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In New England the town clerk is the principal record keeper at the local level. The earliest records are called proprietors’ records. Town records generally begin with the founding of a town and are still maintained to the present.
Town records may contain records of births, marriages, burials, appointments, earmarks, estrays (records of stray animals), freemens’ oaths (men becoming eligible to vote), name changes, surveys, mortgages, care of the poor, voter registrations, and "warnings out" (of town); cemetery, land, and school records; tax lists; and town meeting minutes. Birth, marriage, and death information found in town records is described further in New Hampshire Vital Records.
As in most New England towns, the original records are kept in the town clerk’s office of each town. Many town records are available on microfilm and can be found at the New Hampshire Historical Society and the Family History Library.
A few of these microfilm sources are:
- New Hampshire. Secretary of State. Index to Early Town Records of New Hampshire, Early to 1850. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1950. (Family History Library films 14942–15052.) They are arranged alphabetically by surname with name variations indented under the main names (bracketed names are incorrect variations). These are microfilm copies of the original records in the Office of the Secretary of State, Concord, New Hampshire.
- New Hampshire Historical Society. Card Index to Manuscripts and Original Town Records of New Hampshire in the New Hampshire Historical Society. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1975. (Family History Library film 1001442.) These cards are arranged in alphabetical order by town name.
- New Hampshire Provincial and State Papers, 40 vols. (See New Hampshire Court Records for the full citation and for online indexes. ( FHL book 974.2 N2nhp, vols. 1–7, 9, 11–13, 20–22, 24–25, and 27–28.) Town records are in volumes 1–7, films 1033734–37; volume 9, film 476874; volumes 11–13, films 983680–81; volumes 20–22, films 1033739–40; volumes 24– 25, films 1033740–41; volumes 27–28, films 1033741–42. Each volume is indexed.
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.) This includes indexes to persons and places.
A unique section of the town records of northern New England are the records of "warnings out." Warnings out permitted the 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. The original records were kept by the town clerk of each town, but information and lists have been published. For more information see:
- New Hampshire. Warnings Out of Town, Early to 1800 Approximately. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1975. FHL films 1001438, 983568-70 An index is on film 1001438. These records may list the names of all family members and the town where they previously lived.
- Benton, Josiah Henry. Warnings Out in New England, 1656–1817. Boston, Massahusetts: W.B. Clarke, 1911. (Family History Library book 974 P4b; film 1598213 item 6.) This source provides information about the warnings-out process and its effect. It is indexed.
Town Historical Societies and Town Historians
In New England, town historical societies and town historians are a very important source for town records. Most New Hampshire towns have a town historical society. Some also have a town historian. These organizations or persons may have many books and manuscripts that have never been published.
The Association of Historical Societies of New Hampshire has an online directory of local historical societies.
The staff at the historical societies, or town historians, probably know more about the townspeople and their records than anyone else. Since the historians change from time to time, contact the town historical society or town library and ask if they currently have a town historian.
To locate specific information and records for each town, see the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
NEW HAMPSHIRE- TOWN RECORDS
NEW HAMPSHIRE, [COUNTY], [TOWN]- TOWN RECORDS