In 1918 the Massachusetts Legislature, as a measure of war economy, repealed the Vital Records Act of 1902, which provided for the preservation in print of the vital records, prior to 1850, of Massachusetts towns; and accordingly this important work, carried on for more than sixteen years by the aid and under the supervision of the State and far advanced towards completion, is unfinished, and will remain so, unless arrangements are made for continuing it without the help of an appropriation from the Commonwealth. It seems fitting, therefore, at this time, to describe what has already been accomplished in printing in book form the vital records of Massachusetts towns, both under the Act of 1902 and also independently of the supervision of the State, and then to present the plan in accordance with which the New England Historic Genealogical Society, if it receives sufficient financial support, intends to continue and, it is hoped, to complete the task from which the State has withdrawn its aid.

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Previous to 1902 the vital records of a small number of towns 1The word town or towns, as used in this article, refers both to towns and cities. in Massachusetts had been printed in book form, either at the expense of the towns themselves or by societies or individuals. Some of these volumes contained verbatim copies of the original records; in others the facts found in the original records were arranged alphabetically by surnames or in some other way preferred by the compilers. Even since 1902 such books have been published from time to time. But in 1902 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, chiefly in response to representations made by the New England Historic Genealogical Society, began to encourage the printing of vital records by undertaking to purchase a large number of copies of each book offered, the General Court adopting a measure which was approved by the Governor on 11 June 1902 and was entitled “An Act To provide for the Preservation of Town Records of Births, Marriages and Deaths Previous to the Year Eighteen Hundred and Fifty.” By this law the Secretary of the Commonwealth was directed to purchase, at a fixed rate per page, 500 copies of the record of the births, marriages, and deaths, previous to 1850, of any town in Massachusetts, whenever such record should be printed and verified in the manner required by the Commissioner of Public Records and the Board of Free Library Commissioners, acting jointly, and the work should appear to them to have been prepared with accuracy, provided that not more than $15,000 should be expended by authority of this act in any one year. The volumes thus purchased were to be distributed by the Secretary to certain public offices, libraries, and historical societies in Massachusetts and to certain libraries outside of Massachusetts.

In this act no provision was made for the printing of records of births, marriages, and deaths occurring since 1849, because from that time on town clerks have been required by law to send each year to the State House in Boston copies of the vital records entered in their town books during the previous year. In case, therefore, the original vital records of a town for this later period should be damaged or destroyed, an official copy of such records could be consulted at the State House, where the excellent system of indexing employed by the State officials makes it easy to find the copy of the record of any birth, marriage, or death that has been entered in town records in Massachusetts since the town clerks began to make their annual returns to the State authorities. The loss or destruction, however, of the vital records of a town prior to 1850 which had not been printed would in all probability involve the loss of all the information contained in them, except in the rare cases where manuscript copies are in existence or items relating to some particular family have been incorporated in a family history.

From the enactment of the Vital Records Act in 1902 down to its repeal, which took effect on 1 Dec. 1918, the work of preparing and publishing these vital records in the form approved by the State authorities was carried on by the New England Historic Genealogical Society and by a few other societies and individuals. During this period of sixteen and one-half years the Secretary of the Commonwealth purchased and distributed to the public offices, libraries, and historical societies designated in the Act 169 volumes, containing the vital records, prior to 1850, of 149 Massachusetts towns and a part of the vital records of two other towns. The vital records of 26 other towns, in whole or in part, have also been published in book form; but, as many of them were printed before 1902 and as they are for the most part not arranged on the same plan as the books purchased by the State, they are not included in the series authorized by the Act of 1902. Some of them, however, have been prepared and printed with the most painstaking regard for accuracy, and are extremely useful to those engaged in genealogical, historical, or legal research.

The following list, arranged by counties, shows the progress made, up to 2014, in publishing online in book form the vital records of Massachusetts towns. No attempt has been made (yet) to include in this list towns whose records, in whole or in part, have been published in periodicals but have not been reprinted in book form. 2For references to town records published in periodicals (down to 1907) see Flagg’s Guide to Massachusetts Local History, under the names of the several towns.

Published Massachusetts Town Vital Records

Source: The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol. LXXIII, p. 52-62. The Society, 1919.

Footnotes:   [ + ]

1. The word town or towns, as used in this article, refers both to towns and cities.
2. For references to town records published in periodicals (down to 1907) see Flagg’s Guide to Massachusetts Local History, under the names of the several towns.