Difference between revisions of "Massachusetts Vital Records"

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(Updated contact and holding information for the Massachusetts Archives.)
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== Adoption Records  ==
Like most all states, Massachusetts seals the records of adoption that include the original birth certificate with the biological parents. These records stay sealed unless opened by court order. Who can see this sealed information is limited by [http://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/state/index.cfm?event=stateStatutes.showSearchForm law]. There is no way a person can know they are adopted without being told by someone. There are several registries online set up to assist adoptees and biological parents help find each other. To order your [http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/laws-regs/dph/regs-u-z/public-health-regulations-vital-records.html pre-adoption birth certificate], download the [http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/docs/dph/vital-records/pre-adoption-memo.pdf instructions] and [http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/docs/dph/vital-records/pre-adoption-app-form.pdf form].<br><br>To learn more about the history of adoption in Massachusetts, see Joseph Ben-Or, "The Law of Adoption in the United States: Its Massachusetts Origins and the Statute of 1851" in ''The New England Historical and Genealogical Register'', 130 [1976]: 259-269, and online at [http://www.americanancestors.org/PageDetail.aspx?recordId=235492719 American Ancestors] ($).
<center>Thanks to the [http://massmayflower.org Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants] for their contributions to this page </center> <!--Designed by Scott Andrew Bartley in conjunction with the Mass. Wiki Team on 20 August 2012--> 
[[Category:Massachusetts Vital Records]]
[[Category:Massachusetts Vital Records]]

Revision as of 15:45, 13 September 2020

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The FamilySearch moderator for Massachusetts is Lee Drew.

This data has been superseded by the Vital Records section on the new Massachusetts Genealogy Guide. Go there to find much more information and more online record links.

Birth, Marriage, and Death Records[edit | edit source]

  • Dates:
  • The recording of these records was ordered by the government as early as 1639, though not all places followed the law. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts was the first state to create a permanent, statewide recording system starting in 1841. It is notable that the city of Boston lagged behind in reporting to the state and its records do not show up in the state system until a tougher regulation was implemented in 1850 (though the city did record these records locally).
  • Accessing the records:
  • The original record still is found with the clerk of the town or city. Both Massachusetts Bay Colony Genealogy and Plymouth Colony Genealogy started to collect these records in a central location, but the practice died out by the mid-17th Century. The only vital records closed to the public are the original births of amended records and those can be opened by a judge.
  • All these records back to the earliest settlement of a town can always be viewed at the 'town or city clerk’s office.
  • Almost all town and city vital records have been microfilmed by the Family History Library and microfiched by the Holbrook Research Institute' of Oxford, Mass. [now Archive Publishing of Provo, Utah]. This tends to be the most complete record of the event.
  • For records after 1841, here should be a second copy with the state which sometimes has abbreviated information from the original. This second copy is the most widely available source for researchers. It has been preserved by the same two vendors listed above and can be found online in a variety of places and forms as listed below.

Pre-1850 and "Tan Books"[edit | edit source]

Before 1900, a few towns started publishing their own vital records in book form. The records were usually re-arranged into alphabetical order but separated by births, marriages, and deaths. Church and private records were added to get a more complete record and were clearly noted. The Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants published a few of these volumes along with the Systematic History Fund (a state fund); Essex Institute in Salem; Topsfield Historical Society, and others. The greatest number were published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston, in part from their Eddy Town-Record Fund. About two-thirds of the state (roughly 236 towns) has been published from the original town records and a few still are being released today. Check the Massachusetts Online Vital Records Research Guide for a listing of the towns published so far. There are links to some online versions below. A search in Google will reveal many town / region specific sites that have reproduced the volumes online or pdf versions available for downloading.

Tan Books[edit | edit source]

For most Massachusetts towns, the New England Historical & Genealogical Society, the Salem Institute, and several other entities published the vital records of the town up to 1850 as part of a somewhat coordinated project. These are called the "Tan Books." Because they were published in the early 20th century, they are out of copyright and are widely available in digitized form. When entities such as Ancestry advertise databases containing vital records up to 1850, they are usually talking only about these books.--Massachusetts Online Vital Records Research Guide

Pre-1850 Online[edit | edit source]

FamilySearch.com (free)

AmericanAncestors.org ($)

Ancestry.com ($)

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Findmypast.com ($)

1841 - 1925[edit | edit source]

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts was the first state to create statewide vital records in the modern sense starting in 1841. The Massachusetts Archives currently holds original manuscript vital records for the years 1841 to 1925. To find out how to research vital records this time period, visit the Archives website.

Massachusetts Archives
220 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston MA 02125
Phone 617-727-2816
Hours and Directions

Researchers can view digital images of vital records through the links available on the Archives website.

Certified copies of births, marriages, and deaths can be ordered in person or by mail only, as pre-payment is required. Instructions for ordering certified copies of vital records are listed on the Archives website.

Except in rare circumstances, the Archives does not provide non-certified photocopies of vital records through the mail.

In addition to standard births, marriages, and deaths, the Archives holds the amended and corrected vital records through v. 86.

Researchers should note that the City of Boston did not begin comprehensive vital records reporting until approximately 1850.

Massachusetts Vital Records are available online in these additional locations:

New England Historic Genealogical Society
99 - 101 Newbury Street
Boston MA 02116
Phone 888-296-3447

The NEHGS has two online databases at their American Ancestors website for 1841 to 1910 and 1911 to 1915. You must be a member of the Society to access these indexes and the actual records which are linked from this index. The records are searchable in the same manner as the Mass. Archives above, though the last name can be searched by Soundex. If you go to the library, there are book indexes in five-year blocks for births, 1900-1950, marriages, 1900-1955, 1966-1970, and deaths, 1900-1980. They also have the amended birth records indexes for to 1929 (1 v.) [going back to 1841], to 1944 (2 v.), to 1962 (3 v.), to 1965 (1 v.), and to 1968 (1 v.). These indexes beyond 1920 are not generally available elsewhere.

Family History Library
35 North West Temple Street
Salt Lake City UT 84150
Phone 866-406-1830

This library and its many branches (where you can borrow the microfilm for a small fee) will have all the same records as listed above. You can access online for free:

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1926 - Present[edit | edit source]

The original state records are held by:

Registry of Vital Records and Statistics
150 Mount Vernon St., 1st Floor
Dorchester MA 02125
Phone 617-740-2600
Email vital.recordsrequest@state.ma.us
They have limited research hours

This office only makes certified copies of vital records. There are several ways to purchase copies both online and in person. This office also has the amended birth records after v. 42 (1900) and a statewide index to divorces from 1952 to the present (though the record itself will be with the probate court). There is a computerized index for the most recent records and five-year block indexes for births, marriages, and deaths onsite.

Every five years, another block of five years is transferred to the State Archives and at the same time is made available through the New England Historic Genealogical Society and to the Family History Library. This office restricts access only by the fact that they are the only ones with the records. These records are open to the public. The original town copies are always open to the public.

Ancestry.com has the following (index only):

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Divorce Records[edit | edit source]

Divorce records have been handled by the probate court system since 1922 and commonly filed where the couple last lived together. These are public records (with minor exceptions). There is a statewide index that starts in 1952 at the Registry listed above. Before that, the county Superior Court had jurisdiction. From 1786 to 1887, all cases were administered through the Supreme Judicial Court. All these records are held at the Judicial Archives in the Mass. Archives facility. The earliest divorce records are scattered through a variety of courts who held joint jurisdiction.

The Supreme Judicial Court created a fact sheet for the public in 2004 and the summary of it is below:

Dates Description
1639-1692 Divorce petitions were filed in a variety of courts, including the county courts, the General Court, and the Court of Assistants. Records of the General Court and the Court of Assistants have been published. The Original records are available in the Suffolk Files Collection, the Massachusetts Archives Collection, and in the county courts.
1692-1775 Divorces were heard by the Governor and Council (from 1755 to 1757, six petitions were heard by the General Court). The original records are found in the Massachusetts Archives Collection, Suffolk Files Collection, and the county courts.
1775-1785 The Council had jurisdiction then. Search for them in the Massachusetts Archives Collection and the Council records.
1785-1796 The Massachusetts Acts and Resolves granted jurisdiction over divorce to the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC). These original records are in the Suffolk Files Collection. Check the microfilm "county index" in the Archives reading room. They will refer to various SJC Record Books. See the chart below for these record books.
1796-1887 The divorce will be in the Supreme Judicial Court in the county in which the couple was residing. Most of the Record Books are indexed (see location chart below). These records will have a summary of the grounds for divorce, date and place of marriage, where the couple lived until the divorce, and sometimes the names and ages of the children. The file papers are generally in the year and term that the divorce was finalized (i.e. six months after it was granted) and arranged by docket (case) number. Post 1860 file papers are in off-site storage. See the Judicial Archivist for information to see these records.
1887 Jurisdiction over divorces was moved to the Superior Court. These records are indexed chronologically in separate divorce docket books. The Judicial Archives (in the same building with the Mass. Archives) has divorce indexes and/or docket books on microfilm in the Archives reading room for all counties except for Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket counties. Those are in their respective Superior Court.
1922 The Probate and Family Court began hearing divorce concurrently with the Superior, though most came to this court. Each probate court kept alphabetical indexes to these records. There is a statewide index since 1952 at the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics (listed above).

For the location of the records, use the chart below that was created by the Supreme Judicial Court Archives in 2004:

Location of Massachusetts Divorce Records
County Supreme Judicial Court SJC Microfilm Superior Court SC Microfilm
Barnstable All records in courthouse n/a n/a n/a
Berkshire SJC Record Books in the Judicial Archives and microfilm available at the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield n/a SC records and index card file in Judicial Archives 1888-1927 in Archives Reading Room
Bristol SJC Record Books in the Judicial Archives 1862-1889 in Archives Reading Room SC Divorce dockets in the Judicial Archives. The file papers in the Superior Court, Taunton Divorce Dockets in Archives Reading Room
Dukes n/a n/a n/a n/a
Essex SJC Record Books in courthouse, Salem, and file papers in off-site storage. A consolidated index, 1785-1904, on microfilm in Archives Reading Room 1797-1820 in Archives Reading Room 1887-1927 SC Divorce indexes in Judicial Archives and file papers in off-site storage.
Probate Court Divorce Index, 1922-1944, in Judicial Archives and file papers in off-site storage
See consolidated index in Archives Reading Room
Franklin SJC Record Books in Judicial Archives and file papers in off-site storage 1872-1887 in Archives Reading Room SC Divorce Record Books in Judicial Archives. The index is at the courthouse in Greenfield. The file papers are in off-site storage In Archives Reading Room
Hampden SJC Record Books in Judicial Archives and file papers in off-site storage SJC Divorce Index in Archives Reading Room SC Divorce Dockets and file papers in off-site storage Divorce Index in Archives Reading Room
Hampshire SJC Record Books and file papers in Judicial Archives n/a SC Divorce Record Books in Judicial Archives and file papers in off-site storage n/a
Middlesex SJC Record Books in Judicial Archives 1807-1887 in Archives Reading Room SC Divorce Dockets in Judicial Archives and file papers in off-site storage 1887-1938 in Archives Reading Room
Nantucket All records in courthouse n/a n/a n/a
Norfolk SJC Record Books in Judicial Archives n/a SC Divorce Dockets in Judicial Archives and file papers in off-site storage n/a
Plymouth SJC Record Books in Judicial Archives 1813-1889 in Archives Reading Room SC Dockets and index in Judicial Archives and file papers in off-site storage Dockets and index in Archives Reading Room
Suffolk SJC Record Books and file papers in Judicial Archives 1760-1786 in Archives Reading Room and 1786-1804 in Suffolk Files Collection SC Divorce Record Books and index in Superior Court Civil Clerk's office and file papers in off-site storage 1887-1916 in Archives Reading Room
Worcester SJC Record Books in Judicial Archives 1797-1887 in Archives Reading Room SC Divorce Dockets (1887-1890 vol. missing) and index in Judicial Archives and file papers in off-site storage 1887-1936 Docket Books and index in Archives Reading Room
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