Records of Old Norfolk County

MA Norfolk (old) Co Towns (Map available at
MA Norfolk (old) Co Towns
(Map available at

Recently, I was searching for records in Amesbury and Salisbury, as well as in Dover and Newton, New Hampshire. I began my search in Essex County, Massachusetts, but as I went further back in time, I realized that I needed to examine records from “Old Norfolk County.”

The first Norfolk County, now called Old Norfolk County, was one of the original four counties created in 1643 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony; the other three counties were Middlesex, Suffolk, and Essex. Old Norfolk County encompassed the area north of the Merrimac River–essentially what is now part of Amesbury, Salisbury, and Haverhill in Massachusetts, and Dover, Hampton, Exeter, and Portsmouth (originally known as Strawberry Banke) in New Hampshire.

In 1679/1680, when New Hampshire became its own province, the northern towns were incorporated into this region. This area is now part of Strafford and Rockingham Counties. Later, in 1680, Amesbury, Salisbury, and Exeter were incorporated into Essex County. However, deeds from these towns were still being added in the old Norfolk County records until 1714.

According to our NEHGS Library Catalog, the Norfolk Deeds microfilm collection “consists of deeds, wills, inventories, etc., 1647-1714, records of the county of Norfolk, in the colony of Massachusetts. These records are of old Norfolk County, which included the towns of Salisbury, Hampton, Haverhill, Exeter, Dover and Strawberry Banke. These towns are now in Essex County, Mass., Rockingham County, N.H. and Strafford County, N.H.”

The collection is also available from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, as “Records of the County of Norfolk, in the Colony of Massachusetts: Index to records 1647-1714 Deeds.”

For more extensive information about Old Norfolk County, check out this article, free to members of NEHGS: “The Old Norfolk County Records” by David C. Dearborn, in The Essex Genealogist, 3 [1983]: 194-6.

Understanding the changing boundaries and counties are an essential component when searching for records, and there are many resources providing this kind of information. So remember, some ancestors from Essex County, Massachusetts, and eastern New Hampshire may be found in records of Old Norfolk County.


 Michael J. Leclerc, Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research, 5th ed. (New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2012).

About Nancy Bernard

Nancy holds a certificate from the Boston University Genealogical Research program. She has a master’s degree in history and media study from SUNY University of Buffalo, where she focused on American cultural history and writing and producing documentary videos. She also has a B.A. from Hamilton College. She has interned at the American Jewish Historical Society, now at NEHGS, as well as the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, MA. Her areas of interest include New England and New York history and researching house histories and the families who lived in those homes.

10 thoughts on “Records of Old Norfolk County

  1. Was NOT aware of Dave’s article (though he likely mentioned it to me some slow Sat. morning in the “good” old days). Super Finding Aide. Clarified spatial and operational matters for me & I have a few people who clearly are back and forth across court lines.

    This could be a major side piece in AA magazine with cross-jurisdiction research as examples; maybe even a cover story as part of “lost” counties across NE or the country.

    Thanks also for including the map as the b&w image in TEG was not digitized.

    NOW, can the Society work out a deal with the Maine Historical Society (who must retain the copyright) for digitizing all six volumes of PROVINCE AND COURT RECORDS OF MAINE, and ditto Baxter’s DOCUMENTARY HISTORY OF THE STATE OF MAINE at the very least (24 volumes) or as part of getting the MeHS’s entire Collections & Proceedings into an easily searchable format.

    Both constitute the largest GAP in the Society’s NE holdings online (other than other states VRs) and, as life was lived along the coasts for over 200 years in that area, they are THE record for that life.

  2. I put this blog, the map, and the article by Dave Dearborn in my files for further research on an ancestor who suddenly appeared c. 1700. No one has been able to trace him, and this may be a possibility. Trying not to get too excited: I need to set this aside until I get some other things done, but I am looking forward to exploring Old Norfolk County, and perhaps more of New Hampshire for clues. The map is what set me off.

  3. Thanks for this truly helpful posting; the map is most appreciated as well. This might help me chip away at my Portsmouth brick wall. I would like to add my voice to that of Mr. Gerrity and say that more digital records from the great state of Maine would beneficial. I find searching for old Maine records akin to trying to find life in a vacuum.

  4. Thank you, Nancy, for giving us clearly stated information, and a map that is truly helpful in understanding changing boundaries and where the records may be.
    I add my support to the comments above about the need for more digital records from Maine and New Hampshire. Vermont is also a tiny little presence in printed or online information. Wish those shy Northeastern ancestors would stop hiding behind those brick walls. We, their descendants, would like to meet them.

  5. Nancy, Thank you for so much data re Haverhill and the many surrounding areas. My Dad was born there in 1901. He took us through the are as a child (me) and showed us where he lived for 5 or 6 years as a young boy. I do not remember now just where the house was. I have travelled along the roads in parts of the are, but I am no longer able to travel there due to injuries from a car accident. I have many links to the Mayflower passengers and to the Massachusetts area as well. Your stories re the areas you have covered here are very interesting and appreciated. I now live in Harvey Station, New Brunswick, Canada and this is a small village of amazing a kindly people.

    1. Count my thanks as well! I have a massive brick wall in Dover. Like Annie Stratton said above, “I don’t want to get too excited,” but damn! I’m excited to look into this. Thanks much!

  6. Holly, I have close links with the Town of Dover, Maine 9originally Dover New Hampshire. William Hilton was the original Settler of the community and opened a Pub there. I have been through there several times over many years. His brother Edward Hilton settled in Massachusetts in the early 1620’s along with wife and children. If I can assist you in any way, just let me know via my Email ( Sincerely Yours, Paul Morris Hilton.

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