I am adamant about collecting primary sources. That which can’t be found online must be obtained from the appropriate authority. How do you obtain birth, marriage, and death records? Every state is different but, in my case, I usually write to the Town Clerk of the town in which the event occurred.
Requesting Vital Records
When I draft a letter to the Town Clerk for records, I state that I’m requesting the record for genealogical purposes. I give the date, or at least a date range, for the event, 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 certified record.
Most records in New England range from $5 to $10 per town. Some are a little more expensive, so it’s good to check ahead of time. If I request multiple records from one town, I enclose multiple checks. That way, if they don’t have every record, they can return my check, but keep the others.
I always enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope. I usually write a little note under the return address, such as “E. Shaw death,” so I know what’s in the envelope when it comes back to me.
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 isn’t at the top of their to-do list. So I sincerely thank them for their time.
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, arranged 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.
One of these days in the very near future, I plan to scan all of these (as well as other) documents to my PC, external hard drive, thumb drive, and cloud drives. This is for safety’s sake. In the event of an emergency, I wouldn’t have time to grab the binders. However, to have vital records, family writings, and photographs stored to various storage mediums will give me a sense of security. The physical items could possibly be lost, whether in an emergency or in a move. 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 various drives would help with sharing with family.