ICYMI: “Clustering” Salem

[Editor’s noteThis blog post originally ran in Vita Brevis on 11 March 2020.]

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 Add to that the massive 1860 compilation of Watertown families by Henry Bond,[1] which, although outdated and to be substantiated with primary records and compared to newly published research, provides a convenient introduction to the town’s inhabitants and their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.

18 thoughts on “ICYMI: “Clustering” Salem

    1. Steve, yes, but I do not have a timetable for when I will be treating Concord families. I am including different locations for each cluster of family sketches, and Watertown was my first representative for Middlesex County. I am now in Essex, will move to Barnstable and probably Suffolk before returning to Middlesex, but I will keep Concord in mind.

  1. I can not wait to read every word you write about Salem. My great grandmother, Chloe Amelia Cook Harry Laird who descends from 4 Mayflower pilgrims in 1620 also has deep roots on her direct paternal line to Henry Cooke, the butcher and land owner who married Judith Birdsall daughter of Henry Birdsall. Henry Cooke is an approved Colonial Dames of 17th Century. She is pioneer of Oregon 1855.. researching this has been a 10 year journey that is not over. I’m in the process of proving her many patriot revolutionary war connections. I’ve identified 10 at this time.

    1. Marty I am also a descendant of Chloe Cook, she was my Great, Great, Great, Great Grandmother. I have been looking for more information on her, Would you be interested in sharing. Anyone that has information on Chloe and my Great X4 grandfather John Alva Harry, I would love what ever information you have. my email is katrinastclair@yahoo.com

  2. Research on Salem may also spur interest for the cities 400th anniversary in 2026 when more people find personal connections to their forefathers’ town.

  3. I am interested that there is a Watertown in MA. My Irih ancestors supposedly were married in Watertown around 1865 with the wedding being written about on the front page of the newspaper. We always assumed it was Watertown, NY but i can find no record there of their marriage nor in Watertown MI. Does Watertown, MA have records of marriages and newspapers I can check?
    Mary Maher Boehnlein, Ph.D.

    1. Mary, yes. The post 1850 vital records for all Massachusetts towns are available and indexed on americanancestors.org. Boston newspapers are included in such sites as Newspapers.com and genealogybank.com. Ancestry.com has the city directories for all Massachusetts towns online. That will give you a start.

  4. Essex county included for a while parts of present day New Hampshire for a while, and the Essex county court appears to have held sessions in both present Mass and present NH.. This brings four questions to my mind. One: what is good background discussion of that issue independent of personal family lines? Two: Which towns in historical records have since split and are now different towns on opposite sides of the state lines? Three: for people known/believed to be on the New Hampshire side of the present line, when/where should we be looking in Massachusetts records? Four: for people known/believed to be on the Massachusetts side of the present line, when/where should we be looking in New Hampshire records?

    I have ancestral lines to research on both sides of the line.

    1. For all Massachusetts towns and counties start with “Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research,” available in the NEHGS bookstore online as well as in most libraries. Also see the website for Essex Societey of Genealogists http://www.esog.org/, and their publication “The Essex Genealogist” available as a database on americanancestors.org.

  5. Hooray for Salem! You will assuredly get into the Putnam family. Let me know what you think of the connection between Sarah Elizabeth Tarrant (b. 1664) and Benjamin Putnam (b. 1664 in Salem to Nathaniel, one of the original three brothers of John Putnam. Eben Putnam lists her as (nee) Sarah Tarrant Putnam?? I think she was the daughter of Daniel Tarrant/Thurell of Boston First Church . . . This is also found in the Thwing Collection.

    1. Renee, Benjamin Putnam is beyond the current scope of the Early New England Families project (we are currently concentrating on couples who married in the 1640’s in general). If you haven’t already read it, see “The Essex Genealogist,” Volume 34(2014), p. 118 (available on americanancestors.org) for reference to a DNA study regarding “Benjamin Putnam Married Sarah Putnam. But which one?” and if you are not yet a member of the Essex Society of Genealogists check them out (esog.org).

  6. I’d like to see more about the northern edge of Essex County 1600s to early 1700s: Amesbury, Salisbury, Haverhill, Methuen. Are there particular records you’d recommend from that area? I have a cluster of families there that arrived early, some of them: Bagley, Colby, Mack, Morrill, Sawyer, Wadleigh, Whittier.

    These Mack and Bagley branches were maternal ancestors of Joseph Smith, jr., and were around Amesbury during the witch trials there in the late 1600s.

    1. Linnie, of course all of the basic Essex County resources, probate, deeds, court, etc. include records for these towns. Have you seen “The old families of Salisbury and Amesbury, Massachusetts ;
      with some related families of Newbury, Haverhill, Ipswich and Hampton” /
      by David W. Hoyt. — this is available on Hathitrust.org and other sites that have digital books. Check out the Essex Society of Genealogists (esog.org) and read their publication “The Essex Genealogist” which is indexed on americanancestors.org.

      1. Thanks, Alicia! I did discover the “Essex Genealogist” source from the first time you posted this article. Wow! I’ll also find that other book on the old families of Salisbury, Amesbury, etc.

  7. I am very interested in following your project on Salem. My 9th great grandfather, Pasco Foote settled in Salem in 1636 with a grant of land. I understand he was a fisherman. Not sure if he originally came from Watertown. Speaking of Watertown, I will also follow you on your research there. My husband’s ancestor was Rev George Phillips. Good Luck on your projects.

  8. My Cook/Cooke Family migrated to Salem around 1632-34. They were in the community for some time but a couple of grandsons moved into CT. This is my Mayflower line going back to Chloe Cook in Oregon. There is a long line of Cooks serving in several Wars. I took the lineage of Henry Cook I (1615 the butcher) andjoined Colonial Dames of 17th Century. A very interesting line with each line using Henry Cook/Cooke.

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