Essex County, Massachusetts Genealogy

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United States Gotoarrow.png Massachusetts Gotoarrow.png Essex County

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

Essex County Massachusetts History

Brief History

Essex County was one of the four original counties when Massachusetts Bay Colony created counties in 1643 which includes the area known as Cape Ann. The only major change came with the addition of three miles on the northern border when the Old Norfolk County was eliminated in 1680. It was first settled in 1623. This was a major port for the United States through the late 1800s. Fishing was a thriving industry from the beginning, and is still notable in Gloucester. The most popular historical event was the witch trials of Salem in 1692. Haverhill, on the Merrimack River, became one of the centers of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1800s. As the city expanded with all the immigrant growth, the city annexed the town of Bradford on the south side of the river.

Historical Data

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

Dates Events
10 May 1643 Essex County created as one of the four original counties formed out of Massachusetts Bay Colony. [Mass. Rec., 2: 38]
26 May 1658 Andover gained 15 acres from Billerica, Middlesex Co.
18 Sept. 1679 Gained three miles north of the Merrimack River when the Old Norfolk County was dissolved adding the then towns of Haverhill and Salisbury.
22 Feb. 1841 Gained from part of Chelsea, Suffolk Co., annexed to Saugus.
10 Apr. 1854 Loss from part of Lynnfield annexed to Reading, Middlesex Co.
7 Jan. 1858 Lost from part of Lynnfield annexed to North Reading, Middlesex Co.
18 Sept. 1933 Loss from part of Saugus annexed to Wakefield, Middlesex Co.
10 Apr. 1947 Land exchanged between Lynnfield and Reading, Middlesex Co.
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Towns and Cities

The following list of present-day Plymouth 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.
Amesbury (1668) - Andover (1646) - Beverly (1668) - Boxford (1694)
Danvers (1752) - Essex (1819) - Georgetown (1838) - Gloucester (1642)
Groveland (1850) - Hamilton (1793) - Haverhill (1641) - Ipswich (1634)
Lawrence (1847) - Lynn (1635) - Lynnfield (1782) - Manchester (1645)
Marblehead (1633) - Merrimac (1876) - Methuen (1725) - Middleton (1728)
Nahant (1853) - Newbury (1635) - Newburyport (1764) - North Andover (1855)
Peabody (1855) - Rockport (1840) - Rowley (1639) - Salem (1630)
Salisbury (1639) - Saugus (1815) - Swampscott (1852) - Topsfield (1648)
Wenham (1643) - West Newbury (1819)

Extinct Town: Bradford (1675)

County Histories

Works written on the county include:

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Essex 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 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.

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Land Records


County Courthouse

Probate Court  has probate records; Register of Deeds  has land records from 1640.[2]

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 Registries 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.


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)


Massachusetts sailor's crew lists at  Between 1799 and 1879 over 7900 voyages to foreign ports sailed from Salem, Massachusetts. Prior to sailing the shipmaster or captain of each vessel was required to file a crew list containing information about the vessel's destination and its crew. This website provides an index to those crew lists. Containing over 75,770 names, it also provides access to crew members based upon age, complexion, birthplace, and residence place

Essex County Massachusetts Genealogy References

  1. Massachusetts Atlas of Historical County Boundaries
  2. Handybook for Genealogists: United States of America, 10th ed. (Draper, Utah: Everton Pub., 2002), 329. At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 973 D27e 2002.