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Create Your Health Pedigree Here!

Posted by on in Legislation Massachusetts
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When you visit your doctor do you have to fill out a lengthy family health history questionnaire? Physicians use these to diagnose and treat us because it helps them assess our risk factors for certain diseases. You can blow your doctor away by completing a family health pedigree and bringing it to your next appointment!

But what if you don't know your family members' exact cause of death or ages at death? Sometimes this information does not get passed down in families because it is too sad, or just too long ago. And frequently you'll hear a cause of death as "old age" or "broken heart." So what can you do if you want more exact details?

If you are lucky enough to live in Massachusetts you can pay a visit to the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics at Columbia Point in Dorchester, right off Route 93. Massachusetts death records up to the present day are open and accessible to the public for a fee, thanks in no small part to the dogged efforts of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council to keep them that way.

Massachusetts passed a law in 1639 requiring the town clerks to keep track of births, deaths, and marriages, and as a result we have the most complete vital records in the nation. MGC works hard to make sure that these records stay open, for so many reasons, health histories being one of them. 

Every state now records vital records, but many of them are closed. This closure is harmful because it prevents people from knowing their own health histories. Why not check your own state and see what the regulations are? If you don't like them you can make your voice heard. MGC has lots of experience and we are happy to help you.

In the meantime, click on the chart above, to open a fillable pdf document that you can fill out online, then save to your computer and print out. We hope this helps you and your doctors to keep you healthy.

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Polly FitzGerald Kimmitt is a Board-certified genealogist specializing in Massachusetts research. She has been taking clients for sixteen years and researches a variety of topics from Mayflower lineages to locating townlands of Irish immigrants. She is a case worker under contract to the US Army on repatriation cases, helping to locate family members of servicemen missing or killed in previous conflicts. She currently serves as a director at Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), and editor of the FGS Voice Newsletter, and is past president of MGC. You can read her personal blog at


  • Polly FitzGerald Kimmitt
    Polly FitzGerald Kimmitt Monday, 04 November 2013

    Hi Cindy,

    If you are not local, the best way to order a certificate is to write directly to the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics, 150 Mt. Vernon Street, Dorchester, MA 02125-3105. Provide name, date, location and type of vital record (birth/marriage/death), and any other identifying information you have, parents names, eg. And of course you should include a check for the service. It is not as expensive as Vital Check.

    You can send an email to the Registry directly at, or call them at (617) 740-2600 to enquire about procedures with ordering.

    If you are looking for a local researcher you can visit the New England Chapter of APG (Association of Professional Genealogists) at, where you can view profiles of local researchers who would love to fulfill your request!

    Another suggestion is to Google the Cambridge City Clerk, who would probably provide the certificate for a lesser charge. I think I need to make another blog post about this!

    Best, Polly

  • Guest
    Cindy Sunday, 03 November 2013

    A link to your "Create Your Health Pedigree Here" was shared on Facebook. Thank you so much. What a wonderful tool to use for gathering and organizing a critical part of our genealogy.

    Within your article you mentioned that Massachusetts Death records are free and accessible to the public for those who live in Massachusetts. I live in Florida and would like to get a copy of a death certificate for someone who passed in Cambridge. Is there a link online or a researcher you might recommend? The only thing I found was a link via Vital Check, at a cost of $50, which is ten times the cost for a Florida death certificate and way beyond my budget. Are there any other suggestions you might offer?

    I greatly appreciate any assistance you may give. I'm looking for the death record for Leonard Holt who died in December 1965 in Cambridge.

    Thank you so much,

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