Library: Library Collections
How to Search the Manuscript Holdings
ABIGAIL: Online Catalog
ABIGAIL, the Massachusetts Historical Society online catalog, contains searchable descriptions of approximately 99% of the society's 3600 manuscript collections. Each description summarizes the contents of the collection, with inclusive dates, and lists subjects relevant to the contents; each notes as well the collection's size (number of boxes or containers), the names of principal correspondents or other authors of documents, and whether the collection has been reproduced or published. Many of these collection descriptions also appear in the national bibliographic database OCLC and in the published National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC).
Published Catalog of Manuscripts
The Catalog of Manuscripts of the Massachusetts Historical Society (G. K. Hall, 1969; 1980 supplement), available in more than 150 U.S. libraries, consists of photocopies of cards in the Society's manuscript catalog. Although almost all of the collection descriptions in the Catalog have been revised or superceded, it remains a useful guide for descriptions of more than 500,000 individual manuscript items.
Approximately 500 published and unpublished manuscript collection guides ("finding aids") contain more detailed information than found in ABIGAIL, the online catalog; the records in ABIGAIL, however, indicate if a finding aid exists for a given collection. Copies of the unpublished guides are available in the MHS reading room.
More than 200 of the Society's finding aids are now available online and more are continually being added.
Click here to view the online finding aids.
Manuscript Card Catalog
The manuscript card catalog contains descriptions for approximately 350,000 individual items, very few of which appear in ABIGAIL, the MHS online catalog. The card catalog also includes a large number of additions and corrections made over 25 years to the published Catalog of Manuscripts described above. A new microfiche copy of the manuscript card catalog, available in the reading room, supercedes the Catalog of Manuscripts and serves as the guide to individual manuscripts.
The MHS diary collection comprises more than 1,000 manuscript diaries. These may be multivolume diaries kept over decades or brief diary fragments kept to note epochal events. Diaries date from 1629 to the 1980s. Diarists include, among many others, Revolutionary War soldiers, Indian Missionaries, and a French-Canadian maid in a 19th-century upper-class Boston household (together with the diary of the young woman she served). Women account for roughly 230 of these documents.
Descriptions of many of these diaries have been added to ABIGAIL and more are added daily. The remainder are described in printouts from a diary database available in the Reading Room. Each entry in the database includes the name and gender of the diarist, where the diary was kept, inclusive dates, and brief description of the contents; it also indicates if the document is available in microfilm or facsimile.
Entries in the diary database contain more detailed information than the descriptions of diaries in ABIGAIL, the online catalog. Each database entry includes the name and gender of the diarist, where the diary was kept, inclusive dates, and a brief description of the contents; it also indicates if the document is available in microfilm or facsimile. Separate indexes in the diary database allow researchers to search by several different categories.
Other databases created at the MHS and relevant to the study of Massachusetts history include the Thwing Index and the Boston African-American database. Both are available for use in the reading room. To learn more about these resources, please visit the Databases web page.
The diary database is currently available only as a printout in the library reading room. However, the library staff is in the process of adding diary descriptions to ABIGAIL.
For Further Information
Researchers who have questions about research strategies or specific manuscript holdings should send their questions through the Ask a Reference Question page or contact the reference librarian.