Start Your Rhode Island Research

The Rhode Island Collection contains a wide variety of materials in a number of formats.  The following will assist you in beginning your research.  We encourage you to ask for help from the Rhode Island Collection Librarian or any of the Reference Librarians!

Where to start? 

Published Rhode Island Collection materials, such as books, pamphlets and periodicals, are included in our online catalog

The Rhode Island Index card catalog is located in our Reference Department.  The Index has been maintained since the early 1900s and offers access the materials in the collection, including published volumes, photographs, maps, illustrations, vertical files as well as a daily index to the Providence Journal and Evening Bulletin for 1900-2004. 

What will you find?

Books and pamphlets - The Collection hold imprints published as early as the 17th century and as current as those published this year.

Genealogy resources -  Our Genealogy Resource Guide is a great way to learn what we've got available here in the library.  In addition to print sources such as city directories, Arnold's vital records indexes, individual & family biographies, regimental histories of the Civl War, the PPL provides access to the following databases: 

Ancestry Library Edition (available from at PPL only) 

American Ancestors 

HeritageQuest  

African American Heritage

Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries Database (full database in library)

Government Publications - The PPL is a designated full depository library of official state publications. 

Maps - The Collection includes published and unpublished historic maps and atlases of the state.  In addition, access to the Sanborn Maps RI provides digital access to thousands of large-scale maps of Rhode Island towns and cities, searchable by address and GPS coordinates.

Newspapers - The Library provides access to several Rhode Island newspapers.   Articles from the Providence Journal Archives online> (1983-present) can be accessed from the library or from home with your PPL library card.  See our full list of the historic newspapers avaialble in print and on microfilm. 

Periodicals - Magazines, trade journals and newsletters specific to Rhode Island.

Vertical Files -  Vertical files include clippings and ephemera about a wide variety of people and subjects.

Manuscripts - Manuscript and rare materials related to Rhode Island history can also be found in the Special Collections department.  Finding aids are available for a full inventory. 

Rhode Island Ephemera Collection  

Rhode Island Manuscripts Collection 

Rhode Island Theatre Collection

Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society Collection

John B. Archer Collection

Monday Morning Music Club Records

Visual Materials  - The Image collections include over 7,000 photograph prints and negatives and 2,000 postcards of people, places and buildings.  Many of our images on available on our Online Collections.  Reproductions of our images are available for a nominal fee. Finding aids for fully processed collections are available: 

Rhode Island Postcard Collection

Historic American Buildings Survey - Rhode Island records

Harold Mason Photograph Collection 

Frank Sayles Photograph Collection

Mills and Mill Villages Photograph Collection

Robert Bonner Scrapbook 

Florence Nelson Scrapbook

Digital Neighborhood Profiles - 

As part of a grant-funded program through RI OLIS using IMLS funds, local teens are creating digital neighborhood profiles of Providence.   These websites profile specific locations throughout the city and provide historical and contemporary details about the sites.  This resource will continue to build and become more robust as more students take part in the program.  

Where else can you look?

Rhode Island has a wealth of local history repositories. The following libraries and archives may be a complement to your research at the Rhode Island Collection, but many others are listed and searchable in the RHODI database.  

Rhode Island Historical Society

Rhode Island State Archives

Rhode Island Dept of Health, Office of Vital Records

Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Commission

Providence City Archives

Brown University John Hay Library

Newport Historical Society

Finding aids for manuscript and image collections can be searched across institutions in the Rhode Island Archival and Manuscripts Collections Online (RIAMCO) database.