Medfield, Massachusetts Vital Records Research

The Medfield, Massachusetts vital records are readily available online for genealogists for the years of 1651 and ending in 1918 for marriages, 1928 for births, and 1925 for deaths. There is no reason to pay for such records but users of the printed index of records should be aware that it does include errors, and that the 1878 scanned copies include supplements that may not be found in the printed copy. There are also scanned copies of the actual registers up to 1900 and returns and certificates up to 1929.

The original town records are lost to modern day genealogists. The fire that occurred in 1874 which burned the town hall and attached library scorched the already worn and tattered books so badly that a committee of experienced researchers, in 1878, determined the best thing to do was to copy the originals into the modern day vital record books so that the information itself was not lost to posterity. Unfortunately, while doing so, they made the decision to group the records by the surname and then date. While this brought the family births together, it ruined the order as found in the original record. Thankfully, a prior clerk, Henry Adams, in 1850, also made a copy of the original records, probably due to their wear and tear in everyday usage of the originals. These handwritten records also exist digitally. Finally, births, marriages, and deaths have continued to occur in Medfield, and those records have been placed into additional vital records books, some of which are available online.

This gives a researcher 3 different sets of 2nd level records they will want to utilize. A second level record is a record which has been copied from the original record. An increase in level is not affected by a scanning, by which the item scanned has not in any manner been altered. Since it appears by the evidence that all three versions were independently copied and not copied from an existing copy, all three should be consulted.

“Very few towns in the Commonwealth have their records in so convenient and systematic form as Medfield. The facility of reference enables those who are constantly searching them for information concerning their ancestry to find quickly all that our records contain. We are also by this means able to decide some hitherto doubtful cases, and to correct errors into which earlier genealogies have fallen.”

William Tilden in his History of the Town of Medfield, Massachusetts, 1650-1886, p. 264.

Formation of Medfield, Massachusetts

On 22 May 1650 Medfield was established from a part of the town of Dedham, it’s initial residents largely coming from that town. Any birth or marriage of a resident of Medfield prior to 1651 will be found in the vital records of Dedham, Massachusetts. When Medfield was established it was a part of Suffolk County and remained that way until 1793 when it became part of the newly formed Norfolk County. Since 1793 it has remained a part of Norfolk County. This is an important consideration for the genealogist when looking for court records such as probate.

On 28 May 1659 additional land was granted to Medfield expanding it’s boundaries.

On 24 Oct 1713 a part of Medfield on the west side of the Charles River was established The 1850as the town of Medway. Residents living on the west side of Charles River who had their records added to the Medfield vital records prior to 1713 would now have their records added to Medway, without having physically moved an inch.

All records for Medfield include the farms which were adjacent to Medfield but were not yet in a specific township.

The Printed 1850 Medfield, Massachusetts Vital Records

Vital Records of Medfield MA to 1850 - title page to print copy
Vital Records of Medfield MA to 1850 – title page to print copy

Known as the “Tan Books” for their plain tan covers these vital records have for decades served as the favorite means of research for Massachusetts ancestors. They were readily available at libraries across the country. These records also often served as the official copy for the town hall as it saved on the wear and tear of the original roll books. The Medfield town vital records were printed in 1903 as part of the Eddy Town Record Fund for the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS). The records are provided in three parts, birth, marriage and death records each having their own part. The committee further broke down the records by surname and then given name within each section. This requires a researcher to search all three record parts for each ancestor. I do not believe that this is an exact copy of either the 1850 or 1878 vital records as there is usage of [torn] in the printed version that is not present in either the 1850 or 1878 versions. This then is the first of 3 unique copies of the original record.

The 1850 Copy of the Medfield, Massachusetts Vital Records

1850 Copy of Medfield VR cover
1850 Copy of Medfield VR cover

On 4 March 1850 the town of Medfield voted that the older vital records records of the town be copied by the current town clerk, Henry Adams. This Henry did, copying all records from 1651-1819. These records were analyzed and copied only by Henry Adams, there was no committee to determine any discrepancies that arise in all subsequent copying of handwritten materials. Henry’s copy, while not going through the scrutiny of the later 1878 copy as to exactness, is important as the originals had not yet been scorched and were analyzed almost a full 30 years earlier than the 1878 version.

My analysis of these records indicate Henry did a fairly good job of interpreting the earlier handwriting but some entries he had difficulty reading, and the resulting record as copied by him is incomplete.

The 1850 copy of the Medfield, Massachusetts vital records appear on the FHC film #721179, image group #7009438. The 1850 version of records covers the first 214 images of the film. The remaining section of the film contains the births and marriages for the 1878 version of records.

The 1878 Copy of the Medfield, Massachusetts Vital Records

1878 Copy of Births in Medfield Cover
1878 Copy of Births and Marriages in Medfield

In 1878, four years after the fire which consumed the town hall of Medfield, the selectmen of the city voted that all vital records should be copied and left it up to the selectmen chosen how best that be done. That committee was headed by Jeremiah B. Hale and comprised Rev. C. C. Sewall, town clerk, Prof. William Tilden, and James Hewins, Esq. Their description of how they conducted this copying is priceless for a genealogist:

“The old records were carefully drawn off alphabetically on paper for that purpose, then, each entry compared with the original, and, if found correct in spelling + otherwise, the original was stamped “Copied and Compared.
“From the alphabetical list they were carefully arranged into this book by Surname + families.”

The last paragraph of the preface to the births is disappointing “Where red ink is used it denotes information deemed reliable, but not found in the original.” The scan of the record was done in greyscale, not color, therefor the red ink is at best a different shade of grey than the original ink, and exceedingly difficult to pick out.

1878 Copy of Deaths in Medfield
1878 Copy of Deaths in Medfield

In each section of the 1878 copy of the records is an important supplement. This supplement is made up of all such records as could be found out as omitted in the original records.

These records also expand the period covered by the two other versions and cover the years of 1651 to 1875, a full 25 years extra to the printed copy, and 56 additional years added to the 1850 copy.

Caution, the terms of Mrs. and Miss between the years of 1776 and 1780 are more or less misplaced. Births during that same period are recorded in such a manner as to imply the woman was unmarried (Miss.). Also in the marriage records the title implied by the errant Mrs. would imply the brides had been previously married. In the marriage record, the column headed “Remarks” is not to be considered as part of the original records, but merely for explanatory noes and for longer notes.

Any marriage record recorded in Dedham, Walpole, Medway, Sherborn, Holliston, and Wrentham where either party was recorded as residing in Medfield was included in the supplement section of the marriage records.

Vital Registers of Medfield, Massachusetts 1873-1900

Births Registered in Medfield 1873
Births Registered in Medfield 1873

This microfilm is mislabeled by FamilySearch who imply it is only a listing of marriage records for 1873-1900. In fact, the vital record volumes scanned consist of birth, marriage, and death registers for those years also. These are in the form of registers, not individual returns or certificates which were also being created during this period. This microfilm also contains the marriage records starting at image 165 which will be featured further in the article.

Return of Births in the town of Medfield, Massachusetts 1908-1928

1908 Birth Record for Rose Isabell McLeod
1908 Birth Record for Rose Isabell McLeod

The available online vital records for births in the town of Medfield, Massachusetts do not include any records for the years of 1876-1907. The eight microfilm reels filmed by the Utah Genealogical Society in 1970 did not include the vital record book which would contain such records. These “Return of Births” contain similar information as found in prior birth records, name, date of birth, sex, color, and if twin, place of birth, father, mother (maiden name included), residence of parents and occupation of father, birth place of parents.

There are four additional volumes of birth records that can be viewed at the FHC in Salt Lake City which cover the years of 1929-1969. These are not available online.

Return of Marriages in the town of Medfield, Massachusetts 1873-1918

1899 marriage record for Frank H Donnelly and Alice Agnes Fitzgerald
1899 marriage record for Frank H Donnelly and Alice Agnes Fitzgerald

The Genealogical Society of Utah filmed 3 volumes of death records from Medfield, Massachusetts in 1970 covering the years of 1873-1969. The first of these volumes is the only one available online. The first 164 images of FHL microfilm #7009439 contains the birth, marriage, and death registers for 1873-1900. The rest of the microfilm contains the Marriage Books for Medfield, Massachusetts from 1899-1918.

Massachusetts started using a new certificate of marriage form in 1895. This form included the grooms and bride details on one page, full name, color, residence, age, occupation, number of marriage (important!), place of birth, father and mother’s name. The record includes both the intention if filed and the actual marriage record including the officiant name.

There are two additional volumes of marriage records that can be viewed at the FHC in Salt Lake City which cover the years of 1929-1969. These are not available online.

Return of Deaths in the town of Medfield, Massachusetts 1874-1900

1886 return of death for Euphie I Johnson
1886 return of death for Euphie I Johnson

These four volumes of death records were filmed together and comprise FHL film #4278929. By 1874 there was a standard death record form in use by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In place of a register style of listings where multiple records occur on each page, a single page was devoted to each decedent, called a “Return of Death,” and the information included was expanded. Some of these records have a scanned second image which includes the physician’s certificate. In 1898 the Massachusetts Commonwealth instituted a different form which now included a physician’s certificate as to the cause of death right on the front of the Return of Death.

In 1892, the Medfield Insane Asylum began operation and a lot of the deaths after 1892 are attributed to this facility.

Return of Deaths in the town of Medfield, Massachusetts 1901-1925

1916 Death Record for Reuben J Adams
1916 Death Record for Reuben J Adams

The Genealogical Society of Utah filmed 12 volumes of death records from Medfield, Massachusetts in 1970. 1901 starts off with using the C Form containing the Return of Death and that form continues in use until the Standard Certificate of Death began usage in 1914. The standard return of death form contained the full name, place and date of death, residence, age, and statistical details as well as the physician certificate. The statistical details may include if known the sex, color, and whether single, married, widowed or divorced, maiden name, or husband name, birthplace, father and mother as well as their birthplace, occupation of deceased, informants name (important!) This section also includes the place of burial, date of burial, undertaker name, and the town located. The physician’s certificate will include the length of time the individual was under doctor care, the primary cause of death and duration, any contributory causes and their duration. It will be signed by the medical doctor. Finally, specific instructions for hospitals, institutions, transients or recent residents as to the length of time in Medfield, and where was the disease contracted if not at the place of death (Medfield). The certificate of death form contained the same information as the previous form, except they removed a place to put the informants name.

There are eight additional volumes of death records that can be viewed at the FHC in Salt Lake City which cover the years of 1926-1969. These are not available online.

Medfield, Massachusetts Vital Records after 1969

All Massachusetts Vital Records after 1929 should be purchased from the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics if you are unable to access the microfilms for those 1929-1969, or are in need of a certificate since 1969.

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