Vermont evokes images of maple syrup, dairy farms, fall foliage, winter sports, fishing, swimming, hiking in the mountains, and more. Its location between Lake Champlain, the Connecticut River and Canada has influenced its history and contributed to the rich variety of its people. From farmers to college professors, Green Mountain Boys to progressive politicians, Vermonters have always gone their own way. Vermont is a great place to research due to its good supply of accessible records. To learn how to find them, read on.
The area that became Vermont was home to about 10,000 Western Abenaki when French explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed down the lake known as Bitawbwa in 1609. Champlain claimed the region for France (and named the lake after himself), and French settlers followed. After the French and Indian War ended in 1763, Vermont attracted settlers from overcrowded southern New England. The Abenaki, who had allied themselves with the French, faced even greater marginalization.
In the mid-1700s, Vermont was in a tug-of-war between its neighbors New Hampshire and New York. New Hampshire governor Benning Wentworth issued dozens of town charters for lands west of the Connecticut River. The New York colonial government began granting its own patents for the same lands, and asserted its control in 1770 when its Supreme Court declared the New Hampshire Grants invalid. Frontiersman Ethan Allen and his cousins responded to the conflict by forming the “Green Mountain Boys,” a militia that harassed the “Yorkers” using public humiliation, beatings and threats to drive them from the area. Vermont declared itself an independent republic in 1777, adopting a constitution that prohibited the enslavement of adults and established religious freedom and public schools. The Continental Congress didn’t recognize Vermont’s claims, though the Green Mountain Boys and other Vermont militia groups played an important role in the American Revolution.
Vermont became the 14th state—the first that hadn’t been one of the Thirteen Colonies—on 4 March 1791. Lured by land, settlers flowed into the state, especially Irish and French Canadian immigrants and those of English descent from southern New England. Flooding, fever epidemics, economic depression, and an extremely cold summer in 1816 impelled Vermonters to seek greener pastures elsewhere by the 1820s. Population growth slowed as natives headed west or left to work in New Hampshire, New York and Massachusetts factories. The Merino “sheep craze” ended in many small farmers selling out to bigger enterprises and moving west, where their money bought more acreage.
During the Civil War, Vermont produced key goods for the Union: cloth, rifles, gunpowder and copper. Some 35,000 Vermonters (including 150 African Americans) served, and 5,000 lost their lives. Many survivors settled elsewhere. More immigrants arrived in the late 1800s through the mid-1900s, many to work in mining and manufacturing. They included Armenians, Austrians, Czechs, Germans, Greeks, Hungarians, Lebanese, Poles, Scots, Swedes and Syrians. Times were tough in early 20th-century Vermont. Tensions grew between labor and industry, Yankee and immigrant, and rich and poor. Farmers struggled, as did many during the Great Depression. A devastating flood in 1927 affected the entire state. In the 1930s the state undertook a concerted effort to attract tourists to Vermont—a campaign that continues to the present. Aided by new interstate highways, tourism brought new residents and back-to-the-landers.
1609 Samuel de Champlain
explores Vermont 1724 The English found
the first permanent European settlement in
Vermont at Fort Dummer (now Brattleboro) 1749 New Hampshire’s government issues its first land grants in what is now Vermont
1763 France formally cedes much of its land in North America to Britain 1770 New York invalidates land grants made by New Hampshire; the Green Mountain Boys militia forms to repel New Yorkers’ advances
1777 Delegates from several towns declare the independent Vermont Republic 1791 Vermont becomes the 14th state of the Union
1835 Lamoille County is
created, the last major change to Vermont’s county borders 1864 A small band of Confederate soldiers conduct St. Albans Raid near the Vermont-Canada border, the northernmost land action of the Civil War 2011 The State of Vermont
recognizes the Nulhegan and Elnu Abenaki, then the Koasek and Missisquoi Abenaki tribes in 2012
Vermont vital records, consistently recorded since 1857, are kept at the town level; a copy is sent to the state. Some towns kept records as early as 1760, documenting events in town records books. Start your search using the Vermont Vital Records index, which extends through 1908 and is available on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch. These are filmed index cards, not original documents. You can find the records themselves on FamilySearch. For best results, click Browse This Collection, then follow directions to the town you’re researching.
Ancestry.com and FamilySearch also have various collections of later (post-1909) vital records. Consult each site’s card catalog. To order original records, contact the town/city clerk. For records created after 1909, you can also order from the state department of health, which has published an index of births and deaths from 1909 to present. The state archives can provide certified copies of marriage and divorce records from as recently as 2013.
Because it was not officially part of the United States at the time, Vermont wasn’t enumerated in the “1790” federal census until it became a state the next year. Families that moved from another state to Vermont between 1790 and 1791 might be listed in both states. Federal censuses through 1950 are widely available at major genealogy websites, including Ancestry.com, FamilySearch and MyHeritage. Vermont’s 1890 census records were lost along with those from most of the rest of the country. Don’t forget about the various “special” schedules for mid-19th-century censuses, available on Ancestry.com and through the National Archives.
Vermont has never taken its own state census, nor did it take censuses in Colonial times. Jay Mack Holbrook compiled Vermont 1771 Census (Holbrook Research Institute) from data in several documents, including Vermont counties that were claimed by New York and enumerated as part of that colony. Note that some early landholders never actually lived at their listed Vermont property.
Vermont probate courts are divided into districts; use a chart on the RootsWeb Wiki or a breakdown. Court records were originally held by the probate district or county courthouse, and many have been transferred to the Vermont State Archives (Research > Guide, then probate district or county). Note that pre-1777 court records would be in New York or New Hampshire archives, and some early probate records were destroyed in fires. Ancestry.com has images of probate records from about half of Vermont’s counties, and FamilySearch has a growing collection of imaged probate files. The Ancestor Hunt has a page of free probate records online.
Vermont land records are held in town clerk’s offices. Many early records—as well as some from after 1900—were filmed and are browsable at FamilySearch. (These is no statewide index.) You’ll need to go to the local town clerk’s office to access records that haven’t been microfilmed. When Vermont towns were chartered, land was granted to a group of proprietors, then divided into lots. The first land references are to “lot numbers,” rather than metes and bounds. Most town lotting plans are online at the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration.
Given the state’s history of land disputes, some pre-1777 records might be in New York. New York’s Charlotte and Albany Counties covered the western part of modern Vermont, and Gloucester and Cumberland Counties covered the east.