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Genealogy

Resources for researching your ancestors and your family history

Introduction

Vital Records are government produced records documenting births, marriages, and deaths, and they are important sources of information in genealogy research. They can contain information about a person’s residence or occupation in addition to information about their parents, spouse, or children.

This guide will provide an overview of using vital records for genealogical research.

Good Things to Know:

  • In Massachusetts, vital records are considered public and can be requested by anybody.
  • Some records, such as the original birth certificates of adoptees, may have restrictions to access.
  • Laws regarding the collection, maintenance, and access to vital records will vary from state to state.
  • Sources such as obituaries and baptism records may contain some of the same information as vital records but are not considered to be vital records.

Accessing Vital Records in Massachusetts

Records in MA are kept in different places depending upon when the records were produced. While many cities and towns in MA will have collections dating back to the year they were founded, MA state law did not officially mandate that such records be kept and copies forwarded to the state until 1841. There may then be some gaps in records prior to that time.

Where the Records Are:

  • Pre-1841: City or Town of Occurrence
    • ​Boston, 1630-present: Registry Division
    • Other Cities and Towns in Massachusetts: Town/City Clerk’s office
  • 1841-1925: City or Town of Occurrence and Massachusetts State Archives
  • 1926-present: City or Town of Occurrence and Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics

City of Boston Registry Division
1 City Hall Square, Room 213
Boston, MA 02201-2006
Phone: 617-635-4175
Email: registry@boston.gov
Website: https://www.boston.gov/departments/registry

The Registry Division takes requests in person, online, by mail and via phone. Fees vary depending on type of request.

Records for events occurring in other cities and towns in MA will be held by the Town/City Clerk’s office in each municipality. The procedure for requesting records will vary from place to place, as will any associated fees.

A good way to find the Town/City Clerk’s office is doing a Google search for the name of the town/city followed by “clerk” or “clerk’s office.” You can also try searching for the name of the town/city and “vital records.” Some examples are provided below:

Framingham clerk's office
Cambridge vital records
Springfield ma vital records

IMPORTANT NOTE: For towns/cities with common names that may also be used in another state, like Springfield, you may need to specify MA in your search terms.

Massachusetts State Archives
220 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston MA 02125
Phone: 617-727-2816
Email: archives@sec.state.ma.us
Website: https://www.sec.state.ma.us/arc/arcvitalrecords/vitalrecordsidx.htm

The State Archives take requests by mail and in-person only, copies cost $3 each.

Massachusetts 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
Website: https://www.mass.gov/orgs/registry-of-vital-records-and-statistics

The Registry takes requests online, by mail, on the phone, and in person. Fees vary from $20-$59.50 depending on the type of request.

Accessing Vital Records in Other States

Procedures regarding the collection, maintenance, and access of vital records will vary from state to state. If you know in which town/city in another state the event you are researching occurred in, your best bet is to contact the nearest library to that place and inquire about how to access vital records there. If you know the state the event occurred in but not the town/city, you will need to contact the state agency in charge of managing vital records for that state. Links to a few states’ policies regarding vital records have been provided below.

 

State Handling Agency Website
Connecticut State Vital Records Office State Vital Records Office Home
Maine  Division of Public Health Systems      Vital Records
New Hampshire      Vital Records Administration Vital Records Administration home page
Rhode Island Department of Health Birth, Death & Marriage Records
Vermont  Department of Health Vital Records & Population Data
California  Department of Public Health Vital Records
New York State Department of Health Birth, Death, Marriage & Divorce Records     

 

Other Ways to Get the Same Information

Birth announcements, engagement & wedding announcements, and obituaries can all be good sources of information.The BPL has an extensive collection of newspapers on microfilm, which you can read more about here. See also the obituary section of this guide for more information on researching obituaries.

The BPL also holds books containing published vital records, primarily for cities and towns in Massachusetts. Many of these are available in Bates Hall, located on the second floor of the library in Copley Square.  

Divorce Records
In Massachusetts, records related to divorces are held by Probate and Family Courts. In order to request a record related to a divorce, you will need to know which court handled the case as well the docket number.

If you do not know the probate court or docket number you need, the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics can look it up. More information is available on their website.

Probate Records
Probate records are held by the court located in the county in which they were filed.  Some historic records have been digitized and are available at AmericanAncestors.org. Records that have not been digitized will need to be requested at the probate court.

Church records can be a good resource for finding information about the births, marriages, and deaths of ancestors. Check out the Church Records section of this guide for more information.