Friday, September 28, 2012

Massachusetts Town Clerk, Vital, and Town Records on FamilySearch

I check the FamilySearch Historical Record Collections site ( every day for new and updated record collections. There are 1300 collections as of today - that's up significantly from one week ago!

The one that caught my eye today (a NEW collection) was the Massachusetts, Town Clerk, Vital, and Towns Records, 1579-2001 collection.

This is a Browse Only collection - there are no indexes for this collection.

There are 1,219,396 images in this collection.  The FamilySearch Research Wiki has a page for this collection:

The Wiki page says:

"The collection consists of Vital and town records acquired from local town clerk offices. It covers the years 1579 to 2001."

Of course, not every town has records between those years!

Unfortunately, the example source citations at the bottom of the Research Wiki page are for the 1920 U.S. Census and a Mexico church record collection.  hopefully, a "real" source citation example for the Massachusetts collection will be provided soon!

I clicked on the "Browse through 1,239,396 images" link on the collection page, and saw a list of Massachusetts counties:

I decided to look for records for Sudbury in Middlesex County.  I clicked on "Middlesex" on the screen above and saw the list of towns in Middlesex:

On the list above, I clicked on "Sudbury" to see which record sets were available in this collection:

Just WOW!!!  There are 11 record sets in the collection for Sudbury, including Births, Marriages, Deaths and Town Records.  Some are indexes, others are transcriptions of earlier records, and some are original source records.

I clicked on the "Births, Marriages, Deaths 1638-1850" record set, browsed through it, and saw that it is a handwritten collection of vital records taken from the original town records by a diligent researcher back in 1884.  This particular record set is on FHL US/CAN Microfilm 185,455.

I browsed through to the Seaver surname Births and found:

That is a transcription, not the original record.  After checking some of the other record sets, I figured out the the original birth record for Benjamin Seaver in 1757 is in the "Births, marriages, deaths 1663-1829 Vol 4."  After fifteen minutes of searching where I think it should be, I haven't found it yet!

Oh look, there is a record set  for "Birth Index, 1663-1844 vol. 4-5" - I found that the Benjamin Sever entry is in Volume 4, on page 120
Back to the original records in Volume 4, and on page 120 (penned, not image number - it's on Image 65, since there are two original pages per image) is Benjamin Sever's entry:

Now for a source citation for the original record.  This is a Record Collection, with a specific Record Set, and a specific page in the Record Set.  The goal here is so that another researcher can find this specific record.  Here is my first effort:

"Massachusetts, Town Clerk, Vital and Towns Records, 1579-2001," digital images, FamilySearch (, citing original data from Massachusetts town clerk records (images from FHL US/CAN microfilms); Middlesex County, Sudbury, "Births, marriages, deaths, 1663-1829, Vol. 4," page 120 (stamped), Benjamin Sever birth entry, 1757.

The part in red is the "Master Source" entry, while the part in blue is the "Source Citation Detail."

How would you cite an entry on a page within a record set within a record collection?  Would you put the Record Set first, or the Record Collection (as above)?

I am very excited to have this seemingly complete Record Collection available online. has some of these same records (they don't have Sudbury yet), but they are not as well organized as these records are.  However, what has is indexed, and the FamilySearch record set is not indexed to date.

I will have more comments about the navigation to the images, and the manipulation of the images in a future post.

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver


Geolover said...

Randy, thanks for the heads-up on this -- I have some outstanding Lancaster and Bolton items to look for!

As for your citation, when getting the image data from a microfilm collection, wouldn't the microfilm number be a requisite element?

You say does not have Sudbury images "yet." Are you sure that the selective microfilm collection they've uploaded included this?

Jody Jones said...

Wow - what an amazing resource. Even if I didn't have several ancestral families listed in the records, it still would be a thrill to browse through these amazing images. Thanks for posting about their availability.