GenMassachusetts-L ArchivesArchiver > GenMassachusetts > 2007-07 > 1185930627
From: "Dale H. Cook" <>
Subject: Re: [GENMASSACHUSETTS] How Were Vital Records Recorded ~1700?
Date: Tue, 31 Jul 2007 21:10:27 -0400
At 04:53 PM 7/30/2007, Carol Botteron wrote:
>Can SKS describe the process of reporting vital records in Mass.
>about 1700? Especially birth and death records (as handled by towns)
>as distinguished from christening and marriage records (as handled
Prior to 1841 Massachusetts law required town and city clerks to
record births, marriages and deaths occurring in their
municipalities. There was, however, no standard for recording that
information. Therefore the records vary from town to town, and from
clerk to clerk within a town. Clerks depended partly on their
personal knowledge of events in the lives of town folk, and partly on
having the town folk come to them with that information.
That exchange of information could be rather informal. Imagine the
clerk at the smith's, (who happened to be named Jim Smith) having his
horse shod by a new father:
"Jim, I hear you have a new baby girl."
"Sure enough, Ed, Betty gave birth to little Betty early Friday morning."
That might be recorded later that day or the next day in the Town
Book as the birth of Elisabeth, daughter of James and Elisabeth
Smith, on such-and such a date.
Town clerks at that time generally had only one blank book for
recording town events. It would contain not only vital records, but
minutes of town meetings, minutes of selectmen's meetings, tax rolls,
elections and appointments of town officials, and any other
information that the town or the clerk deemed needful to record. That
book was often referred to as the "Town Book," and called just that
in the record when said volume was getting full and the clerk asked
the selectmen to buy a new blank volume. A common practise was to
reserve some sections for vital records and the bulk of the volume
for all other town records recorded in sequence. Quite often you will
see a family record beginning with the birth of the first child, and
space reserved to add each birth in succession, sometimes including
the deaths of children or parents, or the remarriage of a parent. As
an example, literally transcribed from the original volumes, see the
early vital records of Bridgewater as published in Mayflower Descendant:
Dale H. Cook, Member, NEHGS and MA Society of Mayflower Descendants;
Plymouth Co. MA Coordinator for the USGenWeb Project
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