“Clustering” Salem

I have most recently been concentrating on “clustering” research for the Early New England Families Study Project around Watertown, Massachusetts. Six new sketches – John Bigelow, Richard Norcross, William Parry, John Sawin, William Shattuck, and Daniel Smith – have been added to thirteen previously posted sketches of immigrant families in Watertown – NEHGS members can find links to all families in the database here.

While I still have some Watertown families in the pipeline, and there will be plenty more in the future, it is time for a change of scenery, so I am moving north to concentrate on Salem families for the next phase of the project.

Both Watertown and Salem were original towns in Massachusetts, but they were quite different settlements, and it is important to know how resources available for each differ. Watertown, settled by immigrants who came in the Winthrop Fleet in 1630, was the first inland farming community settled on the fertile soil along the Charles River. Research on Watertown families is aided by access to all original records in either published or digital form, with the sad exception of Watertown church records, which have not survived. These sources cover vital, town, land, probate, and court records, making Watertown one of the best towns for research in early New England. Add to that the massive 1860 compilation of Watertown families by Henry Bond,[1] which, although outdated and to be substantiated with primary records and compared to newly published research, provides a convenient introduction to the town’s inhabitants and their records.

Salem was settled four years earlier than Watertown, in 1626, but was not a great place for farming.

Salem was settled four years earlier than Watertown, in 1626, but was not a great place for farming. Located on the rocky Atlantic coast between Boston and Maine, Salem’s settlers became famous for their fishing and sailing. Today’s researchers may be truly thankful for the publications of the Essex Institute in Salem, including printed abstracts and transcriptions from Old Norfolk County and Essex County probate, land, vital, town, court, and church records; although until recently access to the Essex Institute’s volumes has been limited to libraries, new on-line access to the books as well as to images of original records have greatly expanded our ability to use these sources.

Salem’s version of Henry Bond’s compilation on early Watertown settlers was written by Sidney Perley in his three-volume History of Salem in 1924. However, rather than presenting the families in alphabetical order as Bond did, Sidney entered family information in footnotes to the historical narrative as each settler’s name first appeared, leading to the really odd situation of many pages having two lines of text over eight inches of continuing footnotes![2] In addition, each of the three volumes is indexed individually, requiring that each volume be opened to check the index.

There is much more to explore in Essex County, which I will treat in more detail in future posts. Does anyone have a specific resource for Essex County that they want to know more about?


[1] Henry Bond, Genealogies: Families and Descendants of the Early Settlers of Watertown, Mass., Including Waltham and Weston; to Which Is Appended the Early History of the Town, 4 vols. (Boston, 1860).

[2] Sidney Perley, The History of Salem, Massachusetts, 3 vols. (Salem, 1924). See 2: 382 as an example.

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.

22 thoughts on ““Clustering” Salem

  1. Thank you for calling attention to the Essex Institute’s volumes coming online!

    For the potential benefit of others…

    Go to the Advanced Full-text Search at HathiTrust…


    Enter Full-Text Fields as “this exact phrase” any personal name of interest.

    Enter Title as “this exact phrase” as “Essex Institute historical collections”

    Click on [Advanced Search] button.

    Hoping to identify the parents of John Watts and Mary Caryl of “Salem Village” who married in Marblehead on 20 February 1694, or at least learn more about their possible families of origin.

  2. I’d be especially interest in shipping (ownership, voyage, etc…) records for Salem, not just in the first decade or two but right on down. I’ve got multiple ancestors who were involved with Essex county shipping early on.

    It would also be good to know which Salem witch trial sources are good for tracing earlier ancestry to separate them out from the many that are narrowly focused on the trials period.

    1. The Essex Institute Historical Collections include 18th and 19th century ship registrations and more. Look for articles in The American Genealogist by David Greene, he has done a lot on the Salem witch families.

    1. Chris, We are probably related via the Learneds — “Larneds” as my family said it.
      I plan to go through each of the major Essex sources, including probate, in upcoming posts, and yes, boy, isn’t it lovely how much we can do online — only drawback is there is so much we can access that it is hard to stop researching — I keep saying, I’ll just look at one more source . . .

  3. I will be following your Salem research closely. I have many Essex County ancestors. The epicenter is in Manchester (now Manchester-by-the-Sea), but of course there are intermarriages and moves to Beverly, Salem, Gloucester, etc. I have much of early Manchester sorted into families in my database. My biggest interest is in the surname Lee. I try to attach each Lee I come across before 1800 to one of the five major Essex County Lee families, but I still have several “loose Lees.”.

  4. I would like to know if there is a Genealogy of the Bond family either on-line or in book form. In 1675 a Mary Bond married my ancestor Simon Gross in Boston or Hingham, Mass. but am not positive of her parents names.

  5. Alicia, as you “move north” and give us all a “change of scenery,” as you put it, I look forward to hearing about Roger Conant of Salem and others. Thank you for your work, and your light-hearted but always highly informative posts here which make us amateur family genealogists less intimidated by the whole thing!

  6. Thank you for this coming focus on Salem and Essex County. I trace my family back close to 4 full centuries between Gloucester and Salem, look forward to seeing many family names. Day, Lovering, Haraden, Allen, and so many others.

  7. I donated my great great grandfather’s (Henry Archer Ballard) journals of his voyages as a sea captain on various ships from 1836 to 1876 to NEHGS in 2018. He was born in Salem and lived there most of his life. You might find the journals helpful in your research.

  8. I am particularly interested in my great-great-great grandfather John Osgood (1757-1826) and his son-in-law John Babbidge Osgood, both ship- captains and -owners in Salem. I have been unsuccessful in finding their burial sites (or their wives’), Rebecca Messervy and Hannah Messervey Osgood) – any suggestions? Also, is there any list of owners of the stately McIntyre houses in Salem? Does the Essex Institute have lists of ships owned by individuals such as these? Our family has donated considerable correspondence and other “ship’s papers” of these men to the Peabody-Essex Museum.
    Thanks, John C. Green

  9. My ancestor was Charles Gott who emigrated from England to Salem in 1628 with a group of Puritans. They started the First Church there but I don’t see his name mentioned in reference to the settlement.

  10. I am interested in your project inasmuch as my line of Grovers moved north and east over time – from Beverly to Gloucester to New Gloucester to Guilford, Maine – and I find other families seemingly did the same – Bennet, Haskell, Low, and Morgan, to name a few. Is this what you mean by “clustering”?
    In my attempt to understand why my Grovers moved at any particular time, I have wondered whether this clustering was because all families were moving outward from Salem and some ended up in the same place, or whether these were intermarried families that moved, taking relatives and friends along.
    I have come to understand that the initial movement of families from New Gloucester to Guilford was for religious reasons that were not unlike the reasons Puritans moved to the colonies – in this case, Baptist trying to get away from limitations placed on them in New Gloucester and establishing a civil and religious community of their own.

  11. Hi Alicia, I enjoy reading about your research and am very interested in what you will find about my ancestor Pasco Foote as you research Salem MA. He was granted some land in 1636, had eight children and was a fisherman. Also he might have been Nathaniel Foote’s brother. Nathaniel went on to Connecticut and most of the Foote family is a descendent of Nathaniel. Best of luck with your research..

    1. Judy, I can definitively rule out Pasco Foote being a brother of Nathaniel Foote (1592-1644), based on my research in Essex, England (Shalford and Colchester). But I think you’ll find the information on Pasco Foote on WikiTree to be more complete and well documented on Pasco and his family, including his will. Here’s a direct link: https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Foote-270 Much work went into documenting Pasco’s life. any original sources and found isum due to solid documentation of Nathaniel’s brothers and sisters in Essex records. Hope this is helpful!

  12. Interesting that you note the differences between Watertown and Salem (agricultural vs. fishing and boating). How would you characterize the northern tip of Essex County along the New Hampshire border? I have a cluster of ancestors who settled very early (1630s–1650s) in Salisbury, Amesbury, Haverhill, and Methuen. Are there particular records for that area that would be helpful?

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