Understanding Connecticut Vital Records

In the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries, Connecticut vital records (births, deaths, marriages) and deeds were typically recorded locally by a town clerk. Town clerks, however, did not go looking for such information. Residents were expected to bring the data and documents to the town clerk who was expected to record it in ledgers. These ledgers and any notes were stored in the clerk’s home where they were subject to fire, damage or being misplaced when the clerk was not re-elected or died. In Lebanon, there was not a town hall until the late 1830s, but town clerks were still storing records at home until well into the 20th century.

In Connecticut, a town clerk’s register of vital records included many births, but not necessarily all births since not all families made the effort to notify the town of a new family member. Family Bibles often serve to fill that gap as father’s recorded each new child’s arrival. Church records often include lists of baptisms with names, dates and sometimes parents’ names. However, in Lebanon there are some births that can be documented only on the headstones of children who died.

The beginning of formal birth certificates, as opposed to town registers of births, seems to be linked to the 1935 creation of the social security system. However, even today there is no federal requirement that all births be certified although one needs to present a birth certificate to get a social security card and/or a passport.

Marriage licenses (as issued by town or state) were not provided in the United States until the mid-1800s. It was not until 1923 that the federal government passed the Uniform Marriage and Marriage License Act and it was 1929 before every state had marriage license laws. Marriages were often noted in town clerks’ vital records registers and in some church records. In 17th and early 18th century Connecticut, marriages were civil not religious acts. Congregational church records, therefore, do not always note marriages as the ceremony was often performed by justices or other government officials not ordained ministers.

Records of deaths were kept by town clerks and by churches in the 18th and 19th centuries. Usually deaths, like other vital records, were listed in registers. In the United States, a standardized death certificate was introduced around 1910.