Massachusetts Probate Records
Probate is the “court procedure by which a will is proved to be valid or invalid” and encompasses “all matters and proceedings pertaining to the administration of estates, guardianships, etc.” Genealogists often refer to 'Probate Records' as "All records which relate to the disposition of an estate," whether the person died leaving a will (testate) or not (intestate).
Various types of records are created throughout the probate process. These may include, wills, guardianships, bonds, petitions, accounts, inventories, administrations, orders, depositions, decrees, and distributions. These documents are extremely valuable to genealogists and should not be neglected. In many instances, they are the only known source of relevant information such as the decedent’s date of death, names of his or her spouse, children, parents, siblings, in-laws, neighbors, associates, relatives, and their places of residence. They may also include information about adoption or guardianship of minor children and dependents.
For further information about the probate process, types of probate records, analyzing probate records, and to access a glossary of probate terms, see United States Probate Records.
Probate records were under the jurisdiction of the general court and the county courts until probate courts were established in 1692. Probate courts exercised exclusive jurisdiction over guardianships, adoptions, probates of wills, and administration of estates. The original records are at county courthouses.
Records of cases that were appealed are in the office of the clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court.
- The Massachusetts State Archives
- The New England Historic Genealogical Society located in the heart of downtown Boston, Massachusetts has Massachusetts probate records available on microfilm. To search their online library catalog click Here.
- The Family History Library located in Salt Lake City, Utah has an excellent collection of Massachusetts probate records and indexes through 1880 or 1900 available on microfilm. These include probate dockets, wills, inventories, accounts, administrations, and guardianship records. For collection details see the Family History Library Catalog. Use the "Place Search" option to search for a specific Massachusetts county. Then look for topics labeled "Probate Records" or "Guardianship."
Statewide Record Collections
- Hall, Prescott F. Reference Lists of Wills Construed by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Including the Cases in Quincy and From Vol. 1 to Vol. 165 of the Massachusetts Reports. Boston: George B. Reed, 1896. This 28 page booklet provides a listing of wills construed by the Supreme Judical Court of Massachusetts. The list includes date of probate, name of testator, date of death, county of trial, and case reference. A digital version of this book is available online at Internet Archive.
- Plymouth Colony Wills and Inventories: Taken from the Mayflower Descendant. Three Volumes. Carbon copy typescript. FHL book 974.4 P2p. Contains records of wills and inventories and tables of items extracted from wills and inventories. Contents: Vol. 1 (1620-1639), Vol. 2 (1641-1649), Vol. 3 (1650-1659).
- Simmons, C.H. Plymouth Colony Records. Camden, Maine: Picton Press, c1996. FHL book 974.4 R2s This book is comprised of two volumes: Vol.1 Wills and Inventories, 1633-1669, and Vol. 2 Wills, 1654-1669.
- Melnyk, Marcia D. Genealogist's Handbook for New England Research, Fourth edition. Boston, Massachusetts: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1999. FHL book 974 D27g. (WorldCat)
- Sherman, Ruth Wilder and Robert S. Wakefield. Plymouth Colony Probate Guide: Where to Find Wills and Related Data for 800 People of Plymouth Colony, 1620-1691. Warwick, Rhode Island: Plymouth Colony Research Group, 1983. FHL book 974.4 P2s.
- Smith, William L. The Practice in Proceedings in the Probate Courts; Including the Probate of wills; Appointment of Administrators, Guardians, and Trustees; Allowances; Sale of Real and Personal Estate; Settlement of Accounts; Distribution of Estates; Assignment of Dower, With Table Showing the Present Value of Estates in Dower; Partition of Lands, &c., &c., &c. With an Appendix of Practical Forms, Designed for the Use of Executors and Others Having Business in the Probate Courts. Third edition. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1876. A digital version of this book is available online at Internet Archive.
- Smith, William L. The Practice in Proceedings in the Probate Courts of Massachusetts, With an Appendix of Uniform Forms and Rules Approved by the Supreme Judicial Court. Sixth editon. Revised by John E. Abbott. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1903. A digital version of this book is available online at Internet Archive.
- Massachusetts Court System. For information about the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court Department click Here.
- Massachusetts Probate Courts. This Web site provides a directory of Massachusetts Probate Courts.
A wiki article describing an online collection is found at:
- Henry Campbell Black, Black's Law Dictionary, 5th ed. (St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Co., 1979), 1081, "probate."
- Val. D. Greenwood, The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy, 3rd ed. (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 2000), 309.