Providence (Rhode Island) Public Library opens a large Genealogical Collection to the Public

The Providence Public Library has opened a large compilation of Rhode Island genealogical material to researchers. The library acquired the James N. Arnold Collection in November 2015 and archivists have finished processing it. James N. Arnold published an eight-volume set of southern Rhode Island’s history and the first comprehensive set of vital records for the state. When he died, the collection of research, publications, personal papers, and personal library was given to the Knight Memorial Library in Providence.

Details may be found in the WPRO web site at

My thanks to newsletter reader George C. Brown for telling me about this collection.


I was watching Genealogy Roadshow’s episode filmed in Providence. I also was going through the blogs I follow when I came upon this post. Just as I was reading your title, the show showed the Providence Public Library. Gave me chills!


More details on the Providence Library’s site, including a finding aid (PDF).


The copyrights for the Arnold collection of books ran out ages ago. The books are free & downloadable at and/or Google Books. (I also backed them up on a couple of jump drives.)

Not all RI history volumes are written by James N. Arnold. History of the State of Rhode Island 1636 – 1700 and a few following volumes are by Samuel Green Arnold, for instance.

The volumes I downloaded by Arnold tend to start out Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations and give a volume number after that.

The difference in the titles is Colony vs State. There are also other volumes that use Colony in the title by John Russell Bartlett, and the first volume is 1636 – 1663.

There is a another set (several volumes) entitled History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations by Thomas Williams Bicknell which cover a later period of time. The title page says the volumes were printed by order of the RI state legislature; RI was ahead of its time in knowing that historians and genealogists were interested in the early history of the colony/state.

I re-labeled the pdf file names to include the title (usually a shorter version), years covered, Vol number, and author name so they are saved in chronological order. The titles as used by and Google Books are different so I have accidentally saved a few of these things more than once until I learned to re-label the file names for each book. I also have the links (with the re-named titles) saved in my browser under a file just named Books. (I use Firefox so I can see the titles in chronological order in the left column, a feature no longer used in IE with that silly scroll menu that I’ve never understood.)

I have colonial New England ancestors in both my maternal and paternal lines, so I have a fairly large number of books downloaded, including old published genealogies for some of the families.

For RI families, if you can’t find much in the older histories or single genealogy books, try Quaker records since there was a large population of Quakers in RI (some of my ancestors are in the histories, record books, and in Quaker records).

The only thing that would be as interesting as the old histories and genealogies is seeing digital images of the original records to verify the transcriptions in record and history books…. 🙂

Happy Reading! 🙂


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