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UMass Amherst Libraries


A guide to selected genealogical resources at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library.


Vital records contain essential genealogical information - birth, marriage, and death dates. As required by comprehensive 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.

The W.E.B. Du Bois Library's collection is especially rich in Massachusetts resources and also includes some vital records from other states, Canada, and Europe.