Pro Research Tip: American Ancestors

Do you know about the American Ancestors database?   The Providence Public Library subscribes to it for you and makes it accessible via the Rhode Island Collection.  

This is an important resource for anyone interested in genealogy or researching individuals who lived in Rhode Island.   The database is managed by the New England Genealogical Society Library and incorporates a massive amount of records across New England and beyond.  They have just released new digital access to resources not available in other genealogical databases and otherwise only in print or microfilm.   

In particular, they have just uploaded access to two major sources - the RI Census' and Rhode Island Roots.  Here's more from their press releases: 

Rhode Island Census Collection, 1865-1935

This database collection includes the census returns for the years 1865, 1875, 1885, 1915, 1925, and 1935. These records, organized by town, contain information about each individual residing in a household, and, for most years, state the relationship between each person and the head of household. (Relationship information is not available in the 1865 or 1935 censuses.) Other details provided for most years include age, gender, race, place of birth, and occupation. The 1865 census includes information on military service, and educational status is recorded in the 1865, 1875, and 1935 censuses. The 1935 census also mentions details about the medical history of an individual's family. Together, these six censuses include more than 2.75 million records.
State census records were taken to supplement the federal census, and they can include additional or more detailed information to further document your family history. The Rhode Island State Archives houses microfilm copies of all the state's census records, and the Rhode Island Historical Society's holdings also include microfilm copies of the state censuses for 1865 through 1885. The NEHGS library in Boston also has microfilm copies of each of the state censuses included in this database.

Rhode Island Roots

When Rhode Island Roots began publication in 1975, it served as both a newsletter for the newly formed Rhode Island Genealogical Society (RIGS) and as an aid to careful genealogical research. Although it was short and unsophisticated in design, Roots was a serious publication assembled by experienced genealogists. This update includes volumes 26-30, publication years 2000-2004, and adds more than 24,000 records to this collection.
Each issue of the quarterly journal, now 52 pages, features at least one compiled genealogy along with Bible records, transcriptions of original sources, book reviews, and studies of the genealogical implications of historical events. Indices of land and notarial records and petitions to the General Assembly, transcriptions of estimates of ratable estate, gravestones, and early census records all provide invaluable clues to Rhode Island genealogy. The authors include well-known genealogists as well as RIGS members with stories of their own families to tell.

If you'd like more information on how to effectively search American Ancestors, sign up for our March workshop on Genealogy Databases in our Family History workshop series.  

kwells's picture
Kate Wells

As the Rhode Island Collection librarian at Providence Public Library, Kate Wells helps bring Rhode Island history to light by increasing access to the collection and providing research assistance to patrons. In the “Rhode Island Red” blog, Kate showcases interesting materials from the collection, provides research tip & techniques, and highlights local history. Feel free to contact her if you have any Rhode Island related questions; she is always happy to help. Email:


Post new comment

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options