Q: What is the Massachusetts Vital Records Project?
A: The Massachusetts Vital Records Project is the transcriptions of the published vital records of early Massachusetts. This is a series of books published in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.. Commonly called the "Tan Book" series, they contain the majority of the records from earliest times to about 1850. It is the ultimate goal of the project to include other New England states in the databases, as well as records after 1850, to make researching ancestors in this area easier, and keeping records centrally located on one web site. It is my promise that the information on this web site will always be free to access and available to everyone.

Q: Who runs the project?
A:The project was founded about the year 2000 by John Slaughter. At that time, the goal was to transcribe the vital records of Ipswich for fellow Ipswich researchers. Over the years, the project expanded to the point where there are over 150 towns and almost 1,500,000 transcribed records along with the images from which those transcriptions were done. With the online images that are not yet transcribed, the researchable records are around 3,000,000. The project is funded entirely by John and the occasional donation from users of the project. John does all of the technical work, design and maintenance, and coordinating the volunteers. There are some volunteers who help with non-technical aspects of the project.

Q: Where can I obtain a copy of the original birth, marriage or death record I find transcribed on your site?
A: Town/City clerks' offices - not the project. See List of MA Town Clerks offices.
Birth, marriage and death certificates, as we think of them, did not come into being until the late 1800s. Before that the records were generally kept in ledger books. This could be either a straight chronological record or, more commonly, a page would be allocated to a family beginning with a marriage. Records of births, marriages and deaths would be entered on that page.
Getting copies of the originals depends mostly on the Town Clerk and if the records still exist. You probably will not get an actual copy as the older the record the more fragile it is. The best you should hope for is a handwritten copy of the original. Some towns have transcribed all of the originals to computer and they sell you the information printed on a modern form. Some have lost the original records and will send you a copy of the page from the "Tan Book" with the town seal and certify that it is a true copy. There is usually a charge.

Q:What is the level of credibility of these records?
A. On the whole, very reliable. These records are considered secondary sources, at best. Records that indicate they came from sources such as church records, gravestones, court records, etc. should be considered tertiary records. Births taken from headstones are suspect unless an age is given and shows an infant death. There is no way of knowing just from the gravestone if the person was born in the town where buried.

Q:Are there other records to be found?
A. As far as the vital records, as kept by the town clerks, no. The people who collected all of the records and published them did an extraordinarily good job. The chances of finding something missed is virtually nil. In some cases, the originals have been lost and these are all that is left.

Q: I am looking for an ancestor that I have in my files saying was born in a specific town but their name is not listed on your site. Are you missing some of the vital records from any of the towns?
A: Transcriptions on this web site are taken from published vital records made in the early 20th century. Each town that published records used all available resources, town records, church records, gravestone inscriptions, etc. Various Town/City Clerks have stated that there are few, if any, records missing from the published books.

Q: I found a record online which I think has a typographical error. How do I get this fixed?
A: Use the contact page and fill in the correction section. Be sure to tell me the town name, record type and page. I will compare the transcription to the actual page image and make any necessary corrections.

Q: I have proof that one of the records in the tan series is wrong. Why should we be leaving incorrect information on this web site?
A: The basic rule for transcribing is that no changes in the published "facts" are permitted. If Margaret is listed as the son of Nathaniel, she stays the son. There are known errors. When I get documentation of such, I annotate the incorrect error with a red font and cite the correcting documentation. If I have an image, that will be put online and linked from the correction.

Q: I found an ancestor in your transcriptions and would like to add it to my GEDCOM. How do I properly document the record?
A: Click on both the Vol. and Page links, or the Title Page and Page links, and copy the images for your documentation. The page images contain all of the necessary citation information.
Note: You may add the URL of the page, and/or the project. However, as these are from published sources freely available in many libraries, that isn't necessary.

Q: What do I do if I am getting a page missing error message?
A: Copy the URL of the missing image. Go back to the transription page, click the Contact button at the top of the page and paste the URL into the image request section.

Q: Why are only partial records online for a town?
A: Transcriptions take a while to complete. Updates are made periodically, but once a town has been started, my best effort is made to have the enrire town completed within a reasonable period of time.

Q: The town I am interested in is paritally done. Is there a way to be notified when a town is updated or completed?
A: I have a forum set up for information regarding this project and I post updates to the list when they are made. The forum can be used for discussion of all MA vital records.

Q: How come there are page images for a certain town, but no transcriptions available?
A: I try to get the images online when I put the starter pages online. This allows researchers to check the records even though they're not yet transcribed.

Q: What does it mean when a town is listed, but it is not linked to anything?
A: Four possibilities:
  1. I haven't put the starter pages together, yet,
  2. The town was incorporated after 1850 and has no published records,
  3. The published records were done within the last 75 years and are under copyright and I haven't been able to get permission to put them online,
  4. Worst case, there were no published records for that town. The four western counties of Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire have a number of towns in this category.
Q: Why are there no records for Suffolk or Plymouth Counties online?
A: I got over-extended getting counties started. It has been necessary to slow down and get caught up before starting new counties and towns. They will be done.

Q: Where can I direct questions not related to the project?
A: Your best source is to subscribe to one, or more, county e-mail lists. Click on one of the following to subscribe.

MA VRs Project
Copyright 2005-'21
The Massachusetts Vital Records Project

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