Of all the states, Massachusetts has the finest collection of vital records that stretch back to its beginning in 1620. They are organized by town up to the year 1850. Of course, that's an official date, and it's a bit of a lie. In fact, much of Massachusetts's great collection of town vital records needs to be understood better. I've been doing a great deal of research in western Massachusetts and those town records, which are just as rich in records, are nowhere to found in databases or books. Here's some facts you need to know:
- There is a collection of towns that had their vital records published in the early 1900s. These are the "tan" books and have titles such as Vital Records of Amesbury, Massachusetts to the Year 1849. Not all Massachusetts towns have such books.
- Not all such books are included in the searchable database Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850 at the NEHGS website. [subscription required]
- Some towns have vital record books that were published much later. Some of these books can be searched by doing a global search at the NEHGS website. Then click on Vital Records. [subscription required]
- The state-wide gathering of vital records actually starts in 1841, although not all towns responded. They responded more uniformly after 1850 (and hence that date). However, that means there are some double records, both in "tan" books and at the state-level. Check both for vital records 1841-1850.
- Jay Mack Holbrook filmed over 250 Mass. towns which is now available in microfiche. These towns include many that don't have "tan" books and don't appear in any databases. Some towns that I've used with success include Lenox and Lanesborough.
- The Corbin Collection which covers towns in Hampshire and Hamden counties. In paper, this collection is housed at the NEHGS, which produced a searchable CD-ROM with the records. Again, these records are mostly not in the "tan" books and therefore no where else, except in the Holbrook microfiche.
- Boston is an exception to all rules. Books on vital records run well to the year 1800. There is a thin index to births from 1801-1849 which may represent 10-20% of the actual births that happened. After 1850 you need to consult the state-level index, but never count out the Boston City Archives.