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Local History

The library has a variety of holdings pertaining to the history of Hamilton, Wenham, and the area around the two towns, as well as other communities in Massachusetts.  This includes items that can be checked out, items that must be viewed within the library, and items that can be viewed any time online.  Inquire about Local History materials and research with the reference librarian on the second floor, or call 978-468-5577 to find out more.

For Check-Out

The Dewey Decimal shortcut for Essex County, Massachusetts at our library is 974.45.  Items in our regular nonfiction stacks can be checked out by anyone with a current MVLC (Merrimac Valley Library Consortium) library card that is current and in good standing.  These items include books about Hamilton, Wenham and other nearby communities.

In-Library Use Only

We also have a special collection of Local History and Archives materials for viewing strictly within the library.  Local History materials include books about Hamilton and Wenham, town annual reports, vital records, yearbooks, and more. Archives refers to older books that we choose to keep but no longer circulate.  Materials in Archives are separate from Local History, but both are in the Closed Stacks. 

Click here for a PDF list of our Local History and Archives collections in Closed Stacks. 

Many of these items can also be found in our Online Library Catalog, with additional keywords and subject headings to help you find them.

Items can be retrieved from Closed Stacks on request during normal library hours by inquiring with the reference librarian on the second floor.  Items can be viewed up to three at a time on the second floor of the library in exchange for your library card or photo ID.

Our microfilm reader is available for public use on the second floor. It is a ScanPro 2000 and can be used to make print copies, or to create PDFs or images for emailing or personal storage to a flash drive. You are welcome to bring your own microfilm or microfiche for use with the ScanPro, or ask library staff for access to our microfilm collection of back issues for the Hamilton-Wenham Chronicle from 1958 to the present.

Online, Anytime

We plan to grow our collection of digitized items that can be accessed on this web site and elsewhere.  These currently include:

  • Tom Juergens’ brief local history piece, Hamilton’s Constabulary & Police, From Its Founding to the Cold War, available here.
  • Jack Hauck’s local history book, Treasures of Wenham History, available here. The final chapters, still forthcoming, will cover Wenham during wartime and local government.
  • Also in progress by Mr. Hauck: Treasures of Hamilton History, available here.
  • Aerial photographs of the local area, taken November 10 of 1938:
    GSF406 | GSF407 | GSF408 | GSF409 | GSF426 | GSF427 | GSF428 | GSF429
    See this sheet for a crude attempt to match the areas in the photograph with their locations in 2009.

Off-site, be sure to visit our Hamilton-Wenham Public Library collection at the Internet Archive.  This includes the complete Hamilton-Wenham’s Times Past series of oral histories about the two towns, produced by William Heitz and Edmund Josephs and broadcast on local television from 1986 through 1995.  With the kind permission of Mr. Heitz, this series is available and freely accessible online. 

Click here for the full list of 66 Times Past videos on the Internet Archive. There is a left hand sidebar with filtering options, which can help you narrow your focus regarding a given Topic or Subject.  Alternatively, click on “More” under “Topics & Subjects” to see a full listing.  Most of these videos are annotated with a summary and list of keywords, but there are still some episodes waiting to be annotated.

Genealogy

Visit the Genealogy and Biography section on our Electronic Resources page for electronic resources pertaining to genealogical research.  Our subscriptions to  American Ancestors (formerly New England Ancestors), Ancestry Library Edition, and HeritageQuest Online can all be accessed within the library via the public computers or a personal laptop within the building. HeritageQuest Online can also be accessed remotely by local residents with a Hamilton-Wenham library card number. 

We Love Local History!

This video was made from a slideshow created in 2014, which aired on local television to inform residents of Hamilton and Wenham about our Local History collection.  Some things have changed since then: we finished uploading the Times Past videos, and many of the yearbook requests on our Wishlist have been fulfilled.  If you have the 1973, 1974, or 1985 yearbooks, we would love to hear from you!

Other Helpful Resources

The Hamilton Historical Society is peopled by enlightened enthusiasts from the local area.  In addition to their physical holdings and personal knowledge, HHS also has digital collections that can be accessed any time online, such as their enormous photography collection at the Digital Commonwealth of Massachusetts website and extensive yearbooks and annual reports at the Hamilton Historical Society collection at the Internet Archive.

Ipswich Archives and Special Collections at the Ipswich Library includes the very useful Index to Obituaries, a guide to obituary listings found in Ipswich’s local newspapers from 1837-2009.  Hamilton had its beginnings as The Hamlet, a section of Ipswich, prior to its 1793 incorporation as the town of Hamilton.  The proximity and shared history of both Hamilton and Ipswich make the Ipswich Archives and Special Collections a valuable resource for our own residents as well.

Boston Public Library’s Obituary Index is another possible resource for Massachusetts obituaries.  See especially coverage and contact information at the bottom of their page.

Beverly Public Library has local newspapers on microfilm.  If you are looking for local newspaper coverage not included in the Hamilton-Wenham Chronicle, Beverly’s microfilm collection may be useful.  Their phone number is 978-921-6062 if you have any questions.

The Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds (aka “Salem Deeds”) is an excellent starting place for establishing home ownership history of a given house.  Find deeds from 1951 to the present, or review older records from 1640 onward.

The Internet Archive (archive.org) began as a site for archiving the Internet, and has dramatically expanded in scope over the years.  Today the Internet Archive archives millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.  We uploaded our collection of Times Past interviews there, and old public domain titles such as the Vital Records of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War, and numerous books of family genealogy can be found there. 

You can also use the Internet Archive in its original capacity by entering the URL/web address for defunct web sites in The Wayback Machine, or looking at older versions of current web sites.  Make the experiment now by viewing old versions of the Hamilton-Wenham Public Library web site: https://web.archive.org/web/*/http://hwlibrary.org/