Massachusetts Local History:

Towns and Counties ressources

Also on this site:

Puritanism on the Web - Home

Old and New England Puritan Sources

Calvinist theology and political philosophy

Theocracy, Aristocracy and Democracy in Early New England

Locate Books on Puritanism

Forum for Puritan Studies

Documented timeline (Early New England politics)

 

This list below (scroll down!) is restricted to towns founded before 1649 (Winthrop's death). This may seem arbitrary, but I wanted to concentrate on the very first settlements. More attention will be devoted to towns settled by people coming directly from England, as opposed to towns founded by people relocating from another town.

 

Counties: (Map of Massachusetts Counties )

Useful Reference (from BigTreeBooks):

THE PIONEERS OF MASSACHUSETTS, A Descriptive List, Drawn from Records of the Colonies, Towns, and Churches, and Other Contemporaneous Documents - Charles Henry Pope (1900) reprint, paper, index, 550 pp [HB5347] $40.00   Attempts to identify all the men who came to Massachusetts between 1620 and 1650, a period of enormous influx, and to follow them down to the time of their death with a genealogical sketch.

Key sites:

USGenWeb Archives 
USGenWeb - MAGenWeb Project 
Websites at RootsWeb  (MA Resources at RootsWeb ; Massachusetts at RootsWeb: State-specific resources hosted at RootsWeb.)

Records Room: Massachusetts Counties, United States 
NARA's Northeast Region (Boston) 
Massachusetts Vital Records Information 
Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics  (Obtaining Copies of Vital Records ; Research )
Massachusetts Registries of Deeds  (clickable map, by county)
The Essex County Registry of Deeds  ~ Salem
County Courthouse Addresses 

Ma-Bay-Colony Mailing List: For those with a genealogical/historical interest in the Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1630-1700.
--> Other Mailing Lists and Newsgroups (from Cyndi's List, a great great site: make sure to check the Massachusetts page)

Massachusetts Historical Sites & Societies 

Yahoo! Get Local...Massachusetts Counties and Regions  or Cities
Official City Web Sites for the State of Massachusetts 
Massachusetts City and Town Clerk Directory 

Center for the Study of New England History - Boston

Massachusetts Historical Society - Boston

New England Historic Genealogical Society - Boston

The Great Migration Begins - Immigrants to New England 1620-1633: see notes at bottom of this page, on early town records, vital records and church records. [go there]


List of town from the map in R. Dunn and L. Yeandle's edition of Winthrop's Journal, 1996, p.170
Abreviations: MF = Microfilm; MS = Manuscripts; TR = Town Records; PL = Public Library; EIHC = Essex Institute Historical Collections; MoA = Memory of America; PEM = Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA; BL = British Library; CPL = Cambridge Public Library; BPL = Boston Public Library

Name of town Founded in: (Useful) Sites  MS Archives? Printed Archives? Local histories
Andover 1646 Rootsweb

Andover Historical Society

History of Andover

Boston 1630 The Bostonian Society

Boston Public Library  - Genealogy and Family History Resources   - Rare Books & Manuscripts 

Boston City Records (Rare Books & Manuscripts, x4432; Research Library Stacks, x2244)

This material includes tax assessorís records from 1789, Paul Revereís tax bills, City Clerk files starting in 1629 and early manuscript records of Brighton, Charlestown, Dorchester, Hyde Park, and West Roxbury. Records before 1822 are accessed through Rare Books; records after 1822 are accessed through the Book Delivery Desk of the Research Library Stacks. The records cover the period 1896-1967 with street listings available up to 1942.

 

Boston TR 1634-1661 (1887), British Library

Records Relating to the Early History of Boston, 27 vols. (vol. 2 = TR, vol. 3 = Charlestown TR, Vol. 4 = Dorchester TR, vol. 6 = Roxbury TR), Boston PL.

A note on Church Records

 

Among others:

C. F. Adams, Three Episodes of Mass. History, 1892.

Sketches of Boston 1630-1856 (246p, 1856)

Josiah Quincy, 468p. (MoA)

 

Braintree 1640 The Braintree Historical Society

Vital Records of Braintree, Massachusetts 1640-1793

Braintree Records 1640 - 1793 edited by Samuel A.Bates, pub.1886, 938 pages:
1 - 625  - 313 G4 TIFF  images 2 pages per image.
626 - 938  

Also BL

History of Old Braintree, 1879, 660p

Cambridge 1630 The Cambridge Historical Society (if you really need to contact them - no email) Try this contact.

Cambridge Public Library  - New England Local History Collection 

Cambridge City Clerk's Office,

Cambridge City Hall Room 103, 795 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139 

A note on Church Records

The records of the town of Cambridge (formerly Newtowne), Massachusetts, 1630-1703 : the records of the town meetings, and of the selectmen, comprising all of the first volume of records, and being volume II of the printed records of the town, printed by order of the City Council under the direction of the City Clerk, Reprint. Originally published: Cambridge, 1901, 397p.

Available from Bigtreebooks and Heritage Books.

Available at BL, CPL, Watertown Free PL, Sorbonne Nouvelle (Paris 3), Boston PL

A history of Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1630-1913 / by Samuel Atkins Eliot ; together with biographies of Cambridge people. Cambridge, Mass. : Cambridge Tribune, 1913. 308 p (BPL)

History of Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1630-1877. With a genealogical register. By Lucius R. Paige. Boston, H. O. Houghton and company; New York, Hurd and Houghton, 1877. 731p. (BPL; CPL; Heritage Books for $63, 860p edition)

Records of the First Church, 579p, 1903-06, CPL

The Register Book of Lands and Houses (CPL)

Charlestown 1630 See Boston

Copied in 1660, so corrupt. See below.

A note on Church Records

 

CohasSet Cohasset 

Cohasset Historical Society

   

Cohaset families, 1909

Concord Concord, Mass

Concord Free Public Library (good links) - Special Collections 

Concord Town Archives (+Micorfilm); Concord Free PL  16 volumes, with Selectmen, Town Meetings etc.) 

 

Dedham 1636 Dedham Historical Society

Dedham Public Library 

  The early records of the town of Dedham Massachusetts, 1636-1659. A
Complete Transcript of Book One of the General Records of the Town, Together with the Selectmen's Day Book. Volume 3. Edited by Dedham Historical Society, 1892..... Hard Bound reprint, 239 pages illustrated.
$22 from the Dedham Hist. Soc. (available at the BL)

Volume 4 covers 1659-1673, available from Heritage Books for $26.67

K. Lockridge, A New England Town, The First Hundred Years, New Haven, 1970

Dorchester 1630 Dorchester Historical Society (good only for contact list)

Mary and John 1630, (the Passengers who came aboard that ship)

 A note on the first (missing) leaves

A note on Church Records

DORCHESTER TOWN RECORDS (MASSACHUSETTS) -   [HB8297] $26.50   The Record Commissioners of the City of Boston. Comprises the first volume of public records for the town of Dorchester,dated as early as the 1630's and extending to the end of the 17th century. (1632-1687), 1897. (bigtreebooks and Heritage Books)

History of the town of Dorchester, Massachusetts. By a committee of the Dorchester antiquarian and historical society. Boston, E. Clapp, jr., 1859, 672p [MoA; contains records in the form of annals]

Records of the First Church at Dorchester, in New England, 1636-1734. Boston, Mass. : G.H. Ellis, 1891, 270p

Gloucester 1642 Rootsweb

Gloucester, Mass

Cape Ann Historical Museum 

Available at the City Archives.  

History of the Town of Gloucester, Cape Ann, including the Town of Rockport. (1860) by John J. Babson

Haverhill 1641 Haverhill (check "early families")

Haverhill Public Library 

   TR of Haverhill (17th and 18th C.), 1405p, 1930 (not chronological) Available at Haverhill PL.

A New England City Haverhill Massachusetts, Patricia Trainor O'Malley & Paul H. Tedesco, Windsor Pub. Inc., 1987

The History of Haverhill, Massachusetts, by George Wingate Chase, 1861, reprinted 1997 

Hingham Hingham 

Hingham Historical Society

 A note on Church Records  

History of Hingham

 

Hull 1644    

 

Ipswich 1634 Ipswich 

Ipswich Historical Society or here

IpswichVital Records 1657-8

Ipswich Public Library 

Ipswich Town Records [Microfilm] @ Ipswich Public Library TR of Ipswich, Reprinted from Essex Institute Historical Collections, Oct. 1961; S.l. : Newcomb & Gauss, 1961

George A. Schofield, The Ancient Records of the Town of Ipswich 1634-1650, Ipswich, 1890.

D. G. Allen, In English Ways, Chapel Hill, 1981

History of Ipswich, Essex and Hamilton, Joseph B. Felt, pub. 1834 (304p) Good list of settlers, emigrants to and from Ipswich.

PEM: Genealogies

Vital Recs. at BPL

First Church at AAS

Lynn 1629/1640 Lynn

Lynn Historical Society

Contact

 Early records have been lost. See below.

No church records before 1792!!! See below

 

History of Lynn, Mass., by Alonzo Lewis and James R.Newhall, 1829; 1890, also at MoA

Lynn & Surroundings By Clarence W. Hobbs. 161p. (Lewis & Winship; 1886) 1996

Centenial Memorial of Lynn, Embracing an Historical Sketch, 1629-1876. By James R. Newhall. 203p. (Thos. R. Breare; 1876) 1996

Manchester 1645 Manchester

Manchester by-the-Sea Public Library  - Archives Room 

  TR of Manchester, 1636-1736, Salem, 1889, 2V, at CPL.  
Marblehead 1633 Marblehead William H. Bowden, comp., "Marblehead Town Records, 1648-1683", EIHC 69 (1933) 207-329

History and Traditions of Marblehead Mass. by Samuel Roads pub 1880

Medford 1630 Medford page

Medford Public Library 

Medford City Clerk, Room 103

City Hall, 85 George P. Hassett Drive, Medford, MA 02155

   
Newbury 1635 Newbury

Historical Society of Old Newbury - Newburyport

D. G. Allen, In English Ways, Chapel Hill, 1981

History of Newbury, Newburyport and West Newbury, Joshua Coffin, 1845 Higginson Books

"Ould Newbury" Historical and Biographical Sketches, by James J. Currier, 1896. republished by Essex Books

Reading Reading Public Library 

Genealogical History of the Town of Reading, Mass including the present towns of Wakefield,Reading and North Reading with Chronological and Historical Sketches   from 1639 to 1874 by Hon Lilley Eaton  Boston,  Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers 34 School Street. 1874   

Rowley 1638 Rowley

Rowley Historical Society

Rowley Public Library 

Benjamin Mighill and G. B. Blodgette, eds., The Early Records of the Town of Rowley Mass., 1639-1672, Rowley, 1894

D. G. Allen, In English Ways, Chapel Hill, 1981

Rowley Early Settlers of Rowley, Massachusetts by Blodgette and Jewett, published 1933 from earlier articles by Blodgette, and reprinted in 1981 by the New England History Press. distributed by  Essex Books

Rowley Massachusetts Records--Town, Church & Cemetery, by Blodgette

Roxbury 1630 A note on Church Records Roxbury TR, 1647-1730 (1997) PEM

THE TOWN RECORDS OF ROXBURY, MASSACHUSETTS, Volume 1, 1647 to 1730 - Robert J. Dunkle and Ann S. Lainhart 1997, cloth, index, 488 pp [NE2556] $35.00 (BigTreeBooks)

A transcription of volume one of the orginial town records, previouisly only available on microfilm. The Roxbury Book of Possessions was destroyed in 1654, and the existing records were recreated by Edward Dennison. Although the orginal land grants were lost to fire, the existing records provide information to piece together the original landholders of this important early Puritan town.

 

Salem 1629 Salem (geocities)

Salem, Ma - The City Guide

Salem

Peabody Essex Museum  ~ Salem - The Phillips Library 
Formerly known as the Essex Institute

Salem Public Library 

A note on Church Records "Salem TR, 1638-1683", EIHC 9-83 (1868-1947)

TR of Salem, 1634-1659, Salem, 1868, W. P Upham (at BL); 1659-1680 at CPL.

Salem, The Records of the First Church in Salem Massachusetts 1629-1736. printed by the Essex Institute, Salem, Ma. 1974, It has an index of persons and of subjects. 421 pgs

Various histories at PEM and CPL

Records and Files of the Quarterly Court of Essex, 8v., 1636-1692 (Essex Institute, 1911-1921), at CPL

Vital Records, 1849, 6v., at Concord.

Salisbury 1639 Salisbury

Salisbury Public Library 

 

Sudbury Vital Records

Sudbury History

Sudbury Archives: Online searchable database includes approximately 15,000 records dating from 1639 to 1850 from the Town Clerk's Office of Sudbury, the Goodnow Library, Longfellow's Wayside Inn, the Sudbury Historical Society, and the Wayland Historical Society. Each record is searchable by title, date, subject, personal name, location of original, document category and record number, and many include editorial or historical annotations. Many records also contain scanned images or transcriptions of the original documents.

Sumner Chilton Powell, Puritan Village, Middleton, Conn. 1962

Topsfield 1648 Topsfield

Topsfield Historical Society

Topsfield

 

 

Watertown 1630 Watertown Free Public Library  Watertown Free Public Library, 123 Main Street,

Watertown, MA 02172

Watertown Records, 7 Vols., Watertown Free Public Library and BPL

A note on Church Records

D. G. Allen, In English Ways, Chapel Hill, 1981;

Roger Thompson, Divided We stand, Amherst, 2001

Early Settlers of  Watertown, by Henry Bond pub. 1860 [partially transcribed]

Wenham 1643 Wenham

Wenham Public Library 

W. P. Upham, comp., Wenham TR, 1642-1706, Wenham, 1930

 

Weymouth 1635 Genweb

History of Weymouth, 4 vols.

Winnisimmet (Chelsea)

 

Woburn 1640 Ye Olde Woburn (Savage and Probate Records)

Woburn Public Library 

No Woburn Town Records found on the Minutemen Catalog (Municipal Libraries in Massachusetts, including Woburn PL)

The history of Woburn, Middlesex County, Mass., from the grant of its territory to Charlestown, in 1640, to the year 1860, Sewall, Samuel, 1785-1868, 2 p.l., iv, [iii]-x, [7]-677 p. front. (port.) 25 cm.
Boston,
Wiggin and Lunt,
1868 [MoA], available from Heritage Books, 1990.

 

A few passages taken from the "Great Migration Begins Project" (NEHGS):

These passages are here quoted in full, as they are extremely useful and clear.

TOWN RECORDS

            The earliest towns of New England apparently did not begin to keep records of their meetings from the day of settlement.  This was probably because Winthrop and other leaders believed in 1630 that the dispersal around the Bay was only temporary, and that they would eventually be gathering the whole population together in one place very soon.

            This of course never came to pass, partly because of personality differences between men such as Winthrop and Dudley, and partly because of the greatly increased population of Massachusetts Bay in 1633, making it impossible to bring everyone together in one settlement.

            This may be a partial explanation for the fact that most of the records for the earliest towns begin in 1633 or 1634 (although in some cases the first few leaves of the volume may have been lost).  The records for most of these towns have been published, and are used here in that form.  (See BTR, CaTR, ChTR, DTR, PTR, RTR, STR and WaTR in the Key to Titles.)  As with so many other  record categories the early Lynn town records are lost, and our only evidence for this town in the early years comes from colony records, private correspondence and a very few items of town records that were later recorded in the Essex Court records.

           The records of two towns require some additional comments.  The Dorchester town records as published begin early in 1633, but clearly the first two leaves of the volume have been lost.  An old index to this volume gives some entries from the lost pages, and these were published in a footnote on the family of John Greenway of Dorchester [NEHGR 32:58].

            The Charlestown town records are a special problem because, like the church records of that town, they were recopied in the 1660s.  The copyist omitted some of the early records, added a lengthy historical narrative at the beginning and inserted documents pertaining to Charlestown from colony records and elsewhere.  In addition he misread many of the names, especially given names.  The user of the Charlestown town records needs to be very cautious.  A careful, annotated edition of the town records of Charlestown would be an excellent addition to the literature.

 

VITAL RECORDS

            Most New England towns began the recording of vital records from the earliest days, and a great majority of these record books have come down to us intact.  The records for many of the Massachusetts towns were published in the systematic series a century ago, with the events being arranged in alphabetic order.  For other towns throughout New England vital records have been published in many formats, citations to which may be found in the Key to Titles.

            There is an unusual volume of vital records that was generated in the early days of Massachusetts Bay Colony which deserves special attention.  When published in the Register, beginning with the first issue of the second volumes they were referred to as the "Early Records of Boston," but they have only a limited connection with Boston.

            The document in question is in fact a compilation of those vital records submitted to the county court by the towns of Suffolk County, beginning in 1644.  Massachusetts Bay Colony established counties in 1643, two of them being Suffolk and Middlesex, but Middlesex did not take on an independent existence until 1649. Thus for the years prior to 1649 this book of records includes submissions from the towns of Boston, Roxbury, Dorchester, Braintree, Weymouth and Dedham (which then made up Suffolk County), and Cambridge, Charlestown, Watertown, Concord, Woburn and Sudbury (then Middlesex).  Hingham, which should have begun sending in its records in 1644, did not in fact do so until 1649.  Even then, it did not include items retrospectively, as did the other towns.  Also in 1649, Springfield sent in some vital records; it was for the moment part of Middlesex County, prior to the establishment of Hampshire County.

            The probable reason for calling these the "Early Records of Boston" is that they are now, and have long been, in the custody of the Boston City Registrar.  They are properly records of Suffolk County and should be returned to that jurisdiction.  This volume was transcribed in the last century by David Pulsifer, and, as noted above, published in the Register.

            For several of the towns the record tells us that the register of births and deaths runs "until the first of the first month 1644."  Given the problems with the calendar at this time, we want to know just what is meant by this limit on the first group of records, which supposedly includes everything back to the "first founding of their towns." Examination of several of the towns shows that in this record the year began on the first of March, and not on the 25th, as in many other records.  One specific example which helps in this determination comes from the entries from Dedham, in which Mary Aldridge, daughter of Henry and Mary, was born on the tenth of the first month (March) 1643, and died on the 24th of the second month (April) 1643.  This sequence is possible only if the first of March is New Year's Day.  Thus, the announced terminus for this first set of records, in the notation of double-dating, would be 1 March 1643/4.

            The clerks of the writs for the towns did not report all births and deaths which had occurred in each town prior to 1 March 1643/4, but only those for families which still resided in the town at that later date.  And for those families, only events which had taken place while the family actually resided there were recorded.

            The records in this volume are beset by another problem as well.  Since they were obtained from the town clerks by the county clerk, they have been copied over a number of times, which has allowed many errors to creep in.  In the best of circumstances, the county clerk might have copied directly from the original record prepared by the town clerk.  But more frequently it is likely that the town clerk made a copy of his records, which was then carried to Boston to be copied again by the county clerk into the single volume for the whole county.  And there may have been other steps of which we are unaware.  The opportunities for scribal errors were abundant.

            In general, then, the county copy, as represented by the misnamed "Early Records of Boston," is much inferior to the copy retained by the town.  Savage makes this point frequently in his Genealogical Dictionary of New England, when comparing this county copy (which is all that exists for Boston of civil vital records at this date) with the record of church baptisms.  If there is an existing alternative to the county copy for this period down to 1644, and a discrepancy appears, the first thing to do is to check the originals.  If the discrepancy persists, the alternative source should be preferred to the county copy.

 

CHURCH RECORDS

             Because religious conviction was the primary motivation for migration for most of those who came to New England during the Great Migration, establishing a church in each new settlement was one of the first matters attended to.  Although the survival of records from these churches is spotty, what does survive provides some of the most important evidence we have for the immigrants to New England during this period.

           The Boston records begin with the foundation of the church in 1630 and are continuous for the period of interest to us.  There is a listing of admissions to church membership, which for the first few years does not have the date of admission.  This list was however maintained in chronological order, and by correlating the list with our knowledge of other events, such as deaths or the dates of arrival of immigrants, we can roughly date an admission from this period.  By 1633 the admissions are dated, and soon this part of the church records also contains much disciplinary matter, and records of letters of dismissal and recommendation.  There is also a separate listing of baptisms. (See BChR in Key to Titles, and GMN 3:4-6, 7:3-6.) 

            The Salem church records before December 1636 consist only of a rough list of church members, which includes only those persons who were members in later 1636; all those who had joined at an earlier date, but had died or moved away, are omitted from this list.  There are also some who were still resident in Salem in 1636 and were known to be church members who were omitted.  From late 1636 there is a continuous record for several years of baptisms and admissions.  (See SChR in Key to Titles, and GMN 2:19-21).

            The church records of Lynn do not exist prior to 1792.  A few facts about the early church may be gleaned from such sources as Winthrop's writings and the lists of freemen [GMN 1:20].

            Charlestown church records survive from the founding of the church in 1631, and include both admissions to membership and baptisms.  As with other Charlestown records, the church book was recopied about 1660, and much of the data was corrupted.  (See ChChR in Key to Titles, and GMN 2:4.)

            Although the ordinary church records of Cambridge do not survive for the ministries of Thomas Hooker or Thomas Shepard, there are copies of some of the so-called "confessions" made by church members upon admission to membership [GMN 5:9], and these frequently provide information about the church members found nowhere else.

            The Watertown church records prior to 1686 have been lost, but, as with Lynn, some information can be obtained from other sources, again including Winthrop's writings and the lists of freemen.

            Roxbury church was founded in 1632, and Rev. John Eliot maintained a set of records that are a hybrid of proper church records and a private diary.  The list of admissions frequently goes beyond the basic data of the admission, and gives the spouse and children of the member, as well as other biographical detail.  There are also separate lists of baptisms and of deaths and burials (one is not always sure which was intended).  (See RChR in Key to Titles, and GMN 2:12-13, 6:19-25.)

            The first Dorchester church removed to Windsor when Warham and most of his flock left for that town.  All that remains for Dorchester is what was kept by Rev. Richard Mather for the second church which he founded.  This has both a list of admissions and a list of baptisms, the latter being annotated in a later hand, giving the fate decades later of some of those baptized in Dorchester.  (See DChR in Key to Titles, and GMN 1:29.)

            Plymouth did not have a minister for most of its early history, and lay leaders such as William Brewster carried out many of the pastoral duties.  The earliest Plymouth church records include a history of the early church, written many decades later; death records for a few of the early immigrants appear here, but it is otherwise not very helpful for the years of the Great Migration.  (See PChR in Key to Titles.)

            When Rev. John Lathrop arrived at Scituate, he organized a church, and kept records of that church during its few years at Scituate, and then for many more years after he and the church removed to Barnstable [NEHGR 9:279-87, 10:37-43; GMN 5:12].

            Similarly, Rev. Peter Hobart maintained a record of births, baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials at Hingham during the years when he was minister there; as with the journals kept by Eliot and Lathrop, this was not strictly speaking a church record [GMN 7:28-29].

 

 

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