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The Commonwealth of Massachusetts was originally two separate colonies that merged in 1692 to form the royal colony of Massachusetts Bay. The first was Plimoth Colony that settled in Plymouth in 1620 (the second permanent, surviving English settlement in North America). Few records survive for the first ten years of this colony. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was settled in Salem in 1628 and records there seem more complete from the beginning. As the colonies grew and eventually emerged, the new Massachusetts Bay Colony expanded and once included the eastern and north eastern parts of Rhode Island (until 1747), southern New Hampshire and Vermont (until 1740), and all of Maine (the “District of Maine” until statehood in 1820).
Both colonies were governed at the local (town, which held most of the earliest records) and colony level. Massachusetts Bay set up counties in 1643 and Plimoth in 1685. The basic structure since that time has been local governments recording vital records and levying taxes (which may be local or mandated by the colony) and the county creating most all other records (most notably the court and land records). Berkshire County developed three land districts within the county, and Bristol, Essex, Middlesex, and Worcester have two land districts. These districts and county structures are important to locate the records, but technically only Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Nantucket, Norfolk, and Plymouth are now counties with functioning governments. The others since the 1990s are run like a county, but it is a state entity.
To learn more about general state topics, click on one of the subjects listed below:
Vital Records - State Archives - Census
Church Records - Military Records - Court Records - Naturalization Records
Journals - Newspapers - Maps - Guides
For guides to the history and availability of county records, click on the county name below. The Maine counties created under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts will be found in the Maine guide. Present-day Massachusetts was created from two colonies in 1685. The first two listings here are for those colonies. Some of these early records are located in a specific county and appropriate links will be found.
Massachusetts Bay Colony - Plymouth Colony
Barnstable - Berkshire - Bristol - Dukes
Middlesex - Nantucket - Norfolk (Old)
Norfolk - Plymouth - Suffolk - Worcester
To go directly to a town guides, click here.
Researched and created by Scott Andrew Bartley
Please report any broken links to the webmaster.
Page updated 29 September 2011