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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.