I really couldn’t believe my luck. The collection includes deeds and mortgages from all counties of Massachusetts. Available years vary by county. According to the website there are 5,766,135 images. Yup, over 5 million. And, it’s free.
However, this collection is not yet digitally indexed. That means you must select the county you want, and select an index volume for a certain time period, look there for a name, note the book and page, and then move on to open that book (actually, it’s like opening a roll of microfilm) and find the page. It’s just like using Family History Library microfilm, except of course that this is free, and you are using it conveniently from your own computer, where you can easily save the documents you find.
Using the Index
I decided to start with some Townsend, Massachusetts deeds to see if I could learn more about the life of my mysterious ggg-grandfather, Eli Baldwin, who died in 1833 at the age of 29. When his young widow made a will and died, six years later, her probate record did not mention any real estate.
I clicked “Browse the 5,700,000 records” – then selected Middlesex County:
Choosing the GRANTEE Index for the years I want:
I found only one entry for Eli Baldwin here in the 1800-1835 Grantee Index:
I copied the entry with Snip-It, started a Word document, pasted it in, and typed a heading to indicate where I found the index entry. In looked at Grantee and Grantor indices and only found two deeds for Eli. My Word document looked like this:
Looking at the Purchase Deed
Of course, I have no idea if this is my Eli Baldwin. The index styles vary from county to county, but in Middlesex, towns are not listed in the index. You have to go by name only, and find the town on the deed itself.
Back on the Middlesex County page, I pulled up volume 283 from the Deed books. I found page 478 by guessing, and checking the page numbers that came up.
The first deed was for a purchase by Eli Baldwin in 1827 (recorded 1828) Book 283, p. 478-9:
Know all men by these presents that I Abigail Durant of Concord in the County of Middlesex and Commonwealth of Massachusetts widow in consideration of three hundred dollars paid me by Eli Baldwin of Townsend in said county carpenter the receipt hereof I hereby acknowledge do hereby give grant sell and convey unto the said Eli Baldwin his heirs and assigns the following parcels of real estate situated in said Townsend to wit so much of the real estate whereof Isaac Durant late of Townsend died as was assigned to me as dower in said estate the reversion therein was conveyed to me by Henry Hoar administrator to said Estate by deed dated June 11 1825 and for a particular description of said premises reference may be had to said deed and to the Report of the Commissioners who assigned said dower and to the record thereof in the Probate Office in said County and also one eighth of an acre of land be the same more or less and has thereon a barn the other half thereof was and is a part of said dower and the said eighth of an acre is bounded as follows to wit on the west or southwest by said dower on the south or southeast by the road leading from the harbor to Lunenburg and on all other points on land late of Wallis Little deceased with all the privileges and apurtanances thereto belonging … the twentieth day of June in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and twenty seven … in the presence of Luther Lawrence and Henry Hoar … before me Luther Lawrence Justice of the Peace. — Middlesex Co. Oct 7, 1828.
Sure enough, the property was in Townsend. Eli was listed as a carpenter. Since I have a record that Eli made coffins and was paid by the town (2), this is really fitting my Eli Baldwin. Another clue is that the land was on the road from “the harbor” (that is, near Harbor Pond) to Lunenburg, which is near the area I have identified for Eli’s in-laws, Isaac and Lucy Spaulding.
The location (map below courtesy of Google Maps) might be the road I have marked in red. In an 1875 map, there is a “J. Durant” nearby (which could be the remaining Durant property, since the widow was only selling a portion of her dower).
Eli married Polly Spaulding in Townsend on 28 May 1829. Daughter Catherine was born in 1831 (birth registered in Shirley (1)) and son Edward (my gg-grandfather, birth date from 1860 census only) in 1833. The property purchased may just be a workshop, or a workshop and home, but only a barn is specifically mentioned.
I would say at this point, the deeds are very likely to be my Eli Baldwin, but I don’t think it is proved.
Looking at the Sale Deed
In 1831 Eli and Polly sold the property. Polly’s presence on this deed makes me now quite certain that this is my family. It’s sad to think of them selling the property, when I have no record of a subsequent purchase, and Eli died in 1833. Book 307, p. 531-2:
Know all men by these presents that I Eli Baldwin of Townsend in the County of Middlesex and Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Carpenter, of Townsend, in consideration of one hundred dollars paid by James L. Walton of said Townsend, Esquire, the receipt whereof I hereby acknowledge do hereby give grant sell and convey unto the said James L. Walton his Heirs and Assigns the following parcels of Real Estate situated in said Townsend Harbor, so called, and bounded as follows, to wit: The first piece containing one eighth of an acre more or less with a part of a house on the same, bounded southerly on the road, Westerly, Northerly and Easterly on land and house of James Wilson, Esquire. The second piece contains one acre more or less, and bounded Southerly on the road Westerly on land of Joseph Stearns, Northerly on the Mill Pond, Easterly on land of James Wilson, Esquire. – The last described piece has a barn on the same, meaning by this deed to convey all the real estate conveyed to me by Abigail Durant by her deed dated the twentieth day of June A.D. 1827 and recorded in the Registry of Deeds for the County of Middlesex Book 283, Page 478 for a particular description reference may be had to said deed. – the above Real Estate is subject to a Mortgage deed to said Abigail Durant for the sum of two hundred dollars, about the twenty eighth day of October A.D. 1827 or whenever the same may be dated. … In witness whereof the said Eli Baldwin and Polly wife of the said Eli in token of her full release of dower in said premises have hereunto set our seals this twenty eighth day of October in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty one. … Eli Baldwin (seal) Polly Baldwin (seal) [Witness] Paul Gerrish, Asa W. Baldwin. [October 29, 1831]
I expect that the witnesses Paul Gerrish and Asa W. Baldwin are significant, although I don’t yet know who they are. I am not familiar with the Durants, but I expect we have no connection to the buyer, James L. Walton.
Now I can see there was part of a house included in the property, and that there was a mortgage. This must have been where Eli brought his bride Polly after their marriage in 1829. The property was sold in October, 1831 and their first child, Catherine, was born in late December, 1831, in Shirley(1). Shirley is the next town, just south; I wonder if they were with family, or renting. Perhaps a child would not have fit into the living arrangement on the property described in these deeds. These deeds have moved my understand of Eli and Polly’s brief and perhaps troubled marriage further along.
- Investigate all names mentioned on the deeds and compare them to the probate records I have. I recognize the name Paul Gerrish but I cannot find it in Edward or Polly’s probate records.
- Compare the property boundaries further to any existing maps; look at the probate record cited for the Durants for a further description.
- Look at the many Spaulding deeds to learn more of their exact location and story; Polly grew up nearby.
- Investigate (Eli’s father) Abiel Baldwin’s deeds.
- Continue to explore Middlesex County deeds and also many deeds in Norfolk County (Wrentham) of the Aldriches and Darlings, as well as other isolated deeds that may answer other questions. I expect I will be looking at dozens or even hundreds of deeds.
- Save the deeds used to my own files.
(1) Vital Records of Shirley Massachusetts to the Year 1850. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1918. p. 14 “Baldwin, —-, d. Eli, Dec 29, 1831, B.R.”
(2) Hallowell, Henry C., ed. Vital Records of Townsend, Massachusetts, Town Records to 1850 with Marriage Intentions to 1873 and Cemetery Inscriptions. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1992, p. 464.
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