Monday, August 11, 2014

Researching Early Corporations in Massachusetts

A page from the Report of the
Tax Commissioner
(PD 35) of 1877-1878
The State Library often receives questions about early Massachusetts corporations, specifically information on their date of organization or how to view their charter.  Gathering information on 19th and early 20th century corporations requires a little research, and it’s a good idea to first understand the early history of corporation laws in Massachusetts.  Before 1851, corporations were required to go through the legislature in order to organize, and the organization was subsequently recorded as a special act.  After 1851, there were different layers of reform to the Massachusetts General Laws, and the status of the corporation (manufacturing, printing, distilling, etc.) determined organization eligibility and the legal procedure. Today, corporations are still subject to the Massachusetts General Laws, and filings are processed through the Corporations Division of the Secretary of State’s Office.  For information on relatively recent corporations (mid-20th century to current) it’s best to contact the Division; the MA Trial Court Law Libraries website has also compiled current state law, selected case law, and other resources on the subject.

One way to locate the special statutes of corporations that organized through the legislature is by performing a keyword or citation search in our Acts and Resolves database.  If you find you’re not having much luck with this approach, it’s important to know that early state taxation documents are particularly helpful.  These documents were published by the Tax Commissioner for, among other reasons, the benefit of tax assessors in the various cities and towns around the Commonwealth.

The following series provide lists of taxable corporations in MA that existed at the time each document was published.  The amount of historical information included in the lists is dependent on the publishing date--later reports provide lists that are much more simplified.  An entry may contain the date a corporation was organized, chartered, or certified, and a statute citation (often when the corporation listed is a new entity); if there is no statute citation, the date provided (especially prior to 1851) will be helpful in tracking the statute down.  Some entries also note when a corporation was reorganized and/or renamed, also with statute citations when applicable.

Each of these titles is available for use in the library, which is located in room 341 of the State House.  For more information, please contact our reference desk at 617-727-2590 or send us an email at

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department