The Massachusetts public records law was originally created in 1851, giving the citizens living in Massachusetts the right to government records. After the Freedom of information was put into place throughout the nation in 1967.
In 1974, Congress amended the FOIA, and the state of Massachusetts reformed its laws to make information more accessible and open more private records to the public.
What is FOIA?
The FOIA (Freedom of information act) was put into place in July of 1967 that declared the public had a right to know what was going on in their government.
This law mandates all federal government agencies to release their once private information to the public when the information is requested. All information kept by the federal government is to be considered public information unless otherwise stated according to the act.
What is the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law?
The open meetings law in Massachusetts allows the public access to meetings held by many government agencies. The public is also able to access meeting minutes and they may request proper notice ahead of time.
The public does not only get access to these meetings but they are also allowed to speak during the meetings and offer comments and ask questions.
What Agencies Have to Follow the Open Meeting Laws?
The open meeting law requires all public bodies to offer an open invitation to all citizens to attend their meetings. The agencies that are required to abide by this law include:
- All other multi-member bodies that carry out a government function at the state, county, district, city, region, or town level in Massachusetts
There are agencies that are exempt from having to open their meetings to their public. These agencies include:
- The judicial branch of state government
- The General Court (i.e., the state legislature) and its committees and subcommittees
- Boards appointed by particular government officers solely to advise the officer
- The Board of Bank Incorporation
What if You are Refused Your Right to Attend a Meeting?
If you feel you were refused the right to attend a meeting covered under the open meeting law in Massachusetts, you can file a complaint to the agency you are trying to obtain records from within 30 days of the refusal.
The agency then has 10 days to respond to your complaint and attempt to rectify the situation.
If you do not hear back from the agency or you are not happy with the outcome you can then forward your complaint to the Attorneys’s General office.
What are Massachusetts Laws on Public Records?
Under Massachusetts Open Records Law, all government agency records must be made available to the public unless otherwise stated by legal exemptions. Under this law, all citizens have the right to view, copy, or pay a reasonable fee for copies to be made of any and all documentation.
The law defines government agencies as any agency, executive office, division of commonwealth, department, or board. The members of these agencies include any person, groups, associations, partnerships, corporations, etc.
All of the public has the right to request any and all public records without having to provide any type of reason. No record holders should ever request any type of information from a record request except the government-issued mandatory information that may be needed to determine the request is legally obtainable.
What is Considered Public Records in Massachusetts?
In the State of Massachusetts, public records are considered to be any type of documentation in any format that holds public information or knowledge. These types of documentation can include but are not limited to:
- Financial Statements
All records must be re-created or copied in the same format as the original record with fees to be paid to obtain the copies.
What Records are Exempt From the Public in Massachusetts?
Due to security reasons, there are some exemptions from the freedom of information act, allowing specific agencies and personal information from being considered public records.
These records include personal health information or medical files, personnel files, and any other types of documentation that may cause disclosure of personal information invading the privacy of an individual.
Examples of exempt information include but not limited to;
- Marriage information
- Health records
- Welfare payments
- Paternity results
- The legitimacy of a child
- Family fights
Information regarding business plans, developments, or inventions is also considered private and not available to the public. Any information that involves the inner workings of a business or reveals secret information that could ruin a business can not be distributed to the public.
There are also some exemptions to law enforcement information that is legally allowed to be held back from public access. This information includes but is not limited to personal information regarding a court judge, the identity of an undercover officer, information regarding an open investigation case, etc.
For the full list of exemptions please see the Massachusetts Public Records Guide
How do you Obtain Public Records in Massachusetts?
To make public records requests regarding information pertaining to the state of Massachusetts you can submit the request on their website by visiting https://www.mass.gov/public-records-request. Complete the form with as much detail as possible in order to expedite your request.
You can also mail your request to:
1000 Washington Street, Suite 600
Boston, MA 02118-6500
Or you can make the request in person. (If visiting the Public records office in person, it is always best to call ahead for times and important information. Open hours and visitation hours may change for many reasons including the recent Covid-19 outbreak)
Is There a Fee for Records in Massachusetts?
Reasonable fees are required for copies made of most records. However, these fees should never exceed the amount it costs to create the copies.
A fee of $25 will be charged if any record searches exceed 4 hours, but no fee should be taken if the search is less than that. If a municipality with a population of 20,000 or more has records requested they can only charge a fee after the first two hours of records search and may not charge any more than 25$.
Furthermore, a municipality with a population of less than 20,000 can obtain $25 an hour for any time required to search for records.
For the majority of records available from government agencies, you will be charged .5 cents per black and white paper copy, and the fees for documentation after that will cost you the amount it costs the agency to create the copy, its storage, and the cost to mail the information to you.
When Can You Expect to Receive Your Records?
Every agency has the responsibility to provide records that have been requested in a timely manner. That means you should receive a response to your request within 10 business days.
This response must contain either the records themselves, a notice that there are no records for the requested information on file, or at least provide an outline of the records that are being prepared and a reasonable allotted time on when to expect them.
If the agency fails to get you the records within 10 days then the fee is waived. The fee will be upheld if records were not sent due to an error on your part or if the agency sent information regarding a reason for the delay.
What happens if you are Denied Records
If you have requested records that you feel are within your legal rights to obtain through the public act laws and are denied these records, you can request an appeal through the director of the public records officers.
The records officer will then determine whether or not the records should be provided to you and will provide you with an answer within 10 business days.
If you do not receive an answer or you are still being denied records and you feel this is unlawful, you can then bring the case to the attorney general who will look at the request and denial of records.
As long as your request is straightforward and falls within the legal limits of public records knowledge, you will be granted access to said records, and the agency that had denied the records could be charged with a fine of no less than $1000 and no more $5000, and they will be required to provide you with the records you had asked for.
How Do You Obtain Criminal History Records in Massachusetts
Massachusetts offers a Massachusetts-only criminal record search program called iCORI. This online program allows the person on the records and future employers and law enforcement to access criminal history.
This information is only available to those who have the clearance to access it and is not available for everyone to see.
What is on a Criminal History Report
The information that is available on a criminal history record reports includes but is not limited to:
- Full Name
- Physical description
- Pending charges if any are available
- Current charges
- Current convictions
- Criminal offenses
There is a charge for criminal history records and it is to be paid before any records are released. These records can also be requested through a 3rd party for a set fee. Take great caution when accessing 3rd party records.
Can You Have Your Criminal History Report Seal or Expunged?
Depending on the crime committed and the charges you have obtained, you can request some or all of your criminal records expunged or sealed.
Sealed Records: Sealed records do not get rid of your criminal history completely but do keep them from being accessed in situations including housing applications, job applications, etc.
You can request the courts to seal your records in a few different situations:
A misdemeanor could be sealed 3 years after you were found guilty of a crime
A felony could be sealed 7 years after you were found guilty of the crime
If you were found not guilty by a court or a jury
There was a failure to indict by the grand jury
The Court couldn’t find enough evidence to convict
Dismissal from the courts with no probation given
Expunged Records: Have your records expunged mean having them completely destroyed and unable to be presented to anyone in the future. There are a few different ways you can have your records expunged:
There are no more than two crimes on your record, the offense didn’t result in death or serious injury, it wasn’t committed with a dangerous weapon, and it didn’t involve crimes committed against an elderly or disabled person.
The offense also could not have included a sexual offense or sexual offense against a child, it wasn’t a DUI or DWI, there were no illegal sales of firearms, no violations of a restraining order, no assault on a house member, and you were not charged with a felony.
If your crime falls outside of any of the above categories and it has been 7 years since a felony conviction or 3 years since a misdemeanor conviction you are legally allowed to ask for your criminal record to be expunged.
Other ways you may be able to have your records expunged includes but are not limited to:
- Your identity was stolen
- You were falsely accused
- The police made mistakes in the case
- Unreliable witness testimony or witnesses were found to be lying
How Do You Obtain Inmate Records?
You can locate inmate records in the state of Massachusetts by logging onto the VINELink website. This is “Massachusetts Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) is a service provided by the Massachusetts Department of Corrections.”
What information Can be Found on Inmate Records?
Accessible information contained in the record of inmates housed in Massachusetts prisons will show information including but not limited to:
- Physical description
- Full name
- Where the inmate is located
- Prisoner id #
- When they were charged
- What they were charged for
- When they will be released
Who Has Access to Inmate Records?
In the state of Massachusetts, inmate records can only be accessed by the person who owns the records or anyone with proper authorization. You can however request information regarding inmates in the state of Massachusetts by contacting the prison or jail the inmate is incarcerated.
Are Parolee Records considered Public Information?
Public records can only be requested by those who have legal clearance for access. If you have that clearance (your own records, an attorney, etc) then you can request this information either in writing or by phone.
Send Request letters to:
Massachusetts Parole Board
Office of the General Counsel
12 Mercer Road
Natick, MA 01760
Parole Board-Toll Free#(866) 480-6272
What Information is on a Parolee’s Record?
There is a lot of personal information listed on parolee records. Some of the information is, but not limited to:
- Full Name
- Date of Birth
- Current residence
- Physical description
- Arrest information
- Conviction information
- Release date
How to Access Parole Board Decisions?
The board of parole decisions is considered to be that of public records. You can access these records by visiting the commonwealth of Massachusetts web page. There you can find a list of parole board decisions, how they came to the decision, and their plans for after the decision for every parolee who had come before them.
Are Arrest Warrants Public Records in Massachusetts?
In the State of Massachusetts, arrest warrants are considered to be that of public records. An arrest warrant is an order given by a court judge allowing police to locate and arrest a suspected criminal. This order gives police the ability to enter a person’s home, place of employment, or any other location the accused may be found.
How Do You Locate an Arrest Warrant?
You can locate an arrest warrant here. This is the Massachusetts Government website that allows all visitors to access the records and information regarding all arrest warrants up to date.
The people on these lists are States Most Wanted and show all of the convicted criminals who are being sought after by law enforcement in order to obtain an arrest.
If you have any information regarding the whereabouts of any of these people please contact your local police station, and remember, never take matters into your own hands. Many of these offenders are wanted for dangerous and violent crimes and could be armed.
What Information is on an Arrest Warrant?
The information you can access on an arrest warrant includes personal information regarding the crimes listed and the information regarding the crime that was committed or the person is suspected of committing.
The specific information on an arrest warrant includes but is not limited to:
- Date of birth
- Physical description: Eye color, hair color, height, etc
- Unique descriptions: tattoo, scars, birthmarks, etc.
- A description of the crime committed or suspected of committing giving details as to what happened, the victim category, where they were last seen, etc.
It is a criminal offense to use any information found on an arrest warrant to harass or cause harm to any person holding a warrant. If you are caught doing so you could face jail time and a hefty fine.
Missing Persons Records in Massachusetts
In the state of Massachusetts, you can log onto their Missing Persons page to access information regarding all people missing in the state of Massachusetts. If you have any information regarding the whereabouts of any person listed on the missing person list you should contact the proper authorities as soon as possible. Please note: Do not take any actions into your own hands.
Massachusetts Sex Offenders Registry
Sex offender registries are fully open to the entire public to view at anytime online on their sex offenders website Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB) Public Website. This website was created to keep the public up to date and informed on convicted dangerous predators who have been convicted and served jail time for a sexual crime.
Any person who commits any type of sexual crime must register on the sex offender registry within days of being released from prison. If a person fails to register in a reasonable amount of time they will be subjected to a fine and possible jail time.
If an offender changes address, jobs, schools, etc, they must update the registry to reflect these changes immediately. Failure to do so will result in legal action.
Information Listed on a Sex Offenders Records
The Massachusetts registry lists level 2 and level 3 sex offenders. The information included in the records is for public knowledge to protect the public, especially children, from these types of criminals.
It is however illegal to use this information in order to locate, harm, or harass any offender. If you use this information for any of these reasons you could be fined and serve up to 2 ½ years in prison.
The information made available to the public on a sex offenders record includes but is not limited to:
- Year of birth
- Physical features including eye color, hair color, weight, height, etc.
- Unique features including, tattoos, birthmarks, scars, etc.
- The offender’s current address
- Places where the offender may also reside
- Other names they may go by
- Conviction date
- Level of conviction
- The crime they were charged with
All sex offender records are public and are free to access. You can view this information on the sex offenders registry website or by contacting your local police department. You can also contact your local police department to report any information regarding a violation of the registry.
Vital Records in Massachusetts
In the state of Massachusetts, vital records are considered birth records, death records, marriage records, divorce decrees, and genealogy records. These records can be requested through the Mass.gov website at Vital Records and Statistics.
You may also request these records by request through the mail or by email.
Mail your vital records request to:
150 Mount Vernon St., 1st Floor
Dorchester, MA 02125
Vital Records Fees in Massachusetts
There is a fee associated with each certificate you request. These payments will differ depending on how you obtain the records.
The fees associated with birth, marriage, and death records are as follows:
Certified copies of birth, marriage, and death records
Pick up fee- 20.00 per certificate
Payment by Cash, Check, or Money Order.
Records can be obtained immediately for most cases.
A certified document stating the records are not on-file- $20.00 per copy
Fee- $32.00 per copy
Payment by Check or Money Order.
You will receive the request within 20 business day from the receipt of the request
A certified document stating the records are not on-file- $32.00 per copy
Expedited Mail Request: $42.00 per copy
Online/Telephone (through VitalChek)
Fee- $51.00 for the first copy and $42.00 for each additional copy (a $9.00 vital check fee is included in the cost of the first copy.)
These records will be shipped within 10 business days
Expedited mail orders are available for $59.50 for the first copy and $50.50 for each copy after that.
($9.00 per order VitalChek fee is included in the first copy cost.)
Payment via Mastercard, Visa, AMEX, or Discover Card.
Processed/shipped within 10 business days (see delivery options below).
A 10-year record search includes one certified copy OR an official document stating that the requested record is not on file (Negative Statement).
$51.00 first copy.
$42.00 for each additional copy.
Other fees associated with vital records include:
UPS two day Shipping $12.50
UPS Next Day Shipping $19.50
UPS Worldwide Inquire with VitalChek for costs
Amending existing vital record documentation $50.00 per Amendment
On-Site Genealogical Research
Research and view vital records $4.50 per person/ per ½ hour
You can also access these records by visiting the municipality in which the records originated. This option may be faster and less expensive.
Massachusetts Public Land Records
If you are interested in the history of your property or you want to locate your property deed you can do so by logging on to the Secretary of State commonwealth Massachusetts Land Records. These records will show who owns or owned the property and the previous deeds associated with the property.
Here you can also access historical public records regarding land in the state of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Homestead Act. Public land records can include maps, guides, and Indian reservation information.
Municipal Records in the State of Massachusetts
The Secretary of State of Massachusetts website contains an abundance of records that are opened and offered for public viewing. These records are easily accessible and well organized in these catalogs.
Here is a brief description of all records that are considered public and can be accessed through the website. These records can include information, dates of events, photos, and more.
Administration and Finance
- They provide a fiscal summary of the executive branch
- Fiscal operations
- Tax revenue collection
- Central services
- Personnel Information (without giving out personal information)
- Administrative law services
- Records of the Comptroller
- Council on Arts and Humanities
- State Library
- Massachusetts State House Records
- Attorney General opinions
- Initiative petition files
- Significant state litigation
- Charitable organization filings.
- Artifacts that are found in the state library or museum have come from all over the world, including private art collectors who have donated these items to the state.
- Public utility records
- The Board of Railroad Commissioners (from the years of 1869-1919)
- Savings bank life insurance
- The Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.
Communities and Development
- Public housing authority information and records
- State planning board records
- Land Maps and land studies from the early 1940s
Committees and Commissions
- Records regarding the 18th-century Committee
- Records of the Guardians of Indians
- Records of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate
- Records of the Legislative Research Bureau, the Black/Latino Caucus, and the Women’s Caucus.
- Proceedings of the Governor and Company of Massachusetts Bay – the earliest volumes recording the activities of the colonial Massachusetts government
- Records related to the abolished counties Berkshire, Essex, Hampden, Middlesex, and Worcester.
- Holdings from the sheriff’s offices of Bristol, Middlesex, and Suffolk Counties and the Suffolk County deeds, 1639-1799
- State Board of Education from 1837
- Board of Regents of Higher Education
- Fish and wildlife management
- Waterways maps and plans (1774-1986)
Health and Human Services
- Records from the mid-1900s Including public health, mental health, youth services, corrections, and the office for children and families
Supreme Judicial Court
- Records from 1620-1860
- Pre-1906 naturalization records
- Including the proceedings of the Provincial Congresses
- Information regarding the Committee of Safety
- Store records of the Committee of Supplies
- The 18th and 19th centuries state military organization
- Information regarding records for Adjutant General, Paymaster General, Quartermaster, Commissary, Provost Marshall, State Military Agent, and the Revolutionary era Board of War
- 1889-1987 building and instruction plans
To see a full list of records offered through the commonwealth archives please visit their website at https://www.sec.state.ma.us/arc/arccol/colguides.htm.
Another place to find public records related to the history of Massachusetts is the CommonWealth Museum. On the website, you can take a 360’ tour or even an online guided tour throughout the museum with a detailed tour guide giving you a ton of information regarding the history of Massachusetts.
If you would prefer to see these records for yourself you can visit the museum on your own at:
220 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, MA 02125
Genealogy Records in Massachusetts
Massachusetts offers a wide variety of historical genealogy records to help you trace your heritage back as far as possible. These records are well organized and easy to access through the Massachusetts Archives. The archives available on this site include:
The passenger list includes information regarding immigrants who were aboard ships that docked at the Port of Boston. These records include the years of 1848 to 1891.
There were as many as over a million immigrants that traveled through these shipways to gain access to the United States. This list could include any information regarding the passenger names, year of birth, where they were coming from, whom they traveled with, etc.
Vital Records: Pre-1841
These records include vital records that were accessible to the state that included information pertaining to the pre-1841 time period. These records are not original documentation but are accurate records that can be found in many different libraries throughout the nation.
Vital Records: 1841-1925
These records are compiled of marriage licenses, birth certificates, and death certificates pertaining to the years of 1841- 1925. You can also find information pertaining to your ancestor’s residence, burial sites, and occupation. All of these records have been listed in alphabetical order and are easily accessible through Digital Records at the Massachusetts Archives.
Vital Records: Post-1925
Records after 1925 are available through the county clerk’s office and you will have to request these records with a records request form. These may require a fee to obtain.
The military records available to the public through the Massachusetts archives website include all conflicts relating to the time period of 1643 to 1835. These records contain the roles of military personnel along with the service of soldiers within the state militia, and other important historical information around these times.
A list of information included in the military records includes but are not limited to:
- The Revolutionary War veterans state pensions, bounties, and land grants
- Family relationships included on the pension records
- Payrolls and other military records related to the garrison on Castle Island in Boston Harbor, from 1785 and 1798.
- Records regarding Shays’ Rebellion from 1786-1787. These records included:
- Special reports
- Military payroll
- Service certificate
- Financial records
- Military records relating to the War of 1812 (1812-1815)
- Records of the Massachusetts Militia in the War of 1812-1814
- Records relating to the Spanish-American War (1898)
- Records relating to Mexican War
Naturalization records are available for public viewing and include the names, pictures, and declarations of all immigrants that came over to America legally became citizens. These records can be located in multiple areas throughout the Massachusetts records archives and you can find the location for these records by visiting the Website.https://www.sec.state.ma.us/arc/arcgen/genidx.htm#lists.
You can locate divorce court cases and documentation from as far back as 1639 in the State of Massachusetts. These records can contain names, dates of birth, places of residence, etc.
Recordings of name changes are available for review starting from the year 1851. The information that can be found on these records include:
- New name
- Date of name change
- Chapter number of the legislative statute or location of probate court.
Please visit the Massachusetts Genealogy Index for more information and the complete list of genealogical records you can find.
Please remember that before visiting any government agency, vital records buildings, or public or state museums to call ahead. Many places have put safety precaution measures in place that may limit or prevent anyone from coming directly to the location to access any type of record.