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Massachusetts Research Guide

Introduction to Massachusetts Research

Get Started with These Resources

* Birth Records * Census Records
* Marriage * Probate
* Death * Military Records
* Church Records * Migration
* Land/Property * Local Resources


The earliest settlers in this region were issued patents or charters directly or through various types of companies established for settlement and/or trade. See the Historical Data table to identify these early documents. Once the two major colonies were settled (i.e. Plymouth Colony and Massachusetts Bay Colony), land was distributed by their colonial governments through grants. Massachusetts Bay Colony established a county system in 1643 and land was recorded in the county deeds from then on. Plymouth Colony used a centralized system and recorded these deeds colony-wide from 1620 to 1685 until it finally established a county system in 1685.

The land records for the area now called Maine were always kept separately first entirely as was later was called York County. For each of these areas, land was granted for many years after the initial settlement as the colony expanded into uncharted territory given to it under the various patents and charters. All subsequent sales were recorded by the county. Though the vast majority of land transactions were recorded, it was not a requirement that this be done. It was in the best interest of the owner to do so, and legal advantages were given to such recordings. To search for land records, visit Massachusetts Land Records, which provides access to indexes and search tools to find recorded records. Some counties have records, with images, available back to 1900. See also the guide for the county of interest and use the resources found there.

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Biographies and Family Histories


Newspapers were first published in Massachusetts in 1690. The Commonwealth has a rich history documented within these pages. Most all libraries have copies of their local newspapers and research / university libraries include more. There are two libraries whose collection rivals all others:

  • American Antiquarian Society, Worcester (see details below under Libraries), collects all things in print before 1876. They hold the largest single collection of original newspapers in the country.
  • Boston Public Library, Boston (see details below under Libraries), is the repository for Massachusetts part of the national effort to microfilm all known existing copies of newspapers called the Massachusetts Newspaper Program. For their holdings, see the online guide for newspapers.

Massachusetts History and Geography

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts entered the Union on February 6, 1788, as the sixth state. It is governed under its original constitution, which was adopted in 1780. Boston (also known as "The Hub" and "Beantown") became the capitol city of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1632. It has served as the state capitol since 1780. For more information about the history of Massachusetts, see the Massachusetts History article.

Massachusetts is currently comprised of the following counties:

Click on a county in the map below to go to that county's page. Hover over a county to see its name. To see a larger version of the map, click here.
Berkshire CountyHampden CountyHampshire CountyFranklin CountyWorcester CountyMiddlesex CountyEssex CountySuffolk CountyNorfolk CountyBristol CountyPlymouth CountyBarnstable CountyDukes CountyNantucket CountyMassachusetts-county-map.gif

The following jurisdictions are now obsolete:

Research Tools and Resources

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