Essex County, Massachusetts Genealogy

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Guide to Essex County, Massachusetts ancestry, genealogy and family history, birth records, marriage records, death records, census records, and military records.

County Facts
County seat: Salem
Organized: 10 May 1643.[1]
Parent County(s): One of four original counties in Massachusetts.[2]
Neighboring Counties
Hillsborough (NH)  • Middlesex  • Rockingham (NH)  • Suffolk
See County Maps
Courthouse
Massachusetts, Essex County Courthouse.png
Location Map
Ma-essex.png
Adoption

County Information[edit | edit source]

Description[edit | edit source]

Essex County was one of the four original counties when Massachusetts Bay Colony Genealogy created counties in 1643 which includes the area known as Cape Ann. The only major change came with the addition of three miles on the northern border when the Old Norfolk County was eliminated in 1680. It was first settled in 1623. This was a major port for the United States through the late 1800s. Fishing was a thriving industry from the beginning, and is still notable in Gloucester. The most popular historical event was the witch trials of Salem in 1692. Haverhill, on the Merrimack River, became one of the centers of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1800s. As the city expanded with all the immigrant growth, the city annexed the town of Bradford on the south side of the river. The county government was abolished on 1 July 1999, but its former jurisdiction is used for state offices as a district.[3]

The county was named for the English county of Essex. It is located in the Northeastern area of the state.[4]

County Courthouse[edit | edit source]

Essex County Courthouse
56 Federal Street
Salem, MA 01970
Phone: 978-744-5500
Essex County Website

Essex County, Massachusetts Record Dates[edit | edit source]

Information for this chart was taken from various sources, often containing conflicting dates. This information should be taken as a guide and should be verified by contacting the county and/or the state government agency.

Known Beginning Dates for Major County Records[5]
Birth* Marriage Death* Court Land Probate Census
at town creation at town creation at town creation 1636 1640 1635 1779
* Statewide registration for births and deaths started in 1841. General compliance year unknown. See also Town Records

Record Loss[edit | edit source]

There is no known history of courthouse disasters in this county.

Boundary Changes[edit | edit source]

Populated Places[edit | edit source]

MassachusettsEssex CountyMiddlesex CountySuffolk CountyNew HampshireRockingham CountyHillsborough CountySaugusLynnNahantSwampscottMarbleheadSalemPeabodyDanversBeverlyManchester-by-the-seaGloucesterRockportEssexHamiltonWenhamTopsfieldIpswichRowleyNewburyNewburyportSalisburyAmesburyMerrimacHaverhillMethuenAndoverLawrenceNorth AndoverBoxfordGeorgetownGrovelandWest NewburyMiddletonLynnfieldPelhamBostonBrooklineNewtonWestonWaylandLincolnConcordCarlisleChelmsfordLowellDracutTewksburyBillericaBedfordLexingtonWalthamWatertownBelmontArlingtonWinchesterWoburnBurlingtonWilmingtonNorth ReadingReadingWakefieldStonehamMedfordSomervilleCambridgeEverettMaldenMelroseRevereChelseaWinthropWindhamDerrySandownHampsteadSalemAtkinsonPlaistowDanvilleKingstonNewtonSouth HamptonEast KingstonKensingtonHampton FallsHamptonSeabrook
Modern cities and towns in Essex County, Massachusetts.


For a complete list of populated places, including small neighborhoods and suburbs, visit HomeTown Locator. The following are the most historically and genealogically relevant populated places in this county:[8]

Cities
Towns
Villages
Census-designated places
Historic communities
Islands


History Timeline[edit | edit source]

The basic data are from the historical county boundary series[9] with additions from various sources.

Dates Events
10 May 1643 Essex County created as one of the four original counties formed out of Massachusetts Bay Colony. [Mass. Rec., 2: 38]
26 May 1658 Andover gained 15 acres from Billerica, Middlesex Co.
18 Sept. 1679 Gained three miles north of the Merrimack River when the Old Norfolk County was dissolved adding the then towns of Haverhill and Salisbury.
22 Feb. 1841 Gained from part of Chelsea, Suffolk Co., annexed to Saugus.
10 Apr. 1854 Loss from part of Lynnfield annexed to Reading, Middlesex Co.
7 Jan. 1858 Lost from part of Lynnfield annexed to North Reading, Middlesex Co.
18 Sept. 1933 Loss from part of Saugus annexed to Wakefield, Middlesex Co.
10 Apr. 1947 Land exchanged between Lynnfield and Reading, Middlesex Co.

Resources[edit | edit source]

Bible Records[edit | edit source]

Biographies[edit | edit source]

Business, Commerce, and Occupations[edit | edit source]

Cemeteries[edit | edit source]

Cemeteries of Essex County, Massachusetts online and in print
Tombstone Transcriptions Online
Tombstone Transcriptions in Print (Often more complete)
List of Cemeteries in the County
See Massachusetts Cemeteries for more information.

 

Census Records[edit | edit source]

Historical populations
Census Pop.
1790 57,879
1800 61,196 5.7%
1810 71,888 17.5%
1820 74,655 3.8%
1830 82,859 11.0%
1840 94,987 14.6%
1850 131,300 38.2%
1860 165,611 26.1%
1870 200,843 21.3%
1880 244,535 21.8%
1890 299,995 22.7%
1900 357,030 19.0%
1910 436,477 22.3%
1920 482,156 10.5%
1930 498,040 3.3%
1940 496,313 −0.3%
1950 522,384 5.3%
1960 568,831 8.9%
1970 637,887 12.1%
1980 633,632 −0.7%
1990 670,080 5.8%
2000 723,419 8.0%
2010 743,159 2.7%
Source: "Wikipedia.org".

Church Records[edit | edit source]

List of Churches and Church Parishes

Court Records[edit | edit source]

The court system can appear to be complex. The system was reorganized in 1686/1692, 1859, and 1978. Described below are the most commonly used records for history and genealogy, but realize that this list is incomplete. For more detailed information regarding court structure, see Understanding the Massachusetts Court System.
Some records may be found in the Old Norfolk County records.
Supreme Judicial Court Archives (Older records)
(administration - records stored in several off-site facilities and the Mass. Archives)
16th Floor, Highrise Court House
3 Pemberton Square
Boston MA 02109
Phone 617-557-1082
Email Elizabeth.Bouvier@sjc.state.ma.us

County Court
This court was active from 1636 (called a quarterly court and then the county court when Suffolk was created in 1643) to 1692. The court heard all civil causes up to 10 shillings (raised to 40 shillings in 1647) and all criminal causes not concerning life, limb, or banishment. These were all jury trials. Some records can be found in the Suffolk Files.

Online Court Indexes and Records

Records at the Massachusetts Archives

  • County Court, 1682-1685
  • County Quarterly Court, 1634-1686:
    WPA transcript
  • Essex County Court index, 1636-1692, and Court of Common Pleas index, 1692-1694 [seven double-paged typescript volumes]

Published Records

R. 2
Digital versions of the Essex Quarterly Court
Vol. 1 1636-1656 Internet Archive Google Books
1656-1662 Internet Archive
Vol. 3 1662-1667 Internet Archive Google Books
Vol. 4 1667-1671 Internet Archive Google Books
Vol. 5 1672-1674 Internet Archive Google Books
Vol. 6 1675-1678 Internet Archive Google Books
Vol. 7 1678-1680 Internet Archive Google Books
Vol. 8 1680-1683 Internet Archive
Vol. 9 1683-1686 n/a

The published volumes' coverage stops in 1685 or 1686 (depending on the court location). For quarterly courts held after that (i.e. from about 1685 to 1694) it may be necessary to search the 57 typescript volumes of Archie N. Frost, comp., Verbatim Transcriptions of the Records of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts, 1636-1694 (Salem, Mass., 1939). These were at one point held at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem.

Derivative records published:

  • Melinde Lutz Sanborn, Ages from Court Records 1636 to 1700 (Baltimore, 2003), 227 pp.
    WorldCat (Other Libraries); FHL book 974.4 P22s v. 1.
    Digital version at Ancestry ($).
  • Melinde Lutz Sanborn, "Essex County, Massachusetts Depositions, 1636-86" online at Ancestry ($).
  • Else L. Hambleton, Daughters of Eve: Pregnant Brides and Unwed Mothers in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts (New York, 2004), xix, 192 pp.
    WorldCat (Other Libraries); Not at FHL.
    A study of cases of fornication, bastardy, and paternity cases brought before the courts in Essex County between 1640 and 1692.

Quarterly Court of General Sessions of the Peace
This court was active from 1692 to 1827. The court heard criminal cases and had authority over county affairs that included levying taxes, reviewing town bylaws, highways, licensed liquor, regulated jails, supervised the administration of the poor laws, and appointed some county officials.

Online Court Indexes and Records

  • 1692-1796 Court records, 1692-1796(*) Essex County Court of General Sessions of the Peace at FamilySearch Catalog - images

Derivative records published:

Inferior Court of Common Pleas
This court was active from 1692 to 1859. The court heard all civil cases over 40s unless a case involved freehold or was appealed from a justice of the peace.

Online Court Indexes and Records

Records at the Massachusetts Archives

  • Essex County Court index, 1636-1692, and Court of Common Pleas index, 1692-1694 [seven double-paged typescript volumes]
  • Essex County Consolidated Index (Court of Common Pleas, 1749-1859; Superior Court, 1859-1904; Supreme Judicial Court, 1797-1904)
  • Court of Common Pleas, Record Books, 1692-1726
  • Court of Common Pleas, Court Records, v. 1-142, 1749-1865 (inc. divorces)
  • Court of Common Pleas, Court Records, 1686-1726
  • Court of Common Pleas, Executions, 1686-1783

Superior Court
The Quarterly Court of General Sessions was merged into the Inferior Court of Common Pleas in 1827, and that court was reorganized in 1859 to created the Superior Court as the new lower (i.e. trial) court. It covers both criminal and civil matters.

Online Court Indexes and Records

Records at the Massachusetts Archives

  • Essex County Consolidated Index (Court of Common Pleas, 1749-1859; Superior Court, 1859-1904; Supreme Judicial Court, 1797-1904)
  • Supreme Judicial Court, Salem Witchcraft trials, v. 1-4

Supreme Judicial Court
The Supreme Judicial Court was established by the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 that combined the former Governor and Council with the Superior Court of Judicature creating the highest state court. This court hears appeals, writ of error, capital offenses, and crimes against the public good. That included divorces until that action was moved to the lower court in 1887.

Online Court Indexes and Records

Miscellaneous Court Records
Online Court Indexes and Records

Records at the Massachusetts Archives

  • Notary Public record books, 1723-1769

Salem Witch Trials

Directories[edit | edit source]

Emigration and Immigration[edit | edit source]

Ethnic, Political, and Religious Groups[edit | edit source]

Funeral Homes[edit | edit source]

Genealogies[edit | edit source]

Guardianship[edit | edit source]

Land and Property Records[edit | edit source]

Land transfers, commonly called deeds, are recorded on the county level in Massachusetts. Not all deeds were recorded as is common practice today. The earliest transactions were charters or grants from the English Crown. Once local government was established, the colony would grant land to settlers directly or to towns to dole out. Some towns first start out as proprietorship and records were recorded there. Once towns were established, deeds were recorded on the county level. Essex County is divided into two districts. The county was one district until the creation of the Northern District in 1869.

Northern Essex Registry of Deeds
354 Merrimack Street Suite #304 (Entry C)
Lawrence MA 01843
Phone 978-683-2745
Email Lawrence.Deeds@sec.state.ma.us
Website
This district includes Andover, Lawrence, Methuen, and North Andover.

Online Land Indexes and Records - Northern District (began 1869):

Southern Essex Registry of Deeds
45 Congress Street Suite 4100
Salem MA 01970
Phone 978-542-1700
Website
This district covered the entire county until 1869.

Online Land Indexes and Records - Southern District:

Atlases:

  • Essex County Atlases: (Select Essex County from Town dropdown list, then specific year desired from Atlas list)
    Essex County, 1795 (mss.).
    Essex County, 1830 (mss.).
    Essex County, 1872.
    Essex County, 1884.

Published Records

Local Histories[edit | edit source]

Works written on the county include:

Maps and Gazetteers[edit | edit source]

Rockingham CountyHillsborough CountySuffolk CountyMiddlesex CountyMA ESSEX.PNG
Click a neighboring county
for more resources

Migration[edit | edit source]

Military Records[edit | edit source]

Revolutionary War

Naturalization and Citizenship[edit | edit source]

Naturalization records were created on a variety of governmental levels from the Federal down to the city at the same time. The county records for all levels are outlines below. For more information, see the Massachusetts state page for more on naturalization.

Online Naturalization Indexes and Records - Covering Multiple Courts

Federal Naturalization Records for Essex County

Record Dates Original Records Online Indexes Online Records

Essex Co.

1st District Court

Ipswich, Newberry Port, Lawrence & Salem
Court of Common Pleas 1797-1859 NARA M1299 - National Archives - Waltham

Essex Co.

1st District Court

Eastern Essex
District Court 1900-1906 NARA M1299 - National Archives - Waltham

Essex Co.

1st District Court

Eastern Essex
District Court 1886-1906 NARA M1299 - National Archives - Waltham

Essex Co.

1st District Court

Salem and Ipswich
Supreme Judicial Court 1798-1862 NARA M1299 - National Archives - Waltham

Essex Co.

1st District Court

Salem, Newburyport, and Lawrence
Superior (Criminal) Court 1798-1862 NARA M1299 - National Archives - Waltham
Superior Court 1859-1891 NARA M1299 - National Archives - Waltham

Essex County Naturalization Records

Record Dates Original Records Online Indexes Online Records
Lawrence Superior Court 1860-1892
1907-1982
see Judicial Archivist
Judicial Archives
Salem Superior Court pre-1907
1907-1982
see Judicial Archivist
Judicial Archives
Card index
Amesbury
District Court
1906 Judicial Archives No index No microfilm
Gloucester
District Court
1885-1906
(with gaps)
Judicial Archives Indexed dockets
Lawrence
District Court
1850-1854, 1886-1906
(with gaps)
Judicial Archives Indexed dockets No microfilm
Lynn
District Court
1885-1906 Judicial Archives NO microfilm
Newburyport
District Court
1885-1906
(with gaps)
Judicial Archives Indexed dockets No microfilm
Salem
District Court
n/a Salem District Courthouse n/a No microfilm

Newspapers[edit | edit source]

Obituaries[edit | edit source]

Other Records[edit | edit source]

Periodicals[edit | edit source]

Probate Records[edit | edit source]

Probate and Family Court is organized on a county level in Massachusetts since the creation of the counties. The main records genealogists seek are testate (wills), intestate (administrations), guardianships, and divorces (since 1922), though there are many more that are valuable to any researcher, too. See a further discussion of the topic in general on the Massachusetts page.

Essex Probate and Family Court
36 Federal Street
Salem MA 01970
Phone 978-744-1020 x383

Lawrence Satellite Office
2 Appleton Street
Lawrence MA 01840
Phone 978-686-9692
This office, starting sometime before 1990, serves Andover, Lawrence, Methuen, and North Andover. All records are maintained in Salem.

Online Probate Indexes and Records

Original Records on Microfilm at the Massachusetts Archives:

  • Old series, 1638-1881:
    Docket index:
    1638-1840, v. 1-16
    1841-1881, v. 17-37.
    Probate records:
    Original volumes renumbers, so add 300 to original number.
    Books 1 - 124 (1671-1867), 425 - 737 (1867-1916).
  • New series, 1816-1885:
    Probate records:
    Books 1 - 300 (1816-1885).
  • Second series, 1882-1917:
    Index, 1882-1917.
    Probate docket, v. 38 - 76, #58039-124204 (1882-1916).
    Note: These volumes index the continuous of the records listed above.

Original Records - Before 1882
Supreme Judicial Court Archives
(administration - records stored in several off-site facilities and the Mass. ArchivesNote: By early 2014, another block of older records will be moved to the archives.
The original file papers exist at the archives, never microfilmed, but have been digitized in 2011 and 2012, though the Supreme Judicial Archives has yet to make that public (as of Aug. 2013).

Published Records:

  • William P. Upham, Melinde Lutz Sanborn, trans., Essex County, Massachusetts, Probate Index, 1638-1840 (Boston, 1987), 2v.
    WorldCat (Other Libraries); FHL book 974.45 P22e v. # or films 6105139-6105140.
    Digital version at Ancestry ($).
    Also, the surname's beginning with "P" in a database style derived from these indexes at Ancestry ($).
  • George Francis Dow, Probate Records of Essex County, Massachusetts, [1635-1681] (Salem, Mass., 1916-1920), 3v.
    WorldCat (Other Libraries); FHL book 974.45 P2p v. # or film 1033717 or FHL digital link.
    Digital versions at Internet Archive (v. 1, v. 2, and v. 3), Google Books (v. 1, v. 2, and v. 3), and Ancestry ($).
  • Melinde Lutz Sanborn, "Essex County, Massachusetts Probate Records, Supplement" ([Derry, N.H.], 1998), a database, online at Ancestry ($).
    Regarding the source records: If the volume is a Roman numeral the records were published in Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts, volumes 1-9 (Salem: The Essex Institute, 1911-1975). If the volume number is an Arabic numeral the records can be found in the unpublished typescript copies done by the WPA, and in the custody of the Peabody Essex Museum at the James Duncan Phillips Library. Volume 53 is missing from that collection, and as a result there are no entries in this database from the September 1692 to March 1693 courts.

School Records[edit | edit source]

Social Security Records[edit | edit source]

Tax Records[edit | edit source]

Town Records[edit | edit source]

Vital Records[edit | edit source]

It is easiest to start with the state vital records indexes (listed below) for births, marriages, and deaths since 1841. Massachusetts was the first to require a consistent recording of these events statewide. Original vital records (starting as early as 1639) are found with the clerk of the town or city where the event occurred. See the Massachusetts Genealogy Guide and Massachusetts Vital Records pages for more details.

Birth[edit | edit source]

Marriage[edit | edit source]

Death[edit | edit source]

Divorce[edit | edit source]

Research Facilities[edit | edit source]

Archives[edit | edit source]

For state-wide and regional facilities, see Massachusetts Archives and Libraries.
For information on additional archives and repositories, see:

Family History Centers[edit | edit source]

Family History Center and Affiliate Library Locator map - search for local Family History Centers or Affiliate Libraries

  • Family History Centers provide one-on-one assistance, free access to center-only databases, and to premium genealogical websites.
  • FamilySearch Affiliate Libraries have access to most center-only databases, but may not always have full services normally provided by a family history center.

Local Centers and Affiliate Libraries

Libraries[edit | edit source]

Listed below are libraries in Essex County. For state-wide library facilities, see Massachusetts Archives and Libraries.

Museums[edit | edit source]

Societies[edit | edit source]

Listed below are societies in Essex County. For state-wide genealogical and historical societies, see Massachusetts Societies.

Websites[edit | edit source]

  • FamilySearch Catalog – The FamilySearch catalog contains descriptions and access information for all genealogical materials (including books, online materials, microfilm, microfiche, and publications) in their collection.  Use Historical Records to search for specific individuals in genealogical records.

Research Guides[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. https://digital.newberry.org/ahcb/documents/MA_Individual_County_Chronologies.htm#ESSEX Individual County Chronologies] by John H Long; online by Newberry Library
  2. https://digital.newberry.org/ahcb/documents/MA_Individual_County_Chronologies.htm#ESSEX Individual County Chronologies] by John H Long; online by Newberry Library
  3. Abolished County Governments - Secretary of State.
  4. Wikipedia contributors, "Essex, County," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essex_County,_Massachusetts
  5. Handybook for Genealogists: United States of America, 10th ed. (Draper, Utah: Everton Pub., 2002), Essex County, Massachusetts . Page 329-331 At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 973 D27e 2002; Alice Eichholz, ed. Ancestry’s Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources, Third ed. (Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2004), 322-323.
  6. Individual County Chronologies by John H Long; online by Newberry Library
  7. Handybook for Genealogists: United States of America, 10th ed. (Draper, Utah: Everton Pub., 2002), Massachusetts. At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 973 D27e 2002.
  8. Wikipedia contributors, "Essex County, Massachusetts," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essex_County,_Massachusetts, accessed 09 March 2020.
  9. Massachusetts Atlas of Historical County Boundaries