Sunday, March 21, 2010

Focus on Vital Records

Although I was a bit burned out on research the past week, I did not want to let things sit idle while I focused on other tasks.  I sent out a handful of requests for vital records, so that something genealogical was accomplished while I directed my energies elsewhere.

I am adamant about the collecting of primary sources.  That which cannot be found online must be obtained from the appropriate authority.  In my case, most of the time, I am writing to the Town Clerk of the town in which the event occurred.

Requesting Vital Records

I send a letter to the Town Clerk, which states that I am requesting the record for genealogical purposes.  I give the date, or at least a date range, and as much identifying information as possible.  If there is something I am specifically seeking (perhaps a decedent's mother's maiden name), I state that in the letter, just to ensure that all the information is included in the abstract.

Most records in New England range from $5 to $10 per town.  If I am requesting multiple records from one town, I enclose multiple checks.  That way, if they do not have every record, they can return my check, but keep the others.

A self-addressed, stamped envelope is enclosed.  I usually write a little note under the return address, so I know what is in the envelope when it comes back to me, such as "B. Haley death".

I always sign off my letter with an expression of appreciation for the Town Clerk's time and assistance.  They have many other things to do with their day, and searching for my ancestor's birth, marriage or death record is not at the top of their to-do list.  So I sincerely thank them for their time.

Address Book

Information is always changing.  The page you find online giving you information about a town one day may be gone the next. 

When I am requesting information from a town to which I have never written, I call them to verify their address and the fee for a vital record.

This information goes into a separate address book I keep for genealogical purposes.  It is full of addresses, phone numbers, and fee information for towns throughout New England.  You never know when you may find that your research brings you back to a town from which you have previously requested a vital record; it is useful to have the information on hand in case it is needed again!

Organizing Vital Records

I organize my collection of vital records in two ways.

I keep an Excel spreadsheet, which is arranged alphabetically by surname.  Women are always listed by their maiden name (if known).  I record marriages twice, but the actual physical record goes under the husband's name.

As far as the physical records, I organize them the same way.  I have two binders (for now), and the records are kept in archival page protectors, alphabetically.  I have a printed index inserted in the front and, if necessary, back of each binder so I know which records are contained within.

Going Digital

One of these days in the very near future, I plan to scan all of these (as well as other) documents to CD.  This is mostly for safety's sake.  In the event of an emergency, I wouldn't have time to grab or space to store the binders.  However, to have vital records, family writings, and photographs stored to CDs will give me a sense of security.  The physical items could possibly be lost - whether in an emergency or in a move (especially as we move around overseas!) - so I would like the ability to reproduce them, if necessary.

On a pleasanter note, it would be great to be able to email documents and photographs to family members if they are interested in seeing them.  So scanning and saving everything to CD would help with sharing with family.

Copyright (c) 2010 Wendy L. Hawksley


  1. Wendy:

    Thank you for your post on sending for and organizing vital records. It's information I really need as I begin sending for and storing primary sources.


  2. Wendy, Glad to have you back. Did the Canadian census (I sent before your hiatus) help in any way?

  3. The entry you found, Barbara, is the strongest one out of all of them. I will email you very shortly. :) Thank you!

    So glad you enjoyed the post, Lisa. I hope it is helpful!