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.
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Massachusetts Vital Records
Census Records for Massachusetts
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Massachusetts Probate Records
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Massachusetts Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
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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
B2 Franklin 425 Main St., Greenfield 01310 1811 Hampshire 1787* 1812 1812
*Earlier deeds for land now in Franklin County are at Springfield (see Hampden County). Abstracts of these deeds recorded at the Springfield registry from 1663—1786 are at Greenfield. Deeds for 1787-present are in Greenfield; between 1787—1812 they were recorded at the Deerfield registry, which was transferred to Greenfield in 1812. Probates before 1812 for towns now in Franklin County are at Northampton (see Hampshire County).
B4 Hampden 50 State St., Springfield 01103 1812 Hampshire 1636* 1812† 1812†
*Although not established as Hampden County until 1812, Springfield was the registry for Hampden’s parent county, Hampshire, which was divided into three registries–Deerfield, Springfield, and Northampton–in 1787. Deerfield registry was transferred to Greenfield when Franklin County was established in 1811 (see Franklin and Hampshire). All deeds for land originally in Hampshire as well as Franklin and Hampden before their county division from Hampshire are located at the Springfield registry.

†Probates before 1812 for towns covered now by Hampden County are at the Hampshire Probate Office in Northampton. The bulk of the pre-1812 court records are also in Northampton.

C3 Hampshire 33 King St., Northampton 01060 1662 Middlesex 1812* 1660 1677
*In 1787 three registry offices were created (Deerfield, Springfield, and Northampton) for Hampshire County corresponding with what eventually became the three present counties of Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire, respectively. All deeds for the Northampton registry before it became what is now Hampshire County are located at the Springfield registry.