In New England, the town clerk is the local record keeper. The earliest records are called proprietors' records. Town records generally begin with the founding of a town and are kept to the present.
Town records may contain records of births, marriages, burials, cemeteries, appointments, earmarks, estrays (records of stray animals), freemen's oaths (men becoming eligible to vote), land records, mortgages, name changes, care of the poor, school records, surveys, tax lists, town meeting minutes, voter registrations, and "warnings out" (of town).
The Family History Library has microfilms of town council and town meeting records for most Rhode Island towns. These generally date from the settlement of the town to the 1880s. Some records have been transcribed and published, such as ''The Early Records of the Town of Providence'', 21 Volumes. (Providence, Rhode Island: Snow and Farnham, City Printers, 1892-1915; FHL book 974.52 N2p; on 8 films beginning with film 418109).
Smith, Joseph Jencks. ''Civil and Military Lists of Rhode Island''. Two Volumes. Providence, Rhode Island: Preston and Rounds, 1901. (FHL book 974.5 N2s; films 925437-38; fiche 6046905.)