Monday, August 18, 2014

The Vital Role of Vital Statistics in Massachusetts History

As a repository for official state documents, the State Library of Massachusetts has many annual reports from agencies and entities of the commonwealth. The Annual Report of Vital Statistics, or Public Document #1, is an interesting example of our documents collection due to its unique history and value to researchers.

Vital events in Massachusetts, such as births, marriages and deaths, have been kept through a government-operated system since 1639. At this time, most countries with any sort of system for recording and keeping vital events did so through religious officials. But Massachusetts mandated that the responsibility would be given to the clerks in the communities, keeping all vital events at a local level for many years.

This process changed in 1842 when legislature passed a Statewide Act requiring every town and city clerk to send copies of vital events to the Secretary of State, who would, “…prepare therefrom such tabular results as will render them of practical utility, and shall make report thereof annually to the legislature…” The first year covered was 1841, and Massachusetts has continuously collected, processed and published vital statistics every year since then.

Since 1964, some of the responsibilities of collecting and publishing the Annual Report of Vital Statistics were transferred to the Department of Public Health under Chapter 508 of the Acts of 1964. This was done so that vital statistics could be easily connected with health and population research. Nevertheless, the registration of vital records was still the Secretary of State’s job until 1974, when the entire process was taken over by the Department of Public Health.  While certain tables and formats were changed with the transfer of responsibility, the main information about births, deaths, marriages, divorce and population continued.

This data that has been continuously collected for over 150 years is incredibly important for developing policy and programs whether looking at demographics, education or health plans. Being able to easily notice trends in Massachusetts population can aid legislature, specialists and public programmers to better understand who is living, learning and working in our state. But these vital statistics are also a great tool for historians, genealogists and citizens hoping to do local history on their families or towns. The fact that the State Library not only has original copies in our stacks but also digital copies of the Annual Reports  going back to 1841 (as well as Vital Records up to 1850) allows access to data and information that can give anyone a better understanding of our state’s past.

To learn more about how vital records are received and processed under M.G.L 111, Section 2, visit: 

Stephanie Turnbull
Reference Librarian

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Brown Bag on “The Multiple Meanings of Faneuil Hall”

Join us for a Brown Bag Lunch
On Thursday, August 21st, 2014
State Library of Massachusetts
Room 442, State House
12 until 1:30 PM

Bring your lunch and join us to hear National Park Ranger Michael R. Marciello speak on the History of Faneuil Hall. He will discuss the ways American usages and views of this storied building have changed markedly over the centuries.  From Patriots to Abolitionists to Suffragettes,  Faneuil Hall can be connected to any social changes in American History.

To register, please visit: You may also call the Reference Department at 617-727-2590 or send an e-mail to to let us know you will attend.

Future Brown Bags include:
  • September - to be determined
  • October 16th - State Geologist Steven Mabee, The Massachusetts Geological Survey
  • November 25th - Hilary Jacobs from the Department of Public Health, rescheduling of the Brown Bag on the Opiate Crisis


Monday, August 11, 2014

Researching Early Corporations in Massachusetts

A page from the Report of the
Tax Commissioner
(PD 35) of 1877-1878
The State Library often receives questions about early Massachusetts corporations, specifically information on their date of organization or how to view their charter.  Gathering information on 19th and early 20th century corporations requires a little research, and it’s a good idea to first understand the early history of corporation laws in Massachusetts.  Before 1851, corporations were required to go through the legislature in order to organize, and the organization was subsequently recorded as a special act.  After 1851, there were different layers of reform to the Massachusetts General Laws, and the status of the corporation (manufacturing, printing, distilling, etc.) determined organization eligibility and the legal procedure. Today, corporations are still subject to the Massachusetts General Laws, and filings are processed through the Corporations Division of the Secretary of State’s Office.  For information on relatively recent corporations (mid-20th century to current) it’s best to contact the Division; the MA Trial Court Law Libraries website has also compiled current state law, selected case law, and other resources on the subject.

One way to locate the special statutes of corporations that organized through the legislature is by performing a keyword or citation search in our Acts and Resolves database.  If you find you’re not having much luck with this approach, it’s important to know that early state taxation documents are particularly helpful.  These documents were published by the Tax Commissioner for, among other reasons, the benefit of tax assessors in the various cities and towns around the Commonwealth.

The following series provide lists of taxable corporations in MA that existed at the time each document was published.  The amount of historical information included in the lists is dependent on the publishing date--later reports provide lists that are much more simplified.  An entry may contain the date a corporation was organized, chartered, or certified, and a statute citation (often when the corporation listed is a new entity); if there is no statute citation, the date provided (especially prior to 1851) will be helpful in tracking the statute down.  Some entries also note when a corporation was reorganized and/or renamed, also with statute citations when applicable.

Each of these titles is available for use in the library, which is located in room 341 of the State House.  For more information, please contact our reference desk at 617-727-2590 or send us an email at

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

NOAA and the Climate Federal Documents of Interest

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a United States Agency that has as its mission:  “science, service and stewardship; to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans and coasts; to share that knowledge and information with others; and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems resources”.

The Survey of the Coast was the first scientific agency of our Nation in 1807.  Today there are 6 units in NOAA:  National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service; National Marine Fisheries Service; National Ocean Service; National Weather Service; Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research and Office of Program Planning and Integration.

Recently a climate report entitled: Climate Change Impacts in the United States was released. The 60-person Federal Advisory Committee (the “National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee”) utilized the services of over 250 authors as specialists in the varying areas of concern.  The result was a draft report that was released for a public comment period.  The report was then reviewed and adopted.

A climate assessment of the country was last produced in 2009.  This report was released by the White House; and as recently as June 14, 2014 in a speech before the graduates of the University of California Irving the President is quoted as saying “the question is whether we have the will to act before it is too late”.

There are varying environmental areas in this report including:  rural communities; biogeochemical cycles; water resources; transportation; ecosystems; human health; energy, water and land use; and indigenous peoples, lands and resources.

We invite you to read this report and other federal documents on one of our 8 public access computers in either room 341 or room 442 of the State House between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm Mondays through Fridays.

Bette L. Siegel
Documents Librarian

Monday, July 28, 2014

Brown Bag on The Opiate Crisis in Massachusetts Postponed

Tomorrow's Brown Bag on the Opiate Crisis in Massachusetts has been postponed. We will let you know once the event has been rescheduled. 

Massachusetts Volunteer Aid Association Collection

A photograph of the Bay State on top of technical drawings of
the ship from different angles. 

One of the United States’ less-remembered wars, the Spanish-American War took place over ten weeks in 1898. Reports of Spain’s repression in Cuba and the sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine in the Havana harbor combined to heighten hawkish public sentiment, and political and corporate interests pushed a reluctant President William McKinley to reject Spanish attempts at compromise. The U.S. sent Spain an ultimatum demanding the surrender of Cuba, after which Spain formally declared war. The war was fought in Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, and the Philippines and Guam in the Pacific.

The State House Special Collections department holds the records of the Massachusetts Volunteer Aid Association (MVAA, Ms. Coll. 20), a voluntary relief organization formed in May of 1898 by prominent and wealthy citizens to assist the government during the war. It was a charitable endeavor meant to care for wounded veterans and to assist in furnishing supplies and relief to the men of the Army and Navy, particularly those from Massachusetts.  Although the MVAA was a private organization, it worked closely with military and naval authorities.

Page from a shipping log noting destinations of shipments and types of goods.
Note the columns dedicated to Soup, Malted Milk, and Jelly.
The initial ten-member, all-male Executive Committee appointed a Women’s Committee, who began to meet in June of 1898. The Women’s Committee immediately formed sub-committees and began promoting the formation of similar volunteer aid associations across Massachusetts, gathering supplies, and raising funds to buy what was not donated.

Committee members decided that one of the most practical ways of providing help would be to outfit a steamship to serve as a floating hospital, supply ship, and transport for the sick and wounded.  The MVAA was able to raise the funds to purchase and outfit the steamer Bay State, which received an authorization signed by President McKinley himself. The ship sailed from Boston on its first trip on August 6, 1898, returning to Boston on August 30, 1898, with 99 sick men on board.  The Bay State made a total of three trips from Massachusetts to Cuba and Puerto Rico.

The MVAA received an authorization signed by President
William McKinley to outfit the Bay State as a
hospital ship.

In addition to the items shown here, the Special Collections department holds more important records from the MVAA, including a two-volume set of carbon copies of correspondence sent out between May 6, 1898 and April 21, 1899, the ship’s log from the Bay State’s first trip in 1898, and a card file listing the admitting hospital and follow-up information on each returning wounded soldier. Together, they provide invaluable insight into the lives of numerous soldiers and the nature of civilian war relief work at the turn of the century.

Katie Seitz
Special Collections Intern

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Brown Bag on The Opiate Crisis in Massachusetts

Join us for a Brown Bag Lunch
On Tuesday, July 29th 2014
State Library of Massachusetts
Room 442, State House
12 until 1:30 PM

Bring your lunch and join us to hear Sarah Ruiz from the Department of  Public Health’s Bureau of Substance Abuse Services, speak about Opioid Use and Overdose in Massachusetts and the State Response.  She will relate how usage, addiction and overdose have increased here in the past couple of decades.
In response to the crisis, Governor Deval Patrick declared a Public Health Emergency on March 27th and outlined specific goals to address the problem.  Come and learn about the recommendations of the Opioid Task Force and the range of strategies being implemented by the Department of Public Health.

To register, please visit:  You may also call the Reference Department at 617-727-2590 or send  an e-mail to to let us know you will attend.