Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Tuesday's Tip: Research in Massachusetts, Birth Records, 1841-1915 Collections

The record collection for the Massachusetts, Birth Records, 1841-1915  is one of my favorite collections.  This collection is available on:

*  Ancestry.com ($$):   3,829,626 entries ( 
https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/mavitalrecords/ )

*  American Ancestors ($$):  part of the "Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841-1910" and "1911-1915" collections which include births, marriages and deaths.

*  FamilySearch (Free): 3,817,626 entries  ( 
https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1536925 )

The description of the collection on the Ancestry collection page says:
Family historians with roots in the Bay State will be thrilled to know that Massachusetts ranks high when it comes to keeping vital records, with some dating back to early Colonial days. Records were kept on the town level, but in 1841 towns began sending copies of birth, marriage, and death records to the Secretary of the Commonwealth. Although not all towns complied immediately, most did, and birth records from that state-level collection are the source for this database.
What You Can Find in These Records
Most of the records in this database are from birth registers, although you may find certificates for later years. Details can include the following:
  • child’s name
  • birthplace
  • gender
  • date of the registration
  • birth date
  • parents’ names (and in many later records, mother’s maiden name)
  • father’s occupation
  • parents’ residence
  • Additionally, some records include the parents’ birthplaces.
Because availability may vary somewhat from town to town, use the browse menus to determine what years are available for the towns where your ancestors lived. Combine your research with the Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620–1988 collection (the Holbrook Collection), which provides more coverage of earlier years, to get an even more comprehensive look at Massachusetts vital records.
The index for the years 1911-1915 was received from NEHGS. Earlier years were transcribed by Ancestry.com.
        We recognize that some of the images are of poor quality and can be difficult to                 read. Unfortunately, this is not something we are able to correct.
I entered several exact surnames in the "Last Name" search field and found (on FamilySearch):

*  1,274 for "Seaver"       (501 on Ancestry)
*  19 for "Seavers"
*  4 for "Seever"
*  0 for "Seevers"
*  51 for "Sever"             (25 on Ancestry)
*  6  for "Severs"

*  0 for "Carringer"
*  0 for "Caringer"

*  18 for "Vaux"

*  0 for "Auble"

*  85,297 for "Smith"    (33,088 on Ancestry)

The difference between an exact Ancestry search and an exact FamilySearch search is surprising.  Although Ancestry has about the same number of indexed records, they have less than half of the Seaver names of interest to me.  That may be because Ancestry indexed only the child's name and not the parent's names, and FamilySearch indexed the child's and parent's names.  This tells me I really need to search this collection on FamilySearch also!

Here is an example of a record summary from this collection on Ancestry:

The actual record on Ancestry looks like this:

The record summary on FamilySearch for this same person is:

The actual record looks like this on FamilySearch:

It is important to understand what this collection represents and includes.  Persons born in Massachusetts between 1841 and 1915 are listed.  The coverage was spotty in the first years of mandated registration, but was fairly complete in the later years.

These record sets were compiled by the State of Massachusetts from record forms created by every town in Massachusetts from citizen reports each year.  The record forms for each town were copied by the town clerk's office and submitted to the state.  The state bound the town reports into books by County and Year.  At some time, FamilySearch put them on microfilm, and perhaps NEHGS did also.  Either the state or NEHGS created a last name index for these records for every five years.  They are on FamilySearch microfilm also.  

Before these records were digitized, the research process was to view the last name indexes to find the entries by last name, then view the specific record volume for the specific county, town, and year.  Because the state record books were in the state offices, many of the early pages in a specific volume were damaged or torn due to handling.  I spent most of the 1990s mining this collection (and the marriage and death collections) for Seaver persons at the local Family History Center and also at NEHGS on three research trips there.

These birth records are Derivative Sources, but the birth name and date, parents names, addresses, occupations and  information is Primary Information and Direct Evidence of those items.  The home address, employment information, nearest relative and physical description are Primary Information and Direct Evidence also.  The "original" source for many of these records are the town record books in which births were recorded.  Many of them are still extant, but some have been transcribed over time.

For those interested in mining this record collection for Hints of persons in their Ancestry Member Tree, the Ancestry.com database number is 5062.  Currently, I have over 460 Hints for persons in my Ancestry Member Tree who are indexed in this record collection.  I work on them occasionally, adding content and source citations to profiles in my RootsMagic family tree.  Of course, I have many more accepted Hints from this collection already in my Ancestry Member Tree.

I typically source the person's name, birth date and place, parent's names, address and parent's occupation, in my RootsMagic family tree.


NOTE:  Tuesday's Tips is a genealogy blog meme intended to provide information about a resource helpful to genealogists and family historians, especially in the online genea-world.

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