The Research Room of the MA Registry of Vital Records and Statistics Is Now Open
Updated: Feb 23
It's my nemisis, that traffic circle. It had been a long time since I made the trek, east on the Mass Pike, south on I-93, off the ramp at Columbia Road, turn left, go partially around that rotary, missing the Day Boulevard exit, pulling into the State Police Station, coming out turning left to enter the rotary again, then finally making the Day Boulevard exit.
After a left on Mt. Vernon, I pull into the Doubletree by Hilton. But that’s not my ultimate destination, as you all can guess. Ultimately, I take the gate on the left of the Doubletree by Hilton driveway to go into 150 Mt. Vernon Street. I park, push through the revolving door and walk straight down the hall to the Registry’s office on the first floor, asking to be buzzed into the Research Room.
For genealogists this is the best news of Winter 2023. After a COVID shutdown followed by a flooding damage shutdown, the Research Room of the Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics is open again for genealogists. They now house the 1931-2023 vital records. The five-year group of records and indexes for 1926-1930 moved to the state archives just last year.
You must pre-register for research time. You must make a separate registration for each one-hour slot, but you can make three back-to-back reservations, as I did. Click here to go to the registration page.
On Mondays and Thursdays, there are three one-hour slots, at 1, 2, and 3 in the afternoon.
On Tuesdays and Fridays, there are three one-hour slots, at 9, 10, and 11 in the morning.
Once in the Research Room, your first task is immediately to the left of the door, where you have to sign in, verify your pre-registrations, and surrender your driver's license to the clerk. At the time this is posted, the RVRS is not taking the hourly research fee. They expect to begin doing so by summertime. Click here to download the RVRS fee schedule.
The Research Room has a long table down the middle, dividing three tables with monitors on the left from the two on the right. I signed in and settled down into the middle table on the left. I’d come prepared. I had family group sheets and printouts in which I’d underlined the vital events I could inspect here and nowhere else. Now I just needed to fill out the familiar slips. All of them are white, with a name, a blank for the year, and blanks for the volume and page number. Floating below these blanks is a blank for the certificate number if applicable.
The computer display was disarmingly minimalistic. It had three items: the Chrome Browser, the File Explorer, and the Edge Browser. There were no files loaded on the screen, just the two browsers and the file folder. Fortunately, RVRS supplied plenty of instructions. To the left of the monitor were three printed sets of instructions. Taped to the table were two sets of login information, one for Chrome and one for Edge.
It turned out that the three items on the computer’s screen were for the three different ways of accessing index information. Once I understood this, I quickly started my searches.
The File Explorer folder contains pdf files of the bound five-year index volumes.
The Chrome browser contains links to several separate search screens for births or marriages or deaths or divorces for various sequences of years.
The Edge browser contains a single search mechanism in which you can separately decide which search terms to use.
For any certificate reference you find in the Chrome browser or the File Explorer folder, you fill in a white slip to hand to a staff person. That staff member will find the certificate in the storage room, photocopy it on yellow paper, stamp it in red that it has to be returned, and bring the bright yellow paper out to you to peruse. You cannot take photographs or cell phone images of the certificates. You may, however, write everything in the certificate down in your research notes. To see all the RVRS research policies, click here.
To help you in your transcribing, we’ve made blank forms you can download and print out for use in the Research Room:
Once you fill in your own form or make your own notes, you can bring that information home with you for your files.
I ran into a few problems with the Edge browser’s query system, but two things helped me considerably. First, a staff member stopped by and agreed to look up my and my cousin’s marriage certificates in the other room on his own. Then a helpful gentleman at the table to my left suggested a few ways to make the query system work better. He said for a range of years, use the range of a printed index, that is, in the pattern 1931-1935, or 1936-1940. In other words, make sure the years end in 1 and 5 or 6 and 0. He also said it was much better to use all uppercase letters. In following his instructions, I found our marriage records. The transcription I made of my cousin’s certificate was all I needed, but I did order for $20 a copy of my own.
I can’t say enough about the wonderful help I received from the RVRS staff. With the marriage certificates, they stepped right in to solve the problem. With a birth record, the staff found that the City of Lowell hadn’t submitted an updated adoption birth certificate to the state office. That conclusion was reached after my query was passed on from one worker to a more senior worker to an even more senior worker. When its absence was confirmed under both the adoption and birth names, the last worker explained to me what steps to take to have this corrected. They took time to resolve this complex issue for me.
All in all, even with the learning curve, I’d reserved three hours but only needed two hours to find twelve vital records and transcribe them all. The kind man who told me to use uppercase letters had signed up for two blocks but needed a third. I happily told him that I was abandoning my third hour and space would be available to extend his time.
Don't forget to pick up your driver's license on the way out! Several decades ago, I forgot and was without a license for an entire weekend.
Below are two additional pieces of information to arm you for your first trip to the new RVRS.
The first is a list of which item (Chrome, File Explorer, or Edge) that you use to get to records, by the type of record and year of event. It is taken from one of the RVRS handouts.
The second bit of information shows links to those indexes which RVRS has sold to Ancestry and American Ancestors. You can use these to do preliminary work identifying the volume and page numbers or certificate numbers for your slips.
What to Use by Year of Event
1931-1952: use the File Explorer to access the index book pdf files where you will find the volume and page numbers. Fill out a slip for each record.
1953-1986: use the Edge browser to search for the certificates. You can click on the certificate to view it.
1987-present: use the Chrome browser’s appropriate search tool to find the volume and page numbers. Fill out a slip for each record.
1931-1985: use the File Explorer’s pdf files to find volume and page numbers. Fill out a slip for each record.
1980-2019: use the Chrome browser’s appropriate search tool to find volume and page numbers. Fill out a slip for each record.
After 2019: inquire with the staff.
1931-1980: use the File Explorer’s pdf files to find volume and page numbers. Fill out a slip for each record.
1977-August 2014: use the Chrome browser’s search tool “legacy deaths” to find volume and page numbers. Fill out a slip for each record.
September 2014-present: use the Chrome browser’s search tool “death records” to find the volume and page numbers. Fill out a slip for each record.
These records are not at RVRS. This index provides the information you need to obtain the record at the relevant probate court.
1952-1986: use the File Explorer’s pdf files to find the probate court name and docket number.
1980-2018: use the Chrome browser’s digital index to find the court name and docket number.
After 2018: not yet available.
Researching Volume and Page Numbers Before Your Visit
If you can find the volume and page numbers or certificate numbers for the slips ahead of time, you will able to get more work done once you are in the Research Room. Fortunately, RVRS has sold some of these indexes to genealogy websites.
Some of these online indexes point to the pdf files of five-year indexes. Being able to search by name on the query screen will be easier than scrolling through pdfs once you get onsite at RVRS.
Click here for “Massachusetts: Death Index, 1970-2003” (contains certificate numbers; note that the similarly named index on Ancestry omits those numbers)
Click here for “Massachusetts, U.S., Birth Index, 1860-1970” (only 1931-1970 apply for RVRS)
Click here for “Massachusetts, U.S., Marriage Index, 1901-1955 and 1966-1970” (only 1931-1970 apply for RVRS)
Click here for “Massachusetts, U.S., Death Index, 1901-1980” (only 1931-1970 apply for RVRS)
MGC thanks Angela Harris and Margaret Fortier for the information they so kindly supplied.
 I don’t always make this mistake. Sometimes I turn too soon, going down Morrissey Boulevard and making a U-turn at the UMass exit. I offer these two coping strategies for those who find the same traffic circle to be a challenge.