Suffolk County MA Records
Massachusetts Archives Vital Records Search
Columbia Point 220 Morrissey Blvd. Boston, MA 02125
For copies of vital records after 1910 visit the Registry of Vital Records & Statistics
150 Mt. Vernon Street, 1st Fl., Dorchester MA 02125-3105 (next to the Bayside Expo Center) (617) 740-2600
Massachusetts Vital Records Project - currently does not include Suffolk County records
SUFFOLK COUNTY PROBATE RECORDS
By the time the Great Migration occurred, probate proceedings had already begun to apply to those with even minor personal property in England. Puritans pursued the practice with some vigor, but certainly not universally. Whether the person died with a will or without (intestate), complete probate proceedings were not automatic.
Probate records in Massachusetts are reasonably intact, but there are still gaps. In all cases there are two groups of records of concern: the original papers brought to court (such as original wills, affidavits of all kinds, and receipts from heirs) and those papers that were actually recorded in county probate books. Both of these exist in abundance for the state.
Each probate court has its own record books, with an index and usually its original files by file number. The Massachusetts State Archives, however, holds original probate files for Suffolk County (1636-1894) and Middlesex County (1648-1871).
Suffolk County Clerk of Probate Court
24 New Chardon Street, 3rd Floor, Boston, MA 02114
Hours: M -F 8:30AM - 5PM
SUFFOLK COUNTY LAND RECORDS
Land ownership in Massachusetts descended initially from colony to proprietor and eventually to private ownership by individuals. The colonies of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay were legally based on charters or patents from England to a company of business or trading associates. The general court for each colony, acting as a legislative body, established towns by granting to a group of proprietors blocks of land. The primary obligation of the proprietors was to divide the land among the settlers in the town based on family size, wealth, or both. Part of the land was held by town proprietors for the common good.
Deeds are recorded in the earliest records of the counties. A series of abstracts for the latter continues in the revived Mayflower Descendant. Deeds are the purview of the county registry of deeds. The first fourteen volumes of Suffolk County deeds published has, in addition to the grantor and grantee indexes, an every-name index for deeds from 1640-1799 located at its registry office. This index is a consolidation of names other than grantor/grantee found in the deeds, such as witnesses and abutters.
Suffolk County Registry of Deeds
24 New Chardon Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02114-9660
Recording Hours 8:30am to 4:15pm Research Hours 8:30am to 4:45pm
Customer Service Telephone 617 788-8575
No Copies Printed after 4:15pm
U.S. Census Records
The U.S. has taken a census of its population every ten years since 1790. The most recent census available at present is the 1930 census, due to a 72-year privacy restriction.
There are printed indexes for most released Massachusetts U.S. Censuses (except 1890, that census was destroyed by fire in the 1920's.) Indexes to the 1790 through 1860 censuses are also available on CD.
The 1850 census was the first "every name" census. All previous censuses only listed the head of household along with un-named information regarding the household. The 1880 Census information is available for free at Familysearch.org.
Ancestry.com has free dowloadable blank census forms.
Tax records can be found at both the local and state levels. Massachusetts State Archives has tax returns for 1768 and 1771 as well as incomplete tax valuations for 1775, 1776, 1777 and 1778. The Massachusetts State Library holds them for 1780, 1783, 1784, 1791, 1792, 1793, 1800, 1801, 1810, and 1811.
Earlier taxes for the towns exist as well. Other tax lists may still be available at the town office. The U.S. Direct Tax of 1798 for most counties remains extant. The surviving originals are at the New England Historic Genealogical Society and accessible on microfilm there and through the FHL.
1800-Present. The nineteenth century brought massive numbers of immigrants to Massachusetts, creating a much more heterogeneous population than a century earlier. Fortunately, many passenger lists have been indexed for the period.
Massachusetts State Archives has an alphabetical name index to the Port of Boston passenger lists from 1848-91, called the state list. The National Archives/New England Region has passenger lists from 1820-1925 and continues to receive later ones. The National Archives in Washington, D.C., has copies of the Boston lists for 1820-91 (Record Group 36, M277), though some gaps in coverage appear in the microfilm copy of the lists. The microfilm index to passenger lists made by the National Archives in Washington, D.C., for 1848-91 (Record Group 36, M265) used the state lists to create their index for arrivals at the port of Boston. Consequently, people might appear on the microfilmed federal index, but not on the federal lists while they do appear on the state list at the Massachusetts State Archives.
The National Archives in Washington, D.C., additionally has an index to passenger lists for arrivals at Boston from 1902-20 (Record Group 85, T521; T617), book indexes to the Boston passenger lists by date of arrival from 1899-1940 (Record Group 85, T790), and passenger lists themselves 1891-1943 (Record Group 85, T843).
In the Boston area, the Boston Public Library has microfilm copies of all the federal passenger lists beginning in 1820, as well as other immigration material.
City directories are very useful in tracking your ancestors’ residences in between census years. Below are some useful tips.
- Only search for your ancestor’s surname. Since the entries are alphabetical you’ll see all of the people with that surname and you don’t run the risk of missing your ancestor if his given name is abbreviated.
- If you can’t find a city directory for the small town where your ancestor lived, try checking directories of larger nearby cities to see whether your ancestor’s smaller town might have been included there.
- Once you’ve found your ancestor in a directory, take the time to look at the addresses and occupations of other people who share their surname. You might find relatives living in neighboring houses or working in the same industry.
- Make a note of the name, date, and publisher of the city directories you review, and also the names you checked for. In some cities, multiple directories may have been published for the same year. If your ancestor isn’t listed in one directory, you may find them in another, so it’s important to keep a record of which directories you’ve already searched to keep from duplicating your research.
- Widows are often noted as such, so by locating the last directory in which the husband appeared and the first directory listing the wife as "widow of" it’s possible to narrow down the husband’s date of death.
Boston City Directories for various years starting in 1845.