New Hampshire Vital Records
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This entry was originally written by George F. Sanborn Jr., FASG, and Alice Eichholz, Ph.D, CG for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
The town or city clerk’s office is the place where vital events are officially recorded in New Hampshire. Today each town or city sends copies of its vital events to the New Hampshire Department of State, Division of Vital Records and Health Statistics, 29 Hazen Dr., Concord, NH 03301 www.sos.nh.gov/vitalrecords/index.html. Statewide compilation, however, did not begin until a law was passed in 1866 requiring the secretary of state to make a report of all vital events for each of the towns. Total compliance with the law was not accomplished until the 1880s, and even then the practice of sending a copy of the vital event to the secretary of state was not uniform. By 1905, when the Bureau of Vital Records was established, regular statewide recording became a reality.
A statewide compilation, gathered from earlier town vital records, generated the alphabetical arrangement which exists today in the card file at the bureau and in the microfilm collections at the New England Historic Genealogical Society and the Family History Library (FHL). This alphabetical compilation is incomplete since some towns did not send all their pre-1905 vital records to the bureau. It is therefore important to check the town clerk’s official records directly if no event is found in the bureau’s compilation.
Births that were recorded before 1901 and deaths, marriages, and those divorce records from the 1870s to 1948 can be personally searched at the bureau. The current price for a copy, in person or by mail, is $12; phone orders are accepted at an additional charge if a credit card is used (see New Hampshire Court Records).
A computerized statewide system for recording birth records is being created. When finished, it will be possible to obtain a birth record for anyone in New Hampshire at any of the participating town or city clerk’s offices. Statutory restrictions to records will still remain, however.
The alphabetical arrangement of the compilation at the bureau and consequently on microfilm requires some explanation. The system used was an early version of Soundex. Vital records are broken down into type of event (birth, marriage, and death) and time period, and then by the first and third letter of the last name to determine the proper card file drawer in which to search for the event. Cards exist for grooms, but brides before 1947 are on a separate microfilm index since they are not included on separate cards in the compilation. After 1901 for births and 1947 for deaths, marriages, and divorces, a researcher has to demonstrate a direct interest in the event to view or receive a copy of the record.
Children not named at birth later had their names added in the town or city office records. This practice, particularly prevalent in the last half of the nineteenth century, meant that the name eventually given did not always get sent to the state compilation. French-Canadian families might have used the baptismal names of “Joseph” or “Marie” in the copy sent to the state.
There are printed versions of New Hampshire vital records for some towns including Colebrook (1873–86), Croydon (to 1900), Danville (1760–1886), Dover (1640–1850), Hampton (to 1900), Hampton Falls (to 1899), Keene (1742–1881), Laconia marriages (1826–92), Londonderry (to 1910), and South Hampton (1743–1886). A large number of typescripts of southeastern town vital records were prepared by Priscilla Hammond and others and are located at the New Hampshire Historical Society, with some at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Town reports, generated by each town every year, include vital records for residents during the previous year. The printed reports are available both at the individual town (or city) clerk’s office, but a complete set for all towns is at the New Hampshire State Library.
When the microfilming project of New Hampshire town records was completed, an every-name card index created by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) for town records kept before approximately 1850 was microfilmed as well. Births, deaths, and marriages were included in the records as early as 1640 although there is no consistency, and they are far from complete. The original card index is held by the New Hampshire State Library. Both the town records and the WPA index are available on microfilm at the New England Historic Genealogical Society and through the FHL. A notable omission in the index is the town of Exeter, which was completely overlooked.