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. The county government was abolished on 1 July 1999, but its former jurisdiction is used for state offices as a district.[1]

Historical Data

The basic data are from the historical county boundary series[2] 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 and Atlases

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. Essex County is divided into two districts. The county was one district until the creation of the Northern District in 1869.

Northern Essex Registry of Deeds
354 Merrimack Street Suite #304 (Entry C)
Lawrence MA 01843
Phone 978-683-2745
This district includes Andover, Lawrence, Methuen, and North>

Original records

The records since 1986 (indexes and other records are earlier) can be viewed from their new (as of 23 July 2013) Search Page. Click on the specific search you want from the menu at the left.

Their older records are stored at the Southern District office. To view the originals, call ahead to determine where to go.

Southern Essex Registry of Deeds
45 Congress Street Suite 4100
Salem MA 01970
Phone 978-542-1700
This district covered the entire county until 1869.

Original records
  • Land deeds, 1639-present, online.
    The "classic" online search is still available covering indexes from 1964 and deeds from 1983 to present.
    Call the office ahead of time to see the older volumes. The county is currently in a restoration project to conserve the first 100 volumes. The first 20 volumes (1641-1709) have been conserved and viewable online. When you enter a volume and page, and click on the tif link, the image of the page is automatically downloaded to your device.
  • Land deed indexes, 1640-1799, 1800-1854, 1855-1950, 1951-1963, are online.
  • Plans, 1741-present, online.
  • Land court (registered land), 1899-present, online.
  • Essex County Atlases:
    Essex County, 1795 (mss.).
    Essex County, 1830 (mss.).
    Essex County, 1872.
    Essex County, 1884.
Original records on microfilm
  • Essex County Deed Indexes, Grantor/Grantee, 1639-1799, 1800-1819, 1820-1834, 1835-1839, 1840-1844, 1845-1854, and 1855-1879.
    Essex County Deeds, v. 1-695 (1639-1866).
    FHL film 862800 (1st of 365).
  • Essex County unregistered deeds, ca. 1700-ca. 1820.
    FHL film 878779.
  • Essex County miscellaneous probate records and deeds, 1779-1846.
    FHL film 893111 Item 6.
Published records
Published maps
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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 page.

Essex County Probate and Family Court
36 Federal Street
Salem MA 01970
Phone 978-744-1020 x383

Lawrence Satellite Office
2 Appleton Street
Lawrence MA 01840
Phone 978-686-9692
This office, starting sometime before 1990, serves Andover, Lawrence, Methuen, and North Andover. All records are maintained in Salem.

Original records

Older records (before 1882) 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
Note: By early 2014, another block of older records will be moved to the archives.

  • Old series, 1638-1881:
    Docket index:
    1638-1840, v. 1-16
    1841-1881, v. 17-37.
    Probate records:
    Original volumes renumbers, so add 300 to original number.
    Books 1 - 124 (1671-1867), 425 - 737 (1867-1916).
  • New series, 1816-1885:
    Probate records:
    Books 1 - 300 (1816-1885).
  • Second series, 1882-1917:
    Index, 1882-1917.
    Probate docket, v. 38 - 76, #58039-124204 (1882-1916).
    Note: These volumes index the continuous of the records listed above.

The records above are also microfilmed at FHL film 873023 (1st of 267) and at the Massachusetts Archives. The records are stored at the Supreme Judicial Archives at the same location. The original file papers exist at the archives, never microfilmed, but have been digitized in 2011 and 2012, though the Supreme Judicial Archives has yet to make that public (as of Aug. 2013).

  • Probate records, 1638-1691, FHL films 876180-876181.
    Note: It is not clear from the cataloging if this is an earlier filming of the earliest records or something else.
Published records
  • William P. Upham, Melinde Lutz Sanborn, trans., Essex County, Massachusetts, Probate Index, 1638-1840 (Boston, 1987), 2v.
    WorldCat (Other Libraries); FHL book 974.45 P22e v. # or films 6105139-6105140.
    Digital version at Ancestry ($).
    Also, the surname's beginning with "P" in a database style derived from these indexes at Ancestry ($).
  • George Francis Dow, Probate Records of Essex County, Massachusetts, [1635-1681] (Salem, Mass., 1916-1920), 3v.
    WorldCat (Other Libraries); FHL book 974.45 P2p v. # or film 1033717 or FHL digital link.
    Digital versions at Internet Archive (v. 1, v. 2, and v. 3), Google Books (v. 1, v. 2, and v. 3), and Ancestry ($).
  • Melinde Lutz Sanborn, "Essex County, Massachusetts Probate Records, Supplement" ([Derry, N.H.], 1998), a database, online at Ancestry ($).
    Regarding the source records: If the volume is a Roman numeral the records were published in Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts, volumes 1-9 (Salem: The Essex Institute, 1911-1975). If the volume number is an Arabic numeral the records can be found in the unpublished typescript copies done by the WPA, and in the custody of the Peabody Essex Museum at the James Duncan Phillips Library. Volume 53 is missing from that collection, and as a result there are no entries in this database from the September 1692 to March 1693 courts.
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Other Court Records


Essex County Massachusetts Genealogy References