Essex County, Massachusetts Genealogy

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

County Information[edit | edit source]

Description[edit | edit source]

The county was named for the English county of Essex. It is located in the Northeastern area of the state.[1]

Essex County, Massachusetts Record Dates[edit | edit source]

Known Beginning Dates for Major County Records[2]
Marriage Court Land Probate Census
at town creation at town creation at town creation 1636 1640 1635 1779
*Statewide registration for births and deaths started in 1841. General compliance year unknown.

Essex County Massachusetts History[edit | edit source]

Brief History[edit | edit source]

Essex County was one of the four original counties when Massachusetts Bay Colony Genealogy 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.[3]

Historical Data[edit | edit source]

The basic data are from the historical county boundary series[4] 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.

Record Loss[edit | edit source]

There is no known history of courthouse disasters in this county.

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County Histories[edit | edit source]

MassachusettsEssex CountyMiddlesex CountySuffolk CountyNew HampshireRockingham CountyHillsborough CountySaugusLynnNahantSwampscottMarbleheadSalemPeabodyDanversBeverlyManchester-by-the-seaGloucesterRockportEssexHamiltonWenhamTopsfieldIpswichRowleyNewburyNewburyportSalisburyAmesburyMerrimacHaverhillMethuenAndoverLawrenceNorth AndoverBoxfordGeorgetownGrovelandWest NewburyMiddletonLynnfieldPelhamBostonBrooklineNewtonWestonWaylandLincolnConcordCarlisleChelmsfordLowellDracutTewksburyBillericaBedfordLexingtonWalthamWatertownBelmontArlingtonWinchesterWoburnBurlingtonWilmingtonNorth ReadingReadingWakefieldStonehamMedfordSomervilleCambridgeEverettMaldenMelroseRevereChelseaWinthropWindhamDerrySandownHampsteadSalemAtkinsonPlaistowDanvilleKingstonNewtonSouth HamptonEast KingstonKensingtonHampton FallsHamptonSeabrook
Modern cities and towns in Essex County, Massachusetts.

Works written on the county include:

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Maps and Gazetteers[edit | edit source]

Rockingham CountyHillsborough CountySuffolk CountyMiddlesex CountyMA ESSEX.PNG
Click a neighboring county
for more resources

Essex County Massachusetts Genealogy Resources[edit | edit source]

Vital Records[edit | edit source]

In Massachusetts, the original vital records (of births, marriages, marriage intentions, 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 (except the intentions) were submitted to the county court. These copies can be found in the list of Miscellaneous Court Records below. 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.

Online Vital Records

Birth[edit | edit source]

Marriage[edit | edit source]

Death[edit | edit source]

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Cemetery[edit | edit source]

Tombstone Transcriptions Online Tombstone Transcriptions in Print List of Cemeteries in the county Family History Library
USGenWeb WorldCat Billion Graves
MAGenWeb Archives FamilySearch Places
Tombstone Project
Billion Graves
See Massachusetts Cemeteries for more information.

Census[edit | edit source]

Historical populations
Census Pop.
1790 57,879
1800 61,196 5.7%
1810 71,888 17.5%
1820 74,655 3.8%
1830 82,859 11.0%
1840 94,987 14.6%
1850 131,300 38.2%
1860 165,611 26.1%
1870 200,843 21.3%
1880 244,535 21.8%
1890 299,995 22.7%
1900 357,030 19.0%
1910 436,477 22.3%
1920 482,156 10.5%
1930 498,040 3.3%
1940 496,313 −0.3%
1950 522,384 5.3%
1960 568,831 8.9%
1970 637,887 12.1%
1980 633,632 −0.7%
1990 670,080 5.8%
2000 723,419 8.0%
2010 743,159 2.7%
Source: "".

Church Records[edit | edit source]

List of Churches and Church Parishes

Emigration and Immigration[edit | edit source]

Land Records and Atlases[edit | edit source]

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 Andover.

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.

Land deeds and atlases
  • Land deeds, 1640-present. Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds has images from 1640-present; indexes from 1951-present.
  • Deeds, 1639-1866; index to deeds, 1640-1879. FamilySearch (microfilm of original records in the Essex County courthouse, Salem, Massachusetts).
  • Unregistered deeds, ca. 1700-1820. FamilySearch (microfilm of original records in the Essex County courthouse, Salem, Massachusetts).
  • Deed records, 1865-1940. FamilySearch (digital images of originals housed at the Registry of Deeds, Salem, Massachusetts).
  • Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds has different search options available, and each option has additional subsearches available: Recorded Land, Registered Land, Plans/Engineering, Index Books.
  • Essex County Atlases: (Select Essex County from Town dropdown list, then specific year desired from Atlas list)
    Essex County, 1795 (mss.).
    Essex County, 1830 (mss.).
    Essex County, 1872.
    Essex County, 1884.
  • Essex County miscellaneous probate records and deeds, 1779-1846.
    FHL film 893111 Item 6.
Published records
Published maps
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Town Records[edit | edit source]

Military Records[edit | edit source]

Revolutionary War[edit | edit source]

Newspapers[edit | edit source]

Probate Records[edit | edit source]

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 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.

Online Probate Indexes and Records

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[edit | edit source]

The court system can appear to be complex. The system was reorganized in 1686/1692, 1859, and 1978. Described below are the most commonly used records for history and genealogy, but realize that this list is incomplete. For more detailed information regarding court structure, see Understanding the Massachusetts Court System. Some records may be found in the Old Norfolk County records.

Older records 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

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County Court[edit | edit source]

This court was active from 1636 (called a quarterly court and then the county court when Suffolk was created in 1643) to 1692. The court heard all civil causes up to 10 shillings (raised to 40 shillings in 1647) and all criminal causes not concerning life, limb, or banishment. These were all jury trials. Some records can be found in the Suffolk Files.

The records microfilmed:

The records published:

Digital versions of the Essex Quarterly Court
Vol. 1 1636-1656 Internet Archive Google Books
Vol. 2 1656-1662 Internet Archive
Vol. 3 1662-1667 Internet Archive Google Books
Vol. 4 1667-1671 Internet Archive Google Books
Vol. 5 1672-1674 Internet Archive Google Books
Vol. 6 1675-1678 Internet Archive Google Books
Vol. 7 1678-1680 Internet Archive Google Books
Vol. 8 1680-1683 Internet Archive
Vol. 9 1683-1686 n/a n/a

The published volumes' coverage stops in 1685 or 1686 (depending on the court location). For quarterly courts held after that (i.e. from about 1685 to 1694) it may be necessary to search the 57 typescript volumes of Archie N. Frost, comp., Verbatim Transcriptions of the Records of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts, 1636-1694 (Salem, Mass., 1939). These were at one point held at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem.

Derivative records published:

  • Melinde Lutz Sanborn, Ages from Court Records 1636 to 1700 (Baltimore, 2003), 227 pp.
    WorldCat (Other Libraries); FHL book 974.4 P22s v. 1.
    Digital version at Ancestry ($).
  • Melinde Lutz Sanborn, "Essex County, Massachusetts Depositions, 1636-86" online at Ancestry ($).
  • Else L. Hambleton, Daughters of Eve: Pregnant Brides and Unwed Mothers in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts (New York, 2004), xix, 192 pp.
    WorldCat (Other Libraries); Not at FHL.
    A study of cases of fornication, bastardy, and paternity cases brought before the courts in Essex County between 1640 and 1692.
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Quarterly Court of General Sessions of the Peace[edit | edit source]

This court was active from 1692 to 1827. The court heard criminal cases and had authority over county affairs that included levying taxes, reviewing town bylaws, highways, licensed liquor, regulated jails, supervised the administration of the poor laws, and appointed some county officials.

The records microfilmed:

Derivative records published:

Inferior Court of Common Pleas[edit | edit source]

This court was active from 1692 to 1859. The court heard all civil cases over 40s unless a case involved freehold or was appealed from a justice of the peace.

The records microfilmed:

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Superior Court[edit | edit source]

The Quarterly Court of General Sessions was merged into the Inferior Court of Common Pleas in 1827, and that court was reorganized in 1859 to created the Superior Court as the new lower (i.e. trial) court. It covers both criminal and civil matters.

  • Court records, v. 130-142 (1859-1865), FHL films 877458-877460.
  • Essex County Consolidated Index (Court of Common Pleas, 1749-1859; Superior Court, 1859-1904; Supreme Judicial Court, 1797-1904), at the Mass. Archives.

Supreme Judicial Court[edit | edit source]

The Supreme Judicial Court was established by the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 that combined the former Governor and Council with the Superior Court of Judicature creating the highest state court. This court hears appeals, writ of error, capital offenses, and crimes against the public good. That included divorces until that action was moved to the lower court in 1887.

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Naturalization Records[edit | edit source]

Naturalization records were created on a variety of governmental levels from the Federal down to the city at the same time. The county records for all levels are outlines below. For more information, see the Massachusetts state page for more on naturalization.

Federal Naturalization Records for Essex County
Record Dates Location Index Microfilm/Online
No federal records as yet digitized at NARA
Essex County Naturalization Records
Record Dates Location Index Microfilm/Online
Lawrence Superior Court 1860-1892
see Judicial Archivist
Judicial Archives
pre-1925 volume index; card index, 1925-1982 Records, 1905-1945, at Mass. Arch. RR
Declarations, 1920-1945, FHL film 2168940 (1st of 11)
Petitions, 1920-1945, FHL film 2169561 (1st of 50)
Index, 1906-1982, at Mass. Arch. RR and FHL film 2168509 (1st of 7)
Salem/Lynn/Lawrence Index, 1906-1939, FHL film 2168940 Item 1
Salem Superior Court pre-1907
see Judicial Archivist
Judicial Archives
Card index Declarations, 1906-1945, at Mass. Arch. RR and FHL film 2169096 (1st of 23)
Petitions, 1907-1945, at Mass. Arch. RR and FHL film 2148922 (1st of 86)
Index, 1906-1982, at Mass. Arch. RR and FHL film 2168660 (1st of 6)
Salem/Lynn/Lawrence Index, 1906-1939, FHL film 2168940 Item 1
District Court
1906 Judicial Archives NO index NO microfilm
District Court
(with gaps)
Judicial Archives Indexed dockets Notice of app., 1885-1900, FHL film 1418524 Item 2
District Court
1850-1854, 1886-1906
(with gaps)
Judicial Archives Indexed dockets NO microfilm
District Court
1885-1906 Judicial Archives Card index NO microfilm; index included in United States, New England Petitions for Naturalization Index, 1791-1906
District Court
(with gaps)
Judicial Archives Indexed dockets NO microfilm
District Court
n/a Salem District Courthouse n/a NO microfilm
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Miscellaneous Court Records[edit | edit source]

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Essex County Massachusetts Libraries and Genealogy Societies[edit | edit source]

  • The Phillips Library
    Peabody Essex Museum
    132 Essex Street
    Salem MA 01970
    Phone 978-745-9500 x3053

For information on additional archives and repositories, see

Family History Centers[edit | edit source]

Family History Center and Affiliate Library Locator map - search for local Family History Centers or Affiliate Libraries

  • Family History Centers provide one-on-one assistance, free access to center-only databases, and to premium genealogical websites.
  • FamilySearch Affiliate Libraries have access to most center-only databases, but may not always have full services normally provided by a family history center.

Local Centers and Affiliate Libraries

Populated Places[edit | edit source]

For a complete list of populated places, including small neighborhoods and suburbs, visit HomeTown Locator. The following are the most historically and genealogically relevant populated places in this county:[5]

Census-designated places
Historic communities

Essex County Massachusetts Genealogy References[edit | edit source]

  1. Wikipedia contributors, "Essex, County," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia,,_Massachusetts
  2. Handybook for Genealogists: United States of America, 10th ed. (Draper, Utah: Everton Pub., 2002), Essex County, Massachusetts . Page 329-331 At various libraries (WorldCat); FHL Book 973 D27e 2002; Alice Eichholz, ed. Ancestry’s Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources, Third ed. (Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2004), 322-323.
  3. Abolished County Governments - Secretary of State.
  4. Massachusetts Atlas of Historical County Boundaries
  5. Wikipedia contributors, "Essex County, Massachusetts," in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia,,_Massachusetts, accessed 09 March 2020.