Thanks to Jay and DeLene Holbrook, approximately 17 million birth, marriage and death records from Massachusetts are being digitized and made available online through Ancestry.com. Over a period of thirty years these two people personally visited each of 315 (out of 351) cities and towns in the state of Massachusetts. They inventoried and, where necessary, organized the material. Then they took the original records to a professional imaging service to have them filmed by a special flatbed camera. Just this one detail tells me that the records were in good hands. The couple obviously understood the importance of the preservation of the original records. All of this was done with the permission of each city and town clerk. The film became microfiche. When the copying was done, the Holbrooks returned all the records, complete with a microfiche copy, to the town.
When you imagine all the dust these two people breathed in over the years, it is not surprising that they finally had to retire from their mammoth undertaking and move to a dryer clime in Utah. It was at this point that they sold their collection of microfiche to Ancestry.com. Ancestry has already digitized over 9 million of these records and placed them online as of Tuesday, March 20th. They will continue to add records until all 17 million have been done.
As the Secretary of State has pointed out, all of these records are available free of charge from the individual cities and towns. However, anyone who has tracked down vital records from various locations knows how the costs for gas, food, and sometimes lodging, can escalate quickly, not to mention the time involved. We are and have always been a nation of people on the move. As family researchers we often feel lucky if we have several generations who stay in the same state, let alone the same city or town.
How to Access the Records for Free
Although Ancestry does charge individuals for access to their records, did you know that you can access these and many other records at no cost at a local public library. Although not all libraries subscribe to Ancestry, many do. Check with your own public library. If they do not have Ancestry, call other nearby libraries until you find one that does.
Libraries can only offer Ancestry to their patrons in house. You will have to go to the library and use one of their public computers. These computers will most likely require a library card to log in. If you have a card from your local library, check with that library to see where else you can use it. Your library probably belongs to a network. In the state of Massachusetts, if you go to a library outside your network, the library you are visiting should be able to configure your card to work in that library as well. If you are from out-of-state, many libraries provide guest passes.
Once you have settled into your computer, click on the Ancestry database. If it’s not obvious where it is, don’t hesitate to ask the nearest librarian. That’s one of the things we do–answer questions.
This is how you find the records collected by the Holbrooks. Once Ancestry’s home page comes up, you will see two large boxes, one above the other. Under the words “MORE COLLECTIONS” in the lower box, you will see the words “recent” and “all databases.” The name of the collection you are looking for is “Massachusetts, Town Vital Collections, 1620 – 1988.” If you click on “recent” you look by the date, which will be 3/15/2012. If you click on “all databases”, you look alphabetically by the name of the collection. Once you get to the collection, click the browse drop down menu in the upper right to see which towns are included. (Remember, only 315 out of 351 had their records copied by the Holbrooks.) Happy hunting.
Two Other Links You Might Want to Investigate
If you would like to see what one person has already accomplished using these records, click here for “What I Found in the New Massachusetts Town Records.” It’s from the One Rhode Island Family blog done by Diane MacLean Boumenot. It’s a good blog, well worth checking out.
You can find more details about the Holbrooks by clicking on the Boston Globe article “A New Window on Bay State’s Vital Records.”