The Archivist's Bulldog

Vol. 11 No. 11, Newsletter of the Maryland State Archives, June 9, 1997

by Heather Ravanbakhsh

Colonial Death Records and Parish Registers

In 1654, Maryland's General Assembly passed An Act Concerning a Register of Births Marriages & Burialls:

Although the General Assembly modified this law several times between 1654 and 1695, the essential part of it remained the same. The law required inhabitants of the province to bring notice of all burials to the clerk of their county court. The clerk would then record the name of the deceased and the date of death in a register. Arranged chronologically, the registers were self-indexed to make searching for a particular name easier. Only a few of these old registers are extant today:

In 1695, the General Assembly passed a law called An Additional Act to the Act of Religion (Chapter 1, Acts 1695) which transferred the responsibility of registering burials to the Clerks of the Protestant Episcopal Vestry:

For a short time, the clerks of the county courts continued to register burials concurrently with the clerks of the vestry. By the early 1700s, the registration of all burials, regardless of a person's denomination, was the sole responsibilty of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Because of this law, the main source of death or burial records for the colonial period is church records. Although the Protestant Episcopal Church was the government sanctioned church in Maryland during the colonial period, churches of other denominations (such as Catholic, Quaker, Methodist, and Lutheran) existed as well. Like the Protestant Episcopal churches, these churches recorded the deaths and burials occuring among their members. The 1695 law lost its effect in 1776 when Maryland enacted its first constitution. Most churches, however, continued the practice of registering burials though the nineteenth and into the twentieth century.

The Maryland State Archives holds church records for many churches in Maryland. Another good resource is Edna A. Kanely's book Directory of Church Records in Maryland, published by Family Line Publications. This book lists Maryland churches, the extant records, and the institutions that hold the records. It is important to note that the records for some churches have been lost or destroyed over time. Also, not every Marylander was associated with a church, and therefore the deaths and burials in his or her family may never have been recorded at all.

The Maryland State Archives holds card indexes to the early civil death records described above and to some church records:

County Circuit Court Death Records 1865-1884

The next attempt by the Maryland General Assembly to make the registration of deaths a civil matter occurred in 1865 with the passage of An Act to provide for the Registration of Births, Marriages, and Deaths (Chapter 130, Acts of 1865). This law required that all deaths be registered at the county circuit court. According to the law, the court clerks were to record "the date of the death, the name of the deceased, the sex, the color, the condition, (whether single, widowed or married,) the age, the residence, the occupation, the place of death, the place of birth, the names and place of residence of the parents, the disease or cause of death, the place of burial and the date of record." (Chapter 130, Acts of 1865). The records were arranged alphabetically by the first letter of the surname and then chronologically.

A number of death registers were begun by the court clerks, but compliance with the law was poor. Very few Marylanders bothered to register burials with the circuit court, so present day researchers must still rely on church records for this time period. The Archives holds the following death record registers, although many of them contain only scattered entries:


We welcome a number of new staff members: Carol Borchert, Curator of the Maryland Commission on Artistic Property; Angela Anthony, Reference Archivist; Paula Brown, Imaging Specialist; and Courtney Hackett, State & Local Government Records Intern. And last week we said goodbye to Debbie Gousha, Reference Archivist.

On Thursday, June 19 at 10 a.m. there will be a coffee in the little conference room to welcome our new employees and the Summer Interns who will be joining us on Wednesday.

by Shashi Thapar

Bowley, Freeman S., A Boy Lieutenant: Memoirs of Freeman S. Bowley, the 30th United States Colored Troops Officer
Chaney, William Franklin, Duty Most Sublime: The Life of Robert E. Lee as Told Through the "Carter Letters"
Gurn, Joseph, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, 1737-1832
Guy, Anita Aidt, Maryland's Persistent Pursuit to End Slavery 1850-1864
Gwathmey, Edward M. John Pendleton Kennedy
Hiatt, Catherine C., A Partial View of the Beasman-Baseman Family of Maryland
Holland, F. Ross, Maryland Lighthouses of the Chesapeake Bay
Lessing, Benson J., War of 1812
Maryland Association of Counties, Directory of County Officials 1997-1998
McCurley, James B., Jr., Charlemagne/Hugh Capet../Wynne/Chew/Pierpoint/McCurley/Gilliam: Tentative Lineage
McEuen, Douglas, The Legend of Francis Marion Poteet and The Mountain Meadows Massacre, and History of the Poteet Family
Melville, Annabelle M., John Carroll of Baltimore: Founder of the American Catholic Hierarchy
Miller, Lillian B., et al., Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family, vol. 4: His Last Years, 1821-1827
Mills, William A., The Cyrus Bell Wilson Family: Gleanings along the Eastern Shore
Nichols, Joseph Howard, Jr., The Colonial Ancestors and 20th Century Descendants of Samuel A. Nichols of Howard County, Maryland
Schwartz, Lee G., et al., Allegany County: A Pictorial History
Seymour, Helen E., 1880 Federal Census, Talbot County, Maryland
Toomey, Daniel Carroll, The Civil War in Maryland
Williamson, Gene, Chesapeake Conflict: The Troublesome Early Days of Maryland

Founded 1987

Edward C. Papenfuse, State Archivist
Patricia V. Melville, Editor
Mimi Calver, Assistant Editor
Lynne MacAdam,Production Editor
Rita Molter, Circulation

The Maryland State Archives is an independent agency in the Office of Governor Parris N. Glendening and is advised by the Hall of Records Commission. The Chairman of the Hall of Records Commission is the Honorable Louis L. Goldstein, Comptroller, and the Vice Chairman is the Honorable Robert M. Bell, Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals.

The Archivists' Bulldog is issued bi-monthly to publicize records collections, finding aids, and other activities of the Archives and its staff. Subscription cost is $25 per year, and the proceeds go to the State Archives Fund. To subscribe, please send your name, address, and remittance to: the Maryland State Archives, 350 Rowe Boulevard, Annapolis, Maryland 21401-1686. Phone: MD toll free: (800) 235 4045; or (410) 260-6400. FAX: (410) 974 3895. E-mail: The Editor welcomes editorial comments and contributions from the public.

The Archives maintains a Website on the Internet at: