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United States Gotoarrow.png Massachusetts Gotoarrow.png Berkshire County

This is a historical and genealogical guide to the county of Berkshire. You will find help with town histories, vital records, deeds and land records, city directories, cemetery records and cemeteries, churches, town records, newspapers, maps, and libraries.

Contents

Berkshire County Massachusetts History

Brief History

Berkshire County has always been at the crossroads of settlers on the move. As the western side of the Berkshire Mountains, those moving west from all other Massachusetts counties, Rhode Island, and much of Connecticut, and occasionally from very southern New Hampshire and Vermont would converge here. Many would continue west into New York state or up the western side of Vermont following the first roads that allowed easy travel through this region. It was never a populous county, but the rugged terrain was often were "lost" ancestors called home. Berkshire's county government was abolished on 1 July 2000, but its former jurisdiction is used for state offices as a district.[1]

Historical Data

The basic data are from the historical county boundary series[2] with additions from various sources.

Dates Events
30 June 1761 Berkshire County was created from the western third of Hampshire County. [Mass. Col. Acts, Vol. 4, Ch. 33 [1760/1], Sec. 1, p. 432]
30 June 1768 Loss when part of Plantation #3 was included in the new town of Worthington, Hampshire Co. [Mass. Col. Acts, Vol. 4, Ch. 16 [1768], Sec. 1, p. 1028]
23 June 1779 Loss when part of Plantation #5 was included in the new town of Cummington, Hampshire Co. [Mass. Col. Acts, Vol. 5, Ch. 6 [1779/80], Sec. 1, p. 1072-1073]
12 Mar. 1783 Loss when parts of Becket, Partridgefield [now Peru], and Washington along with Chester, Prescott's Grant, and Worthington in Hampshire Co. were included in the new town of Middlefield, Hampshire Co. [Mass. Acts, 1783, Ch. 19, Sec. 1, p. 228]
9 Feb. 1785 Loss when Myrifield Grant and unincorporated county land created the new town of Rowe, Hampshire Co. [Mass. Acts, 1785, Ch. 2, Sec. 1, p. 230]
9 Mar. 1793 Loss when part of Plantation #7 was annexed to Hawley, Hampshire Co. [Mass. Acts, 1793, Ch. 18, Sec. 1, p. 242]
21 Feb. 1822 Loss when the Gore was combined with the western part of Rowe, Hampshire Co., to create the new town of Monroe, Hampshire. [Mass. Acts, 1822, Ch. 93, Sec. 1, p. 707]
2 Apr. 1838 Loss when part of the territory known as Zoar was annexed to Charlemont and Rowe, Hampshire Co. [Mass. Acts 1838, Ch. 56, Sec. 1, p. 344 and Ch. 57, Sec. 1, p. 345]
4 May 1853
15 May 1855
Border between Sandisfield and Tolland, Hampden Co., clarified then redefined. [Mass. Acts, 1853, Ch. 293, p. 535; 1855, Ch. 358, Sec. 1, p. 755]
11 Jan. 1855 Loss when the southwest corner of the county [and state] known as Boston Corner annexed to Columbia Co., N.Y.
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Towns and Cities

Ma-berkshire.png
The following list of present-day Berkshire County towns and cities links them to their individual pages. There you will find a list of other names used for the town or city and of villages and sections of the town or city.
Adams (1778) | Alford (1773) | Becket (1765) | Cheshire (1793)
Clarksburg (1798) | Dalton (1784) | Egremont (1775) | Florida (1805)
Great Barrington (1761) | Hancock (1776) | Hinsdale (1804) | Lanesborough (1765)
Lee (1777) | Lenox (1775) | Monterey (1847) | Mount Washington (1779)
New Ashford (1835) | New Marlborough (1775) | North Adams (1878) | Otis (1773)
Peru (1771) | Pittsfield (1761) | Richmond (1765) | Sandisfield (1762)
Savoy (1797) | Sheffield (1733) | Stockbridge (1739) | Tyringham (1762)
Washington (1777) | West Stockbridge (1775) | Williamstown (1765)
Windsor (1771)

Annexed to Columbia Co., N.Y.: Boston Corner District

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County Histories

MassachusettsConnecticutVermontNew YorkLitchfield CountyHartford CountyBennington CountyWindham CountyColumbia CountyRensselaer CountyHampden CountyHampshire CountyFranklin CountyBerkshire CountyGranbyHartlandColebrookNorfolkNorth CanaanSalisburyNorth EastAncramCopakeHillsdaleAusterlitzCanaanChathamNew LebanonStephentownNassauSand LakePoestenkillBrunswickPittstownGraftonPetersburghBerlinPownalStamfordReadsboroWhitinghamMonroeRoweCharlemontHawleyAshfieldPlainfieldCummingtonChesterfieldWorthingtonMiddlefieldChesterHuntingtonMontgomeryRussellGranvilleBlandfordTollandSandisfieldOtisBecketWashingtonPeruWindsorSavoyFloridaHinsdaleNew MarlboroughMontereyTyringhamLeeLenoxSheffieldMount WashingtonEgremontGreat BarringtonAlfordStockbridgeWest StockbridgeRichmondHancockPittsfieldDaltonLanesboroughCheshireNew AshfordAdamsNorth AdamsClarksburgWilliamstown
Modern towns and cities in Berkshire County, Massachusetts.

Works written on the county include:

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Berkshire County Massachusetts Genealogy Resources

Vital Records

In Massachusetts, the original vital records (of births, marriages, and deaths) have been created and maintained by the town or city in which the event occurred. In very early colonial times, copies of these records were submitted to the county, but that practice died out before this county was created. There were marriage intentions commonly recorded in the bride's home town and additional recordings maybe found in the groom's home town and their current residence.

Massachusetts was the first state to bring a unified state-level recording of these events (but not marriage intentions) in 1841 (Boston excluded until 1850). The associated records of divorce and adoption are handled by the courts. The state has maintained a state-wide index to divorces since 1952, but adoption records will require more researching to discover.

It is easiest to start with the state vital records for events since 1841, though realize the original record is with the town or city. More details can be found on the Massachusetts Genealogy Guide page.

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Land Records

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.

Berkshire County is divided into three land districts:

Northern Berkshire District Registry of Deeds
65 Park Street
Adams MA 01220
Phone 413-743-0035
Email nbrd@sec.state.ma.us
This district covers Adams, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Florida, Hancock, Lanesborough, New Ashford, North Adams, Savoy, Williamstown, and Windsor.

Original records

Records are available at the Registry. Their records ONLINE are:

  • Recorded Land [i.e. deeds], 1971-present.
  • Recorded Plans, 1770-present.
  • Registered Land [i.e. land court], 1944-present.
  • Registered Land Plans, 1899-present.

There is an unindexed property search by book and page, but it seems not to be functional. [as of Sept. 2013]

Original records on microfilm

  • Land records - Northern District, 1761-1925, and index, 1761-1985, FHL film 1675879 (1st of 177).
  • Colonial records and proprietary plans: a compilation of the proprietors lots, grants, plantations, and colonial records of the middle, northern, and southern districts of Berkshire County [by district], FHL films 876706-876707.

Berkshire Middle Registry of Deeds
44 Bank Row
Pittsfield MA 01201
Phone 413-443-7438
This district covers Becket, Dalton, Hinsdale, Lee, Lenox, Otis, Peru, Pittsfield, Richmond, Stockbridge, Tyringham, and Washington.

Original records

Records are available at the Registry. Their records ONLINE are:

  • Recorded Land [i.e. deeds], 1971-present.
    Note: To see records from 1761 to 1970, go to "Search Criteria" in the top left, then click on "Unindexed Property Search." You can entry a volume and page (starting with vol. 1, page 1). You must know your citation as there are no consolidated indexes digitized. Each volume will have its own grantor/grantee index in the beginning.
  • Recorded Plans, 1800-present.
  • Registered Land [i.e. land court], 1997-present.
  • Registered Land Plans, 1899-present.
Original records on microfilm

Southern Berkshire District Registry of Deeds
334 Main Street - Suite 2
Great Barrington MA 01230
Phone 413-528-0146
Email SBRD@sec.state.ma.us
This district covers Alford, Egremont, Great Barrington, Monterey, Mount Washington, New Marlborough, Sandisfield, Sheffield, and West Stockbridge.

Original records

Records are available at the Registry. Their records ONLINE are:

  • Recorded Land [i.e. deeds], 1959-present.
  • Recorded Plans, 1847-present.
  • Registered Land [i.e. land court], 1908-present.
  • Registered Land Plans, 1908-present.

There is an unindexed property search by book and page, but it seems not to be functional. [as of Sept. 2013]

Original records on microfilm

  • Land records - Southern District, 1790-1900, indexes, 1790-1923, FHL film 879127 (1st of 92).
  • Colonial records and proprietary plans: a compilation of the proprietors lots, grants, plantations, and colonial records of the middle, northern, and southern districts of Berkshire County [by district], FHL films 876706-876707.
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Probate Records

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 Genealogy Guide.

Berkshire Probate and Family Court
44 Bank Row
Pittsfield MA 01201
Phone 413-442-6941

The original indexes, dockets, records, and files from 1761 to 1865 are at the Judicial Archives in Boston. Records after 1865 are at the courthouse. The file papers exist, but have never been microfilmed or digitized. The first docket book [i.e. the key to the recorded records] was never microfilmed and represents a major obstacle for probates before 1835.

Online Probate Index

  • The Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants has online the Berkshire Co., Mass., Probate Guide and Index, 1761 to 1900. From this page, select where in the alphabet you want to start. That brings you to a page for that section with a link to the page of the index by the first name on that page. This is a redacted version of the index hiding the names of adopted children.
Original records on microfilm

The following records are found at FHL film 1749904 (1st of 128) and New England Historic Genealogical Society:

  • Probate Index, 1761-1930 [i.e. index to docket books].
  • Probate Dockets, #5575-30403, 1835-1917 [Note: First docket book never filmed].
  • Probate Records, v. 1-224, 1761-1916 [Note: v. 1-58, 1761-1865, also at Massachusetts Archive].
  • Inheritance Tax Records, v. 1-2, 1907-1921.

Other probate records:

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Other Court Records

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.

Older records are held by:
Supreme Judicial Court Archives
(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

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Quarterly Court of General Sessions of the Peace

This court was active from 1761 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.

There are no records microfilmed. Contact the Supreme Judicial Court Archivist above for the location of the original records.

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Inferior Court of Common Pleas

This court was active from 1761 to 1859. The court heard all civil cases over 40s unless a case involved freehold or was appealed from a justice of the peace.

The records microfilmed:

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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.

There are no records microfilmed except the naturalizations (see below) and divorce index above. Contact the Supreme Judicial Court Archivist above for the location of the original records.

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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.

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Naturalization Records

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.

Federal Naturalization Records for Berkshire County
Record Dates Location Index Microfilm/Online
Southern Dist. Ct. (Gt. Barrington) - Naturalization records 1886-1906 National Archives - Waltham Part of Card Index to New England Naturalization Petitions, 1791-1906, NARA M1299, FHL film 1429671 (1st of 117) FHL Digital Capture 7469512-7469514 (part of above); Part of the New England Naturalization Index, 1791-1906
Fourth Dist. Ct. (Adams) - Petitions and Naturalizations 1895-1906 National Archives - Waltham Part of Card Index to New England Naturalization Petitions, 1791-1906, NARA M1299, FHL film 1429671 (1st of 117) FHL Digital Capture 7469515-7469519 (part of above); Part of the New England Naturalization Index, 1791-1906
Lee Police Ct. - Naturalization records 1900-1906 National Archives - Waltham Part of Card Index to New England Naturalization Petitions, 1791-1906, NARA M1299, FHL film 1429671 (1st of 117) FHL Digital Capture 7469519 (part of above); Part of the New England Naturalization Index, 1791-1906
North Adams Dist. Ct. - Naturalization records 1891-1906 National Archives - Waltham Part of Card Index to New England Naturalization Petitions, 1791-1906, NARA M1299, FHL film 1429671 (1st of 117) FHL Digital Capture 7469497-7469511 (part of above); Part of the New England Naturalization Index, 1791-1906
Pittsfield Court of Common Pleas - Naturalization records 1787-1860 National Archives - Waltham Part of Card Index to New England Naturalization Petitions, 1791-1906, NARA M1299, FHL film 1429671 (1st of 117) FHL Digital Capture 7469486-7469496 (part of above); Part of the New England Naturalization Index, 1791-1906
Pittsfield Dist. Ct. - Naturalization records 1885-1906 National Archives - Waltham Part of Card Index to New England Naturalization Petitions, 1791-1906, NARA M1299, FHL film 1429671 (1st of 117) FHL Digital Capture 7485672-7485676 (part of above); Part of the New England Naturalization Index, 1791-1906
Supreme Judicial Court (Pittsfield) - Naturalization records 1787-1876 National Archives - Waltham Part of Card Index to New England Naturalization Petitions, 1791-1906, NARA M1299, FHL film 1429671 (1st of 117) FHL Digital Capture 7485685-7485695 (part of above); Part of the New England Naturalization Index, 1791-1906
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Berkshire County Records
Record Dates Location Index Microfilm/Online
Superior Court 1823-1991 Judicial Archives Card index at Judicial Archives that includes declaration of intention 1932-1945 at Mass. Arch. RR
Index cards, 1815-1985, FHL films 1435842-1435843, 1450553-1450559; Index cards, 1815-1906, FHL films 1435828-1435830.
Superior Court
Court of Common Pleas
1848-1885 Berkshire Co. courthouse, Pittsfield, in 1986 Index in each of 6 volumes Naturalization declarations and petitions, FHL films 1435835-1435838.
Superior Court Records, 1906-1945
Index, 1829-1936
Berkshire Co. courthouse, Pittsfield, in 1986, and part (index?) at Judicial Archives Index in each of 32 volumes FHL films 1435830-1435835, 2195995-2195996, index on 1435835 item 2.
Superior Court Petitions and records, 1891-1934, 1937-1945 Berkshire Co. courthouse, Pittsfield, in 1986 Index in each volume and index volume, 1826-1938 FHL films 1435838 (first of 33), index on 2196102 item 2.
Superior Court Records, ca. 1866-1941 Berkshire Co. courthouse, Pittsfield, in 1986 NO index FHL films 1450664-1450672.
All courts Docket book, 1856-1887 Berkshire Co. courthouse, Pittsfield, in 1986 n/a FHL films 1450586-1450587.
Pittsfield Dist. Ct. 1885-1906 Judicial Archives WPA card index at Judicial Archives Berkshire Athenaeum; FHL films 1769722-1769727, index on 1769722.
Pittsfield Ct. of Common Pleas 1843-1856 Berkshire Co. courthouse, Pittsfield, in 1986 NO index FHL films 1450634-1450636, 1450663-1450664.
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Maps

There are so many published maps of interest to genealogists and historians that this list will not be recreated here. The focus is with resources you can access online and in the Family History Library.

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Migration

NY MA CT.png
Migration routes for early European settlers to and from Berkshire County, Massachusetts included:[3]

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Berkshire County Massachusetts Libraries and Genealogy Societies

Berkshire Athenaeum
One Wendell Avenue
Pittsfield MA 01201
Phone 413-499-9480
Email pittsref@cwmars.org
Premier genealogical collection and recipient of the NARA Pittsfield microfilm.

Berkshire Family History Association
PO Box 1437
Pittsfield MA 01202
Noted for publishing the Berkshire Genealogist and actively creating indexes for many older classic references that did not have them (and they sell them).

References

  1. Abolished County Governments - Secretary of State, Acts of 1998, Ch. 300, Sect. 11.
  2. Massachusetts Atlas of Historical County Boundaries
  3. Handybook for Genealogists: United States of America, 10th ed. (Draper, Utah: Everton Pub., 2002), 847-61. WorldCat entry; FHL Book 973 D27e 2002.
  4. Wikipedia contributors, "Old Albany Post Road" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Albany_Post_Road (accessed 23 June 2011).
  5. Frederic J. Wood, The Turnpikes of New England and the Evolution of the Same Through England, Virginia, and Maryland (Boston: Marshall Jones, 1919), map between 56 and 57, and 168. Internet Archive version online.
  6. Isaac Huntting, History of the Little Nine Partners of North East Precinct and Pine Plains, New York, Dutchess County (Amenia, NY: Chas. Walsh, 1897), 99-101. Google Book edition.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 List of turnpikes in New York in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia (accessed 6 November 2014).
  8. Ancram Turnpike in Routes in the Northeastern United States: Historic Trails, Roads and Migration Routes (accessed 6 November 2014). The Ancram Turnpike went from Springield, MA to Catskill, NY; and was called the Catskill Road.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Almira E Morgan, The Catskill Turnpike: A Wilderness Path (Ithaca, N.Y.: DeWitt Historical Society of Thompkins County, 1971), 5. Online digital copy.
  10. Catskill Turnpike in Routes in the Northeastern United States: Historic Trails, Roads and Migration Routes (accessed 6 November 2014). The Catskill Turnpike went west from Catskill, NY to Bath, NY; the east part was called the Susquehanna Turnpike.
  11. Huntting, 97-99.
  12. Anastassia Zinke, The Susquehanna Turnpike and America's Frontier History in Catskill Mountain Foundation (accessed 1 November 2014).
  13. Joan Odess, The Susquehanna Turnpike (pdf accessed 1 November 2014).
  14. Wood, map between 56 and 57, and 186-88.
  15. Wood, map between 330 and 331, and 348-49.
  16. Wood, map between 56 and 57, and 203-205.
  17. Wood, map between 56 and 57, and 166-67.
  18. Wood, map between 56 and 57, and 76-78.
  19. Wood, map between 56 and 57, and 79-80.
  20. Handybook, 851.
  21. Bethlehem Pike in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia (accessed 17 November 2014).
  22. Handybook, 851.
  23. Fort Oswego in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia (accessed 2 July 2011).
  24. Mohawk Trail in Routes in the Northeastern United States: Historic Trail, Roads, and Migration Routes in RootsWeb (accessed 6 October 2014).
  25. Old Connecticut Path in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia (accessed 28 October 2014).
  26. Wood, 25.
  27. Boston Post Road in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia (accessed 28 October 2014).
  28. Wood, map between 330 and 331, and 363-64.
Adjacent counties: Massachusetts: Franklin | Hampden | Hampshire
Connecticut: Litchfield
New York Counties: Columbia | Dutchess | Rensselaer
Vermont County: Bennington

 

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  • This page was last modified on 17 November 2014, at 17:54.
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