Collections

The Massachusetts Archives holds the official records created by Massachusetts state government. Holdings are organized by agency and date from 1629 to the present.

Synopsis of Holdings

Full text copy for printing Summary Guide of Holdings (PDF)

Records reflecting the structure of state government

Foundation documents
Colonial charters, treaties, compacts, and agreements with Indian tribes and with other states. Proceedings of state constitutional conventions. Constitution of 1780 and amendments. State legal codes.

Legislative records
Files of the colonial General Court (1629-1780), the Provincial Congress (1774-1775), and the state General Court (1780-present): Petitions, orders, reports, messages, bills. Unenacted legislation and enacted statutes and resolves. House and Senate dockets, roll calls, and journals. Committee and legislative commission hearing and background files.

State secretary records
Administrative files; initiative and referendum petitions; state and national election returns; state regulation files and register; lobbyist registrations; municipal home rule charters and acceptances of local option statutes; notices of appointment, lists, and qualifications (oaths of office) of state and local officials; census registers and returns (state: 1855, 1865, 1915, 1971, 1975; federal: Massachusetts, 1790-1900, Maine, 1790-1810); returns of town vital records (1841-1920; indexes to 1971); returns of names changed in probate court. Corporate articles of organization (prior to 1851 see legislative records).

Executive records

  • Governor (1802–present)
  • Council
  • Administration and Finance
  • Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation
  • Economic Development and Manpower Affairs/Labor
  • Education
  • Environmental Affairs
  • Health and Human Services
  • Public Safety/Adjutant General
  • Transportation and Construction
  • Treasurer records — State loans, bonds, bounties, veterans' bonuses, military accounts. Troy and Greenfield and other railroad financial records.
  • Attorney General records — Investigative files, opinions, victim witness program, charitable corporation filings. Also: State Ethics Commission designation lists
  • Court records — Land Court registration decrees. Judicial Archives: Supreme Judicial Court and predecessors; Superior and district courts by county, including probate and naturalization records.

Special colonial and early state materials to 1800

328-volume Massachusetts Archives Collection which contains colonial, provincial, and Revolutionary records.

The Eastern Lands papers (PDF) document settlement of public lands in the District of Maine and its separation from Massachusetts as a state in 1820. Included are legal, survey, and financial records of the General Court, legislative commissions, and the Land Office.

Transcripts of the Archives of the Plymouth Colony, 1620-1691. Included are legislative, court, financial, and vital records; deeds and wills.

All the above contain documents relating to Indian affairs, including military, trading, and census records. The Archives also holds 19th-century records of the Guardians of Indians.

Witchcraft records in the Massachusetts Archives Collection include depositions, examinations, warrants, and other court documents.

Other historical resource files

Massachusetts Historical Commission: compliance files of historic sites and structures in Massachusetts listed in the National Register of Historic Places and related tax certification program files.

Work Projects/Works Progress administrations' Massachusetts Historical Records Survey (1936-1942), American Portraits Survey, and Black Historical Records Survey.

Nontextual materials

Photographs: Senate presidents, House speakers, governors. Activities and buildings of state institutions. Massachusetts boundary markers. Public works and harbor and river projects. Aerial survey mapping; waterworks and sewer construction; parks engineering; reservations and facilities. Boston Harbor dredging and pier construction.

Maps and plans: Eastern Lands (Maine, 17th-18th centuries); early state, national, and continental maps; maps and plans deposited with the state secretary; parks engineering; waterways; state planning land use maps; state aid highway construction maps; town plans (1794, 1830); building inspection plans; mental hospital, correctional facility building plans.

Paintings: New England birds by L.A. Fuertes.

Audio-visuals: Press conferences, public service announcements, hearings, interviews, and public relations materials.

Local records

Vital records, charters, valuation lists, the debtors/criminal calendars of the Suffolk County (Charles Street) Jail, case files of the Middlesex County Training School, and files of the Boston Housing Authority.

Private records

Personal papers of governors Oliver Ames and Eugene Foss; miscellaneous military documents; architectural plans; and photographs relating to wars and other historical events, and of state officials and institutions.

Top of page

Records and Other Resources

Genealogy and Family History Resources

  • Vital statistic records (Massachusetts births, deaths and marriages from 1841-1920)
  • Census records
  • Federal: Microfilm 1790-1880, 1890
  • State: 1855, 1865
  • Passenger Lists for the port of Boston, 1848-1891
  • Military Records
  • Probate records in the Probate and Divorce Judicial Court records
  • Naturalization (citizenship) records
  • Divorce records in the Probate and Divorce Judicial Court records
  • Adoption records
  • Documents about Native Americans
  • Records from prisons and state institutions

For more information, please see Researching Your Family's History at the Massachusetts Archives.

Top of page

Black History Resources

  • Federal census schedules, 1790-1900
  • State census schedules, 1855, 1865
  • 1754 slave census
  • 1771 town valuations (published in 1978)
  • Passenger lists (occasional references on index cards)
  • Vital statistic records
  • Military records
  • Massachusetts Archives Collection
  • Passport/Travel permissions/Certificates for seamen (1815-1860; 1857)
  • Guardians of Indians
  • Returns of pauper lunatics and idiots (1842)
  • Corrections and mental health records
  • Judicial Court records

Top of page

Vital Statistic Records

The Massachusetts Archives holds vital statistics, records of births, deaths and marriages in Massachusetts, for the years 1841 to 1920. The Archives has index books for the records. Each index volume includes five years, and names are sorted alphabetically within each five-year period.

The information found in vital records may include:

Birth records
Place and date of birth, name, residence, names, birthplaces, and occupations of parents.

Marriage records
Place and date of marriage, names, ages, residences, occupations, birthplaces, parents of bride and groom.

Death records
Place and date of death, residence, spouse, age, occupation and birthplace of deceased, cause of death and place of burial, name and birthplace of parents.

Certified copies of births, marriages and deaths from 1841 to 1920 can be ordered in person or by mail. Please provide the name, date, and location for each event. A maximum of five certificates can be ordered at one time. Include a separate check, made out to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, for $3 for each certificate requested. See duplication services for additional information about copies.

For vital records before 1841, original materials remain in the city or town clerk's office and can be found in the city or town hall. See the Massachusetts City and Town Directory for contact information.

For vital records after 1920, please contact:

Registry of Vital Records
Bureau of Health Statistics, Research and Evaluation
Department of Public Health
150 Mount Vernon St.
Dorchester, MA 02125
Phone: 617-740-2600
http://www.mass.gov/dph/rvrs.htm

Top of page

Passenger Lists

Massachusetts recorded the names of immigrants arriving in the Port of Boston between 1848 and 1891.
Records are accessed through a name index. Information includes name, age, sex, country of birth, last residence, and occupation of the immigrant. The name of the ship and the date of arrival are also listed.
Children may be listed separately or with other family members.

Top of page

Military Records

Colonial Period, 1643-1774
Records of militia units and military activities during King Philip's War and the French and Indian Wars. Records consist of military rolls, muster rolls, billeting accounts, etc.

Revolutionary Period, 1775-1787
Revolutionary rolls contain documents such as muster rolls, descriptive lists, receipts of supplies or money, lists of officers and lists of deserters. Continental Army Books consist of muster rolls of Massachusetts companies and receipts for supplies and money. The records of the Board of War, Commissary General, and Quartermaster General contain minutes, correspondence, blotters, cash books, journals, and ledgers, which detail the delivery of ordnance, provisions, and services to the military units. Pension records contain information on rank, unit, residence, and land or money bounty.

Shays' Rebellion, 1786-1787
Letters, orders, warrants, petitions, special reports, military payrolls, financial records, and oaths of allegiance.

War of 1812, 1812-1815
Research materials may be found in the records of the Governor and Executive Council, which contain letters, petitions, applications for commissions, and notices of elections of officers. Also militia payrolls, muster rolls, inspection rolls, and company rolls.

Civil War, 1861-1865
Muster, clothing, and descriptive rolls, lists of assignments of recruits totown quotas, correspondence from recruiters, substitution records. Useful collections include State Military Agent, Gardiner Tufts and Governor John Andrew's letterbooks (1861-1866).

Spanish-American War, 1889
Letters concerning petitions sent to the treasurer and receiver-general includes name of veteran, address, date and location of mustering in and out and other materials.

Other Resources

State military records from the Civil War up to 1940 can be researched through the Massachusetts National Guard Museum and Archives:
Massachusetts National Guard Museum and Archives
91 Everett St
Concord, MA 01742
Phone: 978-369-4807
http://states.ng.mil/sites/MA/resources/museum/default.aspx

State military records from 1940 forward can be requested from the Military Records branch of the Adjutant General’s Office:
Military Records Branch
Office of the Adjutant General
50 Maple St.
Milford, MA 01757
Phone: 508-233-7780
Fax: 508-233-7785

Top of page

Court Records Research – Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Archives

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Archives (Judicial Archives), a separate state-level archives, collects records from state, county, and local courts. The Judicial Archives Boston location is for administrative offices only and is not accessible to the public. The public should contact the Judicial Archivist (see contact information below) with inquiries regarding court records research. To make an appointment to meet with the Judicial Archivist who visits the Massachusetts Archives most Mondays and Wednesdays, please call or email to arrange an appointment. The Judicial Archives has deposited a collection of microfilm of certain court records here at the Massachusetts Archives and utilizes our Reading Room to make original documents available to the public.

The Judicial Archivist can be contacted by mail or by phone and be sure to include your email address in any correspondence:
Elizabeth Bouvier
Head of Archives
Supreme Judicial Court Archives
3 Pemberton Square, 16th Floor
Boston, MA 02108
Phone: 617-557-1082
Email: elizabeth.bouvier@sjc.state.ma.us

Top of page

Agency List

Records in the Massachusetts Archives are organized by creating agency. Records exist for:

Abbreviation

Agency

AF

Administration and Finance

AG

Attorney General

AR

Artifact collection

AU

Auditor

CA

Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation

CD

Communities and Development

CF

Campaign Finance

CO

Committees and commissions. Includes legislative committees and other bodies. For gubernatorial commissions see: GO

CT

General Court  

CY

County records

EA

Eastern Lands. Includes records relating to the District of Maine, which became a separate state in 1820.

EC

Economic Development and Manpower Affairs

ED

Educational Affairs

EL

Elder Affairs

EN

Environmental Affairs

ER

Energy Resources

ET

Ethics Commission

GC

Governor's Council

GO

Governor

HS

Health and Human Services

IG

Inspector General

JU

Judiciary

LA

Labor

LG

Lieutenant Governor

LO

Local records (see also CY and MN)

MN

Municipal records

PC

Provincial Congress. Records of the Revolutionary governing body, 1774-1775

PR

Private records. Records relating to Massachusetts history not created by Massachusetts governmental agencies.

PS

Public Safety

SC

Secretary of the Commonwealth

TC

Transportation and Construction

TR

Treasurer and Receiver General