Vital Records are invaluable to all researchers no matter what genealogical focus you choose.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
- 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 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.
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.