By Alice Kane
Massachusetts is a treasure trove of genealogical source material: vital records kept by the town since the early seventeenth century; published genealogies for thousands of families; unpublished manuscript items at archives, historical societies, and libraries; newspapers dating back to colonial times; and more. While there may be gaps in records depending on the town, family historians have a lot of options when faced with a genealogical brick wall.
NEHGS has a massive collection of resources and records pertaining to Massachusetts from the seventeenth century to the twenty-first. This subject guide lists only a fraction of those resources. To explore our resources in greater detail, search the NEHGS library catalog by town, family surname, or time period.
How-To and Other Guides
In addition to the suggestions below, when visiting the library be sure to browse NEHGS's collections of Massachusetts town and county histories on the 5th floor, and city directories and maps on the 4th floor. For more specific locations, names, and topics, check the NEHGS library catalog.
A Guide to Massachusetts Cemeteries, 2nd. Ed. by David Allen Lambert
NEHGS, 4th, 5th, and 7th Floors F63.L36 2009
A Researcher’s Guide to Boston by Ann S. Lainhart
NEHGS, 5th and 7th Floors F73.25.L35 2003
Subject Guide to Records in the Massachusetts Archives
7th Floor Reading Room Reference CD3294.M38 1996
“Massachusetts” wiki article on FamilySearch is a concise and focused jumping-off point to other Massachusetts resource articles.
Databases include state-wide vital records covering pre-1850 through 1915 years as well as digitized editions of specific Massachusetts towns and cities from printed, Corbin and Holbrook collections.
Of particular interest is the Massachusetts State and Town Vital Records collection. Available at NEHGS.
Family History Library
Massachusetts vital records between 1841 and 1920 are available with digital record images.
Massachusetts Church Records
This FamilySearch wiki contains an overview of most religions found within Massachusetts.
Massachusetts Land Records, 1620–1986
Arranged by county, browse images of Massachusetts grantor/grantee indexes and deed volumes, all from the earliest years of the respective county’s existence, however, many of these counties’ records end about the mid-nineteenth century to early twentieth century.
Ships Lists Online: Massachusetts
This website gathers together links to online sources of passenger lists for ships arriving at Massachusetts ports.
They Came in Ships: A Guide to Finding Your Immigrant Ancestor's Arrival Record by John Philip Colletta
NEHGS, 1st Floor CS49.C63 2002
National Guard Museum and Archives
This institution holds the archives of the Massachusetts Adjutant General and services state records kept for Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors who served during conflicts dating from 1775 to 1940.
Interactive Map of Massachusetts County Formation
Mapofus.org offers a useful resource in compiling AniMap views of the changing county boundaries of each state in the United States. The maps slide show for each state is highly informative as well as entertaining.
Periodicals & Newspapers
Newspapers on Microfilm at Boston Public Library (BPL)
The Boston Public Library holds the largest collection of Massachusetts newspapers on microfilm in the state. The microfilms are held by the BPL’s Microtext Department; title lists can be found at the URLs listed here or in the printed version at NEHGS, 4th floor Reference, Z6951.B76 2003.
Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers
A searchable directory of U.S. newspapers to identify what titles exist and when; use with WorldCat to find location of holdings.
PERiodical Source Index Resource Guide (PERSI)
Available as a database on Ancestry.com and HeritageQuestOnline.com. Note: A subject index to articles, does NOT search every word/surname within article text.
Massachusetts Genealogy Guide, Massachusetts-genealogy.com
A links website organizing Massachusetts records links by county and category.
Massachusetts Online Genealogy Records
This FamilySearch wiki is a good overview and jumping-off point to Massachusetts vital records and other resources available on Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, and the Internet.
Cyndi’s List – Massachusetts
Offers one place to locate Massachusetts links to various databases and websites by category.
Want to maximize your research? The experts at NEHGS can help! We offer a number of services that can help you break down brick walls and expand your research.
Meet one-on-one with our genealogists
Want research guidance from a professional genealogist? Our experts provide 30-minute to two-hour consultations in person or by phone.
- Find elusive ancestors—Whether you are searching in the U.S. or abroad, in the 17th or 20th century, our genealogists have the knowledge to assist you.
- Locate and use records—Vital records, military records, deeds, probate, and more—if you’re wondering where to look for them, how to read them, or what data you can find in them, we can guide you.
- Get more out of technology—Feel like you could be making better use of your genealogy software? Curious about websites and databases that might be relevant to your research? Let us help!
Hire our experts in Research Services
Whether you are just beginning your family research or have been researching for years, NEHGS Research Services is here to assist you. Our team of experts can:
- Conduct hourly research
- Break down “brick walls”
- Retrieve manuscript materials
- Obtain probate records
- Research and prepare your lineage society application
- Organize your materials and files
- Write narrative biographies about your ancestors
- Create customized family charts