Throughout the Colonial period, vital records such as birth and death, marriage and baptism were either kept by individual family members or at their place of worship, and were not governed by state or municipal law. After a short-lived attempt in 1847 to require that school districts keep birth, marriage and death records, the state abandoned this procedure and replaced it in 1880 with a law that assigned the responsibility to the town, village or city in which the event took place. Although compliance with the new law across the state was slow at first, Southampton Town began its records in 1881.
Today, many of the earliest historical records throughout Long Island exist only within the churches themselves. A potential problem, of course, is that these records may become damaged or destroyed. Although not in Southampton Town, the December 2013 fire at the Yaphank Church dramatically highlighted this issue. While the church suffered severe damage, most of their historical records had been digitized in 2012.
Photo credit: James Carbone | A member of the Yaphank Presbyterian Church congregation examines a damaged piano inside the church after a fire destroyed the historic sanctuary on Main Street. (Dec. 9, 2013)