Essex County, Massachusetts GenealogyEdit This Page

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United States > Massachusetts > Essex County


County Courthouse

  • In 1997, the county governments of Essex, Berkshire, Hampden, Middlesex and Worcester were abolished.
  • Their functions were turned over to state agencies.
  • Sheriffs in these counties still administer jails but their employees are state employees.
  • The legislation to abolish these county governments transferred Registeries of Deeds to the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Commonwealth.
  • Bristol, Dukes, Nantucket, Norfolk, Plymouth and Suffolk county governments remain substantially unchanged.
  • Wills and probate records for the years 1638-1840 for Essex are currently housed in the Massachusetts Judicial Archives . Indexes are available  in published volumes but to view the actual document requires prior arrangement with the Archivist. The catalog of collections is available online.  Microfilms of the wills and probates are available in the reading room of the Archives. 
  • Wills and probate record indexes for the years 1841-1917 for Essex are  in the Massachusetts Judicial Archives but the original documents are housed offsite.  
  • Docket books for 1638-1917 are in the Massachusetts Archives.


Parent County

Boundary Changes

Record Loss

Places / Localities

Populated Places

Beverly, Haverhill, Lawrence, Salem, Andover, more ...

Neighboring Counties

Middlesex | Suffolk | Rockingham County, New Hampshire




State Census

1855 Massachusetts State Census—A free Internet index and images to the 1855 Massachusetts State Census can be viewed on the FamilySearch Record Search. This index includes every name listed on the census and is linked to an image including information about each person’s residence and age in 1855, birthplace, occupation, other family members, and neighbors.

1865 Massachusetts State Census—A free Internet index and images to the 1865 Massachusetts State Census can be viewed on the FamilySearch Record Search – Pilot Site. This index includes every name listed on the census and is linked to an image including information about each person’s residence and age in 1865, birthplace, occupation, other family members, and neighbors.




Vessels sailing from Salem, Massachusetts between 1799 and 1879 made over 7900 voyages to foreign ports. A Crew List was required to be filed stating the vessel's destination and its crew. An Index to those Lists, containing 75,770 names,  may be found at The Index may provide the following information:

• Name
• Age
• Birth Place
• Residence
• Complexion
• Voyage (Name of ship and date)



Local Histories







Vital Records

Societies and Libraries

New England Historic Genealogical Society Library

99 Newbury Street

Boston, MA 02116-3007


Hours:  Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday -9am to 5pm

Wednesday -9am-9pm

Closed Sunday and Monday

The NEHGS houses a vast collection of material dealing with New England genealogy and more.  Resources are not just specific  to original colonists.  There are also materials for immigrants of the 18th and 19th century who lived in New England and New York.  The geographic areas covered include: Upstate New York, Long Island, Quebec and East Canada.  The search catalog is online with some collections being digitized and readily available.  Record collections needed can be searched and specific documents orders through excellent research staff.  There is an online genealogist available by email contact to search specified collections.

The 6th floor reading room houses over 30,000 published genealogies and reference materials.  There are books of printed Massachusetts vital records from early colonization in 1640 to 1850.  All volumes of printed journals specific to New England research can be found.  These include: The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, The American Genealogist and New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, plus 700 other journals.  This floor is also home to rare book collections that can be viewed upon request.  There are over 10,000 manuscript genealogies, church and military histories, heraldic works, atlases, school registers, British parish registers and local histories. 

The 5th floor is the special collections floor with manuscripts, personal diaries, journals, unpublished genealogies, personal letters, business records, transcriptions and bible records.  There are also microfilms for Essex probate records from 1643 to 1881 with an index. 

Maps:  The map collection includes very detailed original Bromley, Sanborn and Walker fire insurance maps from about 1867 to 1900.

The 4th floor microforms department holds database collections.  Some of these include New England vital records from the 1600s to the present, census records, probates, deeds, city directories and newspapers from the seventeenth century.

Massachusetts Archives

Secretary of the Commonwealth

Massachusetts Archives

220 Morrissey Blvd.

Boston, MA  02125

Telephone: (617) 727-2816

FAX: (617) 288-8429



Monday-Friday: 9am to 5pm

Select Saturdays: 9am to 3pm

Typically the second and fourth Saturday, occasionally there are exceptions.

The most valuable database is the titled the Massachusetts Archives Collection  which is searchable online.  The catalog references such records as Colonial town records 1629-1720, Domestic Relations 1613-1774, Ecclesiastical records from 1637-1679, Emigrant documents 1651-1774,  Indian conferences, confrontations, and town petitions 1659-1786.  The documents can be viewed with reserved scheduling.  There are also indexes to passenger manifests from 1848 to 1891 on all immigrants arriving at the port of Boston. 

The Judicial Archives hold the pre-1860 records of the predecessor courts of the Superior Court (Court of General Sessions of the Peace and Inferior Court of Common Pleas) and the records of the Supreme Judicial Court and its predecessors.  Other judicial records include naturalization records from the Supreme Judicial Court (1790-1859), various Superior Courts, and some District Courts, as well as records from the Probate Courts.  Included are cases involving real property, personal property (including personal injury), mixed actions, all pleas to which the Crown was a party, all matters related to the conservation of the peace, and cases appealed from other courts. In addition, cases of divorce (1785-1887) and capital cases (1780-1891) can be found in these records.  All cases involving civil disputes not exceeding a sum of money (which varied over time) and all criminal cases not concerning life, limb, or banishment were heard by inferior courts, originally established in 1636.
Reference requests for judicial records should be addressed to:
Judicial Archives, Supreme Judicial Court, Archives and Records Preservation,
3 Pemberton Square, 16th Floor
Boston, Ma. 02108
(617) 557-1082

Probate records, including wills, and the appointment of guardians, have been under the jurisdiction of the courts since the 1630s. County courts and later, county judges of probate, were responsible for these functions until 1783, when the probate courts were established. These records are indexed by county; there is no statewide index available. 
The Judicial Archives hold probate records for the following counties:
Berkshire (1761-1865)
Bristol (1687-1900)
Dukes (1690-1932)
Essex (1638-1915)
Franklin (1812-1971)
Hampden (1806-1919)
Middlesex (1648-1871)
Nantucket (1706-1867)
Plymouth (1685-1967)
Suffolk (1636-1916)
Worcester (1731-1915)

Web Sites


  1. 2. William T. Davis, Bench and Bar of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (Boston, Massachusetts: The Boston History Company, 1895) p44


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