Connecticut’s Barbour Collection of Vital Records has a justly deserved
reputation as one of the most comprehensive of such statewide compilations. To
help you use it most effectively, this article tells a little of its history,
describes where and in what format the collection can be examined, and outlines
the history of vital records legislation in the state. It also lists sources for
several significant omissions from and corrections to the collection.
Lucius B. Barbour was appointed Connecticut’s examiner of public records in
June 1911. With a desire to compile the state’s vital records, he began
transcriptions himself, and he worked with different sponsors to publish the
records of several towns. The pace of this approach was impossibly slow, and he
hired James N. Arnold, the compiler of Rhode Island vital records, using Barbour
family funds. Arnold was to copy the vital records in the possession of each
town clerk of Connecticut. By 1932 this compilation was complete, each record
was typed onto an index slip, and an alphabetical listing was prepared for each
town. Sadly, Lucius B. Barbour died in 1934, just two years after the completion
of this work.
There are over one million slip entries for vital records in some 439 trays
at the Connecticut State Library. Besides
the core Barbour Collection itself, these slips include entries from eight towns
previously published 1 and from six private compilations of vital
records 2. A copyist typed the slips from the handwritten
transcriptions by Arnold and others. As with any transcription, a few errors
were introduced, but each entry cites the specific source and this facilitates
reference to the primary record.
The Barbour Collection is listed alphabetically in a separate book for each
of the 137 towns, including records for Norwich and Woodstock supplementing
those published earlier. The State Library holds a copy of each book, and a copy
was sent to each town clerk. The town books are labeled “The Arnold Copy” and
are known to many town clerks only by that name.
The slip entries, covering the entire state alphabetically on seventy-nine
reels, and the books for each town on seventeen reels are available on microfilm
through the Family History Library (http://www.familysearch.org/) and in
many repositories. The Genealogical Publishing
Company of Baltimore recently published the town books in paperback format.
The complete fifty-three volume series is available in many libraries, and
individual volumes may be ordered from the publisher.
Chronology of Vital Records Statutes in Connecticut
The records in the Barbour Collection reflect the extent to which each
town clerk complied with these statutes.
1640 – The first relevant statute: "The Magestrate who solemnizeth
Mariedge betwixt any, shall cause a record to be entered in Courte of the day
& yere thereof."
1644 – Town clerks to record marriages and births with name of “the
parent” (often just the father) for a fee of 4d. for each marriage and 2d. for
each birth. The penalty for default was 5sh.
1650 – Town clerks to keep records of all births, deaths, and
marriages, receiving 3d. for births and deaths and 6d. for marriages. The
penalty for default was 5sh. Clerks to submit an annual transcript to the
Secretary of the General Court. Only Windsor complies fully, and for just a few
years. Hartford and Fairfield kept only a few records. These transcripts were
included in Barbour for each of the three towns.
1694 –"Ordayned ministers of the severall
plantations" granted liberty to "joyne in mariage such persons as are qualifyed
for the same." This was the first such permission granted for clergymen.
Marriages earlier were considered a civil matter and were conducted only by
1702 – Requirement for submitting transcripts to the General Court,
long neglected, is formally dropped from the code of statutes.
From the beginning, some clerks kept regular records of vital events,
roughly in chronological order. Many others complied only very loosely,
recording marriages and births only in family groups. In this format, few deaths
are found except for minor children and for wives predeceasing their husbands.
Then, beginning with the 1820 marriage statute, virtually every town complied,
though some failed to make entries in a new, separate book as mandated.
1820 –"An Act for the Due and Orderly Celebrating of Marriage"
provides for publication of intentions, persons authorized to conduct marriage,
and consent of parents to underage marriage. Certificates were to be lodged with
the town clerk who shall "record said certificate at full length in a book
procured by him for this purpose," for which he is to receive 12 1/2 ¢ per
1848 – The registrar of each school district is to report each August
all births, deaths, and marriages in the past year with names, color,
occupations, place of birth, age, residence, cause of death, etc. Town clerk to
enter the record in a book kept for that purpose. Abstract to be transmitted to
the Secretary of the State. Entries begin August 1, 1847 for the year ended July
With its objective of compiling events to about 1850, the Barbour
Collection includes these school district registers for some towns, but for
others it entirely omits records from this book. In a very few towns Barbour
entries include some records beyond 1852.
1852 – Registration by school district discontinued. Physicians and
ministers were to submit certificates of births, deaths, and marriages. Town
clerk or registrar to keep records of births, deaths, and marriages, with
specified details in ledger columns. Sextons were to submit monthly burial
reports. Certificates required for removal of bodies from towns.
1893 – The registrars of the several towns "shall complete the records
of their respective towns by adding thereto a record of all the births,
marriages, and deaths that have occurred in said towns since the date of their
incorporation, of which no certificate has been returned to their office:
provided, the facts … are obtained from the record of a public official, or of a
church society …" Compliance is spotty, but we can thank this statute for the
inclusion in Barbour of church records for several early towns.
1897 – First records at state level. Registrars to keep records in
books furnished by the Bureau of Vital Statistics, to amend records when
mistakes discovered, and to keep records in a fireproof safe or in vaults. An
attested copy was to be transmitted to the Superintendent of Vital Statistics
for all births, marriages, and deaths beginning July 1, 1897.
2001 – First provision for electronic creation and transmission of
vital records certificates. Initially utilized by only a handful of towns.
Barbour Additions and Corrections
The author of this article welcomes news of other such discoveries,
whether published or not. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ashford and Brooklyn: Labbe, Marilyn. “Corrections and Additions to
the Vital Records of Ashford, Connecticut, and Brooklyn, Connecticut,” The
Connecticut Nutmegger, 31 (June 1999): 375-376.
A handful of corrections to and omissions from Ashford’s “Ye Old Paper Book.”
Darien: Jessup, Harlan R. “Darien Vital Records, Book I: Another
Barbour Omission” Connecticut Ancestry, 44 (November 2001): 55-59.
When Darien was formed in 1820, the town clerk began, not
very diligently, to record vital records by family groups. Only seventeen
families were recorded and only ten pages used when, in 1847, the mandated new
school district register was purchased. Not wanting to waste 130 good pages, the
clerk used the old book to record tax liens. Kept among the tax records, this
first volume of family records was not discovered by the compilers of the
Guilford: Jacobus, Donald Lines. “Guilford (Conn.) Vital Records,”
The American Genealogist, vol. 15 (1938) to vol. 19 (1942).
These are from the first volume of town records. Apparently overlooked for
Barbour because it was kept, not with deeds, but with town meeting records.
Jacobus does not comment on this omission.
Newtown: Jessup, Harlan R. “Newtown, CT - Bills of Mortality,
1797–1821: A Supplement to the Barbour Index,” The Connecticut Nutmegger
29 (December 1996): 395-407.
Separate death records or “Bills of Mortality” were recorded
in Newtown from 1797 to 1821 in three volumes of land records. Beginning in
1844, new clerk Isaac Beers transcribed these (with a number of errors) into a
new book. Barbour includes this transcription plus the originals from just two
of the three deed books. This article corrects transcription errors by both
Isaac Beers and James Arnold and adds supplementary information from a private
mortality record by Henry Beers, a cousin of the town clerk.
Newtown: Jessup, Harlan R. “Newtown Marriages, 1794–1810, a Recent
Discovery,” Connecticut Ancestry 40 (May 1998): 172-173.
Strictly speaking, these thirty-six marriages are not
omissions from Barbour at all, since they never were recorded in the town books.
Rather, they are original marriage records by Justice of the Peace David
Baldwin, pasted into a nineteenth-century scrapbook, and discovered in the
collection of the local library.
Pomfret: Labbe, Marilyn. “Six Marriages Performed by Lemuel Ingalls,
Justice of the Peace, Pomfret,” The Connecticut Nutmegger, 32 (June
Like the records of David Baldwin of Newtown, these were never entered in the
town books. They are found in the Connecticut Archives, record group 003, box
Shelton: Jessup, Harlan R. “Huntington (Shelton) Marriages,
1820–1827,” Connecticut Ancestry, 43 (May 2001): 143-146.
Huntington’s town clerk failed to purchase a new book as
required by the 1820 statute. Rather, his record of marriages is in a volume of
deeds and was missed by James Arnold for
Thompson: Ullmann, Helen Schatvet, and Kathryn Smith Black. “Some
Marriages from Records of the First Congregational Church in Thompson,
Connecticut, 1796–1850,” New England Historical and Genealogical
Register, 155 (July 2001): 295-317.
This article contains transcriptions of marriages from the church records of
the Reverend David Dow from 1796 to 1849. Only marriages beginning in 1820 were
included in the town records and in the Barbour Collection. But numerous
inconsistencies are reported, apparently reflecting transcription errors both
from the church records to town and from town to Barbour.
Woodbury: Plummer, Judith. “Unrecorded Woodbury, CT, Marriages,
1820–1825,” The Connecticut Nutmegger, 31 (March 1999): 566-575.
The Woodbury clerk recorded marriages from 1820, not in a newly purchased
book, but in the town minutes book. Overlooked by James Arnold for the Barbour
Collection, they are included (without attribution) by William Cothren in his
History of Ancient Woodbury, vol. III (Woodbury, CT: 1879): 196-198.
Woodstock: Labbe, Marilyn. “Records of Jedidiah Morse,
Justice of the Peace, Woodstock, CT,” The Connecticut Nutmegger, 32 (June
Lists several deaths and one marriage, some never entered in
the town books. Found in Connecticut Archives, record group 003, box 584.
1. The eight towns published previously to Barbour were Bolton, Coventry,
Enfield, Mansfield, New Haven, Norwich, Vernon, and Woodstock. 2.
The private records included in the slip index are Woodstock - "Brown Diary of
Vital Records, 1777–1900"; "Watrous Family Death Records, 1818–1838" (not
specific to any town); Granby - "A. C. Green Diary, 1874–1887"; Lyme - "Andrew
Griswold, J.P., 1784–1810"; North Coventry - "Private Death Records, 1826–1869."
The text in the main article refers to six private compilations – one is a
duplicate.3. "Ye Old Paper Book" is Ashford's first volume of
town records, cited in this manner on the introductory page of Barbour's Ashford