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Vermont is the youngest New England state. Permanent settlements first arose in the 1760s under grants issued by New Hampshire. In 1764 the settlements were placed under the jurisdiction of New York. The settlers formed their own government in 1777, and Vermont joined the Union in 1791. In Vermont, as in other New England states, the basic governmental unit is the town, where original vital records and copies of deeds are held.
The earliest records are called proprietors’ records. After the proprietors sold their lands, the town clerk was the principal local record keeper. Town records generally begin with the founding of a town and are kept to the present.
Town records may contain records of births, marriages, burials, cemeteries, appointments, earmarks, estrays (records of stray animals), freemen’s oaths (men eligible to vote), land records, mortgages, name changes, care of the poor, school records, surveys, tax lists, town meeting minutes, voter registrations, and warnings out (of town). Birth, marriage, and death information found in town records is described further in the “Vital Records” page.
For a book that gives a detailed description of 18 kinds of town records, shows some examples, and tells how they help family history researchers, see:
- Lainhart, Ann S. Digging for Genealogical Treasure in New England Town Records. Boston, Massachusetts: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1996. (Family History Library book 974 N2L.) Includes indexes to persons and places.
The records for many towns have been digitized:
- FamilySearch has digitized town records for many Vermont counties. They are arranged by county, then town, then date. Some towns have images of indexes. Description of this collection.
- The NEHGS has also digitized and indexed many town records. Members of the society can view these records on the society's web site, American Ancestors ($).
A unique section of the town records of northern New England are the records of warnings out. Warnings out permitted local authorities to issue warrants requiring newcomers to leave town. The town was responsible for all the inhabitants, and if a person or family moved into town who could not qualify as a desirable member of the town or show personal means of support, they could be warned out by a warrant from the town constable. Warnings out in Vermont can be found as early as 1768 and as late as 1818. The original records were kept by the town clerk of each town, but information and lists have been published. For more information, see:
- Rollins, Alden M. Vermont Warnings Out. Two Volumes. Camden, Maine: Picton Press, 1995-97. The records show the date the warning was given by the constable and the names of the family members involved. The book is arranged by county, then the dates are listed with the names of those for whom the warrant was issued. Volume 1 covers the northern counties, volume 2 covers the southern counties. There is an addendum in volume 2 for records recently found in the northern counties. Each volume is individually indexed. (FHL book 974.3 N2r.)
Locating town records
Family History Library and FamilySearch
Records (printed, filmed, and digitized) for each town are listed in the Family History Library Catalog and can be found by using a Place-names search for a town or county in Vermont or just Vermont. It is best to search for town first since most of the town records will be on the town level. Then look for the heading of Town Records.
Most town clerks have town records from the time the town began to the present. To find the address and phone numbers for the clerk of a town, see Vermont Town Clerks, Treasurers and County Clerks for lists of the clerks with their contact information.
Town historians are an important source for town records. Each Vermont town has a town historian who usually has many books and manuscripts that have never been published. These records contain information not found elsewhere. The town historians are those who probably know more about the townspeople and their records than anyone else.
Since the historian changes from time to time, the current one can be found by contacting the town librarian and asking for the name of the town historian. PublicLibraries.com lists the libraries by town with address and phone number.
New England Historic Genealogical Society Library (NEHGS)
The NEHGS has many town records and has digitized most of them. Members of the society can view these records on the society's web site, American Ancestors ($), or at the NEHGS library in Boston, Massachusetts. This is one of the best libraries for Vermont records.
Vermont Public Records Division
Some town records can be found at the Vermont Public Records Division. They also have inventories of Vermont town records.
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