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Overheard in GenForum: Gagnon-Landry Fall River, Mass
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

March 08, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: Looking for information on my great grandmother Helene Landry who married my great grandfather Henri Dionne in Fall River, Massachusetts. Helene's parents were Thomas Landry and Agathe Gagnon. Any information would be appreciated. -- Denise

A: Massachusetts is considered by many to be one of the easiest states to work in. The records abound and they go back to the early Seventeenth Century in many cases.

Of course, because there are so many records, there have been times when those records have led a researcher astray. So many of the families used the same names for their children, that it is not unusual to find individuals of the same name and approximately the same age getting married, buying or selling land, or having children at the same time.

Massachusetts records abound for centuries.

Where Are Vital Records?

A lot depends on the exact timeframe in question. You will almost always have vital records available as these were begun in the 1600s and maintained for the most part through to the present. However, discovering where the records are housed will rely on the dates.

In most instances for vital records prior to 1911, you will find yourself contacting either the State Archives or the town where the event took place.

In 1983 the Massachusetts state legislature opened the vital records for the state from 1841 through 1890. The legislation allowed for additional five-year periods to be opened as the records turned 90. In the year 2000, those vital records for 1906-1910 were released. Therefore the State Archives has these records from 1841 through 1910 now.

You can contact the State Archives at:

Massachusetts State Archives
Columbia Point
220 Morrissey Boulevard
Boston, MA 02125
(617) 727-2816

Earlier vital records may have been published in book form and most, if not all, of the towns in Massachusetts have had some of their vital records microfilmed by the Family History Library. In fact, they have a statewide collection of vital records from 1841 through about 1899 available on 398 reels of microfilm.

Where to Turn

If you haven't done so already, be sure to get the marriage record of your great grandparents. As you can see from the above, there are a number of avenues available to help you find this information.

You will also want to begin looking for the family in the census records. This will help you in determining the number of children that were born and when and where your great grandparents were born as well.

The Family History Library's collection of Massachusetts, and Fall River, records will offer you a variety of resources to work in with this family. While you can search the online catalog at, you would need to visit your local Family History Center to order the necessary films.

In Conclusion

When working with the Massachusetts records, it is a good idea to have at your fingertips one of the two books below. They will give you insight into what records are available, time periods covered and how best to access the records.

  • Melnyk, Marcia D., editor. Genealogist's Handbook for New England Research. 4th Edition. Boston, Massachusetts: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1999.
  • Sperry, Kip, compiler. New England Genealogical Research, A Guide to Sources. Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, Inc., 1988.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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