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Massachusetts County records vary widely from county to county in either quality and quantity. Some happen to have been very carefully preserved and some have been substantially mistreated and overlooked. Many Massachusetts records have merely disappeared. For genealogists performing research in Massachusetts there is no effective replace for an on-site search of county court house records.
Massachusetts, officially the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one of the states of New England. Massachusetts entered the Union as the sixth of the original 13 states. When still a colony, it had become an important intellectual center, known for Harvard College and the cultural institutions of Boston. Many events in Massachusetts, including the Stamp Act riots (1765), the Boston Massacre (1770), and the Boston Tea Party (1773), were precursors to the American Revolution (1775-1783). The first battles of the revolution were fought in Massachusetts, and its role in colonial history can be seen in the many well-preserved landmarks in such historic places as Plymouth, Boston, Lexington, and Concord.
Massachusetts is divided into 14 Counties, with 39 cities and 312 towns. Massachusetts has abolished eight of its fourteen county government, leaving five counties with county-level local government which are Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Norfolk and Plymouth counties.
The district or county seat is generally home to the "Registry of Deeds," which should be contacted for any land records. Some of those registries have online records, while others do not. In some cases, the Registry of Deeds was also divided because the registries needed to be closer to the land in question.
Researchers must be sure that they have pinpointed the appropriate geographic location and time period, as well as the right district, before searching for records relating to land. Probate records can be obtained from the Probate Court Clerk. Civil court records can be found at the Clerk of Courts. However, there are also many county records available at the New England Genealogic Historical Society.
Many early records from Massachusetts town meetings have been published. The Boston Public Library holds those records for Middlesex County. They can also be found at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. A guide that was created in 1976 for that collection is also available.
Generally, the vital records for a given Massachusetts town go back to whenever that town was founded. However, some towns broke off from other towns. So, records in the original, or parent, towns may need to be consulted. Most county clerks have vital record indexes available, but some important town records have not been indexed and must be searched at the town office or on microfilm. Those may include poor account overseers records, voting lists, hog and cattle marks, freeman's lists, tax lists, town officer lists, school records, and warnings out.
|County||Date Formed||Parent County||County Seat|
|Barnstable||June 2, 1685||Plymouth Colony||Barnstable|
|Berkshire||April 21, 1761||Hampshire County||Pittsfield|
|Bristol||June 2, 1685||Plymouth Colony||Taunton|
|Dukes||November 1, 1683||Dukes County, New York||Edgartown|
|Essex||May 10, 1643||Massachusetts Bay Colony||Salem & Lawrence|
|Franklin||June 24, 1811||Hampshire County.||Greenfield|
|Hampden||February 25, 1812||Hampshire County.||Springfield|
|Hampshire||May 1, 1662||Massachusetts Bay Colony||Northampton|
|Middlesex||May 10, 1643||Massachusetts Bay Colony||Cambridge & Lowell|
|Nantucket||June 22, 1695||Dukes County, New York||Nantucket|
|Norfolk||May 10, 1643; March 26, 1793||Suffolk County.||Dedham|
|Plymouth||June 2, 1685||Plymouth Colony.||Plymouth & Brockton|
|Suffolk||May 10, 1643||Massachusetts Bay Colony||Boston|
|Worcester||April 2, 1731||Hampshire, Middlesex and Suffolk Counties||Worcester|
Nearly all of the vital records have been microfilmed and are available either through the FHL, Massachusetts State Archives, Berkshire Athenaeum, or Boston Public Library. Early records of town meetings have been published for a number of Massachusetts towns.
The researcher should assume that vital records, whether in separate books or in town records, begin with the formation of the town, as do the town records. See parent towns for earlier records; and the county for beginning dates of deeds, probates, and court records. Clerks respond to inquires regarding vital records, since most have indexes available, but unindexed town records with details of town life - officers, tax lists, freeman's lists, cattle and hog marks, voting lists, warnings out, overseer's of the poor accounts, school records - must be searched in person either through microfilm or at the town's office. See also Massachusetts City and Town Incorporation and Settlement Dates.
Massachusetts seems to have counties that no longer are in existence. They were set up by the state, provincial, or territorial governing administration. Most of these counties were created and disbanded within the 19th century; county boundaries have evolved very little since Nineteen hundred in the vast most of states. These counties really should be considered when doing genealogy research. Pay close attention where the courthouse records went to if the county was eliminated or consolidated with a different county.
The damage to Massachusetts courthouses tremendously has a bearing on family historians in each and every way. Not only are these historic buildings ripped from all of our lifetimes, so are the documents they housed: marriage, wills, probate, land records, as well as others. Once destroyed they're destroyed forever. Although they have already been put on mircofilm, computers and film burn up too. The most tragic aspect of this is the reason why virtually all of our courthouses are destroyed as a result of arsonist. However, don't assume all records were damaged or lost. Many Massachusetts counties have suffered a loss of records due to courthouse fires, floods, and theft.