Discover the premier resources for tracing your Granite State pedigree.
New Hampshirites like being ahead of the pack—their state was the first to break off from Great Britain in 1776, and the first to have its own state constitution (1776). It established the country’s first publicly funded library (1833), and since 1952, has traditionally held the nation’s first presidential primary.
The Granite State’s history of firsts began in the 1620s, when England gave Capt. John Mason a grant to the region. Mason dubbed the land “New Hampshire” after his home county in England. Colonists established New Hampshire’s first permanent settlement in 1623 and its first towns—Dover, Exeter, Hampton and Portsmouth—in 1629. Now we’ll help you continue your New Hampshire ancestors’ legacy by introducing you to the foremost resources for tracing them.
Granite State originals
Many Brits from England, Massachusetts and Connecticut came to New Hampshire in the 1600s. An influx of Scots-Irish followed in 1719. After the Civil War, French Canadians moved south to work in textile mills and the lumber industry—today, their descendants make up a quarter of the state’s population. In the late 1800s, Irish, Italians, Scandinavians, Polish, Greeks, Russians and Germans joined the crowd.
For records of your immigrant ancestors, look first to New England’s largest port of entry, Boston: Its 1820-to-1874, 1883 and 1935 records are on microfilm at the Family History Library (FHL)
and the National Archives and Records Administration
(NARA), and online at Ancestry.com
($155.40 per year). The Massachusetts Archives
has those passenger lists plus nine additional years. Look up immigrants who came directly through Portsmouth on NARA microfilm M0575 (FHL film 830245). Canadian border entry records from 1895 to 1954 (St. Albans lists) are at the FHL, NARA and Ancestry.com.
From 1641 to 1679 and again from 1690 to 1692, Massachusetts governed New Hampshire, even though the Granite State became a royal province in 1679. By 1700, most American Indians native to the area—Algonquins, Pennacooks and Abenakis—had left. County boundaries fluctuated until the mid-1700s.
Your No. 1 source
As with other New England states, town records are key for New Hampshire genealogy—especially these:
Vital records: Towns, not counties, record vital statistics in the Granite State. New Hampshire began requiring town clerks to report births, marriages and deaths to the state in 1866, but most didn’t comply until the 1880s. You can order copies of pre-1901 birth and pre-1948 death, marriage and divorce records from the state Division of Vital Records Administration or town clerks (later records are subject to privacy restrictions).
Marriages were recorded as early as 1639; many are on FHL microfilm, arranged by groom’s surname. The New Hampshire State Library (NHSL)
, FHL and NEHGS have an every-name vital-records index covering 1650 to about 1840. Also check NHSL’s transcriptions of town reports, which include residents’ vital stats from the previous year.
- Land records: The most important source of early land transactions is the 40-volume New Hampshire State Papers (also referred to as the New Hampshire Provincial and State Papers). Town charters for the state while it was under Massachusetts’ jurisdiction are in volume 24. In volumes 25 to 29, you’ll find land grants, maps and plans dating from the 1600s to the 1800s. The state papers are at the New Hampshire Historical Society (NHHS), NEHGS, NHSL and the New Hampshire state archives (aka Division of Records Management and Archives), which has an online index. Also helpful: a volume-by-volume inventory of the state papers’ contents, based on a 1976 article in NHHS’ journal, Historical New Hampshire.
When original landowners sold their land, their deeds and other transactions were recorded in provincial, county and some town records. Counties began registering deeds in 1769, but those documents are now with town records. All pre-1772 records are held at the state archives and copies for some areas are at NEHGS. The FHL has microfilmed deeds and probate records from 1623 to 1772 (index on films 1001359 to 1001506; records on films 15410 to 15468).
Warnings out: In some northern New England states, including New Hampshire, towns were responsible for their residents. If an “undesirable” person or family moved in or if the newcomers couldn’t show personal means of support, they could be “warned out” by a warrant from the town constable. The town clerk kept these records, but some lists have also been published and are on FHL microfilm.
NEHGS staff genealogist David Dearborn cautions that early record-keeping in the Granite State can be spotty—the record you need might not exist. You’ll have to search in various record groups, such as newspapers and church, cemetery and court records. Dearborn also recommends town histories, which vary in quality, but may provide additional genealogical data.
Headfirst into head counts
New Hampshire’s first population tallies weren’t true censuses, but provincial tax lists. The records, generally arranged by date and locality, may include the taxpayer’s name and residence; a description of property; and numbers of males older than 21, schoolchildren and farm animals. Tax lists for 1744 and 1767, and the 1776 test of male residents who pledged to defend the cause for independence, are listed in the New Hampshire State Papers. The 1776 list is also at NARA, NEHGS and Ancestry.com. Various other tax books and lists are on FHL microfilm (1727 to 1788 and 1849 to 1874). NHHS has the 1849-to-1874 lists.
Federal head counts began in 1790 and occurred every 10 years after. Access censuses from 1790 through 1930 (except 1890, which was ruined in a fire) on microfilm from the FHL, NARA, NEHGS and NHSL, as well as online at Ancestry.com
and HeritageQuest Online
(free via subscribing libraries). Keep in mind that several towns are missing from Strafford, Rockingham and Grafton counties’ 1800 and 1820 enumerations. Since Coos County residents considered themselves Canadians, that county’s pre-1850 enumerations are incomplete.
On the front lines
New Hampshirites have served in the military since the French and Indian War (1754 to 1763). Records from that war are on FHL microfilm and in volumes 5, 6, 14 and 16 of the state papers.
Get service and pension records for Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Civil War soldiers on FHL and NARA microfilm. Revolutionary soldiers are also in the state papers (volumes 14 to 17). You can search for Civil War ancestors in the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database
. The state archives and NEHGS have Civil War enlistment cards and muster rolls, and NHHS has a name index and abstracts for all New Hampshire residents who received pensions. Microfilm copies of the NHHS index are at NEHGS and NARA’s Boston branch
WWI draft registration cards for men age 18 to 45 list each soldier’s address, birth date, birthplace, race, nationality, citizenship and next of kin. NARA holds the originals and the FHL has microfilm copies; they’re also searchable on Ancestry.com.
The New Hampshire Veterans Home (139 Winter St., Box 229, Tilton, NH 03276, 603-286-4400) kept records of veterans who lived there after the Civil War. Some have been sent to the state archives, but you’ll want to contact the veterans home first.
In the lead
All these records are just for starters, of course. You’ll have a wealth of additional resources to explore, including the state archives’ court records, marriage intentions and naturalizations (see an online guide to its holdings
); NHSL’s town and county histories, city directories and military indexes; and NHHS’ newspapers, photos and genealogies. Search NEHGS’ databases of Colonial and later church member lists and town books, and Ancestry.com’s collections of probates and city directories. Contact the historian of your ancestors’ town, who may be able to provide details on townspeople not included in other records. You’ll be taking the first steps toward extending your family tree.
From the March 2009 Family Tree Magazine