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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Researching the Early History of Black Lives in the Connecticut River Valley


Land records exist from the first permanent settlements in America. In Massachusetts, "the earliest known deeds were recorded shortly after the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1620." Land records are among the best-preserved, largest, and most comprehensive genealogical record groups in the United States. Because land was inexpensive and readily available, 90% of adult free males were landowners before 1850.

Most land records consist of deeds and deed books. A deed is a legal document by which title to real property is transferred from one party to another. The deed establishes ownership; describes the property; lists the sellers (grantors), buyers (grantees), and their addresses; provides witnesses' names (who may be family members or neighbors); lists heirs of inherited property; and notes the consideration (monetary or otherwise). Deeds offer important clues to family relationships and may be the only records in which a wife's name appears. Deeds place an individual in a particular locality at a specific time.

A deed book contains transcriptions of original deeds for a specific location during a particular time. Not all deeds concern the sale and purchase of real estate. Deed books may also contain copies of indentures, cemetery lot sales, records of births, ownership of church pews, trust deeds (mortgages), powers of attorney, et

Genealogical researchers should check this website's Tax Records section since tax records are also part of land records.

Selective List of Materials in the W.E.B. Du Bois Library

Copy of the old records of the town of Duxbury, Mass. From 1642 to 1770. Made in the year 1892.
Call Number: F 74 D95 D9
Duxbury originally included what is now Marshfield, Pembroke, Hanson, the Bridgwaters, and Brockton. Contains records of "land transferred and recorded" 1642-1750 and a name index.

The crooked & narrow streets of the town of Boston 1630-1822 - Thwing, Annie Haven
Call Number: Special Collections F 73.3 T54
A 125,000-card index of Boston's early inhabitants Thwing used in her topographical study of 17th- and 18th- century Boston. She traced individuals and their properties through deeds and many other records. Covers 62,000 persons, but is not a census of all Boston inhabitants during this period. Contains fold-out maps plus a name and subject index.

The early records of Groton, Massachusetts. 1662-1707 - Green, Samuel A.
Note "Early land-grants of Groton," pages 133-185.
Call Number: F 74 G9 G9

Gloucester records [1642-1874]
Call Number: Microfilm A 632
Assorted town records such as records of deeds (1701-1914) and the Commoner's book (1707-1820). Examples include "Records of land grants, division bounds, thatch lots, herbage lots and wood lots, and highways. Minutes of meetings of Proprietors of Common Lands."
An abbreviated list of every volume's contents appears at the beginning of each reel. Some volumes contain name or subject indexes.

Great Barrington historical documents collection - Taylor, Charles J.
Call Number: Special Collections MS 104
A collection of 600 items assembled by Charles Taylor, author of the 1882 Great Barrington town history. Series 2 (Deeds) contains 80 property transactions from 1790-1865. Series 4 (Indentures), 1798-1827, offers more than 50 examples mostly concerning farm leasing. Series 5 (Land Surveys using the metes and bounds system) covers 1792-1860. Series 7 (Town History Documents), 1731-1904, includes the Proprietors' land distribution activities (1734-1793).
"Great Barrington is also important as the birthplace of W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois' maternal ancestors, the Burghardts, were long-time residents of the town."

The history and antiquities of Boston: the capital of Massachusetts and metropolis of New England, from its settlement in 1630, to the year 1770 - Drake, Samuel Gardner
Call Number: Special Collections F 73 D7 1852 +
Call Number: Special Collections F 73 D7 1856
Call Number: Microfilm A 81 Reel 259.4
Appendix I, "The book of possessions of the inhabitants of the town of Boston," notes "persons and property to be considered as belonging to Boston proper." "In the absence of a County Registry, the Book of Possessions - was caused to be compiled, which stood as a basis of all after transfers, and has been regarded as a sort of Dooms Day Book." For individuals lists such possessions as farm, house, garden lot, etc.

 The history of land titles in Massachusetts - Sullivan, James
Call Number: KFM 2526 S8 1981
Call Number: Special Collections HD 1186 U6 S8 1801
"Intended to reduce the principles which govern real estates in this Commonwealth, to an easy and concise system." Written by the Massachusetts Attorney General.

Indian deeds of Hampden county: being copies of all land transfers from the Indians recorded in the county of Hampden: Massachusetts, and some deeds from other sources, together with notes and translations of Indian place names - Wright, Harry Andrew
Call Number: Special Collections F 72 C7 W8
Includes a name and place index.

Inhabitants and estates of the town of Boston, 1630-1800 [electronic resource]; and, The crooked and narrow streets of Boston, 1630-1822 - Thwing, Annie Haven
Call Number Media CD-ROM 179
Electronic database transcribed from Thwing's 125,000-card file of 62,000 early Boston residents. Massachusetts Historical Society staff added additional records for African American and Native American residents. Searchable information in each record may include as many as twenty fields such as deeds and abutters.

Land ownership maps [Massachusetts]
Call Number Microfiche 168
Reproduced from the more than 1,400 land ownership maps in the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division. Includes Barnstable (1858), Berkshire (1858), Bristol (1852, 1858), Dukes (1858), Essex (1856), Franklin (1858), Hampden (1855, 1857), Hampshire (1856, 1860), Middlesex (1856), Nantucket (1858), Norfolk (1853, 1858), Plymouth (1857), and Worcester (1857).
These maps display "a wealth of information not previously available in cartographic form" such as houses and names of residents, rivers, hills, roads, railroads, farms, milles, churches, and schools.

Massachusetts Archives.
Call Number: Microfilm A 180
Land records appear among the 328 bound volumes held by the Massachusetts Archives at Columbia Point. Some volumes include name indexes. Volumes available in the W.E.B. Du Bois Library are:
Volume 45 Lands, 1622-1726
General Court records concerned with land grants and titles to lands in Massachusetts (1639-1726), Maine (1622-1683), and Connecticut (1657-1675). Includes a name index.
Volume 46 Lands, 1726-1739
General Court records concerned with land grants and titles to land, including manuscript plans of the lands in question. Has a name index.
Volume 112 Towns, 1632-1693
General Court records concerned with the governance of towns within the jurisdiction of Massachusetts Bay, including the establishment of town bounds, grants of land to towns, and the incorporation of towns and districts.
Volume 113 Towns, 1693-1729
General Court records concerned with the governance of towns in provincial Massachusetts, including the incorporation of towns and districts, tax rates, boundaries and grants, Indian lands,...The same description applies to Volumes 114-118.
Volume 114 Towns, 1730-1742
Volume 115 Towns, 1742-1751
Volume 116 Towns, 1751-1754
Volume 117 Towns, 1755-1762
Volume 118 Towns, 1763-1774
Volume 127 Usurpation, 1687
Records of the government of Joseph Dudley and the Council and the Dominion of New England under Sir Edmund Andros; the majority of records consist of requests for land grants or confirmation of existing grants; includes Council minutes. Contains a name index.
Volume 128 Usurpation, 1688
Records of the Dominion of New England under Sir Edmund Andros; the majority of the records consist of requests for land grants or confirmation of existing grants; includes Council minutes. Contains a name index.
Volume 129 Usurpation, 1688-1689
Records of the Dominion of New England under Sir Edmund Andros until his overthrow in April, 1689; the majority of the records consist of requests for land grants or confirmation of existing grants; includes Council minutes. Contains a name index.
Volume 155 Revolution Royalists, 1778-1784
Records, arranged by county, relating to persons suspected of being loyalists; includes inventories of estates, indentures, and accounts. Also included are sections regarding claims on absentees' estates, agent's accounts of estates, and reports of commissioners appointed to apportion the estates of insolvent absentees. Contains a name index.
Volume 243 Ancient Plans and Grants, 1649-1774
General Court records relating to early land grants and boundary disputes; originally maintained as a separate set of records bound in four volumes, the documents from the set are included in Volume 243 while most of the plans associated with these records are now located in the Maps and Plans collection (Series 50). Includes a name index.
Volume 280 Absentees, 1776-1780
Records from the state Committee of Sequestration, including accounts of sales and auctions, receipts, and vouchers relating to property owned by loyalist absentees. Includes a name index.
Volume 281 Estates of Absentees, 1781-1791
Records of various committees appointed to review claims against the estates of absentees; many of the documents are receipts for monies received. Includes a name index.

The old planters of Beverly in Massachusetts and the thousand acre grant - Lapham, Alice Gertrude
Call Number: F 74 B35 L31
Until its incorporation as a town in 1668, Beverly was part of Salem. Covers land, property transfers, and family history of each of The Old Planters of Beverly: Roger Conant, John Woodbery, Captain William Trask, John Balch, and Peter Palfrey. Contains maps showing the approximate location of the earliest houses in Beverly and a plan of Ward Five and the "Old Farmers Grant."

Proprietors records, Newbury, Massachusetts, 1720-1768 - Hale, Stephen Pettingell
Call Number: F 74 N53 H35 1994
Contains a name index.

Proprietors' records  of the town of Lunenburg, Massachusetts, including Fitchburg and a portion of Ashby. 1729-1833
Call Number: F 74 L96 L91
"The names here recorded and the lots described are those of the original settlers of Lunenburg and Fitchburg" and Ashby. Has a name and subject index.

Proprietors' records of the town of Mendon, Massachusetts: incorporated May 15, 1667
Call Number: F 74 M59 M54
"Published jointly by the present towns of Mendon, Uxbridge, Northbridge, Milford, Blackstone, and Hopedale, towns made wholly or largely from the territory of the original town of Mendon." Contains a name and subject index.

Records of Middlesex County, Mass. towns through 1830
Includes manuscript secular town records held by town clerks, treasurers, and assessors, and from other sources such as town libraries and historical societies. The project filmed entire documents, so, "in some towns the films go well beyond 1830." A list of cities and towns with microfilm numbers follows:

Acton (A 588), Arlington (A 589), Ashby (A 590), Bedford (A 591), Billerica (A 592), Boxborough (A 593), Burlington (A 594), Cambridge (A 595), Carlisle (A 596), Chelmsford (A 597), Concord (A 598), Dracut (A 599), Dunstable (A 600), Framingham (A 601), Groton (A 602), Holliston (A 603), Hopkinton (A 604), Lexington (a 605), Lincoln (A 606), Littleton (A 607), Lowell (A 608), Malden (A 609), Marlborough (A 610), Medford (A 611), Natick (A 612), Newton (A 613), Pepperell (A 614), Reading (A 615), Sherborn (A 616), Shirley (A 617), Stoneham (A 618), Stow (A 619), Sudbury (A 620), Tewksbury (A 621), Townsend (A 622), Tyngsborough (A 623), Wakefield (A 624), Waltham (A 625), Watertown (A 626), Wayland (A 627), Westford (A 628), Weston (A 629), Wilmington (A 630), Woburn (A 631).

Records of Middlesex County, Mass. towns through 1830: descriptive guide to the microfilms
Call Number: Microforms Guides Z 1296 M52 E15
Lists general categories, such as "[land, Proprietors 1741-1763]," "Proprietors Records of Wamesit Purchase 1687 [1687-1750]," and "Records of Deeds 1840 to [1827-1897]" and reel and target numbers by town.

Records of the colony of New Plymouth, in New England
Call Number: Special Collections F 68 N55 + Volume 12
"The most ancient record of the first settlers of Plymouth," begun by Governor Bradford. Includes "Plymouth Colony Records, Deeds, ...1620-1651" and "Book of Indian Records for their Lands." Contains a personal name and place index.

Records of the governor and company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England (Volume I) (Volume II) (Volume III) (Volume IV, Part 1) (Volume IV, Part 2) (Volume V)
Call Number: F 67 M32
Majority of records are proceedings of the General Court or the Court of Assistants of Massachusetts Bay Colony. Records "encompass the full range of the social and economic structure of Massachusetts Bay, with land grants and appointments to high office for the colony's leaders, alongside records of runaway servants and similar misdemeanors." Offers a complete official history from 1628-1686 of the colony after its settlement. Also called "The Colony Records."
Each volume contains a general index of names and subjects. Note subject "Patent [charter]" and designation "land granted to" under names.

Records of the proprietors of the common lands in the town of Barnstable, Massachusetts, 1703-1795 - McLaughlin, James F.
Call Number: F 74 B14 R42 1996
Contains transcriptions of hand-written property and boundary descriptions. Covers "division of property in Barnstable during the 18th century, including lot sizes; property lines and abutters; land set aside for schools, highways and meeting houses; minutes of proprietors' meetings; and settlement of disputes." Has a name index.

The register book of the lands and houses in the "New Towne" and the town of Cambridge, with the records of the proprietors of the common lands, being the records generally called "the proprietors' records" [1634-1829].
Call Number: F 74 C1 C36
Contains a name and a subject index.

Report of the Record Commissioners of the City of Boston - Boston (Mass.) Registry Dept.
Call Number: F 73.1 B74
Most volumes contain a name index.
     Volume 3   Charlestown land records, 1638-1802
     Volume 6   Roxbury land records, 1639-1717
     Volume 10 Boston deeds and agreements, 1725-1728

Ryal Side from early days of Salem colony - Pierce, Calvin P.
Call Number: F 74 S1 P5
Describes "the settlement and early ownership of the lands at Ryal Side which was part of the town of Salem...until 1753, when it became annexed to Beverly. In 1857 the western portion was annexed to Danvers." Contains a name and subject index.

Series of plans of Boston showing existing ways and owners of property, 1630-1635-1640-1645 - Lamb, George
Call Number: Special Collections  F 73.4 L21 1905
Includes a fold-out plan and list of owners for each year.

Suffolk deeds (Volume I) (Volume II) (Volume III) (Volume IV) (Volume V) (Volume VI) (Volume VII) (Volume VIII) (Volume IX) (Volume X) (Volume XI) (Volume XII) (Volume XIII) (Volume IX)
Call Number:  F 72 S9 S9
                    Microfilm A 557
"Printed edition of the first 14 volumes of manuscript records of Suffolk County deeds covering 1629-1697." Each volume contains indexes of grantors, grantees, other persons, and places.

Suffolk deeds [microform].
Call Number:  Microfilm A 557
Original manuscript records of deeds from 1629-1886, bound into 1,706 volumes, and housed in the Suffolk County Registry of Deeds office. The materials are primarily land transactions.
The 828 microfilm reels also include an Index of grantors, 1639/1799 - 1911/20 (173 reels); an Index of grantees, 1639/1799 - 1911/1920 (126 reels); and an Index of persons other than grantors and grantees, 1639/1799 (3 reels). Each microfilm box shows the years, the sections of the alphabet, and the volumes contained on that reel. The indexes provide dates and names, the type of transaction, and volume and item numbers.
Volumes 1-14 were published in a printed edition (Call Number F 72 S9 S9) which is reproduced on the film instead of the manuscript records. Volumes 22, 112, and 114 were not microfilmed.

Watertown records.
Call Number: F 74 W33 W3
Watertown was the fourth town constituted in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Volume 1 contains "Land Grants and Possessions" and "The Proprietors' Book of Records" (which ends in 1742), maps (1687, 1720, and 1795), and a name index. Volume 5 offers "Notes of Watertown lands; grants and possessions," mainly corrections for the 3 inventories of grants and possessions that appeared in Volume 1.

Wenham town records.
Call Number: F 74 W4 W43
Each volume covers assorted land matters and contains a name and subject index. The index in the Supplement to Volume 1 is "especially for land and bounds."
     Volume 1  1642-1706
     Volume 1  Supplement  1687-1706
     Volume 2  1707-1731
     Volume 3  1730-1775
     Volume 4  1776-1810 

Find More

Search the Five College Catalog by Subject. Examples of subject searches:

  • Indian land transfers
  • Land grants - Massachusetts - Plymouth County
  • Land tenure - Massachusetts - Newbury
  • Land titles - Massachusetts - Fitchburg
  • Landowners - Massachusetts - Lincoln (Town)
  • Mendon (Mass.) - Proprietors
  • Real property - Massachusetts - Barnstable
  • Real property - Massachusetts - Maps
  • Taxation - Massachusetts - Wenham