Friday, August 20, 2010

Exploring - Post 2: Mass. VRs to 1850

The New England Historic Genealogical Society unveiled their new website yesterday - and I explored the Home Page and Explore page in Post 1.

In order to use the site to search for records, a user must register. If the user is a member, they can login with their member name and subscription number. If a user is not a member, they can register for access to the free databases and other free features.

There are a number of Free databases available on the site - from the Explore page I clicked on the Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850 database. This is a collection of images from published books for many of the towns of Massachusetts up to the year 1850. In most cases, these books have sections for Births, Marriages and Deaths, and the information is printed alphabetically by surname. Not all Massachusetts have had books published with their vital records, but many have. These records were extracted from the handwritten town records, from available church records, and available cemetery records.

Here is the Search form for the Vital Records of Massachusetts to 1850 database:

I filled in the "First Name" field with "Isaac" and the "Last Name" field with "Seaver." The system had already filled in the database name for me, so I only receive matches from this specific database. There is a check box for "Use Soundex" and the user can specify a year range, or a city or town, or a volume and page number if known. I clicked on the "Search" button at the bottom of the search box, and I received 21 matches in all of the available town lists (two screens shown below):

There is a match for my Isaac Seaver in the Leominster vital records book (for his gravestone), and one for him in the Westminster Vital Records book (for his birth). The entry in the book is shown on the search results page above, along with a link to the actual book page (the red link to Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850) and a link to a description of the book for the specific town.

Here is the image of the book page for Isaac Seaver in the Leominster book:

In the image above, the portion of the page shown in the image box is shown in the upper left hand corner. There are icons in the lower right-hand corner of the page image frame can be used to Save the image, rotate 90 degrees CCW, rotate 90 degrees CW, Zoom In, Zoom Out, Switch On/Off Full Screen Mode, and Return Image to default zoom and location.

The user can use the "magic hand" to manipulate the image of the page to show the entries of interest. for instance, I found the Seaver entries at the bottom of the page image by using the "magic hand" (left-click hold and move):

Below the screen image is an index of the entries on the page (two screens below), with columns for Names, Original Text, Start Date, Location and Record Type:

The extracted records on the web pages have a link to the Town book information - here is the page for Leominster (which opens in a new window):

This page provides the title and publication information for the book, but not a perfect source citation. There is also detailed information about the records included, the abbreviations used, the town book start year, population statistics for the town, and the number of births, deaths and marriages recorded.

This free database will be very useful to all researchers with Massachusetts ancestors before 1850. There are free images of some of these Vital Records books on John Slaughter's Massachusetts Vital Records site at but not all towns are available.

In the next post, I'll determine what other free databases are available on the site.

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