Author Archive

Search our Probate Databases for Free

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A map from a probate record in Suffolk County which shows the division of Robert Billings’s property after his death.

This week our probate databases are available for free to everyone.  We have 32 databases which fall under the Court, Land, and Probate Records category.  We’ve pulled together some material to better help you understand these collections on

Get a clear definition of what a probate record is, and how they can help be helpful in genealogical research.

Explore probate records which feature famous people including poet Emily Dickinson, author Nathaniel Hawthorne, education advocate Mary Lyons, and inventor Elias Howe.

Learn how best to search the probate record databases offered by by watching these videos:

How to Search Massachusetts Probate File Papers (A quick note to emphasize from this video: Many people become confused when they are first presented with the first page of a case file, which has only a little information on it.  Please continue to browse through a case by clicking the blue arrows on the top right of the screen!)

Searching New England Probate Databases on (An overview of databases ranging from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, and Rhode Island)

How to Search New York Probate Databases on (An overview of our databases which focus on probate records from New York)

If these short videos leave you wanting to know more, immerse yourself in the study of probate records by watching David Allen Lambert’s webinar on the topic.

Finally, learn about other sources both online and offline where you can find information about probate records.


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Bristol County, MA: Probate File Papers, 1686-1880

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Image Credit: [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

We are now offering a new database, Bristol County, MA: Probate File Papers, 1686-1880.  This database was created from digital images contributed to NEHGS by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Archives. The collection contains the records of 29,531 Bristol County probate cases filed between 1686 and 1880. The probate cases include wills, guardianships, administrations, and various other types of probate records except adoptions, which are not public records in Massachusetts.

These Bristol probate cases were not labeled with official case numbers, so an index had to be created from the microfilmed file papers. The resulting index is mostly alphabetical. However the file papers were not microfilmed in strict alphabetic order and case numbers were assigned as the cases were examined to create this database. Thus, the statement “mostly alphabetical.”

For a time, the borders of Massachusetts and Rhode Island (where Bristol County is located) shifted considerably as the two states swapped parcels of land.  Bristol County, MA borders Bristol County, RI.  Wikipedia explains this is one of ten instances in which adjacent counties in bordering states share the same name, and the only example in New England.  Other examples include Teton County in Idaho which borders Teton County in Wyoming and Kent County in Maryland which lies next to Kent County, Delaware.  You can consult History of Bristol County, Massachusetts edited by D. Hamilton Hurd for more details on the border changes in the 1700-1800s between Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

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Update to Western Massachusetts Families in 1790

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We have added six new sketches to Western Massachusetts Families in 1790. This database focuses on families listed in the 1790 census in historic Berkshire and Hampshire counties, an area which includes parts of modern Franklin and Hampden counties as well.  Sketches are submitted by NEHGS researchers and members and edited by Helen Schatvet Ullmann, CG, FASG.

If you are particularly interested in this area of research, you may want to consult one of our newest publications–the 3rd volume of Western Massachusetts Families in 1790!  

The following sketches are new to this update:

Martin Chamberlin (Dalton)
Amasa Cranson (Ashfield)
Elisha Mack (Montague) (Elisha Mack may be of special interest to LDS genealogists–he was the brother of the grandfather of Joseph Smith.)
Abner Phillips (Ashfield)
Lemuel Phillips (Ashfield)
Philip Phillips (Ashfield)
John Shattuck (Conway)

Please note:  This database is available to Individual-level and above NEHGS members only. Consider membership .

Database Tip: On the transcript page, click the plus sign next to any person’s name. You can download a PDF of the entire sketch rather than having to download each page image separately.

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New Middleborough and Florida, Massachusetts records

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East Portal of the Hoosac Tunnel , Florida, MA, a 4.75 mile railroad tunnel built in the 1850s-1870s.

We’ve updated Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850.   Middleborough – V1 and Middleborough – V2 are now searchable by parents’ and spouse’s names.  Florida – V1 is new, containing births, marriages and deaths.

The Middleborough records come from Barbara Lambert Merrick and Alicia Crane Williams’s Middleborough, Massachusetts Vital Records, a compilation of transcribed records originally published in the Mayflower Descendant and some later transcriptions for this southeast Massachusetts town.

The Florida, MA records originate in Jay Mack Holbrook’s microform Massachusetts Vital Records: Florida, 1781-1900, which collects a register of early records from this town in western Massachusetts.    

We would like to thank all of our volunteers who worked on these two projects!

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New sketches: Early Vermont Settlers to 1784

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Map of New York and Vermont from the early 1780s by Louis Brion de la Tour

Early Vermont Settlers to 1784 now has five new sketches, enumerated below.  This database focuses on families that lived in Vermont prior to the end of the Revolutionary War, as identified in Donald Alan Smith’s thesis “Legacy of Dissent: Religion and Politics in Revolutionary Vermont 1749 to 1784” (Clark U., Ph.D., 1980).

These five new families came from Windsor, VT, where the Constitution of Vermont was signed in 1777.  This constitution created the Republic of Vermont, an independent nation.  The Republic of Vermont existed until 1791 when Vermont became part of the United States.

Ebenezer Hoisington (Windsor)
Joab Hoisington (Windsor-Woodstock)
William Smead (Windsor)
William Smead, Jr. (Windsor)
Zephaniah Spicer (Windsor)

Database Tip: If you click “Download PDF” from any record on the search results page, you will have a copy of the entire sketch–you will not have to download each individual page!  The “Download PDF” link can also be found on the transcript page.

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Update to Hampshire County Probate File Papers

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A topographical map of Hampshire County Massachusetts by Henry Francis Walling (By [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

This update to the Hampshire County, MA: Probate File Papers, 1660-1889 adds 6,538 additional case records and 175,000 individual file papers.  This database is possible through our collaboration with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Archives and the Hampshire County Probate & Family Court.  The collection contains the records of Hampshire County probate cases filed between 1660 and 1889. The probate cases include wills, guardianships, administrations, and various other types of probate records except adoptions, which are not public records in Massachusetts.

Rather than sequential case numbers, the Hampshire County file papers are numbered by file box (1-267) and then folder within the box. The case number naming convention is [box number]-[folder number]:[page number]. For example, the first page of the first folder in box 1 is “1-1:1”.

For more information about this database, please consult our introduction which contains helpful information and examples for understanding and interpreting this collection.

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American Ancestors Magazine Vol. 17 2016

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American Ancestors Magazine is NEHGS’s quarterly magazine, containing a wealth of information for family historians.  Volume 17 (all issues published in 2016) is now available to be searched on our website.  Featured articles include how to choose the right genealogical software, how to research your Irish ancestors, and all about Bill Griffith’s new book The Stranger in My Genes.

Take a look back at these issues to learn more!

Volume 17.1

Volume 17.2

Volume 17.3

Volume 17.4


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New Catholic records from Salem and Roslindale

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We now have volumes online illustrating the early history of Catholics in Salem. This latest update to Massachusetts: (Image Only) Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston Records, 1789-1900 includes records from Saint Mary’s Church and Immaculate Conception of Salem.  St. Mary’s was the earlier church, which was replaced by Immaculate Conception as the parish grew.  These St. Mary’s records are not to be confused with St. Mary’s Italian Church of Salem which was not established until the 1900s.  The following volumes comprise this update:

Immaculate Conception (Salem) Baptisms and Marriages, 1824-1828

Immaculate Conception (Salem) Baptisms, Marriages, and Deaths, 1831-1841

Immaculate Conception (Salem) Index to Baptisms 1855-1864

Immaculate Conception (Salem) Baptisms, 1855-1864

Immaculate Conception (Salem) Baptisms, 1865-1873

Immaculate Conception (Salem) Baptisms, 1874-1883

Immaculate Conception (Salem) Baptisms, 1883-1888

Immaculate Conception (Salem) Baptisms, 1889-1900

Immaculate Conception (Salem) Baptisms, 1900

Immaculate Conception (Salem) Confirmations, 1888-1900

Immaculate Conception (Salem) Marriages, 1871-1900

Saint Mary (Salem) Baptisms, 1840-1854

Saint Mary (Salem) Marriages, 1842-1870

We also have records from Sacred Heart Parish in Roslindale:

Sacred Heart (Roslindale) Index to Baptisms, 1893-1900

Sacred Heart (Roslindale) Baptisms, 1893-1900

Sacred Heart (Roslindale) Marriages, 1893-1900

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New Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston volumes

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We have two new additions to Massachusetts: (Image Only) Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston Records, 1789-1900.

Saint Joseph’s Parish in Boston served the Irish community in the West End.  The following volumes are included in this update:

St. Joseph (Boston, MA) Baptisms, 1862-1876

St. Joseph (Boston, MA) Baptisms, 1877-1879

St. Joseph (Boston, MA) Baptisms, 1879-1882

St. Joseph (Boston, MA) Baptisms, 1882-1884

St. Joseph (Boston, MA) Baptisms, 1884-1889

St. Joseph (Boston, MA) Baptisms, 1889-1895

St. Joseph (Boston, MA) Baptisms, 1895-1900

St. Joseph (Boston, MA) Baptisms, 1900

St. Joseph marriages will be included in a future update.

Saint Theresa of Avila Parish in West Roxbury was established in 1895.  The following volumes comprise the pre-1901 records of this parish:

St. Theresa of Avila (West Roxbury, MA) Baptisms, 1896-1900

St. Theresa of Avila (West Roxbury, MA) Marriages, 1896-1900

If you need any help navigating this collection, be sure to watch our video on how to browse!

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Onondaga County, NY Abstracts of Wills

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Minnie L.C. Coleman was a passionate genealogist in the 1930s who transcribed many records from the Surrogate’s Office in Syracuse, NY.  Among other work, she abstracted names and dates from wills, compiling seven volumes worth of material that she donated to NEHGS.  We hold these typescripts in our manuscript collection and have just updated our database, Onondaga County, NY: Abstracts of Wills, 1795-1883 to be searchable by first and last name, location, record type, year, and parents’ or spouse’s names when available.

Onondaga County is located in central New York on the eastern edge of the Finger Lakes.  Many of the towns in this county have names inspired by Greek and Roman antiquity such as Cicero, Pompey, Manlius, Fabius, Lysander, Camillus, Marcellus, and of course, Syracuse.

For those further interested in Onondaga County, we also have Minnie L.C. Coleman’s collection of guardianship records from 1815-1849.

The image above is the General Orrin Hutchinson House, a building on the National Register of Historic Places.  Orrin’s father James Hutchinson’s record is found in Volume D.

Please note:  This database is available to Individual-level and above NEHGS members only. Consider membership .

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