The first settlement in New Hampshire was a business operation at the mouth of the river at Rye in 1623. The first permanent settlements were established at Dover (1628) and Portsmouth (Strawberry Banke, 1631). Capt. John Mason was involved with the earliest group as part of the Laconia Grant. Men from the present Commonwealth of Massachusetts started to buy up this land directly from the Native Americans. The 1622 patent to this area was reaffirmed by the King in 1629 and the area between the Merrimack and Piscataqua Rivers was given to Mason. For much of this time, the region was controlled by Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was set up as a separate colony in 1680, briefly combined into the Dominion of New England from 1688 to 1691, and finally becoming a separate crown colony in 1692. The first colonial governor was not seated until 1741 -- with the famous Benning Wentworth. Counties were formed in 1769 and after the death of the governor, became functioning governments in 1771. Before that, all records were held in Exeter.
Early settlement was along the coast and then along the Nashua River as parts of Massachusetts Bay Colony expanded northward. Court and land records were first recorded centrally at Exeter, but this practice was moved to the counties as they were formed. All other records are created and maintained at the town or city level. The WPA transcribed and indexed these town records. Notably missing from this set is Manchester.
The original vital records in New Hampshire towns or cities are kept by the clerk and copies have been sent to the state office in Concord. Statewide compilation began with the passing of a law in 1866. Total compliance with the law did not happen until sometime in the 1880s. Prior to 1883, less than half of the population was listed in the birth records. Records were published in each town's annual report from 1889 to 1939 (except Manchester and Nashua) and some towns continued later.
The town records were copied from 1903 to 1906 and deposited with the state office that was created in 1905. They printed cards and distributed them to the clerks who were to transcribe their records onto the cards and submitted to the new office. These index cards became larger in 1938 as the details recorded on them grew. In 1948, the cards were assigned state file numbers. "Modern" forms we recognize today were used starting in 1949. Birth records became paperless in 1989 as hospitals and birthing centers entered the data directly into the NHVRIN record system (a non-public access database). Doctors and funeral homes enter deaths directly into the system now, but also issue the paper record. Town clerks enter the marriages into the system and send in a paper record as well.
All vital records are restricted to those with a “direct and tangible interest” in the record by statute. Births over 100 years old and death, marriage, divorce, legal separation, or civil annulment records over 50 years old are considered public records by law.
New Hampshire performed civil unions from 2008 to 2010. All those that are current by the end of 2010 become marriages under law.
Open Birth (over 100 yrs. old),
Marriage, Death, and Divorce (all over 50 yrs. old) Records
The original state records are held by:
The arrangement of the vital records for the archived group (that was microfilmed and available at numerous locations) needs some explanation. It is an "alphabetical" sort of these index cards by last name arranged by the first and third letter of that surname. Once a letter combination is located, the surnames run in true alphabetical order. So SmIth comes before SiLver.
A unique source for New Hampshire is the microfilming of the original town records and the WPA index created for the records to 1850 that includes vital records. This is a more complete set of vital records that is just a bit harder to use (i.e. multi-step process). Beware that Exeter was not included in this project for some reason now lost to us. The original card index is held by the New Hampshire State Library. If you are not finding what you need, you should always contact the town or city clerk about their original records.
The microfilmed records can be viewed in person at two other locations:
New England Historic Genealogical Society
99 - 101 Newbury Street
Boston MA 02116
Town records to 1850 and WPA index detailed above
Births to 1900; Marriages to 1900, 1901-1937, 1938-1947; Deaths to 1900, 1901-1937, 1938-1947
Index to marriage intentions to 1900; Bride's index, to 1900; Divorces to 1937, 1938-1947
N.H. pre-1901 Death Maiden Name Index
Older divorce records are held by the Div. of Vital Records Administration listed at the top of this page. Newer records are with the county Superior Court or Family Divisions (including dissolutions to civil unions).
New Hampshire seals the records of adoption that include the original birth certificate with the biological parents. N.H.-born adoptees can access their pre-adoption record. To learn more, click here. Records are held by the Div. of Vital Records Administration listed at the top of this page.
PROBATE, NATURALIZATION, AND OTHER RECORDS
FamilySearch.org State Pages (scroll down for New Hampshire databases)