Local History & Genealogy

The Special Collections room at Portsmouth Public Library includes information and resources, pertaining to local history and genealogy topics for Portsmouth, the Seacoast, and surrounding cities and towns.

While the collection development efforts have focused on acquiring materials relating primarily to the city of Portsmouth, information about other towns in Rockingham County, including town histories for Strafford County, NH, York County in Maine, and a bit of Essex County in Massachusetts, are also available.

Our collection consists of books, articles, city documents (tax records, annual reports, etc.), city directories, vital records (birth, marriage and death indexes), maps, art work, photographs, historical newspapers and ephemera.

Hours: The Special Collections Room is open to the public during the regular hours of the library. No appointment necessary.

 

Collection Highlights and Items of Note

Cemetery Indexes and plot plans

Cemetery Index map - links to the library's collection of maps and PDFsIf you are searching for a particular plot, visit the Special Collections Room to check the name indexes and plot maps before you walk the cemeteries. Indexes are available for North Cemetery, Point of Graves, South Cemetery (which includes 5 smaller cemeteries: Cotton, Elmwood, Harmony Grove, Proprietors, and Sagamore), Temple Israel Cemetery, Union, and Misc. Family Gravesites. Many thanks to the volunteers who made this possible.

Before you walk a Portsmouth Cemetery in search of an individual plot, we recommend you visit, or contact, the Special Collections Room to check our cemetery indexes for names, plot numbers and maps.

Or search FIND A GRAVE and view/download the library's collection of maps and PDFs.

Art Collections

Portrait of Celia Thaxter by Otto GrundmanMuch of the library’s art and artifact collection is on view throughout the building. 

A grand Portrait of Celia Thaxter by Otto Grundman is located in the lobby.  Some works require low light and must be kept in storage.  The library is making an effort to digitize these collections to make them accessible.  Some of the highlights of the collection include: a collection of watercolors by Sarah Haven Foster (1827-1900), a collection of drawings by Helen Pearson (1871-1949), several works by Susan Ricker Knox (1875?-1959) and several paintings by Russell Cheney (1881-1945). Please contact the library or visit the Special Collections Room for more information.

Henry Clay Barnabee Collection 

Portrait of Henry Clay BarnabeeThis collection of 12 boxes consisting of scrapbooks, photographs, albums, books, souvenir albums, souvenir books, opera music scores, watercolors, etc., belonged to the Portsmouth-born actor and singer Henry Clay Barnabee (1833-1917).

History Vertical Files

Photo of vertical files in filing cabinetLibrarians have maintained a gathering of newspaper and magazine articles, pamphlets, brochures, photographs, postcards, and other ephemera relating to people, places, and things in Portsmouth and the surrounding communities. It is intended to provide patrons with historic and background information on each topic. It is a great place to start! Please note: these files are not all-inclusive for any given topic. It is likely that additional material for each topic is available within other Portsmouth Public Library holdings as well as other collections in the Portsmouth area.  There is a finding aid available in the library. The files are stored in the Special Collection Vault and require a librarian to retrieve materials.  Please ask a librarian for assistance.

Obituary Database

Upon request the library staff can perform a name search to assist in locating local obituaries which may be printed from microfilm held in the Reference Department. 

Thanks to long-time volunteer, Cynthia Thomas, the library has a fairly comprehensive index of death notices and obituaries appearing in the local newspapers from 1891-2000.  Staff and many volunteers have created a database, and continue to gather and enter obituaries through current dates.  

World War II Records

This collection of 20 files was compiled by the Portsmouth War Records Committee during the World War II years. It includes reports business, club and organizations), photographs, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, posters and pamphlets.

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Digital Collections at PortsmouthExhibits.org

Library Staff and volunteers have redesigned our previous digital archive for easier use and better access to the fragile and historic items found in the Special Collections Room. While protecting the integrity of the original items, the library wants to share the items we care for with the community. Our hope, as we continue to identify interesting items and digitize them, is to also create a dialogue with the Portsmouth community about our shared local history. Please do use the commenting feature to share memories and facts about each item. To learn more about future digitization plans, or ask questions about the items included, please visit the Special Collections Room, email nlcloutier@cityofportsmouth.com , or call (603) 766-1725 or 1723.

North End House History Project

Collection of images from the North End House History Project

This collection of images comes from Portsmouth’s North End, circa 1967. It is the area bordered by Market, High, Congress, Bridge, Maplewood, and Russell Street. This area was re-developed during the 1960’s as part of a Federally funded Urban Renewal movement that followed World War II. Primarily an Italian neighborhood, approximately 176 inhabited homes and active businesses were documented prior to removal.

In addition, for images of residents and families from this area of the City, follow this link http://bit.ly/PXgpyg to the "North End Neighborhood" Collection at the Portsmouth Athenaeum. Created in collaboration with members from the Seacoast Chapter of the Sons of Italy. For questions, or more information, about the Portsmouth Athenaeum Collection: http://bit.ly/P8rAoQ.

Haven School Neighborhood Project 

Collection of images from the Haven School Neighborhood Project

This project, created and scanned by a group of volunteers, gathers images of the students who attended the Haven School in the South End.  The database of photographs is available for browsing and commenting. Images will be added periodically as residents to share photographs with the library!

Sarah Haven Foster Watercolors: Wildflowers & Views of Portsmouth

Collection of images from the Sarah Haven Foster Wildflowers watercolorsCollection of images from the Sarah Haven Foster Views of Portsmouth watercolors

Sarah Haven Foster (1827-1900), was the daughter of John Welsh Foster (1789-1852) and Mary (Appleton) Foster.  She lived, and painted, in Portsmouth, in the surrounding area, and abroad.  A collection of nearly 1000 watercolors was gifted to the Library by her sister, Mary A. Foster, in 1901.

This collection has received conservation and preservation care through grants from the Rosamond Thaxter Foundation and the New Hampshire Conservation License Plate Program.

Louis J. Mackles Postcards

Collection of images from the Louis J. Mackles Postcards

This collection of 400+ postcards, depicting buildings and scenes of Portsmouth and the Seacoast area, was donated to the Portsmouth Public Library by the family of Louis J. Mackles in May of 2015.

Adams Collection

Collection of images from the Adams Collection

This collection is an assemblage of work by Gundalow Captain Edward H. Adams. Born Edward Hamlin Adams to Joseph and Olive Adams on October 22, 1860, Adams was influenced by his artist mother and began carving as a child.  He started modelling his first scale Gundalow in 1882. Adams spent decades hauling freight and navigating the Piscataqua earning himself the title of “Captain.”  This digital collection is photographic representation of The Adams Collection -- about 175 of his original models and carvings. This collection of objects was previously housed at the Sheafe Warehouse, and is now cared for by the Special Collections staff at Portsmouth Public Library, on behalf of the City of Portsmouth Trustees of the Trust.

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Contact Information

Nicole Luongo Cloutier, Special Collections Librarian, will assist anyone who wishes to use the Special Collection for research, during her regularly scheduled hours. The Reference Department will assist patrons in her absence.

Mon-Wed 9-5 / Thu 12:30-9 / Fri 9-5 (Jun-Aug) / Sun 1-5 (Sept.-May) 
nlcloutier@cityofportsmouth.com  or (603) 766-1725

Jessica Ross, Special Collections Assistant, will assist anyone who wishes to use the Special Collection for research, during her regularly scheduled hours. 

Mon 9-2 / Tue 9-2 / Wed 4-9 / Fri 9-2
jjross@cityofportsmouth.com

Emeritus Historian, Richard E. Winslow III, is likely to be available on Fridays, or by appointment, to provide research assistance.

Address: 175 Parrott Avenue, Portsmouth, NH 03801

Main: (603) 427-1540 or Call the Reference Desk at: (603) 766-1720/1721

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