The National Institute for Genealogical Studies

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The National Institute for Genealogical Studies - LEADERS IN ONLINE GENEALOGY EDUCATION

Original Records for Mayflower Research: Vital Records

Mayflower Research: Vital Records

Many 17th and 18th century New England vital records come in two forms—original and printed. An original record is the first recording of an event. Once it has been transcribed into printed form, that record becomes a derivative. Early birth, marriage, and death records are usually a little sparse and to the point. Birth records will generally not give the mother’s maiden name and occasionally not even her first name. Death records give the date, place, and often the age, while marriage records provide the date, and neither name parents. Vital records in the 19th and 20th centuries usually contain more information. In long form records, full parentage may be given in all three records and death records may also contain full birth information. In most cases, vital records may be obtained from the town clerk where the event occurred. Of the New England states, three have exceptionally good, early vital records: Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

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Connecticut

Town clerks began recording vital records around 1644 and in 1897 copies were being sent to the state office in Hartford. The websites American Ancestors, Ancestry, and FamilySearch include the Barbour Collection.

Maine

One thing to remember about Maine is that until 1820 it was a part of Massachusetts and up to 1760 was considered “York County, Massachusetts.” Vital records recorded before 1892 can be found at the town clerk’s office. Records between 1892-1923 are at the State Archives while records after 1923 are at the Office of Vital Records. The websites American Ancestors, FamilySearch, and Ancestry.com include databases for Maine vital records.

Massachusetts

New England Historic Genealogical Society’s website American Ancestors includes the database Massachusetts: Vital Records, 1620-1850 as well as others. Other Massachusetts vital records databases are available on FamilySearch and Ancestry.

New Hampshire

Town clerks began keeping vital records in New Hampshire in 1640, while state registration began in 1866. All original records can be found at both the town where the event occurred and the Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics in Concord.

Rhode Island

Towns began recording vital records in Rhode Island in 1636, although civil registration did not officially begin until 1853. James N. Arnold (1844-1927) spent seventeen years collecting records for his Vital Records of Rhode Island which were published between 1891-1912. He not only extracted entries from the town vital records, but from church records and newspapers up to 1850.

Vermont

Vital records were recorded in Vermont as early as 1760, however the record keeping was not kept up on a regular basis until 1857. Some published works regarding Vermont vital records include Vital Records of Putney, Vermont to the Year 1900 With Selected Additional Records, by Ken Stevens.

You can find Vermont vital records online at Ancestry, and earlier records starting in the 1700s can be found on FamilySearch and American Ancestors.

Learn more about these records and how they can help you research your Mayflower Ancestors while taking our “Research: Mayflower Ancestors” course.  

Marriage

Marriage Records 

The marriage certificate is the only civil record that actually records a union between two individuals, whereas other marriage records indicate that a marriage was “projected or planned.” So be cautious regarding which marriage document is being reviewed and understand the difference.

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Information you will always expect to find on a marriage certificate: 

  • the name of the bride and groom 
  • the date of the marriage  
  • location of the marriage (at least the county in which the marriage was filed) 
  • the individual who married the couple 
  • name of the clerk who recorded the marriage with the county 

The type of information recorded on a marriage document will change over time and will vary from county to county and state to state.  

The US Federal Census can also help with finding a marriage record. What kind of marriage information can the census provide? While the 1850 to 1870 census doesn’t record marital status, it does note if the person was married within the year. The 1900 through 1940 census will provide the marital status “married, single, widow, or divorced,” the “age at first marriage” (1930), or the “number of years of present marriage” (1900, 1910).

 

Record Keeping 

In our modern society (the 20th and 21st century), marriage records are typically kept at both the county in which the ceremony took place and the state bureau of records. There is a central gathering point in each state, typically known as the Bureau of Vital Records or Statistics (or something similar).  

For most states, marriage records began being kept at the time a county was formed at the county level. These early records are not kept by the state, unless they have been transferred to the state archives.  

With our United States: Vital Records  course you will learn more about obtaining marriage records and the information they hold in your genealogy research.  

Terms to be Aware of

Marriage Documents 

Most of the documents below are not proof that a marriage took place, only that a marriage was being planned. Just like today, there were many broken engagements.

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  • Marriage license: When the county receives a completed marriage license application form from an engaged couple along with the payment, then they will issue the couple a marriage license.  
  • Marriage return: When a marriage is performed by someone, such as a minister or justice of the peace, the marriage license is returned to the court. The marriage license is now called a “marriage return” and is recorded in the marriage register by the town or county clerk.  
  • Marriage banns: In a parish church an announcement is made to the general membership that two people intend to marry. This was usually done over three successive Sundays. This gave time for the congregation to let the clergy know if either person was not able to marry for any reason.  
  • Marriage intention: In New England, the Intention was treated much like the Banns. Only the Intention is published in the town meeting books prior to the marriage.  
  • Marriage bond: A prospective groom posts a bond in the county of the bride’s residence. The bond is bought as a surety that there is no reason the groom cannot marry.  

With our United States: Vital Records course you will learn more about marriage records and how they will help you in your genealogy research.  

Headstones and Cemeteries

Headstones and Cemetery Indexes 

Your ancestor’s headstone can indicate both their date of birth and death. However, this information is only as accurate as the person providing the information to the stone carver. Always locate other sources to confirm the dates carved into the stone.  

If you have a death certificate and it states the name of a cemetery, Google the cemetery name. Then add the word “Index” to your search. Sometimes you will find that someone has transcribed a cemetery and uploaded it to a website. You should also search websites such as FindAGrave and the FamilySearch Catalog.

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Indexes are always a great start to your research but remember the goal is to locate the actual record, not just the index. We can help you learn about locating these vital records and indexes with our United States: Vital Records  course. 

Mortality Schedules

US Mortality Schedules  

The U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedules are a supplemental schedule to the “every ten year” population schedules and are available for the census years 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880.  The census enumerators were required to gather the census information for the population schedules in addition to determining if any family member had died during the previous 12 months before the date the census was taken.

US: Vital Records, Understand and Using the Records

Even though these lists of deaths are widely believed to underreported the actual number of deceased, this is still a valuable source of information.  In many states where vital records were not kept, it provides a nationwide death resister for four years between 1849 and 1880.  The schedule lists the deceased’s name, sex, age, color, widowed or not, place of birth, month of death, occupation, and cause of death.  In 1870 the parent’s birthplace was added.

If you locate an individual on the Mortality Schedule, it is always wise to locate the family associated with the individual on the population schedule.  With our United States: Vital Records course you will learn more about using Mortality Schedules in your genealogy research. 

Vital Records

Some Vital Record Alternatives 

You’re familiar with birth, marriage, and death records but what are some other record types that can help you discover information when the vital records can’t be found? 

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  • Probate RecordsIf you know where a person died, check to see if there is a probate record.  Do not just assume there is no record-check. Even if there is no will, there can still be a probate file. One part of the file that can be vital is the “Final Distribution.”   This will tell you who the heirs and devisees are and where they were located at the time of the filing.
  • Funeral Home RecordsFamily members fill out paperwork at funeral homes detailing the life of the deceased.  In addition, the funeral home keeps a copy of the obituary published in the local newspaper.
  • Church RecordsChurch records can contain information about birth, marriage, and death.  Each church keeps different types of records so make sure to learn more about the church your ancestor attended and what records they possess.

 

There are many resources available in assisting you with your research that can found in our United States: Vital Records course.  

Social Security Records

Social Security Death Index  

You can view the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) online via many genealogy websites including Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, GenealogyBank, Fold3, and Findmypast.  A person who died before 1962 is not likely to be on the SSDI.  If the date of a person’s death is known, and that person is not on the SSDI, it is likely the family never filed for the death benefit.  

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From the SSDI, you can glean information such as dates of birth and death; place of last benefit; Social Security number; and what state the Social Security number was issued in.  Getting a copy of the application can be most helpful. These documents list the person’s date of birth, place of birth, parents’ names, address at the time of application and as a bonus, you get an original signature!  

Once you find the information for the person you are searching you can request a copy of the Social Security record from the Social Security website. Our United States: Vital Records course will teach you more about using the Social Security Death Index for your research.  

Death Indexes Online

US Death Indexes 

There are many different death indexes online. Please note that most indexes do not include every year. Remember that a name in an index is not proof that this is the researcher’s person! Often the person you are seeking is not the first to have this name and won’t be the last! Never assume the indexed name is your person and stop your research at that point.  

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Always be creative in finding various ways to search for what you might be seeking. Go to the FamilySearch website and choose Catalog from the Search drop-down menu. Another way to search is to conduct a Place search and then enter the name of the county and state.  

One other place to check for online death indexes is Google. Conduct a Google search on the phrase, free “death index.”  

Research Plan 

Go beyond the index. Creating a research plan for more documents is necessary. The first item on the research plan should be finding an obituary. Next, would be checking with the cemetery where the individual was interred. Personalize a research plan to your needs. If you do not have the exact date of death, then the research continues. With our United States: Vital Records course you will learn more about researching and locating a death index.  

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