Massachusetts Records Details and Resources

Massachusetts Records Details and Resources

Where to find Massachusetts census records, immigration records, land records, maps, vital records and more.

RECORD HIGHLIGHTS
Massachusetts records are a tremendous resource. “Because of the excellent quality and abundance of its records, Massachusetts is, arguably, the best place from which to have ancestors,” says David Dearborn, librarian at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Not everything is in print, though. Many genealogies, vital records, court documents and colonial documents appear in books or periodicals, but state and local repositories have manuscripts that await publication. Start your research by looking at print sources, then survey repositories for relevant unpublished material. The sheer abundance of records, combined with the fact that no single agency is responsible for all the records, means you’ll need to be organized and methodical.

As in other New England states, you’ll find most Massachusetts records on the town level, rather than in county offices. Puritan leaders modeled their record keeping after those in England, so early records are orderly and plentiful. Town clerks kept books of meeting records, earmarks, tax rolls and vital records. Vital records date from the founding of the colony and many are in print up to 1850. An exception is Boston, where births were not recorded from 1800 to 1849. Unfortunately, no statewide index exists for those records. Lists of freemen, males of legal age (16 to 21) and church members who participated in government and the military can also be found on the town level, on microfilm or in print.

Between 1620 and 1642, more than 20,000 people migrated to New England in what is known as the Great Migration. Robert Charles Anderson has compiled his research of this event in a series of books, The Great Migration Begins, published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society. The Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants is publishing material on Mayflower passengers. It is estimated that a quarter of today’s US population can trace their ancestry back to these early immigrants.

Whether you’re looking for early Massachusetts residents or those from the 19th century, be aware of boundary and land disputes where your ancestor lived. Records might be in an adjacent state: Massachusetts records contain material on early settlers in Maine, which was part of the state until 1820, and, due to boundary changes, the adjacent states of Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

Several Massachusetts cities served as immigration ports in the 19th century. Passenger lists and naturalization papers are at the National Archives in Washington, DC, with some originals at the archives’ Northeast regional facility in Waltham, Mass.

US census records start in 1790 with two exceptions: the 1800 census lacks Boston and parts of Suffolk County, and only the veterans enumeration exists from the destroyed 1890 census. State enumerations took place in 1855 and 1865; a partial index exists.

Start at one of the major research facilities in Boston, such as the Massachusetts State Archives http://state.ma.us/sec/arc/arcidx.htm or the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) http://www.americanancestors.org. The state archives collects public records such as judicial records, state papers, and materials on state institutions. It has land grants, early divorces, military records from 1643 through 1775, and tax valuations for 1738-1786.

The holdings of the NEHGS are more varied, containing unpublished family genealogies, private letters and diaries, records transcriptions, the papers of leading genealogists and more. The organization also has an extensive research library in Boston’s Back Bay.

Once you’ve exhausted the resources kept in centralized locations, venture to the town or city from which your ancestor hailed. You’ll find more than you can imagine in the town clerk’s office, at the local historical society and even the public library. Most probate and land records are archives in county offices.

CENSUS RECORDS

  • List of Freemen of Massachusetts, 1630-1691 by Lucius R. Paige (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1978)
  • A Research Aid for the Massachusetts 1910 Federal Census by Mary Lou Craver Mariner (Genealogical Publishing Co., ca. 1992)

MAPS

  • Atlas of Historical County Boundaries: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island edited by John H. Long (Simon & Schuster, 1994)
  • Directory of Massachusetts Place Names by Charlotte Pease Davis (Bay State News, ca. 1987)
  • A Gazetteer of Masachusetts by John Hayward (Library of Congress Photoduplication Service, 1989)
  • A Gazetteer of the State of Massachusetts by Elias Nason (B.B. Russell, 1874)
  • Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research by Marcia Wiswall Lindberg (New England Historic Genealogical Society, ca. 1993)
  • A Geographic Dictionary of Massachusetts by Henry Gannett (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1978)
  • Historical Atlas of Massachusetts by Richard W. Wilkie, Jack Tager, and Roy Doyon (University of Massachusetts Press, ca. 1991)
  • A Historical and Statistical Gazetteer of Massachusetts by Jeremiah Spofford (Library of Congress Photoduplication Service, 1989)
  • Massachusetts Town Boundary Atlases, 1898-1916 by the Massachusetts Harbor and Land Commission (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1974)
  • Search for the Passengers of the Mary & John, 1630 by Burton W. Spear (B.W. Spear, ca. 1985)
  • Topographic Maps of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut by the US Geological Survey (US Geological Survey, 1950, 1964-1965)

PROBATE RECORDS

  • Abstracts of Bristol County, Massachusetts, Probate Records by H. L. Peter Rounds (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1987-1988)
  • Essex County, Massachusetts, Probate Index, 1638-1840 by Melinde Lutz Sanborn (M.L. Sanborn, ca. 1987)
  • Index to the Probate Records of the County of Middlesex, Massachusetts: first series, from 1648 to 1871 by the Massachusetts Probate Court (1914)
  • Law in Colonial Massachusetts, 1630-1800 by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts (The Society, 1984)
  • List of Freemen of Massachusetts, 1630-1691 by Lucius R. Paige (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1978)
  • List of Persons Whose Names Have Been Changed in Massachusetts, 1780-1892 (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1972)
  • Mayflower Deeds & Probates: From the Files of George Ernest Bowman at the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants by Susan E. Roser (Genealogical Publishing Co., ca. 1994 )
  • Mayflower Source Records by Gary Boyd Roberts (Genealogical Publishing Co., ca. 1986)
  • Miscellaneous Index and Records (1659-1692) Prior to the Appointment of a Judge of Probate in 1692 by Alice E. Busiel (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1964)
  • Plymouth Colony Probate Guide: Where to Find Wills and Related Data for 800 people of Plymouth Colony, 1620-1691 by Ruth Wilder Sherman (Plymouth Colony Research Group, 1983)
  • Plymouth County, Massachusetts Probate Index, 1686-1881 by Ralph V. Wood (Picton Press, ca. 1988)
  • Plymouth Court Records, 1686-1859 by David Thomas Konig and William E. Nelson (Michael Glazier, in association with the Pilgrim Society, 1978-1981)
  • Probate Records of Essex County, Massachusetts by the Massachusetts Probate Court (Parker River Researchers, 1988)
  • Records of the County of Norfolk, in the Colony of Massachusetts by David Pulsifer (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1971)
  • Suffolk County (Mass.) Court Files, 1629-1797 by the Massachusetts County Court (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1972)
  • Suffolk County Wills: Abstracts of the Earliest Wills upon Record in the County of Suffolk, Massachusetts by Judith McGhan (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1984)

IMMIGRATION RECORDS

  • The Complete Book of Emigrants, 1661-1699 by Peter Wilson Coldham (Genealogical Publishing Co., ca. 1990)
  • The Complete Book of Emigrants, 1700-1750 by Peter Wilson Coldham (Genealogical Publishing Co., ca. 1992)
  • Founders of Early American Families: Emigrants from Europe, 1607-1657 by Meredith B. Colket (General Court of the Order of Founders and Patriots of America, ca. 1985)
  • The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England, 1620-1633 by Robert Charles Anderson (New England Historic Genealogical Society, ca. 1995)
  • Immigrants to New England, 1700-1775 by Ethel Stanwood Bolton (The Essex Institute, 1931)
  • Index to New England Naturalization Petitions, 1791-1906 by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (National Archives and Records Service, 1983)
  • Indexes to Returns of Naturalizations, 1920-1923, 1924-1925, 1920-1925 by the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1994)
  • Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Boston, 1820-1891 by the US Bureau of Customs (National Archives Record Service, 1959-1960)
  • Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Boston, Aug. 1, 1891-1935; Book Indexes to Boston Passenger Lists, 1899-1940; Index to Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Boston, Jan. 1, 1902- Dec. 31, 1920 by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (National Archives, 1944-1945, 1956)
  • The Planters of the Commonwealth: A Study of the Emigrants and Emigration in Colonial Times by Charles Edward Banks (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1961)
  • Port Arrivals and Immigrants to the City of Boston, 1715-1716 and 1762 and 1769 by William H. Whitmore (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1973)
  • Returns of Naturalization Before Various Massachusetts Courts, 1885-1931 by the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1993)
  • The Search for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements Placed in The Boston Pilot by Ruth-Ann M. Harris, Donald M. Jacobs, and B.E. O’Keeffe (New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1989-1997)
  • St. Albans District Manifest Records of Aliens Arriving from Foreign Contiguous Territory: Records of Arrivals Through Small Ports in Vermont, 1895-1924 by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (National Archives, ca. 1950)
  • A Supplemental Index to Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Atlantic & Gulf Coast Ports (excluding New York) 1820-1874 by the US Bureau of Customs (filmed by the National Archives Record Services, 1960)
  • The Winthrop Fleet of 1630: An account of the vessels, the voyage, the passengers and their English home from original authorities by Charles Edward Banks (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1961)

LAND RECORDS

  • Judd Manuscript, Records of Northampton by Sylvester Judd (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1958)
  • Mayflower Deeds & Probates: From the Files of George Ernest Bowman at the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants by Susan E. Roser (Genealogical Publishing Co., c1994)
  • Records of the Colony of New Plymouth, in New England by the New Plymouth (William White, 1855-61)
  • Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England: Printed by Order of the Legislature by Nathaniel Bradstreet Shurtleff (W. White, 1853-1854)
  • Registry of Deeds, etc. from the Various Counties of Massachusetts, A Register of Contents by Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Genealogical Society Cataloging Section (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1969)

MILITARY RECORDS

  • An Historical Account of the Settlements of Scotch Highlanders in America Prior to the Peace of 1783 by John Patterson MacLean (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1968)
  • Index to War of 1812 Pension Application Files by the US Veterans Administration (National Archives, 1960)
  • Index to War of 1812 Pension Files by Virgil D. White (National Historical Publishing Co., ca. 1992)
  • The Loyalists of Massachusetts and the Other Side of the American Revolution by James H. Stark (Heritage Books, 1988)
  • The Loyalists of Massachusetts: Their Memorials, Petitions and Claims by E. Alfred Jones (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1969)
  • Massachusetts in the Army and Navy During the War of 1861-65 by Thomas Wentworth Higginson (Wright & Potter Printing, 1895-1896)
  • Massachusetts Officers in the French and Indian Wars, 1748-1763 by Nancy S. Voye (Society of Colonial Wars in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, ca. 1975)
  • Massachusetts Officers and Soldiers, 1702-1722: Queen Anne’s War to Dummer’s War by Mary E. Donahue (Society of Colonial Wars in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, ca. 1980)
  • Massachusetts Officers and Soldiers, 1723-1743: Dummer’s War to the War of Jenkins’ Ear by Myron O. Stachiw (Society of Colonial Wars in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, ca. 1979)
  • Massachusetts Officers and Soldiers in the Seventeenth Century Conflicts by Carole Doreski (Society of Colonial Wars in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, New England Historic Genealogical Society, ca. 1982)
  • Massachusetts Privateers of the Revolution by Gardner Weld Allen (Massachusetts Historical Society, 1927)
  • Massachusetts Soldiers in the French and Indian Wars, 1744-1755 by Robert E. MacKay (Society of Colonial Wars in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, ca. 1978)
  • Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the Civil War by Charles H. Cole (University Publications of America, ca. 1991)
  • Massachusetts, World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 by the US Selective Service System (National Archives, 1987-1988)
  • Peirce’s Colonial Lists: Civil, military and professional lists of Plymouth and Rhode Island colonies … 1621-1700 by Ebenezer W. Peirce (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1968)
  • Record of the Massachusetts Volunteers, 1861-1865 by the Massachusetts Adjutant General (University Publications of America, ca. 1991)

TAX RECORDS

  • Massachusetts and Maine Direct Tax Census of 1798 by the US Secretary of the Treasury (New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1978)
  • The Massachusetts Tax Valuation List of 1771 by Bettye Hobbs Pruitt (Picton Press, ca. 1998)

VITAL RECORDS

  • Bibliography of Massachusetts Vital Records 1620-1905: An Inventory of the Original Volumes of Births, Marriages, and Deaths by Jay Mack Holbrook (Holbrook Research Institute, 1999)
  • Births, Marriages (1841-1895), and Deaths (1841-1899); Indexes to Births and Marriages (1841-1905), Deaths (1841-1971), 1841-1905 by the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1974, 1985)
  • Divorce Index, 1952-1970 by the Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1974)
  • Early Massachusetts Marriages Prior to 1800 by Frederic W. Bailey (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1968)
  • Grave Locations of Revolutionary Soldiers and Sailors of Maine and Massachusetts by the Massachusetts Daughters of the American Revolution (filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1991)
  • Index of Marriages in Massachusetts Centinel and Columbian Centinel, 1784 to 1840 by the American Antiquarian Society (G. K. Hall, 1961)
  • The Massachusetts Magazine: Marriage and Death Notices, 1789-1796 by CJ Stevens (Polyanthos, , ca. 1978)
  • Mayflower Descendants and Their Marriages for Two Generations After the Landing by John T. Landis (Southern Book Company, 1956)
  • New England Marriages Prior to 1700 by Clarence Almon Torrey (Northeast Document Conservation Center, ca. 1983)


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From the Family Tree Sourcebook
Also available: the State Research Guide Book, State Research Guides CD and The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy.

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