There is no history for Lancaster at this time. If someone could supply a brief history, as done for most towns, it would be appreciated.

At its annual meeting in March, 1889, the town of Lancaster made appropriation for the preservation in print of its older records of births, marriages and deaths. The publication was by vote entrusted to Doctor Horace M. Nash, town-clerk, and Henry S. Nourse. The latter was designated as editor of the work, and is solely responsible for the manner of its execution.

The returns of the town's first Clerk of the Writs, Ralph Houghton, until October, 1674, were made to the recorder of the Middlesex County Court as required by a law enacted June 14, 1642. A single ragged and discolored leaf of his original manuscript, containing the record of fifty births before 1666, is preserved in the town's archives, having been fortuitously discovered, in 1826, among family papers. More than ten years had elapsed after the setting up in the Nashua valley of the first roof-tree by white men, before Ralph Houghton entered upon his duties as clerk of the writs, and his records are chargeable with some omissions.

The returns of the second clerk, Cyprian Stevens, are found in the Middlesex Registry duly copied from 1680 to 1687. During the interval of six years in which no reports were made to the recorder, there occurred two bloody raids by Indians upon Lancaster, and a temporary abandonment of the settlement. The lists of the numerous victims in the massacres by savages have been compiled from various authorities.

Records of marriages in Lancaster, in obedience to a law dated December 1, 1716, began to be annually given in to the Clerk of the Sessions of the Peace for Middlesex in 1718, and are found registered until 1730. Between 1686 and 1726 all regular town records are wanting, a volume having, it is conjectured, been destroyed by fire. During the whole of this period John Houghton was probably the town-clerk. The church records extant open with the settlement of Reverend John Prentice in 1708.

A volume of the ancient records of the town, printed by the editor of the present compilation in 1884, contains in its appendix memoranda of such births, marriages and deaths in Lancaster families, previous to 1700, as could be anywhere found duly attested. To make the present register complete in itself, these memoranda are now reprinted with suitable re-arrangement.

The oldest book containing continuous registry of "Marriages, Deaths, Births and Publishments in Lancaster," was opened by Jonathan Houghton, fourth town-clerk, upon his election to office in 1726. Many earlier dates have been inserted by him and other clerks, probably derived from family memorials. He began his chronicles upon the tenth page, as though reserving room for those of previous years, if by chance any should be recovered; but his successors used the sheets he left blank for miscellaneous items. This book sufficed for the town's use during about ninety years, and contains three hundred and sixty pages, crowded with a disorderly mass of material, which is here copied without impertinence of alteration in order, orthography or even punctuation.

Until the statute of 1844 enforced a special form of registry, the town-clerks continued the records in two volumes one devoted to births and deaths, the other to publishments and marriages. With these two books the plan of the present work might appropriately end thus covering two hundred years from the building of the first house by Englishmen upon Lancaster soil. As, however, numerous items of dates earlier than 18. are found in a fourth book, and for the convenience of a more definite period, the lists of births, deaths and marriages have been brought down to January I, A. D. 1850. To perfect this printed register so far as is practicable, not only county, town and church records have been transcribed, when not duplicate, but numerous names and dates have been added from the inscriptions in burial grounds, the bible records of old families, and other sources duly specified.

By comparing the town records with those of the church, or epitaphs, numerous discrepancies in dates will be noticed. The frequent omission of middle names by the recorders, and peculiarities in orthography, cause some confusion of persons; this has been remedied, so far as possible, in the index which has been studiously revised.

The first birth certified to by Ralph Houghton was that of Joseph, son of Lawrence Waters, April 29. 1647. As both the Prescott and Waters families were resident on the Nashua two years before, and the births of Adam Waters and Jonathan Prescott were not recorded at Watertown, there is good reason for supposing that they were born in Lancaster during 1645 or 1646. Houghton also omits the birth of Jonas Prescott in 1648.

The first attested death in the town was that of Rachel, infant daughter of Lawrence Waters, in March, 1649.

The first marriage consummated in Lancaster was doubtless that of Jonas Fairbank and Lydia Prescott, in May, 1658; for solemnizing which Mr. John Tinker received special license from the court. Before that year the several couples joined in wedlock after their intention had been three times published in open meeting, or advertised for fourteen days by a notice affixed to the meeting-house doors were forced to journey, on horseback, to Sudbury, Concord, or even Boston, to obtain some magistrate's seal to the civil contract.

All Marriages in New England were formerly performed by the Civil Magistrate, but of late [1720] they are more frequently solemnized by the Clergy, who imitate the Method prescribed by the Church of England except the Collects and the Ceremony of the King. Daniel Neal's History of New England

For the aid of those who may be unfamiliar with the" old-style" method of reckoning time, it is deemed expedient here to state that, during the lives of the first clerks of Lancaster, the heathen names of months and days were seldom used, the ordinal numbers being substituted therefor. In English Church and Court the year began with Lady Day; March being therefore the first month, and January the eleventh. The present mode of computing time from January 1 as New Year's Day was already in use in, Scotland and other states of Europe, and signs of the growing change in custom are visible in our early records. In all dates between January 1 and March 25, it became the fashion to indicate not only the year according to English reckoning, but that recognized in Scotland. The change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar was, by act of parliament, adopted September 2, 1752, when eleven days were dropped, the next day becoming the fourteenth. For all dates previous to that, therefore, in order to bring them into accord with the present calendar, it is necessary to add twelve days to the date, if before March. 1700; or eleven days, if subsequent to that day. Thus the destruction of Lancaster would be recorded as 10, 12mo., 1675; or February 10, 1675-6; or 1675/1676; being according to the modern calendar, February 22, 1676.

Words or syllables enclosed in brackets are interpolations by the editor, usually to supply omissions, or to suggest explanation or correction of the record. The numerals at the left margin indicate the paging of the original books.

A general guide to how to use these pages.

If you are new to this site, or haven't used the site a lot, please be sure to read the rest of this page. Even if you have used this site a lot, a refresher may be helpful due to the changes that have been introduced.

You can research the records alphabetically or chronologically within surname. Images of the pages from which the transcriptions were done, and the title pages, are available for most towns. A list of abbreviations used is available.

Alphabetic - This is the most common way that the published vital records were presented. All of the same given names were arranged chronologically with names that had middle initials or middle names following the others. Nicknames would appear alphabeticall according to the spelling, i.e. Nabby, the nickname for Abigail, would be with the names beginning with the letter "N."

In this version, the names are sorted based on the most common spelling. Abbie, Abby, Abigail, Knabby, Nabby, etc., will all appear together and will be chronological. Middle initials and middle names have no influence on the order.

Note: There are going to be errors in the indexing of the names. A woman named Abiel may have been recorded as Abby. The indexing will have her with the Abigails. Please notify me with the Contact page about errors and they will be fixed within a couple days.

Chronologic - The chronologic sort will be most helpful with surnames having lots of entries, especially births. Records that had a missing date, or part, have had the missing portions replaced with zeros and will appear ahead of the others.

Page images - The icon at the left of each record is a link to the image of the page from which the transcription was done. The transcriptions are a tool. The image is the source. It is your responsibility to copy the image for your documentation. Also, the title page should be copied. There is a link to the title page in the navigation bar on transcription pages and image display pages.

Abbreviations - Each town had its own abbreviations used in the published records. Most of these are the same. The abbreviations for the headstones (GR), private records (PR), churches (CR), etc. are all different. There is a link to a list of all abbreviations used for the town in the navigation bar of the transcription pages.

Errors - There are two types of errors.

  • Errors in the published records - It is known that errors are in the published records. Not many, to be sure, but they are there. Where I have found them, or have been informed and provided sufficient documentation, the records have been annotated. This appears in red at the end of the line.]
  • Transcription errors - Even with the best of proofing, errors occur. If you find one, use the Contact link at the top of the page and tell me about the error. I need to have the town name, type of record, page number, what the error is and what it should be. It facilitates matters if you copy and paste the record in error into the e-mail.

Miscellaneous - As the opportunity has provided, I have tried to research names that had only initials or an initial and a surname to find the full names. Where I've been successful I've added the name in red, i.e. J.R. appears as J[ohn] R. or J[ohn] R[ussel].

The alphabetic and chronologic sort orders and many planned improvements require that towns be transcribed. If you can spare two, or more, hours per week to help with the transcribing, write me.

With the exception of the few people helping with transcribing and indexing, I am the only person working on this project. I do all of the technical work. I correct errors. I put transcriptions into final format. I design the pages. This takes a tremendous amount of time and money. If you find this site useful, please donate what you think it is worth to you by going to the donations page.