and age appropriate for your class. Be sure the record content is long enough to provide the information you want your class to absorb, but not so long that it overwhelms them. Select materials and activities that are likely to motivate and inspire your students, that are related to current events, anniversaries, their own interests and hobbies.

(Above adapted from "History in the Raw" and the excellent essay from the FDR Library, "Using Historic Records as Tools in the Classroom")

Examples of the types of records stored in town, city and state archives:

  • Business inventories, account books
  • Cemetery Records
  • Census Records – local, state, national
  • City Directories (merchants, business addresses, advertisements)
  • Deeds
  • Dog License Records
  • Genealogical Records, Dictionaries
  • Militia Records
  • Morgages
  • Paupers
  • Proprietor Records
  • Published Biographical Sketches for local people
  • Rebellion Records
  • Selectmen Records
  • Ship Passenger Lists
  • Tax Lists
  • Town Accounts
  • Town Meeting Records
  • Town Minutes
  • Town or City Annual Reports
  • Valuation & Tax Reports
  • Vital Records (Births, Marriages, Deaths)
  • Voter Lists
  • Basic Questions

    • Is this document a primary or secondary source? How do you know?
    • How reliable is this document for historical accuracy??
    • When was it written? If no date is listed, what clues are there that could help date it?
    • Where was it written and where is the document now found? (owner, repository)
    • What tools were used to write it and what is its appearance? (handwritten with quill, pen, pencil? Typewritten? Printed? A filled-in form?
    • What type of paper was used?

    Critical Thinking Questions

    • Whose names are on this document? What are their roles?
    • What were the opinions, motivations, or interests of each person related to this document?
    • Why was this document created?
    • How can you find out more about the context of this document?
    • What sorts of information does the document supply?
    • Under what circumstances was the document created?
    • What were the results, benefits, disadvantages of this document being created??
    • Can you trust this document's content at face value?
    • What evidence is there that this is an "official" document?
    • What does this document tell us about life in this community?
    • Does this type of document still exist? How is it the same or different?

    Resources and Websites

    "Commonwealth Communities": The Commonwealth of Massachusetts produced profiles of the state’s Communities, including Demographic information, Unincorporated and Unofficial Names of Massachusetts Communities, City and Town Addresses and Main Phone Numbers.

    National Archives, Northeast Region (Waltham, MA) - Federal archival documents located at Waltham, MA (Boston) are a wealth of primary source material that can be useful for student research of many kinds. This is a wonderful learning center for local, regional and national historical research, serving Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

    "Topics in Massachusetts History" Massachusetts State Archives Collections Listing: The collections of the Massachusetts Archives are public records and are open to all for research.

    "Citizen Information Service" Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Office of the Secretary of State:

    • Information and Historical Data on Cities, Towns and Counties in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
    • A Listing of Cities and Towns, the Counties they are in with the Dates of Settlement, Incorporation as a Town and, if applicable, as a City
    • A Listing of Counties and the Cities and Towns Within
    • Dates Relating to the Incorporation of and Abolishment of Counties in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
    • Village, Section and Neighborhood names of Massachusetts Communities

    "Helpful Telephone Listings for Your City/Town Hall" Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Office of the Secretary of State

    This resource book was developed with support from
    The Massachusetts Historical Records Advisory Board, Office of the Secretary of the State
    The Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities