Massachusetts Vital Records
Locating and Obtaining Copies of Birth, Marriage, and Death Records.
Here are examples of our transcribed records as PDFs:
The kind of information in each Massachusetts birth, marriage, and death record can vary tremendously based on the era and kind of record. That can be a state certificate, a town or city certificate, or a "register style" record from the State Archives.
Indexes, Databases, and Online Records
There is no contemporary "Official State" index of all birth, marriage, and death records online.
However, paid subscribers to ancestry.com can see some birth, marriage, and death record indexes online.
The index will give you a name, year, volume. and page number.
Unfortunately, the actual records are not online.
Here are examples:
FamilySearch.org has some free indexes and actual documents online, primarily older vital records. For example:
Record Availability and Restricted Access
"Most vital records in the state, including birth, marriage, divorce, and death records, are considered public records and can be viewed or purchased by anyone."
State law does restrict access to some records. Those not accessible to the public include sealed, impounded, or restricted documents. These can consist of adoptions, birth out of wedlock, marriage under the legal age, or any marriage in which one of the spouses was born out of wedlock. In addition, there is "about a 100-year-old hold" on those types of records. The Massachusetts Archives allows the viewing of restricted documents after 100 years.
This "open access" policy is highly unusual because most states do not allow access for a specified time. For example, the neighboring state of Rhode Island does not allow access to death records until 50 years after the event and 100 years for births and marriages.
How Are Vital Records Created in Massachusetts?
Massachusetts has one of the most complete and preserved collections of vital records of any state in the country. As early as 1841, it was the first state in the country to attempt a statewide centralization of vital records.
Because of that centralization, researchers looking for Massachusetts public records have the good fortune, if they choose, of searching two sets of documents.
First, the town or city clerk where a birth, marriage, or death occurred must record the event, creating an initial document. Then, a copy of this record is forwarded to the state recording office, resulting in two sets of documents.
Researchers will find this system particularly advantageous since the statewide indexes enable them to locate the records, even when the event's town, city, or county is unknown.
Researchers can access records directly from the local town or city clerk's office if the town or city is known. Again, it is beneficial when dealing with a common surname such as Smith, Jones, or Brown.
Occasionally, the state received only some of a city or town's vital records. While this was rare, it did happen. Additionally, some vital record information was not reported to the state, though this is also rare. Furthermore, not all vital events were recorded, particularly in pre-20th-century records. Despite minor document gaps, the state's current statewide repository of vital records has two main collections. If you have questions, consult both locations for complete details.
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