A terrific event has made house history research on historic Massachusetts houses even easier!
It used to be that you could do research online on the county Registry of Deeds sites until you hit the wall – that point where they stopped indexing the deeds. For Norfolk County that means the year 1900. For Middlesex County South that means only as far back as 1974. In Franklin County you can go back to 1958.
While it’s great to have any deeds online, if you have a house built in the 1700s you are not going to be able to research very far back until you have to go the Registry in person to find the rest of the deeds.
Help has come in the form of FamilySearch.org, the site created by the Mormon Church. The Mormons are very committed to family history research and have become a major provider of online records for free to help people in their research.
Earlier this year FamilySearch.org add a database called “Massachusetts, Land Records, 1620-1986” which provides images and indexes for all counties in Massachusetts. The images of the deeds and indexes are not themselves indexed but you can use the images of the index books to find the book and page numbers of the deeds you need. While this may be a bit cumbersome it certainly does save a drive in person to the Registry and if you are researching from outside of New England it is an absolute blessing previously not available.
The images contained in the database are scans of the actual index and deed books from each Massachusetts Registry of Deeds. These images have been available in their original form, on microfilm, for quite a long time through the Family History Library based in Salt Lake City, Utah. With the advance of technology, FamilySearch is now digitizing many of these microfilms and we were lucky enough that this particular record group was selected. There is detailed information about the record group, including known issues, available from FamilySearch.
The deeds available will vary county by county and there is some variation in the years that are available for deeds vs. deed indexes. For instance, Hampden County has Grantee and Grantor Indexes from 1636-1909 while the Deeds themselves only cover 1638-1901. Hampshire County on the other hand covers Grantee and Grantor Indexes from 1787-1986 and Deeds are available from 1789-1900. You will have to check your county to see what years are available.
While having these deed resources online is a major advantage, there is still a bit of an online gap for certain counties, especially those that are not indexed back to 1900. For instance, the Middlesex County South Registry of Deeds site mentioned above is indexed back to 1974. On the FamilySearch site deed indexes are available from 1699-1950. That still leaves a 24 year gap for indexes. And the actual deed images are only available on FamilySearch up to 1899 which provides a 75 year gap for viewing the deeds themselves.
For genealogists, micro historians and local historians the new deed images are going to provide an extraordinary research opportunity online for the very first time. For house historians who are researching their house from the present and working backwards it still provides a gap and does not prevent a trip to the Registry (with the exception of certain counties) but it will save an immense amount of time once you have gotten back to 1900 in your research.
Another advantage is that you can view and save copies of the images to your computer for FREE. The option of saving deeds images for free is not always available from all the Registry of Deeds sites. A number of them charge per page if you wish to save or print them.
Go explore this tremendous new resource and then let me know how it helps improve your research!