I guess I have always wanted to know about the places my ancestors lived. But finding the spot for that family farm, as New England genealogists know, is never easy. Rhode Island land doesn’t come packaged in neat square lots (ever). With an almost 400 year history, buildings come and go. Towns and borders are rearranged. Deeds are kept in 39 locations around the state, and seldom online.
So we learn to be curious about maps, guides, historic landmarks, place names, and history. While prior to genealogy I would only have been marginally interested in a guide to a town’s historic structures and neighborhoods, I have gradually become obsessed with these things. If you want to solve a brick wall, one best practice is to learn as much as possible about the nearest locations you can find.
Fortunately, the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission has produced, over the last several decades, guides to historic architecture and resources around the state. Focusing town by town on buildings and other structures such as bridges, the guides present a history of the landscape and neighborhoods, some details of evolving land use and industries, guides to local historic houses, and, at the end of the volumes, impressive bibliographies of books and maps for further research.
There are even some local maps here and there, which help you to sort through the historic neighborhood names. And, plenty of pictures of historic houses and buildings.
All of these volumes are now available through their website, as free downloads. Although I own several volumes already, having instant access to ALL volumes is a huge step forward. The pdf copies can be downloaded from the RIHPHC website here.
I can’t reproduce their materials here, of course, so visit their website to access the books. This is the list of books available on the website:
- Block Island
- Central Falls
- Cranston – also: Pawtuxet Village
- East Greenwich
- East Providence
- Little Compton
- Narragansett – also: Narragansett Pier
- African-Americans of Newport
- Kay-Catherine-Old Beach Rd
- Southern Thames Street
- West Broadway
- North Kingstown
- North Providence
- North Smithfield
- Providence (Citywide) also:
- East Side
- Providence Industrial Sites
- Smith Hill
- South Providence
- West Side
- South Kingstown
- Warwick – also: Pawtuxet Village
- West Greenwich
- West Warwick
- Historic Highway Bridges of RI
- Historic Landscapes of RI
- Native American Archaeology
- Outdoor Sculpture of RI
- RI Engineering/Industrial Sites
- RI: State-Owned Hist. Properties
- State Houses of RI
I think exploring these books at the RIHPHC website would be a great way to learn more about your ancestors’ neighborhood. They would help you understand the landmarks mentioned in deeds, and to understand how the landscape changed over the centuries, and what the local industries were.
What a goldmine! Hope they help you.
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