Information on this page explains how to locate vital records, such as births, marriages and deaths prior to state registration in 1841 and as far back as the early 17th century.
Most importantly, you can find out what type of information is contained in each Massachusetts birth, marriage or death record.
How can I find a birth, marriage or death record that occurred after 1841?
What about vital records that occurred after 1930 and up through yesterday?
How much detail is in these vital records? Will a death record give the parents name of the deceased?
My grandparents were divorced sometime in the early 1950's or 1960's. Can I order a copy of their divorce?
"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, Massachusetts
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.
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 acknowledgment
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.
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.