Rhode Island Counties and Historical Facts

Rhode Island County records vary widely from county to county in both quality and quantity. Some have been carefully preserved while others have been much abused and neglected. Some Rhode Island records have simply disappeared.

For genealogists doing research in Rhode Island there is no effective replace for an on-site search of county courthouse records.

Map of Rhode Island Counties
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Map of Rhode Island Counties

Rhode Island County Records

From a genealogical standpoint, most of the valuable information that can be gained from Rhode Island’s county records involves either federal censuses or court records.

County courts didn’t exist in the state prior to 1729. Although, two counties, Newport and Providence, came into existence in 1703.

Each of today’s Rhode Island counties was in existence by 1750. Bristol County was formed in 1746 or 1747 because the state of Massachusetts ceded five towns to Rhode Island.

Most original records only exist on a town by town basis, but several of them have been compiled and published in groups according to county, probably because of the county structures in other states.

The superior court county seat holds most modern court records, while earlier records have been relocated to various sources, such as archives and historical societies.

See also a list of links to county and county seat government run websites.

List of Rhode Island Extinct Counties

Rhode Island has counties that no longer exist because they were discontinued, renamed or merged with another county.

A lot of these counties were established and disbanded within the 19th century; county borders have changed very little since 1900.

These are important for genealogy research purposes. Pay attention where the courthouse records went to if the county was eliminated or joined with some other county.

See the History of Rhode Island Counties for more details.

List of Rhode Island Counties with Burned Courthouses

Rhode Island burned county courthouse
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The damage to courthouses greatly has a bearing on genealogists in every way.

Not only are these historic structures torn from our lifetimes, so are the records they housed: marriage, wills, probate, land records, and others.

Once destroyed they’re lost forever. Although they have been placed on mircofilm, computers and film burn too.

However, not all records were damaged or lost in some counties.

List of Rhode Island Counties

CountyDate FormedParent CountyCounty Seat
Bristol1747Newport CountyBristol
Kent1750Providence CountyEast Greenwich
Newport1703Original CountyNewport
Providence1703Original CountyProvidence
Washington1729 Providence CountyWakefield

Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns: Barrington, Bristol, Burrillville, Central Falls, Charlestown, Coventry, Cranston, Cumberland, East Greenwich, East Providence, Exeter, Foster, Glocester, Hopkinton, Jamestown, Johnston, Lincoln, Little Compton, Middletown, Narragansett, New Shoreham, Newport, North Kingstown, North Providence, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, The Town Portsmouth, The City of Providence, Richmond, Scituate, Smithfield, South Kingstown, Tiverton, Warren, Warwick, West Greenwich, West Warwick, Westerly, Woonsocket.

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