Get access to historic probate records

Find out which types of historic probate records are available through the court archives and how to access them.

Judicial Archivist for the Supreme Judicial Court Archives

The Details of Get access to historic probate records

What you need for Get access to historic probate records

Probate records, including the administration of estates, probate of wills, and the appointment of guardians, have been under the jurisdiction of the courts since the 1630s. County courts and later county judges of probate were responsible for these functions until 1783, when the Probate & Family Courts were established. 

There are 2 basic types of probate records:

  1. Probate books — The "probate books" include selected probate documents (wills, inventories, guardianships, etc.) from the probate files which were transcribed into large bound books. The "Indexes" listed are the indexes just to these transcribed books. All of this was microfilmed, digitized, and made available online by familysearch.org, which is free.
  2. Probate file papers — The "probate file papers" are the result of the most recent digitization project by familysearch.org, which is digitizing (without microfilming) each entire probate case file from the earliest file to a certain date, which is different for each county. Adoption files are supposed to be sealed, but some adoption files were inadvertently included and filmed in a few of the counties, and are therefore also online. These digitized "probate file papers" were provided to the New England Historic Genealogical Society at americanancestors.org, and they are making them available for free after you sign up for guest membership.

These records are indexed by county — there is no statewide index available. Indices will provide docket numbers, and the docket books will provide access to the record books, which are contemporary copies of the file papers. Not all of the counties have both file papers and record books available through the Judicial Archives. Massachusetts Archives Reference staff has information on the specific records available for research on microfilm. Researchers looking for 17th century probate records should also consult the Massachusetts Archives Collection, the Suffolk County probate index, the Suffolk Files, the Essex County Quarterly Court records, and the Middlesex Folio Collection. The Probate and Family Court will know which files have been transferred off-site. 

If you're looking for a probate record that isn't historic, please see Get a copy of a will.

How to get Get access to historic probate records

Many historic probate records are available online. To find out if the record you're looking for is available online, please see Find out which historic probate records are available online.

If the record you're looking for isn't available online, please fill out and submit the Court Archives Information Request Form.

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