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Massachusetts Public Records

   
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How To Search Public and Vital Records - Vital records are records of life events important enough that some level of government acquires, organizes, and preserves them. While the term "vital records" is often applied to a wide variety of life events... Read more
 
Massachusetts Vital Records
No state in the Union can boast the depth and breadth of vital records sources that is available in Massachusetts. Starting with the arrival of the Pilgrims, vital events have been diligently, although not completely, recorded, preserved, and published. Vital records have been registered in Massachusetts since 1635. Statewide data collection began in 1841. 206 (out of 364) towns had all their vital records to 1850 published under the Systematic Series, and are available at the Massachusetts State Archives and the FHL, as well as select other repositories. Other towns' vital records have been published or microfilmed since publication of the Systematic Series. There is no state-wide index which includes all the towns' records for vital events before 1841. This makes it necessary to know the appropriate town in which to locate a record before that date.
The Registry of Vital Records and Statistics in the Department of Public Health has the records of births, deaths and marriages for Massachusetts from 1906 to the present. Every five years the earliest five years of records maintained at the Registry are transferred to the custody of the State Archives. The next transfer will occur in 2001. After the transfer any restrictions that may be on the transferred records will be removed. Records from 1841-1905 are located at The State Archives. The city or town clerk in the city or town where the event occurred has all records prior to 1841. Also, copies of records since 1841 are available at the city or town where the event occurred.

For birth and death records after 1 January 1906, write:

Massachusetts Department of Public Health
Registry of Vital Records & Statistics
470 Atlantic Avenue, 2nd Floor
Boston, MA 02210
Tel: 617-753-8600
http://www.state.ma.us/dph/vitrecs.htm

For records between 1841-1905, write:

Massachusetts State Archives
220 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, MA 02125
Tel: 617-727-4319
Fax: 617-288-4505
Email: archives@mecn.mass.edu
http://www.magnet.state.ma.us/sec/arc/arcidx.htm

Massachusetts Land Records
Land ownership in Massachusetts descended initially from colony to proprietor and eventually to private ownership by individuals. The general court for each colony, acting as a legislative body, established towns by granting to a group of proprietors blocks of land. The proprietors then divided the land among the settlers in the town. See Roy Akagi, The Town Proprietors of the New England Colonies (1924; reprint, Gloucester: P. Smith, 1963). Published grants before county formation (1643 in Massachusetts Bay, 1685 in Plymouth) are found among the records of the colony, and in Nathaniel B. Shurtleff and David Pulsifer, eds., Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, 1620–1691, 12 vols. (Boston: Commonwealth Printer, 1855–61)

When a county system became established, land transactions became part of the county's records. Eventually, land was sold by proprietors to individuals and then sold between individuals in the form of deeds. While the usual location for deeds is the county seat, larger counties were later divided into districts. For more information on these districts, consult Alice Eichholz, editor, Ancestry's Redbook: American State, County, and Town Sources. (Salt Lake City: Ancestry, Inc., 1992). The County Resources section below clarifies the later divisions in counties. The FHL also has microfilm copies of early through mid nineteenth-century deeds.

Massachusetts Court Records
Court records entail probate records, guardianship, naturalization, and a wide variety of other sources. It should be remembered that there are different levels of jurisdiction for courts in the United States, all of which should be considered for research under various circumstances. Court of Common Pleas, Orphan's Court, Probate Court, District Court, Superior Court, and Supreme Court. See: "Research in Court Records" by Arlene H. Eakle, found in Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, eds., The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1997).

Massachusetts Military Records
Many of Massachusetts' military records have been published. The records in print for earlier periods of conflict are covered in George M. Bodge's Soldiers in King Philip's War (1896; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1967) and six volumes jointly published by the Society of Colonial Wars in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and New England Historic Genealogical Society: Mary E. Donahue, ed., Massachusetts Officers and Soldiers, 1702-1722; Myron O. Strachiw, ed., Massachusetts Officers and Soldiers, 1723-1743: Dummer's War to the War of Jenkins' Ear (both published in 1980); Robert E. Mackay, ed., Massachusetts Soldiers in the French and Indian Wars, 1744-1755 (pub. 1978); Nancy S. Voye, ed., Massachusetts Officers in the French and Indian Wars, 1748-1763 (pub. 1975); and Doreski, Carol, ed., Massachusetts Officers and Soldiers in the Seventeenth Century Conflicts (pub. 1982).

Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War (Boston: Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1896-1908) is comprised of seventeen volumes. Twenty-thousand names found after the publication were entered on cards and are on microfilm at Massachusetts State Archives and New England Historic Genealogical Society. War of 1812 (Records of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia Called Out by the Governor of Massachusetts to Suppress a Threatened Invasion during the War of 1812-14 (Boston: Adjutant General's Office, 1913)) and Civil War (Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the Civil War. (Norwood, MA: Norwood Press, 1932)) are both covered in print and usually available at research libraries with New England collections.

Original extant records for the period 1643-1783 are at Massachusetts State Archives, as well as some materials related to Shays' Rebellion, the War of 1812, and the Spanish American War. Civil War records and later, including the Korean War, are at the Adjutant General's office, War Records, 100 Cambridge Street, Boston, MA 02202. The Massachusetts Military History Research Institute, 143 Speen Street, Natick, MA 01760, has an excellent collection of material from 1774 through the Vietnam War with a heavy concentration on the Civil War. For further reference, see:

Neagles, James C. U.S. Military Records: A Guide to Federal and State Sources. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, Inc., 1994.

Additional Sources
Bowen, Richard LaBarron. Massachusetts Records: A Handbook for Genealogist, Historians, Lawyers, and Other Researchers. Rehoboth: privetly printed, 1957.

Schweitzer, George K. Massachusetts Genealogical Research. Knoxville: the author, 1990.

Marcia Wiswall Lindberg's Genealogist's Handbook for New England Research. Boston: The New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1985.

Crandall, Ralph J., editor. Genealogical Research in New England. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1984.


Massachusetts Vital Records:

Event: Birth or death

Cost of copy: In person: $6.00, Mail request: $11.00
State Archives: $3.00

Address:
Registry of Vital Records and Statistics
470 Atlantic Avenue, 2nd Floor
Boston, MA 02210-2224

Remarks: State office has records since 1906. For earlier records, write to The Massachusetts Archives at Columbia Point, 220 Morrissey Boulevard, Boston, MA 02125 (617) 727-2816.

Check or money order should be made payable to Registry of Vital Records. Personal checks are accepted. To verify current fees, the telephone number is (617) 753-8600. This will be a recorded message.

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Event: Marriage (State)

Cost of copy: In person: $6.00, Mail request: $11.00
State Archives: $3.00

Address:
Registry of Vital Records and Statistics
470 Atlantic Avenue, 2nd Floor
Boston, MA 02210-2224

Remarks: Records since 1906.


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Event: Divorce (State)

Cost of copy: See remarks

Address:
Registry of Vital Records and Statistics
470 Atlantic Avenue, 2nd Floor
Boston, MA 02210-2224

Remarks: Index only since 1952. Inquirer will be directed where to send request. Certified copies are not available from State office.


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Event: Divorce (county)

Cost of copy: $3.00

Address: See remarks

Remarks: Registrar of Probate Court in county where divorce was granted.

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