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This is a historical and genealogical guide to the county of Barnstable. 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

Barnstable County Massachusetts History

Brief History

Barnstable County is often called Cape Cod and both refer to the same region. This is area where the Mayflower first landed at what is now called Provincetown. The area was a frequent stop for early fishermen before the arrival of the Pilgrims, and settlements started here not long after the founding of Plymouth Colony. The earliest records will be found in the Colony's records and those of the individual towns. Plymouth Colony did not establish a county system until 1685. This county became part of Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691. Since settlers generally used the water for transportation, it is not uncommon to find Cape Codders on the coast of Maine, New Jersey, Barbados, and places in between. There was a fire in 1827 that destroyed almost all the deeds to that point. Fortunately, the probate records survive.

Historical Data

The basic data are from the historical county boundary series[1] with additions from various sources.

Dates Events
2 June 1685 Barnstable was one of three original counties created by New Plymouth Colony. [Ply. Laws, Ch. 6, p. 19]
7 Oct. 1691 Barnstable became a county in the rechartered Massachusetts Bay Colony with no change to its borders. [Mass. Col. Acts, Vol. 1, Ch. 27 [1692/3], Sec. 1, p. 63]
19 Nov. 1707 Lost the town of Rochester when it was moved into the jurisdiction of Plymouth County. [Mass. Col. Acts, Vol. 21, Ch. 60 [1707], p. 755]
14 Apr. 1897 Border between Bourne and Wareham, Plymouth Co., clarified - no change. [Mass. Acts, 1897, Ch. 281, Sec. 1, p. 258]
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Towns and Cities

Ma-barnstable.png
The following list of present-day Barnstable 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.

Barnstable (1638) - Bourne (1884) - Brewster (1803)
Chatham (1712) - Dennis (1793) - Eastham (1646)
Falmouth (1686) - Harwich (1694) - Mashpee (1870)
Orleans (1797 | Provincetown (1727) | Sandwich (1639)
Truro (1709) | Wellfleet (1775) | Yarmouth (1639)

Annexed to Plymouth County: Rochester (1686) (annexed 1707)

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County Histories

Plymouth CountyBarnstable CountyDukes CountyMarshfieldDuxburyKingstonPlymouthCarverWarehamBourneFalmouthGosnoldTisburySandwichMashpeeBarnstableYarmouthDennisBrewsterHarwichChathamOrleansEasthamWellfleetTruroProvincetown
Modern towns and cities in Barnstable County, Massachusetts.

Works written on the county include:

Manuscripts digitized online:

  • Lydia B. Brownson, Grace W. Held, and Doris V. Norton, "Genealogical Notes of Cape Cod Families" (Duxbury, Mass., typ., 1966), 50v.
    This manuscript is part of the Special Collections at the Sturis Library in Barnstable. It is alphabetically by surname and then by given name below that. It is a culmination of research in published histories and genealogies, and from the vital records of the various towns.
    Digital version of the 50 volumes is at Internet Archive. To go directly to an individual volume, use this guide below:
Vol. 01 (Adams to Arnold) Vol. 02 (Athearn to Bailey) Vol. 03 (Baker)
Vol. 04 (Bang to Bassett) Vol. 05 (Bates to Besse) Vol. 06 (Bickford to Borden)
Vol. 07 (Bourne to Briggs) Vol. 08 (Brooks to Busbey) Vol. 09 (Bush to Charter)
Vol. 10 (Chase to Chipman) Vol. 11 (Christie to Coan) Vol. 12 (Cobb to Coleman)
Vol. 13 (Collins to Creed) Vol. 14 (Crispe to Crosby) Vol. 15 (Crowell to Curtiss)
Vol. 16 (Cushman to Dill) Vol. 17 (Dillingham to Dunham) Vol. 18 (Dunster to Eldredge)
Vol. 19 (Ellis to Farris) Vol. 20 (Faunce to Foster) Vol. 21 (Fowell to Fuller)
Vol. 22 (Gage to Gibbs) Vol. 23 (Gifford to Gorham) Vol. 24 (Gould to Hall)
Vol. 25 (Hallett to Handy) Vol. 26 (Harding to Hathaway) Vol. 27 (Hawes to Hillman)
Vol. 28 (Hinckley to Homer) Vol. 29 (Hopkins to Howes) Vol. 30 (Howland to Jenney)
Vol. 31 (Jennings to Kinney) Vol. 32 (Kendrick to Leonard) Vol. 33 (Lewis to Loring)
Vol. 34 (Lothrop to Marsh) Vol. 35 (Marchant to Merrick) Vol. 36 (Merry to Nichols)
Vol. 37 (Nickerson to Norton) Vol. 38 (Nye to Paine) Vol. 39 (Palmer to Perry)
Vol. 40 (Phillips to Purrington) Vol. 41 (Redding to Robinson) Vol. 42 (Rogers to Seabury)
Vol. 43 (Sears to Smalley) Vol. 44 (Smith to Soper) Vol. 45 (Soule to Sweat)
Vol. 46 (Swift to Thayer) Vol. 47 (Thaxter to Twining) Vol. 48 (Underwood to West)
Vol. 49 (Weston to Wilson) Vol. 50 (Wing to Young)
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Barnstable 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 1800. 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.

Barnstable County Registry of Deeds
PO Box 368
3195 Main Street
Barnstable MA 02630
Phone 508-362-7733

The Registry burned in 1827 and almost all records were lost before that point. Indexes go back to 1703, so it can be seen what is missing. Land owners were asked to re-record their deeds. These go back to 1783. Volume 61 (1804-1808) survived. Many unrecorded deeds have been given to the Sturgis Library below. These have been published piecemeal over the years. The FHL catalog has these individual deeds cataloged.

Original records

Records are available at the Registry. Most of the records are available ONLINE, they are:

  • Recorded land [deeds], indexes and deeds, 1704-present.
  • Recorded land plans, indexes and deeds, all.
  • Land Court name index, incomplete, see changing caveat on search screen.
  • Land Court Documents, 1899-present.
Original records on microfilm

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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.

Barnstable County Probate and Family Court
PO Box 346
3195 Main Street
Barnstable MA 02630
Phone 508-375-6710
Email Barnstableprobatebarnstablecountypfc.com

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

Original records on microfilm

Microfilmed records found at the Massachusetts Archive (16 mm film):

  • General index, 1686-1950, 5 v.
  • General index, 1951-1955, 1956-1960, 1961-1965, 1966-1970.
  • Divorce index, 1922-1965, 1966-1970, 1971-1975.
  • Docket books, v. 25-43.
  • Record books, v. 1-403 (v. 396-399 do not exist).
  • File papers, reels 1-64 - missing, no film for #1-22744.
  • File papers, reels 65-299, #22745-48415.
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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 1692 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.

The records microfilmed:

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Inferior Court of Common Pleas

This court was active from 1692 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.

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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 Barnstable County
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Maps

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Barnstable County Massachusetts Genealogy Societies

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Barnstable County Massachusetts Genealogy References


 

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