Massachusetts Vital Records, Pre-1850
Popular "Tan Books" provide valuable information on early New England families
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Those with early Massachusetts ancestors are fortunate indeed, for the early records are prolific and well documented.
The vital records transcribed here are taken from various sources and are referenced accordingly. The majority are transcribed from early town registers for births, marriages, and deaths. Other records are from cemeteries, churches, and private collections. They are compiled in these printed “Tan Books” by various publishers, generally by the New England Historic Genealogical Society, but also by the Essex Institute and the Topsfield Historical Society, among others.
Within each printed volume of the Vital Records to 1850 series is the following:
This publication is issued under the authority of a vote passed by the New England Historic Genealogical Society, November 6, 1901, as follows:
Voted: That the sum of $20,000, from the bequest of the late Robert Henry Eddy, be set aside as a special fund to be called the Eddy Town-Record fund, for the sole purpose of publishing the Vital Records of the towns of Massachusetts, and that the Council be authorized and instructed to make such arrangements as may be necessary for such publication. and the treasurer is hereby instructed to honor such drafts as shall be authorized by the Council for this purpose.
Using the collection - births, marriages, deaths
Records are arranged within each volume by births, marriages (including intentions), and deaths. Within each of these sections, names are listed alphabetically by surname, then by given name. There are often clues written within entries as to where a person came from before taking residence in a particular town. This is especially true within marriage records when the bride and groom were from different communities.
Using Vital Records of Foxborough, Massachusetts, to the Year 1850 as our reference, we can see the wealth of information provided in various records for the Carpenter family.
Using the collection - pertinent material
Reading the notes in the "Explanations" section of each printed volume is an important step in understanding the records of a particular town. Through them, you’ll learn about spelling, bracketed vs. parenthetical information, use of asterisks, and other idiosyncrasies of a town’s collection.
What does the asterisk (*) mean? When viewing an entry with an asterisk, it is customary to locate an asterisk elsewhere on the page, typically as a footnote, with an explanation of its meaning. Most of the Mass VR volumes are thus referenced. But, failing that, we might check the abbreviations page at the beginning of a volume. In the published Massachusetts VRs, the asterisk's meaning is typically found within the Explanations, and even then, it is not marked by an asterisk (*), but described using the term "asterisk." An example would be, "Marriages are printed under the name of both parties. When a marriage appears without the intention recorded, it is designated with an asterisk."
Asterisks (*) found on the pages of this title are therefore found in the Marriage records and relate to marriage intentions.
Commonly-used abbreviations are found here, but each volume contains different and quite specific references for some abbreviations like CR (Church Record), GR (Gravestone Record), PR (Private Record), and RR (Rebellion Record). These abbreviations are typically accompanied by numbers that refer to specific sources from which the record was taken. Also, some abbreviations have more than one reference where the context within the record will determine its meaning. For example,"d." can mean daughter, died, or day.
Some of the common abbreviations include:
abt. – about
b. – born
Co. – county
d. – daughter; died; day
dup. – duplicate entry
h. – husgand
Jr. – junior
m. – married; month
s. – son
Sr. – senior
w. – wife; week
wid. – widow
widr. – widower
The page images in the pre-1850 Massachusetts Vital Records are scanned from microfilmed copies of the original printed volumes. To find the original title page for the volume you are viewing, click on the town name just above the film strip located below the image window. This will take you to the browse hierarchy where you will see the alphabetical town listings and the column for "Record-type." Choose "Other," then "[blank]," and then the first "[blank]" under the "Page" column. This will take you to an image of the title page, followed by important information relating to that particular town and volume, including explanations and abbreviations.
As an example, if you are viewing the page for "Cumings" in Dunstable Deaths, you'll find the name "Dunstable" located just above the filmstrip for that image. Click on that town name and it will take you directly to the browse menu. From there, you can navigate to the title page of the book as explained previously.