23 March 2010

Mass. Records Closed to 1841?

Do you have Massachusetts ancestry? Barbara J. Mathews, CG, President of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council, alerts us to Massachusetts Senate Bill 820, which will close all vital records after 1841. Yes, that is not a typo: 1841.

S820 states that only the person named in a vital record or his parent, guardian, or attorney can look at a record or get a certified copy of a record. This law applies for records all the way back to 1841, that is, to all the birth and marriage records for the last 169 years.

The bill's text eliminates the current section that closes out-of-wedlock births and replaces the entire section with text that closes all births and marriages. Proposed by Patricia D. Jehlen of the Second Middlesex District, the last sentence states, "The provisions of this section shall not apply to such records, returns or notices recorded or filed prior to January first, eighteen hundred and forty-one or to such copies thereof.” You can see the full text at http://www.mass.gov/legis/bills/senate/186/st00/st00820.htm

We cannot ignore this bill. Please write to members of the House Ways and Means Committee right away to stop this bill from moving forward. Massachusetts is an open records state and has been so since 1641.

To access a list of the Massachusetts House Ways and Means members, go to http://www.mass.gov/legis/comm/h34.htm. From the committee listing, you can click on the name of any member and go to that member's personal page. Full contact information is on the member's page, including telephone, mail, and email. Put "Against Senate Bill 820" in the subject line of your email. Genealogists, protect your interests!


  1. This is absolutely terrible. What bright idiot thought this one up? What are they drinking in the water these days, to be taking away so many freedoms--in this case, a freedom enjoyed since 1641!?

  2. I know that a lot of genealogists use the births, death and marriage records of Massachusetts to find their kinfolk. It has been said that Mass had the hardest to find records because we are one of the first states and had the most people in the beginning of the USA.
    I hope they do not close the records. Many people use them today. It would be a big BRICK WALL for most people.

  3. I think I may be sick - what is the purpose of this? They should get Sarah Jessica Parker to protest; she just found relatives from MA for "Who Do You Think You Are?"

  4. I just emailed one of the members. My email may not mean anything but together I think we may make a difference so please contact them and voice your opinion too!

  5. My gr. grandfather was born in Lynn in 1850. He has been dead since 1916, how could it determental to his safety? I have done MUCH research in Massachusetts and still have a lot to do, I would hate for these records to be closed to the public. It makes no sense to me.

  6. My take on this is that our government just keeps on getting more and more corrupt all the time and this is just one way these corrupt politicians might not have future generations find out just how corrupt they were. If they can't find records, they won't know.

  7. HB820 need NOT be considered or passed by the Massachussets Legislature. It is an infringement on the rights, as well as the duties, of Professonal Genealogists and others to do their research. All records must be available for research purposes; and neither the State nor the Federal Governments should bloc or bar people from accessing these records; if this bill becomes law; it would be worse than the Vatican, in Rome, telling their Clergy not to give any records to certain individuals or organizations. In closing, Governments have NO BUSINESS telling you what records to search.

  8. Sometimes I'm embarrassed to be born and raised in this state. What a stupid idea, when due to programs like WDYTYA that more people will be getting into genealogy and looking for their ancestors. Well, I'll be contacting the idiots.

  9. Gosh...I imagine they are all deceased, by now. What's the point? Government is intruding way too much into our lives. It's time that it stops.

  10. We should also enlighten Ms. Jehlen as to what happens to Senators at election time, when they behave in a stupid and thoughtless manner to make a name for themselves.
    Contact her at:
    State House
    Room 513
    State House
    Boston, MA 02133
    Telephone: 617-722-1578
    Facsimile: 617-722-1117
    E-Mail: [email protected]

  11. Bill 820 is dated 1-12-2009
    Is this a false scare about last years business?

  12. As a famous sports player once said 'You cannot be SERIOUS!!' I live in England -- in the UK all the BMD indexes are free to look at up to the present day, or almost. Our dear Govt. hasn't (yet!) seen fit to see such freedom of access as a threat to national security! and here's hoping they don't follow the same thinking behind these proposed restrictions? What is the point of them?

  13. Bruce ChristopherMarch 27, 2010 2:26 AM

    This may be a false alarm.
    I note that the current edition of this law, as it appears at

    does mention the year 1841, but also qualifies the restricted records as
    "records and returns of children born out of wedlock or abnormal sex births, or fetal deaths, or of the notices of intention of marriage and marriage records in cases where a physician’s certificate has been filed under the provisions of section twenty A of chapter two hundred and seven, or those of persons born out of wedlock, or of copies of such records in the department of public health"

    Thereby leaving "normal" records accessible.

    The change proposed by Massachusetts State Senator Patricia D. Jehlen in 2009, deletes those qualifiers and as such would appear to be the primary difference between the current law and her proposed revision. I have not found any indication that her changes have been made law. It would seem that 1841 was already in this law and no doubt relates to that being the start of statewide record keeping. That being said, it still seems that setting a fixed cutoff year of 1841, even for that specific subset of vital records, should be modified to specify a cutoff based on the age of the records, so that each year a new year's worth of data would become available. One hundred sixty-nine years (and growing) seems excessive; so a moving cutoff of 100 or 110 years might be more reasonable.

  14. All of the loss of freedoms and infringement of rights aside... could someone break this down just a little more?

    Thank you, Bruce, for your read on the bill. I'm still a little perplexed as to what the purpose of the bill is?

  15. Anyone born before 1900 is most likely dead. So what does it matter if I find an ancestor who was born out of wed lock, or a mass murder? They are all dead.
    I have ancestors who first landed in Mass. fortunately for me they migrated to Canada and I have not problem with tracing them
    For those who have ancestors in Mass. this is ridiculous.
    Makes one wonder what politician wants to keep his family skeletons in the closet.

  16. Look's like she was saying it's more about Identity Theft on her site:

    "...In a time of increasing identity theft, this legislation would restrict the number of people who have access to birth records to the child seeking his or her own birth record..."

    But the links to Current Status of the bill is broken (the bill was written in Jan 2009, over a year ago).

    But that 1841 thing is odd. Is this so Fat Tony can't register long-dead people to vote?

    -- jimpogo

  17. It's not old. It is in CURRENT session. I just checked at

  18. How can they expect to deny access to these records completely since they have been microfimed, digitized and made available on-line in places beyond the jurisdiction of Massachusetts laws, i.e. Ancestry.com and Family History Centers. That horse has already left the building! There are no copyrights over public records.

  19. they have probably figured out a way to charge for the info. everything comes down to money.

  20. Why are they going back to the pilgrim fathers?Considering that the greater majority of residents arrived much later is seems very unfair to their descendants.Are they trying to be elitist and concentrate only on the first arrivals.This is avery misguided move and also a bit stupid considering the financial aspect and the loss of revenue.