The Middlesex Wrap

When writing my previous post on Middlesex County court records, I knew there was an important source I was forgetting, but I could not dredge it up from my archival memory. Turns out, it is the article by Melinde Lutz Sanborn [now Byrne] in a Great Migration Newsletter from 1998 on, what else?, “Middlesex County Court Papers.” Melinde’s treatment is exhaustive, although in some cases superseded by twenty years of subsequent changes in location and access to the records. Still, this is a guide that everyone who uses these records should keep in their “important stuff to know” binders.[1] 

We have already examined how to access the original [or, more properly, surviving original] records collected at each court. Also, at each court meeting a minute book was kept by a clerk describing the principals in the case and any action taken, sometimes including abstracts of individual depositions. The clerk of the meeting kept these records, often taken by shorthand, in a “wastebook” of bound blank paper, and they were later transcribed into the official county minute books. None of the original meeting books survive. The first surviving county minute book begins in October 1649. 

The original county minute books are available in digital form through, catalogued under “Original court records 1649-1699 [Middlesex County, Massachusetts],” but they have obvious drawbacks ranging from the deteriorated condition of some of the pages, the archaic handwriting of the seventeenth-century clerks, and two fires that destroyed trial court records books in 1671 and 1677. 

None of the original meeting books survive. The first surviving county minute book begins in October 1649. 

In the 1850s David Pulsifer began transcribing the Middlesex County Court minute books with his lovely Copper Plate nineteenth-century handwriting, and his version has been digitized, catalogued under “Transcribed court records, v. 1 (1649-1663), v. 3-4 (1671-1680, 1681-1686) [Middlesex County, Massachusetts],” and again here.   

There were also abstracts that were probably made, some as early as 1849, directly from the original records then still in existence by Thomas B. Wyman, for the years 1649–71 [members may need to sign in to access this database].   

In 1917 a Middlesex County Probate clerk, Alice E. Busiel, finished compiling a volume of “copies of papers and records and some abstracts from papers [dated] prior to the appointment of a Judge of Probate in 1693,” which has also been digitized by FamilySearch but is presently still “locked” from access by home computer. If you can travel to an authorized library that has direct access to Salt Lake (such as the NEHGS library) you can access these here.

Over the centuries these court records were neglected and looted. In 1937 they were copied by photostat and the copies were filed with the Harvard Law School Library and later microfilmed.  The Harvard library tells us they are in the process of digitizing these records as part of their “Colonial America at Harvard Library” collection, where they will eventually be available to all researchers. 

Finally, none of these copy books, abstracts, or transcriptions contain all details from the original papers. Some papers survive while copy books do not. Some copy books survive while papers do not. In some cases neither papers nor copy books survive. 


[1]  Melinde Lutz Sanborn, "Middlesex County Court Papers," Great Migration Newsletter, Great Migration Newsletter, V.1-25, Page(s) 215-218.    Volume 7 Page(s): 19-22.

Alicia Crane Williams

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.View all posts by Alicia Crane Williams