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.” Various types of records are created throughout the probate process. These may include, wills, bonds, petitions, accounts, inventories, administrations, orders, 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 probate records and the probate process 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.
A series of pre-1670 Suffolk County will abstracts, which originally appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, have been reprinted in:
- Suffolk County Wills. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing, Inc., 1984. (Family History Library book 974.46 P2s; film 1320548 item 1.)
Another source of early probate records is:
- Plymouth Colony Wills and Inventories, 1620–1639. Three Volumes. Carbon copy typescript. (Family History Library book 974.4 P2p.) Contains records of wills and property inventories extracted from these wills.
- The Family History Library located in Salt Lake City, Utah has an excellent collection of Massachusetts probate records and indexes through 1880 or 1900available 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."
For example, for Suffolk County the library has 439 microfilms of probate records, dockets from 1636 to 1901, and an index to 1910. Indexes of the probate records of Middlesex, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Worcester Counties have also been published. Each county has its own probate court.
Statewide Record Collections
- Melnyk, Marcia D. Genealogist's Handbook for New England Research, 4th ed. Boston, Massachusetts: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1999. (FHL 974 D27g.)
- Henry Campbell Black, Black's Law Dictionary, 5th ed. (St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Co., 1979), 1081, "probate."