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Franjo Rački wrote, based on a manuscript from the Franciscan library in Dubrovnik, that Nikola was the son of a Boško from Orahovo (Orahov Do, near Popovo polje, then Bosnia Eyalet, Ottoman Empire, present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina), and that the family had adopted the surname Bošković after his father. Šime Ljubić,[not in citation given (See discussion.)] and later Milenko S. Filipović and Ljubo Mićević, wrote that his father's name was actually Matijaš (or Matija) which could be seen from marital permission which he gave to Nikola.
Nikola came to Dubrovnik as a boy and his parents sent him to become a trader's apprentice for a wealthy trader called Rad Gleđević, who then dispatched him to Novi Pazar in the Ottoman Empire (today Sandžak, Serbia) to learn from the local traders. Bošković returned to Dubrovnik as a very wealthy man. His father then also moved to Dubrovnik.
His travels through Rascia were written down by a Jesuit priest Riggeputti as Relazione della Provincia della Rassia, who was collecting material for his work Illyricum Sacrum, a history of Christianity in the Balkans. Bošković describes the historical and sacral monuments of Rascia including several Orthodox monasteries and royal palaces, and also comments on the sad state of Roman Catholic Church in these lands under the Turkish rule.
After settling down in Dubrovnik, Nikola married a daughter of a local notable of Italian origin, Paola Bettera (Pavica Betera). The two had eight children, the second youngest, Ruđer Bošković (Roger Boscovich), being the most famous.
There is a debate on the ethnicity and origin of Nikola Bošković.
In 1910 Branislav Petronijević reviewed an article by Vladimir Varićak about Ruđer Bošković and stated that Ruđer Bošković's descent is "at least as much Serb as it is Croat" and that the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (in Belgrade) should collaborate with the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts (in Zagreb) to publish a reprint of all of Bošković's works to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth.
An English translation of Bošković's "Theory of Natural Philosophy" was published by the Open Court Publishing Company in 1922, prefaced by Branislav Petronijević's biography of Bošković. In 1925, Vladimir Varićak published a review of it, and criticized it extensively for various factual errors, among other things for asserting without references that the Bošković family was "of purely Servian origin", that Boško was "an orthodox Serbian peasant" and that Nikola became "a Roman Catholic" in Dubrovnik.
In 1995 a Montenegrin author named Slobodan Šćepanović published an article in the journal of the Institute of History of Montenegro where he claimed, based partly on "oral history", that Nikola Bošković converted to the Catholic faith from Orthodoxy, and that he was a descended from a Montenegrin clan.
In 2000, Serbian historian Marko Atlagić published a paper in a Univerzitet u Prištini journal in which he claimed numerous noble families from the Republic of Ragusa to be Serbian, including the Bošković's.
In 2012, the Serbian newspaper Press published an article claiming Nikola Bošković was a Serb, based partly on Serbian president Boris Tadić's claims that Ruđer Bošković was a "Serb Catholic". Croatian academics lambasted such claims, with Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts members saying Tadić "needed to learn something", and another saying it was beneath him to even comment on such a statement.
- Franjo Rački (1887-02-14). "Rugjer Josip Bošković - Životopisna crta". Rad (Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts) (90): 2 (11). Retrieved 2013-02-09.
- Šime Ljubić, O odnošajih među republikom mletačkom i dubrovačkom, Rad JAZU, LIV, 1880, p. 564-5
- Milenko S. Filipović, Ljubo Mićević, Popovo u Hercegovini, Sarajevo 1959, p. 63
- Pavle Popović (1972). Iz književnosti (in Serbian). Matica srpska. p. 156.
- Pejašinović, Zoran (2006-01-14). "Porijeklo". Ruđer Bošković (1711-1787) - Okvir za naučnu biografiju (in Serbian Cyrillic). Retrieved 2012-02-20.
- Drace-Francis, Alex (2008). Bracewell, Wendy; Drace-Francis, Alex, eds. Under Eastern eyes: a comparative introduction to East European travel writing on Europe. Central European University Press. ISBN 963-9776-11-4.
- Vladimir Varićak (1910-11-12). "Ulomak Boškovićeve korespondencije". Rad (in Croatian) (Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts): 244–245 (252–253). Retrieved 2013-02-09.
- Child, James Mark (1922). A Theory of Natural Philosophy. Chicago, London: Open Court Publishing Company. p. 11.
- Vladimir Varićak (1925-01-23). "U povodu državnog izdanja Boškovićeva djela "Theoria philosophiae naturalis"". Rad (in Croatian) (Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts): 161–168 (167–174). Retrieved 2013-02-09.
- Šćepanović, Slobodan (1995). "O porijeklu porodice i korijenima predaka Ruđera Boškovića". Istorijski zapisi (in Serbian) (Podgorica, Montenegro: Istorijski institut Crne Gore) 3: 143–157.
- Atlagić, Marko (2000). "Grbovi nekih srpskih plemićkih porodica u Dubrovniku" [Coat of arms of some Serbian families in Dubrovnik]. Zbornik radova Filozofskog fakulteta u Prištini (2000) (in Serbian): 133–154. Retrieved 2013-02-07.
- Stanko Stamenković, Veljko Miladinović (2012-01-15). "Kradimo domaće". Press (in Serbian). Retrieved 2012-02-20.
- "Hrvati ljuti na Borisa Tadić: Ruđer Bošković nije Srbin!". Doznajemo (in Croatian). 2012-01-16. Retrieved 2012-02-22.