Thursday, August 16, 2012

Researching Massachusetts Records in the FamilySearch Catalog

This is an article that was published in the Bulletin, a quarterly of the Genealogical Forum of Oregon, in December of 2011. August is proving to be a busy month, so I am posting articles written for other venues.

For this article we are focusing on researching by location. As an example the review covers the Massachusetts state records, Middlesex county records and the records for the town of Holliston. One of the best resources for doing a place search for such records is the catalog at You will usually first search by the town, then the county and finally by the state. A useful tool when doing such a search is to print or save to your computer the index of topics found for that locality, and then make notes as to what is available, noting ones you wish to pursue.

Occasionally you will find the item such as a book has been digitized and is available to access online, thus saving you the time for locating a copy or ordering a microfilm. At this time they have not linked the digitized records found on the search page of available under browse by location, so this will be a separate type of search. If you find a book, which is only available from their collection in Salt Lake City, you can do a search at for the copy located closet to your home. With the title and author you may request an interlibrary loan from your local public library.


Massachusetts was first settled in 1620. It was one of the original thirteen states. After the Revolutionary War in 1785 it ceded to the United States all claims that were based on the original charters to territory west of New York. In 1820 Maine became a separate state and the boundaries have remained the same with only some minor changes. Many of the vital records are comprised of early town and county records. In 1841 the state registration began. Early records are available at the state archives in Boston. Vital records after 1890 are available from the Registrar of Vital Statistics in Boston. Divorce records from 1738 to 1888 are filed in various courts. Military records following the Revolutionary War are found in the office of the Adjutant General in Boston. Naturalization records for the years 1791 to 1906 have been copied and indexed. They are located at the National Archives in Boston Branch in Waltham, Massachusetts. Census records are available for the state for 1855 and 1865. The United States census is available for the years 1790 to 1880 and 1900 to 1930. Many resources are listed in the catalog at and can be reviewed for further research.

Middlesex County, Massachusetts

Middlesex County was created in 1643 and is an original county. The county seat is in Cambridge. The county clerk has birth records from 1632 to 1745, marriage records from 1651 to 1793, death records from 1651 to 1689, divorce records from 1888 and court records from 1648. Tax records are also available. The recorder of deeds has land records from 1632 to 1855 and for the southern district from 1855. The register of deeds has land records from the northern district from 1855. Until 1649 the records were kept in Boston. In 1855 the county was divided into two districts. Since Holliston is in the southern district the land records would be found in Cambridge. Many of the county records are available through the Family History Library and most have been filmed. There are also some good county histories that should be reviewed. The vital records on the county level include the earlier records, those which have been filmed are births, deaths and marriages from 1651 to 1793, Middlesex and Charlestown birth and death statistics from 1641 to 1692, and the Index to Births, Deaths, Wills and Misc. Court Records from 1600 to 1799.

The land records that have been filmed include the Proprietor’s Records of Cambridge from 1635 to 1829, the record books of registers of deeds from 1649 to 1900, the register book of the lands and houses in the “New Towne” the town of Cambridge from 1634 to 1696. This is a vast collection and we would want to begin with searching the indexes.

The probate records that have been filmed include the Index to Probate Records 1648 to 1871 and 1870 to 1949. The ones most of interest to us are the first set and the index can be used to determine if there are any of the actual films that should be ordered. The county court records that have been filmed are extensive and again the use of the indexes through 1800 would be important. After that date the filming is more random.

Holliston, Middlesex, Massachusetts

Holliston was established on December 3, 1724 from the town of Sherborn.

There are two good town histories that are available. A genealogical register of the inhabitants of the towns of Sherborn and Holliston by Rev. Abner Morse is available on microfilm, LDS film #1036321, Item 1. Holliston A Good Town by Joanne Hulbert is available through the historical society. Many of the town records are available on film through the Family History Library. It is recommended that the films be reviewed for vital records following the census search.

The dates filmed are:
1725 to 1844 for births
1729 to 1900 for marriages
1814 to 1849 for marriage intentions
1725 to 1843 for deaths
1852 to 1902 for birth indexes
1729 to 1900 for marriage index
1851 to 1902 for deaths and marriage intentions index
1725 to 1843 for deaths register
1844 to 1853 births/marriages/deaths register
1852 to 1902 births register
1851 to 1895 deaths register
1895 to 1902 deaths register
1903 to 1905 Births/marriages/deaths register

Each locality has similar information in the catalog. This is a vital tool in doing family history research. Once this process is complete, then one should access the for possible place information. The state pages are often limited, but include links to the county pages. The town information is usually incorporated into the county homepage. Online subscription websites should be checked for digitized copies, and some of these websites are available for free at Family Search Centers. State libraries, genealogical societies and state archives may have online indexes to their resources by locality as well. Then there is always an Internet search with your favorite web browsers. The best finds are sites that contain pictures, but be sure to capture these, citing the source for the future, as things may disappear from the online sites.

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