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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Researching the Early History of Black Lives in the Connecticut River Valley



Vital records contain essential genealogical information - birth, marriage, and death dates. As required by state laws, Massachusetts cities and towns maintain extensive collections of these civil records. Original Massachusetts vital records exist in various repositories for the following time segments:

  • Pre-1841
    Massachusetts registered vital records beginning in 1639-19 years after the Pilgrims' arrival. Pre-1841 vital records reside at the local level with the respective city and town clerks. Only one set of records exists at the municipal level.
  • 1841-1910
    Statewide collection of vital records in Massachusetts began in 1841. A new law required every city and town clerk to submit annual copies of all vital records to a central state office in Boston. Thus, two sets of records, at the local and at the state level, exist for almost every birth, marriage, and death since 1841. The Massachusetts Archives "holds the registration books of births, marriages, and deaths for all Massachusetts cities and towns" for 1841-1910. Later records are transferred to the Massachusetts Archives at 5-year intervals.

Vital records information may also appear in such secondary sources as church, court, military, and probate records; census schedules; city directories; newspapers; pension applications; and tombstone inscriptions.


Recommended Reading:

Duclos-Orsello, Elizabeth. "The Fullness of Enslaved Black Lives as Seen through Early Massachusetts Vital Records" Genealogy 6, no. 1: 11. 2022.


  • Red book: American state, county, and town sources 
    Call Number: Reference CS 49 R44 2004
    A handbook for genealogical research in every state. Examines the availability and locations of vital, census, local history, land, probate, court, tax, cemetery, church, and military records.
  • Guide to the public vital records in Massachusetts - Historical Records Survey (Mass.) 
    Call Number:  CD 3291 H48
    In the late 1930s and early 1940s, the Works Projects Administration compiled a list of available vital records in the United States. Massachusetts was one of 40 states which participated in this Historical Records survey program. This guide inventories state, county, city, and town vital statistics. It is arranged in three sections - births, marriages, and deaths. Each of these sections contains two parts - "an inventory of state records" and "an inventory of county, city, and town records."
  • The librarian's guide to public records/taken directly from the database of The Public Record Research Library 
    Call Number:  JK 468 P76 L53 1996
    Lists contact information for "major state and county level government agencies where public records are maintained." Includes vital records information for each state.

Selective List of Materials in the W.E.B. Du Bois Library

Holbrook Collection
Contains microfiche copies of pre-1900 original manuscript records from more than 300 Massachusetts towns, some of which were omitted from the Systematic Series vital records project. Documents contain birth, marriage, and death information and may also offer a variety of other records such as lists of church members, Civil War veterans, dog owners, paupers, taxpayers, and voters.The first microfiche for each locality describes the volumes included. Various name indexes sometimes appear. The W.E.B. Du Bois Library owns the following Holbrook Collection sets:

Belchertown 1765 - 1857 Microfiche 80
Easthampton 1785 - 1864 Microfiche 497
Longmeadow 1784 - 1854 Microfiche 81
Ludlow 1765 - 1857 Microfiche 83
Needham 1711 - 1858 Microfiche 498
South Hadley 1730 - 1890 Microfiche 82
Springfield 1641 - 1849 Microfiche 506
Westhampton 1778 - 1865 Microfiche 499
Wilbraham 1762 - 1851 Microfiche 500

Massachusetts vital records to 1850 (Systematic Series)
A 1902 Massachusetts law guaranteed the state would purchase the first 500 copies of all printed town vital record volumes and distribute those copies freely to libraries, public offices, and historical societies across the Commonwealth. This law prompted such organizations as the New England Historic Genealogical Society and the Essex Institute to publish a Systematic Series of vital records for 206 cities and towns. Every volume in the Systematic Series is arranged by three categories - births, marriages, and deaths. Includes names and dates drawn from official town clerks' records and often church records, cemetery inscriptions, local diaries, town meeting records, Bible records, etc. List of cities and towns in the Library's Massachusetts vital records to 1850 (Systematic Series).

Other Massachusetts vital records
A selective list of the W.E.B. Du Bois Library's resources follows. Use subject headings to locate additional materials in the Library Catalog.

An alphabetical abstract of the record of births, in the Town of Dedham, Massachusetts, 1844-1890
Call Number: F 74 D3 D31

An alphabetical abstract of the record of deaths, in the Town of Dedham, Massachusetts, 1844-1890
Call Number: F 74 D3 D32

The birth, marriage, and death register, church records and epitaphs of Lancaster, Massachusetts, 1643-1850
Call Number: F 74 L2 L2

Boston beginnings, 1630-1699. Oxford, MA.: Holbrook Research Institute, 1980 - Holbrook, Jay Mack
Call Number: F 73.25 H64 1980
Alphabetical list of the names of every known 17th-century Boston resident. Includes names from church, estate, land, occupation, and residence lists. Each entry gives the citizen's name, the year of the record, the record's purpose, and the source of information.

Centennial history of the Town of Millbury, Massachusetts, including vital statistics, 1850-1899
Call Number: F 74 M65 M58

Commonplace book of Richard Pratt [1728-1816] of Lynn, Mass - Pratt, Richard
Call Number: Special Collections F 74 L98 P7 1900

[Early files of courts [microform]/Suffolk County]
Call Number: Microfilm A 1192 5 reels
Reel 3  Index to births, marriages, deaths, 1637-1774
The surname index provides the person's first name and notes whether the record is for a birth (b), marriage (m), or death (d). The number on the right indicates the document's location on Reels 4 and 5. References to towns also appear, for example, "Medford births" and "Scituate marriages."
Reels 4 and 5  Births, marriages, deaths, 1634 - August, 1774
Most of the items are numbered sequentially. Many documents were filmed several times for clarity.

History of Pelham, Mass.: from 1738 to 1898, including the early history of Prescott - Parmenter, C.O. (Charles Oscar)
Call Number: Special Collections F 74 P4 P2 1898, Stacks F 74 P4 P2

An index to the vital records of Boston, 1630-1699 - Gladden, Sanford Charles
Call Number: F 73.25 G55
Indexes the Ninth Report of the Record Commissioners of Boston. Births, Baptisms, Marriages, and Deaths 1630-1699 (F 73.1 B74 Volume 9 1883). Records are indexed by both given and family names and arranged by the categories of births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths. The accompanying numbers refer to pages in the Record Commissioners' report.

Medway, Massachusetts births, marriages, and deaths, 1850-1900 - Donovan, Francis D.
Call Number: F 74 M55 D65 1995

Milton records; births, marriages and deaths, 1662-1843, alphabetically and chronologically arranged
Call Number: F 74 M66 M37

The record of births, marriages and deaths and intentions of marriage, in the town of Stoughton from 1727 to 1800, and in the town of Canton from 1797-1845, preceded by the records of the South precinct of Dorchester from 1715 to 1727
Call Number: F 74 C2 C2

Record of births, marriages, and deaths of the town of Sturbridge, from the settlement of the town to 1816 
Call Number: Special Collections F 74 S93 R43 1879

Record of deaths, Middleboro, Massachusetts - Wood, Alfred
Call Number: F 74 M62 W6

Records of Littleton, Massachusetts. Printed by order of the town. First installment. Births and deaths from the earliest records in the town books begun in 1715 
Call Number: F 74 L77 L7

Records of Middlesex County, Mass. towns through 1830
Includes manuscript secular town records held by town clerks, treasurers, and assessors, and from other sources such as town libraries and historical societies. The project filmed entire documents, so "in some towns the films go well beyond 1830." The collection includes some vital records as well as tax lists, town meeting records, valuations lists, etc. A list of cities and towns (with microfilm numbers) follows:

Acton ( A 588), Arlington (A 589), Ashby ( A 590), Bedford ( A 591), Billerica ( A 592), Boxborough ( A 593), Burlington ( A 594), Cambridge ( A 595), Carlisle ( A 596), Chelmsford ( A 597), Concord ( A 598), Dracut (A 599), Dunstable ( A 600), Framingham (A 601),Groton ( A 602), Holliston ( A 603), Hopkinton ( A 604), Lexington ( A 605), Lincoln ( A 606), Littleton (A 607), Lowell ( A 608), Malden ( A 609), Marlborough ( A 610), Medford ( A 611),Natick ( A 612), Newton ( A 613), Pepperell (A 614), Reading ( A 615), Sherborn ( A 616), Shirley (A 617), Stoneham (A 618), Stow ( A 619), Sudbury (A 620), Tewksbury ( A 621), Townsend ( A 622), Tyngsborough (A 623), Wakefield (A 624), Waltham (A 625), Watertown (A 626), Wayland (A 627), Westford (A 628), Weston ( A 629), Wilmington ( A 630), Woburn ( A 631)

Records of Middlesex County, Mass. towns through 1830: descriptive guide to the microfilms - Early Massachusetts Records
Call Number: Microforms Guides  Z 1296 M52 E15
Lists the general categories, such as "tax book records, 1829-1841" and "vital records, 1639-1789," and reel and target numbers under each town.

Records of the First Church in Charlestown, Massachusetts, 1632-1789
Call Number: Special Collections F 74 C4 C6 1880+

Report of the Record Commissioners of the City of Boston - Boston (Mass.) Registry Dept.
Call Number: F 73.1 B74
Most volumes contain a name index.

Volume 9 Boston births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths, 1630-1699
Volume 21 Dorchester births, marriages, and deaths to the end of 1825
Volume 24 Boston births, 1700-1800
Volume 28 Boston marriages, 1700-1751
Volume 30 Boston marriages, 1752-1809
Volume 36 Dorchester births, marriages, and deaths, 1826-1849

Social register, Boston
Call Number: F 73.22 S65 1898, 1906, 1939-1940
Records "full names and addresses of members of prominent families and marriages and deaths as they occur." The end of each volume offers a list of marriages and deaths and an alphabetical list of the maiden names of married women.

Watertown records. Prepared for publication by the Historical Society
Call Number: F 74 W33 W3 Volumes 1-8

Wilmington records of births, marriages and deaths, from 1730 to 1898
Call Number: F 74 W83 W7

Woburn records of births, deaths, marriages, and marriage intentions, from 1640 to 1900
Call Number: F 74 W89 W82 Parts 2, 3, 7

Find More

Search the Library Catalog by Subject. Examples of subject searches:

Marriage records - Massachusetts - Lowell

Pelham (Mass.) - History

Registers of births, etc. - Massachusetts - Sturbridge

Weymouth (Mass.) - Genealogy