As in the rest of New England, vital records in Vermont are incomplete before civil registration in 1857. Before 1820, entire families sometimes appear together in the records of the towns where they lived. Vermont’s population was mobile, with families looking for economic opportunities in various areas — an additional challenge to your research.
Vermont ratified the Constitution in 1791, missing the first federal census by one year — but there is a 1791 census for the state. The Genealogical Society of Vermont http://www.genealogyvermont.org has compiled genealogies of 1791 residents in the series Vermont Families in 1791 (Picton Press). Jay Mack Holbrook compiled names from land grants and other sources to produce the book 1771 Census (Holbrook Research, 1982). Examine the original sources cited to verify whether your ancestor actually lived in Vermont or was just awarded land.
Probate records, when they exist, were recorded on the district level. They are indexed, but only by district. Microfilm copies of probate proceedings do not include all the papers found in an original probate file. Use the indexes to locate a record, then track down the originals.
Land disputes in the colonial period mean pre-1777 land transactions could be in New York, New Hampshire or Vermont. The New Hampshire State Papers (see New Hampshire) and Vermont State Papers contain information on original territorial proprietors, and a volume of Vermont State Papers has information on confiscated land. Search the Nye index, which indexes signatories to petitions, on the Vermont State Archives website http://vermont-archives.org/research/database/nye.asp. After 1777, land records are in the town clerk’s office. Most records have been microfilmed and are available in central repositories such as the Vermont Historical Society http://www.vermonthistory.org.
The Vermont Historical Society has an index of veteran’s graves from the Civil War through World War I. Microfilms of vital records include cemetery cards serving as a statewide index to grave records.
Unfortunately, a fire destroyed some of Vermont’s state-level military records before 1920. Miscellaneous records are available in town clerk’s offices or at the Vermont State Archives. Records that were saved from the fire have been preserved and microfilmed by the Vermont Department of Public Records and are available there. A finding aid is online at http://vermont-archives.org/research/genealogy.
Church registers provide documentation on Vermont families prior to civil registration. A Works Progress Administration inventory of church records at the Vermont Public Records Office enables you to locate original records, but some listings are out of date.
Vermont’s first published newspaper predates statehood. The Vermont Department of Libraries has an extensive collection of papers printed since 1781 on microfilm.
Genealogical research in Vermont is both challenging and rewarding. Incomplete colonial records, the lack of statewide indexes and an extremely mobile population make locating material difficult. However, there are rewards for the persistent researcher willing to patiently search town records and multiple districts.
“Knowing the town is the primary access point for finding information,” counsels Marjorie Strong, assistant librarian at the Vermont Historical Society. “Once you have the town you’ll be able to consult cemetery records, published histories, and family genealogies.”
According to Strong, “start looking at vital records at the Vital Records Office in Montpelier to find life dates and towns of residence for family members.” Then, visit the largest genealogical society in the state — the Vermont Historical Society Library http://www.vermonthistory.org in Barre. The society has family histories, published vital records, cemetery inscriptions, town histories and censuses, as well as manuscripts and photographs on the history of the state. A guide to its genealogical resources is on the website.
If you’re looking for a colonial Vermont ancestor, records of his settlement might be in New York or New Hampshire, depending where he lived and when. Learn the history of his town to determine where materials are found. Remember that many families traveled together from town to town.
Since most early settlers emigrated from Connecticut, following the Connecticut River through Massachusetts and into Vermont, look for pre-Vermont information on the family in the records of towns near the river.
It is quite possible that at least some members of your Vermont family sought opportunities outside the state. During the 1820s, approximately half the state’s population left to join communities established by ex-Vermonters. Poor agricultural conditions and harsh winters drove many to New York, lower Canada, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and elsewhere. Many of these former Vermonters established Sons of Vermont chapters outside the state. Find evidence of their emigration in church removal records and insolvency cases in probate records.
Vermont ancestral research is complicated, but not impossible. Travel from major repositories to small towns looking for your ancestors and don’t forget to enjoy the beautiful scenery along the way.
- Vermont 1771 Census by Jay Mack Holbrook (Holbrook Research Institute, 1982)
- Migration from Vermont by Lewis D. Stillwell (Vermont Historical Society, 1948)
- Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 15 vols., by P. William Filby (Gale Research, 1981)
- Charters Granted by the State of Vermont, 1779-1846, 2 vols., (Vermont Public Records Division, 1974)
- Index to the Papers of the Surveyors-General (Secretary of State, 1918)
- Massachusetts Land Grants in Vermont by Herbert Williams Denio (John Wilson and Son, University Press, 1920)
- State Papers of Vermont from the Vermont Secretary of State (Published by authority of the Secretary of State, 1939)
- Vermont’s First Settlers by Jay Mack Holbrook (Holbrook Research Institute, 1976)
- The Vermont Lease Lands by Walter Thompson Bogart (Vermont Historical Society, 1950)
- A Gazetteer of Vermont: Containing Descriptions Of all the Counties, Towns and Districts in the State, and of its Principal Mountains, Rivers, Waterfalls, Harbors, Islands and Curious Places by John Hayward (Heritage books, 1990)
- The Postal History of Vermont by George C. Slawson et al. (Collectors Club, 1969)
- The Shaping of Vermont: 1749-1877 by J. Kevin Graffagnino (Vermont Heritage Press, 1983)
- Vermont Atlas and Gazetteer (DeLorme Mapping Co., 1996)
- Vermont Place-Names: Footprints of History by Ester Munroe Swift (Stephen Green Press, 1977)
- A List of Pensioners of the War of 1812 [Vermont Claimants] by Byron N. Clark (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1969)
- Revised Roster of Vermont Volunteers and Lists Of Vermonters Who Served in the Army and Navy of the United States During the War of the Rebellion, 1861-66 by Theodore S. Peck (Watchman Publishing Co., 1892)
- Revolutionary Soldiers Buried in Vermont by Walter Hill Crockett (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1959)
- Rolls of Soldiers in the Revolutionary War, 1775-1783 compiled and edited by John E. Goodrich (Tuttle Co., 1904)
- Roster of Soldiers in the War Of 1812-1814 from the Vermont Adjutant Generals Office
- (Herbert T. Johnson, Adjutant General, 1933)
- Soldiers, Sailors and Patriots of the Revolutionary War, Vermont by Carleton E. Fisher (Picton Press, 1992)
- Vermont in the Spanish-American War by Herbert T. Johnson (Adjutant General, 1929)
- State Papers of Vermont from the Vermont Secretary of State (Published by authority of Secretary of State, 1939)
- Burial Grounds of Vermont by Arthur L. Hyde (Vermont Old Cemetery Association, 1991)
- Index to Known Cemetery Listings in Vermont by Joann H. Nichols (Joann H. Nichols, 1976)
- Vermont Warnings Out, 2 vols., by Alden M. Rollins (Picton Press, 1995-1997)
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