Rhode Island’s diminutive size belies its genealogical importance. Founded in 1636 by Roger Williams, Rhode Island throughout the colonial period served as a haven for religious and political dissenters. In fact, its royal charter of 1647 insured religious freedom and a democratic form of government for its freemen. Ironically, because the colonists’ livelihood was heavily dependent on commerce and, in particular, the triangular trade between Africa, the West Indies, and Rhode Island, the colony’s economy supported the slave trade and slavery itself. Always a source of in-migration from the north, in 1747 Rhode Island’s annexation of the towns of Bristol, Little Compton, Tiverton, and Warren from Massachusetts added a decidedly Mayflower cast to its genealogical composition, which was the most diverse of the New England colonies.
Among the many sources for Rhode Island genealogy, there is much to be gleaned from the periodical literature, which, for the 19th and most of the 20th centuries, can be divided into two parts. The first great source of Rhode Island genealogy is “The New England Historical and Genealogical Register (NEHGR),” which, between 1847 and 1983, published hundreds of articles referring to 46,000 Rhode Island pioneers and their descendants. The Rhode Island genealogies from NEHGR are available in a two-volume set of books: Genealogies of Rhode Island Families from the NEHGR.
Over a similar period of time, six other periodicals, most of them out of the reach of the average researcher and unknown to many professionals, issued, in the aggregate, a comparable body of work on Rhode Island to that of NEHGR. Three of these magazines were published by the Rhode Island Historical Society, namely, “Rhode Island Historical Society Collections,” “Rhode Island History,” and “Publications of the Rhode Island Historical Society.” The other three were published privately and are extremely difficult to find today. They are the “Newport Historical Magazine,” the” Narragansett Historical Register,” and “Rhode Island Historical Tracts.” The contributors to these six publications included the most celebrated names in Rhode Island genealogy (names like Arnold, Austin, and Moriarty), and their collective efforts compare favorably with the family history articles found in NEHGR and in John Austin’s famous “Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island.” Genealogical Publishing Company eventually consolidated the family history contents of these six periodicals into a two-volume work entitled, Genealogies of Rhode Island Families from RI Periodicals. In addition to linked family histories and Bible records, this publication features the famous “Gore Roll of Arms,” the most complete register of arms on Rhode Island families ever published.
Genealogies of Rhode Island Families from RI Periodicals is available in a two-volume paperback edition. To learn more about it or the companion publication, Genealogies of Rhode Island Families from the NEHGR, just click on the links found below.