My Excellent Adventure to the Middlesex Registry of Probate and Registry of Deeds, Cambridge, Massachusetts

My ancestors resided in Malden, Massachusetts for many generations.  I was hoping to learn more of their lives – thus my visit.

A Google search for Middlesex County Probate and Land records revealed the following:


208 Cambridge Street
Cambridge MA 02141
Tel. 617-679-6300   Fax 617-494-9083
Office Hours: Monday–Friday 8:00a.m.–3:45p.m.

The Middlesex South District consists of the following cities and towns:


probate and deeds

The courthouse was easy to find.  Take the Green Line to Lechmere.  Upon exiting the station (which is right on Cambridge Street), walk to the right  – the courthouse is about 100 yards up on the left.

Do not walk up the large set of steps (like I did).  The entrances are at ground level, one on each side of the building.

It takes a few minutes to get through security – empty all your pockets. Cameras are not allowed, however you can bring cell phones, computers and scanners.  Wifi is available and unsecured access is free.

My first visit – Friday, January 5, 2013:

I came prepared with a list of my Middlesex County ancestors which included death dates.

I headed to the second floor (up the stairs directly in front of you) – circle around and the office is in the corridor to the right (on your left as you are walking up the steps).

The room has lots of different counters.  Lines and people everywhere!!  There is an area with a long desk and chairs, where I dropped my coat and backpack.  The indexes were in large bound books (about 3 rows in as you enter the room – behind the row with the long desk).  They are organized by year and then surname, are typewritten and easy to read.

I found a number of my ancestors and recorded the docket numbers:

–          My dad – Robert Hall, d. 1993, 95P3208

–          My grandfather, d. 1976, Dr Charles George Hall 492413

–          My grandmother, d. 1999, Edith (Haines) Hall 99P4858

–          My g-grandfather, d. 1942, Charles Milton Hall, 246238 & 248536

–          My g-grandmother, d. 1964, Georgianna (Hughes/Clough) Hall, 390288

–          My g-g-grandfather, d. 1917, Ephraim Hall, 108369 & 110786

–          My g-g-grandmother, d. 1910, Roxanne A. (Wilson) Hall, 88895

–          And several of Ephraim’s siblings and their spouses: Abbie F (Hall) Hough, d. 1900, 53444; Thomas Hough, 92855, d. 1912; Mary E. (Hall) Patten, d. 1920, 126314; Ellen (Hall) Nichols, d. 1923, 143131; Levi Nichols, d. 1910, 85778.

The documents I was seeking were labeled either Will or Administration, with one for Ephraim being listed as Guardianship.

I did not find entries for: Horatio Hall d. 1884; Elizabeth (Pinder) Hall d. 1886; David Patten d. 1908; Sofrine Hall d. 1934; Lucy Mason Hall d. 1907; Horatio Hall Jr. d. 1930; John Haines d. 1942; Edith B. (Lansil) Haines d. 1950; Jennie (Ferguson) Haines d. 1938; John William Haines d. 1939; Billy Haines d. 1964 or Elizabeth (Jones) Pinder d. 1853.

I approached the front desk with my list, and inquired as to how I would order the probate packets.  Let’s just say that the woman at the front desk was not a people person.  After being spoken to like I was a school child, she did communicate that records from 1872-1925 were stored offsite in Brookfield and would need to be ordered.    She instructed me to write down my name and list the onsite docket numbers (those dated after 1925) on the pad in front of her.

She then radioed the numbers to someone and within 10 minutes they magically appeared through a tube in the wall. I was instructed (sternly) to review only one packet at a time,  as to not accidentally mix the documents in with the wrong packet.

I had originally planned to scan the documents, but there were so many, it would have taken me days!  There are three copy machines available (two in the room and one in the hallway).  I had no cash ( there is a Bank of America ATM across from the train station – a bit to the left as you exit the train).

I brought my packets to a counter that was labeled “copy service” (another patron told me that they accepted credit cards) and asked that everything be copied ($1.00 a page).  The woman behind the desk was working alone and not thrilled.  When she finished, she had me count the pages myself (I had to pay $2.00 for pages that were double sided).  She wrote the amount ($70) on a slip of white scrap paper and sent me across the room to pay at the divorce desk.

After paying, I returned the packets to a cart in the middle of the room (as instructed by the not so friendly front desk employee  – who, by the way does not discriminate – she freely yelled, argued and spoke sternly to anyone and everyone).  Another patron, told me to deal instead with Steve, also behind the front desk, to order the offsite records (as he was a bit more pleasant).  Steve gave me a a form, where I listed my docket numbers including “record type”, where I listed A, G or W (for Administration, Guardianship or Will). Requests are faxed every Friday and delivered to Cambridge within 5-10 business days.  Steve would call me when they arrived and I would have 5 business days to view them.

Two hours later, I got a voice message from Steve saying that adoption records were sealed and I absolutely could not see a copy.  I returned his call Monday morning, confused because I hadn’t ordered any adoption records (I didn’t think a guardianship was an adoption ?).

Turns out, the confusion was in my writing the letter “A”, for the administration records.  There are apparently just 2 codes allowed (not that anyone told me) – P for probate or A for adoption.   Steve agreed to change my “A’s” to “P’s” and fax the request for them; he offered to make an exception and hold all of my packets for five business days after the second set arrived.

I got a call from Steve on Wednesday, January 23rd indicating that everything had arrived and that I had until Tuesday to view them.

My second visit – Friday, January 25, 2013:

I approached the front desk and asked for the packets, giving my name.  The same not so friendly woman said that I needed the docket numbers.  When I responded that I didn’t have the list with me she was clearly not happy.  She pulled out a pile of about 20 packets.  I could see that my g-aunt Ellen Nichols was on the top of the pile.  I pointed to it and said, “that is one of mine”.  In response, I got a stern: “do NOT tell me which are yours, I will look them up”, then she pointed and angrily instructed, “go stand over there away from my desk”.  Alrighty then….  Luckily Steve approached and found the packets for me.  I knew I had ordered seven, but he handed me only six (I later realized when I was half way home, that Abbie (Hall) Hough was missing).

This time, I had come prepared with three $20 dollar bills.  The “copy card” machine stated that no new cards were available, so I instead inserted a twenty into a machine.  I made about 8 copies before I realized that the orientation was wrong (depending on paper size, the original has to be positioned differently). Cost was .50 cents per copy.

I spent $52.75 copying some fascinating stuff!!   Ellen (Hall) Nichols estate, the majority of which was left to my g-grandfather, was valued at $71,000.00 in 1924. This has the same buying power as $926,168.32 in 2013!

I digress….   Once finished, I hit the coin return and out came only $3.00 instead of $7.25. The green “out of change” light illuminated. Another patron mentioned that the machine running out of change is a frequent problem.  I approached Steve who indicated that the probate office does not own the copy machines – I would have to email or call the company listed on the side of the machine and ask for a refund – they would mail me a check. Live and learn!

I returned the packets to the cart and set off to tackle some land deeds.

The land deed office is directly across the hallway from probate (second floor, on the right, when you walk in the front door of the courthouse). I approached the front desk and a very nice woman directed me to the indexes on the fourth floor and then to the land books in the basement.

The grantor and grantees indexes are organized by year and then by surname.  The earliest indexes (before 1859) do not list a town.  They start out organized in 10 year spans.  In later years there is one book per year.  I searched the Grantee indexes for Hall’s through 1945 and recorded the book and page number (grantee means land that my ancestors purchased – the grantor index would tell me to whom they sold). Indexes 1974 and later and deed images 1986 and later are online and accessible from home or on the 4th floor computers (there were 5 or 6 of them)

There is no elevator to the basement.  As you enter the front door to the courthouse, head to the right.  At the end of the corridor, look to the right and descend a short set of steps.  The shelves are clearly labeled with book numbers (three separate rooms).

The other patrons seemed to be having problems with the copy machine, so I opted to scan the pages with my portable FlipPal scanner, (not to mention I was out of cash).

By that time, I was exhausted and hungry!   I decided to wait until my next visit to tackle the later Grantee indexes and all of the Grantor indexes.


6 responses to this post.

  1. Linda, I too have Malden ancestors, but have never been to the Registry of Deeds, and doubt if I will attempt it. Thank you for your thorough account, and good luck on any future visits you might have. Goodness, I with the best for you.



    • Thanks Barb, I have to say it was well worth the trip. It debunked the family lore that uncle Thomas Hough had left my g-grandfather “a pile of money” (he left only $500), I never would have known that the money came from Aunt Ellen (Hall) and her husband Levi Nichols nor would I have discovered that my ancestors were given their home in Malden for the price of $1.00 by another uncle George Ira Pratt.



  2. Posted by Mary Beth on January 27, 2013 at 9:41 PM

    Thank you for you excellent post. I’ve not done courthouse research yet and I loved the way you walked us through every step. Great writing.



  3. Posted by Gayle Donato on June 1, 2013 at 9:38 PM

    Wow, Linda I just read your step by step account of your courthouse research. Sounds like that lady needs to retire. Your an amazing writer. I felt like I was walking beside you. I’ve been researching my family history and have come to a complete halt about my grandparents. I have found a lot of history on my other relatives but, when it come to them I can’t find anything on where they were buried or the year they died.. My father spoke often about his mother but little about his father. He lost both his parents by the age of 13 y/o. They lived in Stoneham, Ma and died between 1936 to1939? I think . Where do you think I would be able to find any information on them? I live in Tennessee and would need to do everything via the mail. They built the house in Stoneham in the early 1930’s. I found them all together in 1930 census but living with there Aunt and Uncle in Wakefield, Ma in 1940 census. Nothing after that. What direction would you advise me to go in? . My one cousin thinks my grandmother died just before she was born in 1937 at the age of 42. Thanks for any information you can give me. Your amazing story teller. You should write a book on your family history. LOL

    Gayle Donato



  4. Posted by mark on January 1, 2014 at 9:50 PM

    Being an employee of the court I can say not all it’s workers are rude and as far as the dispute over the Letters A G or W adoptions are listed in all probate books as well so the clerk was doing his job to get the information he needed to serve the public which he did by following up with a phone call..



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