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How to Find Public Records in Massachusetts

Public Records Search: Massachusetts State Archives

The Massachusetts State Archives may be reached by visiting the website for the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts at sec.state.ma.us/index/htm and clicking on the appropriate link “Massachusetts Archives.” Once directed to the state archives, researchers may obtain access to valuable historical records for a wide range of government agencies as well as those pertaining to genealogy.

Interestingly, to visit the Massachusetts Archives in person requires an appointment. It is open to the entire public, but researchers who visit the archives will be required to register and present valid identification due to increased security measures. Of course, there are alternatives to visiting the site in person. The site presents a streamlined procedure for making requests for materials and/or research.

From the archive’s main page, click on the research services link. This page clearly states how to reach the archives depending on the route you choose. To reach staff by mail, send your query or request to Massachusetts Archives, 220 Morrissey Blvd. Boston MA 02125. Send your email request to archives @sec.state.ma.us. Fax requests should be sent to 617-288-8429. Of course, you may also call the archives at 617-727-2816. Additionally, the site provides an extensive contact page listing staff members, job titles and email addresses to reach staff members individually.

Each request will be handled in the order it is received. The site states that “archives staff can do only brief research to answer questions based on information in archives records.” For this reason, the archive’s requires researchers to make very specific requests. Be sure to include your name, mailing address, email and telephone number on each of your requests. The site maintains that by law all individuals have the right to archived materials. Consequently, the site does not charge for research, even though the research they perform is of a limited nature.

The site does charge for photocopies ($.30 per page) as well as other duplication services like microfilm prints, photographic prints, certified copies of vital records, color copies, etc…These services and charges are listed on the website as well. It may be helpful to call to clarify how to extend payment for these services as it is not stated on the site.

The Massachusetts State Archives are extensive and go back to colonial times. Among its vast holdings researchers will have access to the following types of records and information: colonial charters, treaties, convention proceedings, compacts, legal codes, provincial court files, general court files, petitions, reports, House and Senate dockets, court records, witchcraft records, Indian Affairs records, Black history records, census records, various vital records, divorce records, adoption records, military records, probate records, passenger lists and many more.

While the website takes a “no-frills” approach to extending information, it is actually one of the better sites in the country for performing research. Not only are the holdings vast, the guidelines are clear and the types of records are not simply listed, but also contain specific descriptions. The “researching your family history” link on the main archive’s page directs you to these descriptions which are invaluable for performing research online. For instance, researchers can find dates as well as how the materials are formatted—print, microfilm, etc…Each of the listed record types in this section is also given a visual sample of the record—a nice touch that is quite helpful to researchers searching for materials long distance.

Additionally, the site lists other sites that will prove helpful for a records search. There is also a kids section which is a great feature for young researches interested in genealogy. While other may offer a fancier format, this site gives researchers everything they need to perform research and send their requests.

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