Using Vital Records to Research Your Ancestors

Vital Records are government produced records documenting births, marriages, and deaths. They are important sources of information in genealogy research. They can contain information about a person's job, where they lived, and other family members.
Below is an overview of how to access vital records.

Good Things to Know

  • In Massachusetts, vital records are considered public and can be requested by anybody.
  • Some records, such as the original birth certificates of adoptees, may have restrictions to access.
  • Laws regarding the collection, maintenance, and access to vital records will vary from state to state.
  • Sources such as obituaries and baptism records may contain some of the same information as vital records but are not considered to be vital records.

Accessing Vital Records in Massachusetts

Records in MA are in different places depending upon when they were created. Many cities and towns in MA will have collections dating back to the year they were founded. However, MA state law did not mandate keeping such records and forwarding copies to the state until 1841. There may then be some gaps in records before then.

Where the Records Are

  • Pre-1841: City or Town of Occurrence
    • ​Boston, 1630-present: Registry Division at City Hall
    • Other Cities and Towns in Massachusetts: Town/City Clerk’s office
  • 1841-1930: City or Town of Occurrence and Massachusetts State Archives
  • 1931-present: City or Town of Occurrence and Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics


City of Boston Registry Division
1 City Hall Square, Room 213
Boston, MA 02201-2006
Phone: 617-635-4175
Website:, opens a new window

The Registry Division takes requests in person, online, by mail and via phone. Fees vary depending on type of request.

To find a death date for someone who died in Boston or who resided in Boston at the time of their death, you can search for them by name here-, opens a new window (1956-present).

Other Cities and Towns

Records for events occurring in other cities and towns in MA will be held by the Town/City Clerk’s office in each municipality. The procedure for requesting records will vary from place to place, as will any associated fees.

A good way to find the Town/City Clerk’s office is doing a Google search for the name of the town/city followed by “clerk” or “clerk’s office.” You can also try searching for the name of the town/city and “vital records.” Some examples are provided below:

For towns/cities with common names that may also be used in another state, like Springfield, you may need to specify MA in your search terms.

State Agencies

Massachusetts State Archives

220 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston MA 02125
Phone: 617-727-2816
Website:, opens a new window

The State Archives take requests by mail and in person only, copies cost $3 each.

Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics

150 Mount Vernon St.,1st Floor
Dorchester, MA 02125
Phone: 617-740-2600
Website:, opens a new window

The Registry takes requests online, by mail, on the phone, and in person. Fees vary from $20-$59.50 depending on the type of request.

Online Resources

Accessing Vital Records in Other States

Procedures on the collection, maintenance, and access of vital records vary. If you know where the event you are researching occurred in, contact the closest library to ask about how to access vital records there. If you know the state the event occurred in but not the town/city, contact the state agency in charge of managing vital records for that state. Links to a few states’ policies for vital records are provided below.

Other Ways to Get the Same Information

Books and Newspapers



Birth announcements, engagement & wedding announcements, and obituaries can all be good sources of information.

Probate and Family Courts


In Massachusetts, records related to divorces are held by Probate and Family Courts. In order to request a record related to a divorce, you will need to know which court handled the case as well the docket number.

If you do not know the probate court or docket number you need, the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics can look it up. More information is available on their website, opens a new window.

Probate Records

Probate records are held by the court located in the county in which they were filed.  Some historic records have been digitized and are available at Records that have not been digitized will need to be requested at the probate court.

Useful Links


Church Records

Church records can be a good resource for finding information about the births, marriages, and deaths of ancestors. Check out the Church Records section, opens a new window of our genealogy research guide for more information.

Learn More

Want to learn more about vital records? Join us on Wednesday for our final genealogy class of the year, Genealogy: Using Vital Records to Research Your Ancestors. Check out our website for more information and to register.