Massachusetts County Resources

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This entry was originally written by Alice Eichholz, Ph.D., CG, for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
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the Massachusetts Family History Research series.
History of Massachusetts
Massachusetts Vital Records
Census Records for Massachusetts
Background Sources for Massachusetts
Massachusetts Maps
Massachusetts Land Records
Massachusetts Probate Records
Massachusetts Court Records
Massachusetts Tax Records
Massachusetts Cemetery Records
Massachusetts Church Records
Massachusetts Military Records
Massachusetts Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Massachusetts Archives, Libraries, and Societies
Massachusetts Immigration
Massachusetts Naturalization
Ethnic Groups of Massachusetts
Massachusetts County Resources
Massachusetts Town Resources
Map of Massachusetts

The following is a guide to beginning dates and locations of Massachusetts deeds, probates, and court records. Inquiries for land records should be addressed “Registry of Deeds” at the county (or district) seat. In some counties, division of the Registry of Deeds became necessary to make the location closer to the land involved in the transaction. Some registeries have websites. Make sure the deed information sought falls in the appropriate district for the time period and geography involved.

The “Probate Court Clerk” at the county seat should be addressed for probate records; and “Clerk of Courts” for civil court records. As with other New England states, the New England Genealogic Historical Society has an extensive microfilm collection of county resources for Massachusetts.

Map County County Address Date Formed Parent County(ies) Land Probate Court
J6 Barnstable Main Street, Barnstable 02630 1685 as Barnstable County of Plymouth Colony 1827* 1686 1686
*Fire destroyed nearly all early deed books and probate files, but probate books survived. Although the official deed books only begin in 1827, many deeds were re-recorded back to about 1783, though these are far from complete.
A3 Berkshire 44 Bank Row, Pittsfield 01201 1761 Hampshire 1761 1761 1761
Divided into three districts in 1788. The above office is the “parent” county seat, encompassing all the Berkshire towns between 1761—88. After that it was still the probate office for the county, but only the registry of deeds for the Middle District (see
G5 Bristol 11 Court St., Taunton 02780 1685 as Bristol County of Plymouth Colony 1685 1685 1685
The county seat was Bristol until 1746 when succeeded by Taunton. The Taunton seat divided into three districts in 1837 with the above remaining as probate office but only registry of deeds for the Northern District (see Town Resources for towns in each of Bristol’s registry of deeds districts).
Bristol Southern District 25 N. Sixth St., New Bedford 02740 1837
Bristol Fall River District 441 N. Main St., Fall River 02720 1837
H7 Dukes 81 Main St., Edgartown 02539 1683 (as a New York County) 1695 (as a Mass. County) 1686 1696 1665
Records from 1665 deal with Martha’s Vineyard.
H2 Essex 32 Federal St., Salem 01970 1643 original 1637 1635 1636
The county was divided into two districts in 1869. The above office is the “parent” county seat. After that it remained the probate office for the county, but the registry of deeds for only the Southern District (see Town Resources for towns in each of the registry of deeds districts). This registry also has all the “old” Norfolk County (1637—1714) and Ipswich Series Deeds, 1640—94, two of which have been transcribed by George Sanborn for the manuscript collection at New England Historic Genealogical Society. Essex court records to 1800 are at the Peabody Essex Museum (see Archives, Libraries, and Societies).
Essex Northern District 381 Common St., Lawrence 01840 1869