Barnstable County, Massachusetts Genealogy
United States Massachusetts Barnstable County
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.
- 1 Barnstable County Massachusetts History
- 2 Barnstable County Massachusetts Genealogy Resources
- 3 Barnstable County Massachusetts Genealogy Societies
- 4 Barnstable County Massachusetts Genealogy References
Barnstable County Massachusetts 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.
The basic data are from the historical county boundary series with additions from various sources.
|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 , p. 755]|
|14 Apr. 1897||Border between Bourne and Wareham, Plymouth Co., clarified - no change. [Mass. Acts, 1897, Ch. 281, Sec. 1, p. 258]|
Towns and Cities
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)
Works written on the county include:
- 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:
- The Barnstable County MA GenWeb Project, an member of The MAGenWeb Project, an affiliate of The USGenWeb Project.
- The USGenWeb Archives Project for Barnstable County
Barnstable County Massachusetts Genealogy Resources
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.
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
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.