Rhode Island Vital Records
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This entry was originally written by Alice Eichholz, Ph.D., CG for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Although many vital events before 1853 were not recorded, those that were are fairly easy to locate. The General Assembly mandated that marriage intentions be recorded beginning in 1647, although the law was not enforced. More often, marriages were reported by ministers to town clerks. Births were often recorded in family groups at different times in a family’s life, but not all births were recorded even when some in the family were. James N. Arnold’s Vital Record of Rhode Island, 1636–1850, 21 vols. (Providence, R.I.: Narragansett Historical Publishing Co., 1891–1912), whose title is in the singular, is a compilation of Rhode Island research materials, the first six volumes of which are alphabetized extracts of vital events from town records. The volumes can usually be located at major research libraries holding New England resources and are at the The Family History Library (FHL). Births, deaths, and marriages (both bride and groom listed separately) are recorded from the earliest settlement to 1850 and are organized according to county and town. More information is often given under the groom’s entry. Some of the rest of the volumes contain vital events from sources other than the town records (see Rhode Island Church Records), although individual entries are documented, which makes it possible to check the original source. Towns, for the most part, still hold all of these originals in the clerk’s office (see Rhode Island Town Resources).
Arnold’s Vital Record stops in 1850, and since statewide reporting did not begin until 1853, vital events for the three years between 1850 and 1853 must be searched for in town records.
The Division of Vital Records, Rhode Island Department of Health, Rm 101 Cannon Bldg., 3 Capitol Hill, Providence, RI 02908-5097 is responsible for the permanent filing of copies of vital events recorded in all Rhode Island towns from 1853 to the present. Mail or in-person requests can be made at the above address for births or marriages that occurred less than 100 years ago or deaths that occurred less than fifty years ago, with appropriate applications available on the website. The present fee is $15 for each record.
Vital events earlier than these cutoff time frames are available either in the town, at the Rhode Island State Archives (see Rhode Island Archives, Libraries, and Societies), or by microfilm at the Rhode Island Historical Society (see Rhode Island Archives, Libraries, and Societies), FHL, or New England Historic Genealogical Society. Microfilm indexes exist to 1900 with computerized indexes to marriages and deaths to 1900 at the Rhode Island Historical Society.
A more recent publication of vital records is Alden G. Beaman’s Vital Records of Rhode Island, New Series (Princeton, Mass.: the author, 1975–present), presently in thirteen volumes with more to follow published by his daughter. Using probates and gravestones, Beaman supplements Arnold with information on vital events not found in the town’s vital records. This is an alphabetical arrangement for an entire county, with the town of residence indicated. Washington, Newport, and Kent counties are included in what has already been published.
Vital records for Providence from 1850 to 1945 are in print in thirty-two volumes, usually available at research centers with good New England collections or on microfilm.
Divorces were granted through all of the courts. Those granted between 1749 and 1900 are available at the Archives at the Judicial Records Center (see Court Records). After 1962 records can be obtained—with some restrictions—from Family Court, 22 Hayes Street, Providence, RI 02908, or by writing the Supreme Court Judicial Records Center.
FamilySearch.org has a variety of collections available for free online:
- Rhode Island, Births and Christenings, 1600-1914
- Rhode Island, Marriages, 1724-1916
- Rhode Island, Deaths and Burials, 1802-1950
- Rhode Island Birth, Marriage, and Death Records - free up-to-date guide to accessing Rhode Island birth, marriage, and death records (FamilySearch Research Wiki). Includes links to FamilySearch vital record databases.