Bristol County, Massachusetts Genealogy
This is a historical and genealogical guide to the county of Bristol. 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 Bristol County Massachusetts History
- 2 Bristol County Massachusetts Genealogy Resources
- 3 Bristol County Massachusetts Genealogy Societies
- 4 Bristol County Massachusetts Genealogy References
Bristol County Massachusetts History
Bristol County was settled by the Pilgrims who came from older towns in what is now Plymouth County. The area was at the center of the King Philip's War in 1675/6 and many settlers temporary moved back to the east. Though records are on a county system for land and probate records, the is divided into several districts for each.
The basic data are from the historical county boundary series with additions from various sources.
|2 June 1685||Bristol was one of the three original counties of New Plymouth Colony. [Ply. Laws, Ch. 6, p. 19]|
|7 Oct. 1691||Bristol 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]|
|18 Mar. 1711/2||The "Old Colony Line" between the former Massachusetts Bay Colony and New Plymouth Colony declared the northern border with Suffolk County - no change. [Mass. Col. Acts, Vol. 21, Ch. 152 , p. 799]|
|17 Feb. 1746/7||Lost about 130 square miles of its western border to Rhode Island by implementation of a Royal settlement moving the towns of Barrington, Bristol, Little Compton, Tiverton, and a large portion of what would become Cumberland into that province.|
|18 Feb. 1830||Border between Attleborough and Wrentham, Norfolk Co., clarified - no change. [Mass. Acts, 1830, Ch. 48, p. 319]|
|9 Apr. 1836||Border redefined between Fairhaven and Rochester, Plymouth Co. [Mass. Acts, 1836, Ch. 193, Sec. 1, p. 876]|
|1 Mar. 1862||Gained from Tiverton, Newport Co., R.I., and Warren, Bristol Co., R.I., and lost to Providence Co., R.I., to what became East Providence and the eastern part of Pawtucket. [R.I. Acts, 1861, Ch. 379, p. 4-6]|
|1 June 1867||Border between Taunton and Lakeville, Plymouth Co., clarified - no change. [Mass. Acts, 1867, Ch. 352, Sec. 1, p. 745]|
Towns and Cities
Dartmouth (1664) | Dighton (1712) | Easton (1725)
Fairhaven (1812) | Fall River (1803) | Freetown (1683)
Mansfield (1775) | New Bedford (1787) | North Attleborough (1887)
Norton (1711) | Raynham (1731) | Rehoboth (1645)
Seekonk (1812) | Somerset (1790) | Swansea (1667)
Taunton (1639) | Westport (1787)
Works written on the county include:
- The Bristol County MAGenWeb Project, an member of The MAGenWeb Project, an affiliate of The USGenWeb Project.
- The USGenWeb Archives Project for Bristol County .
- FamilySearch.org Family History Library catalog for Bristol County.
Bristol 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 long before 1700. 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
This court was active from 1636 (called a quarterly court and then the county court when Suffolk was created in 1643) to 1692. The court heard all civil causes up to 10 shillings (raised to 40 shillings in 1647) and all criminal causes not concerning life, limb, or banishment. These were all jury trials. Some records can be found in the [Suffolk_County,_Massachusetts#Suffolk_Files|Suffolk Files].
The records microfilmed:
At the Massachusetts Archives:
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.