Massachusetts Vital Records.
Birth, Marriage and Death.
1635 - 1841

 
  • Massachusetts genealogy. Information on this page explains how to locate vital records, such as births, marriages and deaths prior to state registration in 1841.

  • Most importantly, you can find out what type of information is contained in each Massachusetts birth, marriage or death record.

    Frequently Asked Questions:


"Massachusetts law requires town and city clerks to record all vital events occurring in that town or city."

This system has been in place for the last 300 odd years. Beginning in 1841 however, the state government required copies of each vital record be forwarded to a central state office. This means that basically, two sets of records exist for almost every birth, marriage and death since 1841.

Prior to 1841, there was only one set of records. These vital records were generally maintained by a town or city clerk. Each town clerk recorded varying degrees of information as there was no state set wide standard. The result is a haphazard collection of vital records that can sometimes be extremely frustrating to find, read and or copy.

Primary Location of Most Original Vital Records Before 1841:

Town or City Hall
 


Research Basics


As previously mentioned, the original material still remains in the custody of a city or town clerk. These documents can be found in the city or town hall of record. 

There are also other options.

The Massachusetts Archives (as well as numerous genealogical and public libraries) do hold some printed volumes of pre-1850 vital records, arranged alphabetically by city or town. However, these are not original records. The collection is also incomplete and does not include all 365 odd Massachusetts cities and towns.

The Records

In order to view an original town or city record, you must personally visit and view the material yourself, or write to a city or town hall clerk and request a photocopy. The problem with the photocopy however, is that most of the older records cannot be photocopied due to their fragile condition. 

If you are planning an in person research trip, you should call ahead and request an appointment. Some town clerks may not specifically make this request but they will definitely appreciate the acknowledgement

Remember, the town or city clerks of today are generally very busy people who are dealing with present day situations.

Taking care of a mail request from say, someone in Texas who is looking for a birth record in 1825 is generally not on a high list of priorities. That's just the way it is. They will get to it  -  just when is the question.

Experience has taught us that town clerks, in general, are much more receptive to a smiling face than an impersonal mail request. In fact, sometimes you can get and find an important bonus! We are sure you will agree, there is nothing like working with original records at their original locations!

The staff at mass-doc.com is certainly aware however, that not everyone has the advantage of an "up close and personal visit". To help visitors locate a town or city office, the state of Massachusetts has compiled a directory of city and towns. This directory includes a mailing address, phone and fax number and, best of all, hours of operation. Researchers should take note that smaller, rural towns, especially in the western part of the state, are open only limited hours.

Alternatives

Another option available to researchers, especially to out of state researchers, is the availability of viewing or purchasing, mostly pre-1900 vital records on microfiche. This momentous work is called the Holbrook Collection.

This collection consists of microfiche copies of original records from almost every town in the state. The collection includes births, marriages, deaths and some cemetery, church and town records. The entire collection consists of over 22,000 individual fiche.

Researchers can access the complete collection (to date) at the main branch of the Boston Public Library. The New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) library is also gradually adding this series to its collection. The Massachusetts Archives also has some of the collection, mainly for towns in the far western part of the state.

Depending on dates and events filmed, most town and city events cover several fiche. The fiche collection for the town of Easton, for example, includes births, marriages and deaths from 1725 -1913 and town records from 1732-1840. This  collection of town vitals and records, very small in comparison to other towns and cities, spans 63 microfiche. Researchers would be well served to first purchase indexes and then the particular fiche that contains the records in question. Larger cities, such as Boston can cover hundreds of fiche.

The staff at mass-doc.com has compiled a directory of all available towns that have been filmed by the Holbrook Institute staff. The span of dates included on the fiche collection are listed in the directory.

The letter (T) next to a town's name in the directory, means that the records are abstracted - they are not the original documents; the letter (M) indicates marriages only on the fiche.

Also, be aware that this ten year plus project is a work in progress. Not all towns have been completed.

The research staff mass-doc.com only provide vital record research before 1841 as part of an overall family history project or extended research project. If you're looking for only a single or even a few of these very early vital records, you should directly contact the local town or city clerk. 

If you are interested in an overall family history project please send us an email for a quote. We bill on an hourly basis for this type of research and we only take on a very few of these projects each month.  

Depending on the complexity of the research project, we average a backlog of about 4 - 6 weeks for complete or partial family history projects, sometimes longer. In your e-mail, please provide as much detail as you can about your intended search. Please be sure and tell us what kind of research you have already completed and with which records you consulted. We certainly don't want to repeat your efforts.

For additional vital record information held at the town or city level, researchers should consult the list of city and towns and then either call or write to that particular town clerk.


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Contents of Massachusetts Vital Records ] [ Massachusetts Vital Records From 1635 - 1841 ] Massachusetts Vital Records From 1841 - 1920 ] Massachusetts Vital Records From 1921 - 2014 - Order Online! ] Massachusetts Divorce Record Files - Order Online! ]

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