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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

MA Vital Records Project Website Changes the Historical View of Mass. Towns and Families

From MA VR Project website

Today is the first time this website has come up in my searches for birth, marriage and death records for Massachusetts towns.  The Massachusetts Vital Records Project.

It seems to be entirely created and maintained by John Slaughter, of Ipswich, Mass., along with volunteers, and donations.

As much as I love pulling the "tan books" (so named Vital Records books for Mass. towns) off the shelf of my local library, and settling in for a couple of hours of research, it is immensely helpful to be able to go over these vital records at home.  Especially, due to one special feature made possible by the website's technology.

The ability to view birth, marriage and death records to 1850,  in the usual alphabetical form per family is incredibly helpful  - but to be able to switch that data to a chronological view, starts to really illuminate life before 1850.  If you are going beyond genealogical research, and exploring historical trends and particular subjects, such as illness, war, deaths at sea, birth rates - this is an incredible resource.

Here's an example:  click for larger images of these death listings:

Alphabetically: the Bearse family of Falmouth, Mass.:
And now Chronologically, for the same family:

What jumped out at me, here?  I was able to see right away that Benjamin Bearse and Charles Bearse, both sons of Crocker and Susan, died on exactly the same day, Dec. 28, 1844.

Here is another random example (which ended up being not so random!):  First the Clark families, alphabetically:

And now Clarks, chronologically:

Notice that when viewed in chronological form, we can easily see that two children of Alexander and Mary  Clark died on the same day, Nov. 1844.

This is when historical research really gets exciting.  Are you seeing the trend here?

Note* I chose these families randomly simply because they were at the beginning of the Falmouth Vital Records list, alphabetically, and were small families. When you are dealing with a very large family, with many names - in Falmouth, "Crockers," for instance - this reoranizing feature is even more valuable.

 Right away, a little "alarm" goes off. In late 1844, there appears to be a number of deaths occurring within families at the same time.  At this point, I would have to suspect that something might be sweeping the town: consumption perhaps. Possibly even a horrible weather event.  Pretty fascinating stuff. 

The next step is to click on the image next to each name.  However, it is rare that the original image lists an actual cause of death.  You would need to delve deeper, at another source.  Yet, this initial viewing from the MA Vital Records Project is invaluable for honing your research time, and even discovering new facts about your family and their town.

I have added their website to my list of online research links, for quick access.

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