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are "original" vital records?
The original vital records that we film include births,
deaths, and marriages registered in various styles of
handwriting, with dates beginning 1620. Kept in bound volumes,
these records are in the custody of the town and city clerks
What indexes exist for the original vital records?
Many of the old, vital-record manuscripts are arranged
alphabetically or include indexes. If not, most towns have
since provided some type of indexing. Further, state-wide
indexes contain data as early as 1841, and become mostly
complete by 1844. We have microfiches of the state-wide
death indexes from 1841-1895, with later dates available at the
Massachusetts State Archives.
about the printed vital records, the tan books found in many
public libraries? I thought they were original records?
The old, printed series to 1850 provides vital records for
about 2/3 of the 351 towns in Massachusetts. Apparently copied
from transcripts of original vital records–and supplemented
with Bible, cemetery and other records, these books are
usually accurate. Most books arrange names alphabetically.
But, they often omit detail found in the original records,
especially that related to family relationships.
are "The Transcripts to 1850"?
"The Transcripts to 1850"
are a collection of 192
volumes at the Massachusetts State Archives. They are copies
of original vital record manuscripts in 179 towns. Probably
they were the basis for the old printed series. For the most
part, the "Transcripts" have easy-to-read
handwriting and dark ink.
vital records do not show the persons I seek, what other
types of town records might identify them?
Other types of town records provide lists of proprietors,
jurors, town officers, taxpayers, militia, voters, paupers,
members, and dog owners. Further, minutes of town
meetings, records of the Selectmen, town accounts, and
mortgages all tell of town residents–and some non-residents.
are proprietor records?
The first land owners in a town became the
"proprietors". Sometimes they settled in the town;
sometimes they sold their land without settling. Many towns
have one or two early books that list the proprietors,
together with descriptions of their property. For an example
of proprietors, see the
proprietor's list of 1736.
is found in Mortgage Books?
These records, variously referenced as "Mortgages
& Deeds", "Bargains and Sales",
"Chattel Mortgages", or "Deeds", contain
descriptions of personal property being sold on credit by town
residents; e.g., kitchen utensils, furniture, tools, wagons,
animals, and machinery. Sometimes they include sales of pew
deeds. These mortgages do not, as a general rule, deal with
are Marriage Intentions?
All betrothed couples were required to publish their
intentions to marry in their town of residence, allowing
sufficient time for anyone to object to the union. If an
objection prevailed, the marriage was banned; some of these
objections make very humorous reading. These records are
variously referenced as intentions, publishments, or banns.
Marriage intentions began with the law of 1695,
an act to prevent incestuous marriages."
How did town clerks format the vital records?
Before 1844, town clerks recorded the births, marriages, and
deaths at the time of the
event either in a separate vital record book;
or they interspersed the vital
records with the town minutes.
Hingham births 1635.
Besides the chronological listing of vital events, some clerks
elected to arrange the births, marriages, and deaths form
1620-1843 by families. See
Charlemont births and
deaths 1803, or Douglas
Beginning in 1844, the state
required town clerks to keep the vital records in a large 17 by
24 inch double-page register separate from the town minutes. The
state even furnished the register. The first of these registers
generally covered the years 1844 to about 1854 and combined all
the births, marriages and deaths into one volume. Once the clerk
filled this register, they began keeping separate
individual birth, marriage and death registers.
Additionally, the state passed a law in 1850 that required the
clerks to keep indexes for these vital record registers.