Thursday, September 30, 2010

Old grantor/grantee indexes online

A short time ago we finally added the scanned images of our old Grantor and Grantee Indexes to our website. They're available to everyone now, but not in a way that is easy to use. While we work on making the system more useful, you can access this info now. This morning I received an email from a person doing genealogical research asking how to find older documents online. I used that as an opportunity to write a set of instructions. Here they are:

What you're missing is access to the Grantor and Grantee Indexes. Anytime a document is recorded, the registry adds the names contained in that document to an alphabetical index. The Grantor contains the name of the person giving something and the Grantee the person getting something. For entries since about 1970, these indexes have been combined in a searchable database that's available on the registry's website (go to and click the yellow "search" box). For earlier index entries, we've scanned the old index books and have made those pages available as electronic images. Unfortunately, due to the size of the resulting files, we have only been able to make the scanned indexes available on computers here at the registry. Recently we succeeded in adding these images to our website, but that effort is remains a work in progress and is not yet as user-friendly as we would like. Still, there is a way to access those indexes online. Here's how:

Go to and click the yellow "search" box. A new window will appear. Near the top is some text printed in blue and red that says "CLICK HERE to try the new version of the Massachusetts Land Records web site." Click on that link. When the new version of masslandrecords appears, look at the upper menu bar for the "Search Criteria" link (it's right above "land" in masslandrecords). Move your cursor over that and a window of menu choices will appear. The last two choices in the "Recorded Land" section are "Pre-1976 Grantor Indexes" and "Pre-1976 Grantee Indexes"

How to proceed from here is best illustrated by an example. Let's say we're interested in a man named Francis H Porter who we know owned land in Billerica in the 1920s. We want to learn what happened to that land. Because we know Porter owned the property and we want to discover who he transferred it to, we will look for Porter's name in the Grantor Index that covers the 1920s, so click on the "Pre-1976 Grantor Indexes" choice. The search windows to the right of the "" title at the top of the screen now change to show three fields: (1) Index; (2) Book (A-Z); Page Number. click the drop down arrow within the "index field". That gives you the date ranges of the various Grantor Index books. We'll start with the "1916-1925 Grantors". The next field - "Book" - can only contain the first letter of the last name of the person you're interested in so type "P" for Porter. Here's where we hit one of the shortcomings of the present system. The "page numbers" are literally numbers so you have no idea which page number of the index to turn to for "Porter." With a physical book, you'd estimate how far in "Porter" would appear, open the book there, and then flip forward or back until you found the right page. That's kind of what you have to do here. Click the "search" button. Across the bottom of the screen you'll see the numbers 1-10 followed by three dots. Click on the number ten. That retrieves the tenth page of index page numbers. Click on one of the individual page links. In the right hand window, click on the tab that says "Images" and the image of that page will appear. Keep jumping around until you find the page containing the information of interest to you. Once you've found the relevant page, just copy down the book and page number for any entries of interest, and then retrieve those documents separately from the site. Please note that this index feature uses a popup window to display the index page images, so you may have to click "allow popups from this website" to display things on your computer.

I told you it was a complicated process. We are working to simplify it but because some people from distant locations have no alternative, I thought I'd explain how to use the system as it now exists. Remember, if you're in the vicinity of the registry, you can always bring us your won 16GM computer thumb drive and we will copy the entire index onto it for your own use, free of charge.

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