Thursday, July 6, 2006

Massachusetts Vital Records

Massachusetts towns have been recording vital events (births, marriages, deaths) since about 1635. Before 1850, they were in recorded in Town Record books. During the 1930's, as a WPA project, books for many towns were published that captured the VR data up to 1850 - these are usually referred to as the "Tan Books" after the color of the book cover. Many of these books have been digitized and are available at the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) site, on subscription site, or in private transcription projects (see the USGenWeb county sites for all of the details). Books for some towns not included in the WPA project have been published over the years by NEHGS and other publishers.

In 1841, the State decreed that Births, Marriages and Deaths should be recorded by the towns and lists of each should be sent to the State Secretary each year. The town lists were combined into county books, which are stored at the Massachusetts State Archives. Microfilms of the Indexes of these books, and the page images of the books, are available at the LDS Family History Library, the New England Historic Genealogical Society and other locations. The NEHGS web subscription site has the complete index (1841-1910) and almost all of the images (the list at NEHGS says 1901, but there are some images for later years posted). also has a few of these indexes available on their subscription site, but no images of the pages.

After 1910, researchers have to go to the Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics in Dorchester MA either physically or request data via email or online, in order to obtain records.

There are also individuals and firms who will obtain any of these records for a fee.

For some reason, most of this information is not shown on many of the web pages that summarize birth, marriage and death records availability. Some of these VR sites do have links to the Ancestry subscription site, but not many link to the NEHGS subscription site for some reason. Frankly, they should link to both, and also to the private free transcription sites that I've blogged about previously.

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