Cheat Sheets: Part Three

Alicia Crane WilliamsThe first nine steps in my process for creating entries for the Early New England Families Study Project are covered here and here.

10. Town Histories, Genealogical Dictionaries, Town Records (Town). I can access almost any classic published history on-line, many of which include genealogical sections, as well as standard “dictionaries” of families associated with a town, such as Bond’s Watertown and Wyman’s Charlestown Genealogies. An essential regional source not available online (but available as a reprint from NEHGS) is Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire. Published records of a town – other than vital records – such as Jeremy Bangs’ records for Sandwich (mentioned in an earlier post), also fall into this category.

11. Court, Land and Probate Records (Court). The collection of databases in this category on gives me a big start, including original, transcribed, or extracted records or indexes for Barnstable (probate), Bristol (court), Essex (probate), Middlesex (court, probate), Plymouth (court), Suffolk (court), and Worcester (probate index) Counties in Massachusetts, as well as similar records for Connecticut, Maine, New York, and Rhode Island. To access Suffolk County probate, I e-mail my colleague Chris at NEHGS, who gets out the microfilm and then sends digital copies back to me (thanks Chris!). To access Plymouth and Worcester probate and all Massachusetts land records, I go to This new world of access to digital records is truly amazing for those of us who used to have to travel to dingy courthouse basements, and it will only get better with time!

12. Genealogies (Gen). Again, depending on what I have already been led to by earlier searches, I use search sites such as,,,, google, etc., to see what else may have been published.  Sometimes obscure publications, or even an on-line “tree,” may have clues to information not found elsewhere. I may not find anything useful, but at least I will have exhausted this category. Occasionally, I might find a volume that I cannot access online but feel I should have, and I will check amazon and ebay to see if I might pick up a used copy (cheap).

13. Diaries, journals (DJ). Fortunately there are many useful sources in this category for the seventeenth century, beginning with Gov. John Winthrop’s journal and the massive collection of Winthrop family papers.  Others include Judge Samuel Sewell’s diary and Lechford and Aspinwall’s notarial records. These sources are usually specific to a geographic location and time period, but if my subject falls into one of them, I might be able to mine gold.

14. Analysis. Wait! I just received Bob Anderson’s new book Elements of Genealogical Analysis.  Guess I’d better read it before proceeding.

The series concludes here.

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

7 thoughts on “Cheat Sheets: Part Three

  1. Those local and personal histories are a goldmine. I bless those folks (often at the local level) who have indexed names and places. An index started my search thatI broke a brick wall. I did a search for an unusual first name of a side relative. It popped up in a local place history in Kentucky. Bingo! This history contained the name of the missing person who was the link that tied things together. My family had migrated in one generation to Tenn/KY, then west, and took the father (who had dropped off New England records without a trace). I was stunned. How lucky can one get? That brick wall fell in one fell swoop. I’m hoping to get that lucky with another one several generations back.

  2. I am enjoying your list, with a bit of surprise that Court, Land and Estate Records are in your first number 11 (although there is some overlap with what can be found in Town records).

    Glad you mentioned Bob Anderson’s new book, which I also am going to peruse ASAP!

    1. Jade, thanks. Do you mean that you think the court, land and probate should be higher or lower on the list? Normally, I would have them up in the top 3, but Early New England Families is a little different because it is first a summary of everything in print. Fortunately, with so many court records available these days, I can then take it one more step and do a limited amount of new research or recommend such. Court records can be the last type of record new researchers encounter because up until recently they were the hardest to access. But they are often the most important.

  3. My thinking is the same as your “top 3.”

    A survey of everything in print is useful since so many corrections and refinements have been published (such as regarding the Prescotts of Lancaster/Bolton), but then one must still review the given sources (the original versions where possible) for accuracy of reading, interpretation and applicability. This is lots easier if one has already reviewed the fundamental records — and one can thereby locate useful items omitted from the literature.

    Persons with much experience and lively minds may well adopt priorities such as you have, but the less adept may let the publications limit horizons to an unwarranted extent. Many seekers believe that if it’s published it must be true, and may not explore all of the relevant publications.

  4. Jade, excellent points. Actually, thinking about “published” sources, in today’s Internet access world, these on-line court records ARE published. They aren’t yet comprehensive, but for the ones that are, they are no different than any of the other published sources. This is just a mind set that I now need to get used to. However, for the records that I cannot access myself, it may still be better for me to wait until I have created a draft from the existing material so I know exactly what I need and not waste Chris’ time with multiple requests. As I mentioned in the beginning, the list is flexible and even though it is numbered, it does not in any way require that anything be done in a particular order.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.