Birth, Marriage, and Death Records
The original vital record resides in the town or city where the event occurred (in colonial times, a family group of birth can include events from other towns). The recording of these records was ordered by the government as early as 1639, though not all places followed the law. Both Massachusetts Bay and Plimoth Colonies started to collect these records in a central location, but the practice died out by the mid-17 th Century. 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).
The original record still is found with the clerk of the town or city. All these records back to the earliest settlement of a town can always be viewed at the town or city clerk’s office. Most 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. Since 1841, there should be a second copy with the state and 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 on online in a variety of places and forms as listed below.
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 Mass. Town Pre-1850 Published Vital Records 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.
[subscription required - AmericanAncestors.org]
Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850
[subscription required - Ancestry.com]
1841 - 1920 [upate for 1916 to 1920 records]
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts was the first state to create statewide vital records in the modern sense starting in 1841. It is notable that the city of Boston lagged behind reporting to the state and its records do not show up at the state until about 1850 (though the city maintained its own records before then). The original state records are held by:
Visitors can make their own copies from the microfilmed copies or request certified copies per their rules. The archives only has the amended records up to v. 42 (1900). They have an online index to the records for 1841 to 1910 that is searchable for first name, last name, town, start year, end year, and type of record. Note that this is exact spelling searches only. Records can be ordered by email. No more than five requests per order and they are billed with your photocopies.
These records can be viewed online in two locations:
New England Historic Genealogical Society
The NEHGS has two online indexes 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.), to 1944 (2 v.), to 1962 (3 v.), to 1965 (1 v.), and to 1968 (1 v.).
Family History Library
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:
Ancestry.com (subscription required) has the following index only:
1921 - present
The original state records are held by:
This office only makes certified copies of vital records. Their are several ways to purchases 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.
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 adminstered 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:
For the location of the records, use the chart below that was created by the Supreme Judicial Court Archives in 2004:
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 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 pre-adoption birth certificate, download the form and instructions here.
Researched and created by Scott Andrew Bartley
Please report any broken links, additions, or corrections to the webmaster.
Page updated 16 June 2011