Do over

It is coming up on ten years since I began writing the Early New England Families Study Project sketches. A lot of things are changing. As an example, I wrote the sketch for Nathaniel Glover of Dorchester in 2018, and at the time it was as complete as I could make it given the limitations on access to digital images of original records. Recently, reader Ben Moseley sent in some corrections and additions to the sketch he had found when comparing to his own work on the family. As I began cross-checking, I realized there was an important record collection I had not included in my research – the Suffolk County Probate copy books – because in 2018 I did not have access to the digital images online, or maybe I had just not learned how to access them yet. Today, I know how to see all Massachusetts probate images, including original documents and copybooks, through, using their database “Massachusetts, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1635-1991.”

Nathaniel Glover’s family was treated in detail in 1867 by Anna Glover in Glover Memorials and Genealogies. An Account of John Glover of Dorchester and His Descendants, which includes many abstracts and transcriptions of Glover records. I had cross-checked some of these with the images of Suffolk County Probate files on, but those files are not complete in comparison to the many published abstracts, leaving me to default to using the versions in the book.

Ben’s questions picked out several places where his dates and amounts did not agree with what I had written. After puzzling my puzzler for a while, I finally realized that those cases involved facts I took from Glover Memorials, but which are not among the probate files, so, back to square one.

[Often] the copybooks include more records than there are surviving papers in the probate files.

Briefly, for all courts, information on original probate records was copied into bound ledgers to assure preservation in case the originals were lost and, technically, to be more legible.[1] However, often the copybooks include more records than there are surviving papers in the probate files. Once I located the Glover copybook versions, I found many more of the records Anna Glover abstracted in Glover Memorials, and perhaps a few more, that I can now compare as I compile Version 2 of the Nathaniel Glover Early New England Families sketch.

Let this be a reminder to us all that no genealogy can ever be considered complete until all records have been studied, and how lucky we are to have more and more of these records made available to us digitally every year.


[1] I have previously discussed probate records for Middlesex and Essex counties on Vita Brevis, and will add Suffolk County shortly.

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.

13 thoughts on “Do over

  1. In my own research, I am finding an abundance of wills from the Ancestry database that apparently earlier researchers had not located (from most states, not just Massachusetts). Finding those precious records sometimes adds a good deal to the known story of my ancestors.

    1. Janice, I’m not surprised. There was just no way that some of those records could have been accessed until now. Great time to be genealogists!

    1. No. The probate files are indexed and available on has the images, but not indexed by name — search United States, then the state you want, that will give you a list of all the types of records — probate, land, etc. Within those categories will be lists of the original dockets, indexes, etc. I personally like Ancestry’s finding method best.

  2. I may be jumping into a long, ongoing conversation, but I wonder whether you use for probate documents? And, how you balance the two sites? I subscribe to, but generally use familysearch for document access, since it’s free and ancestry has a paywall. Thanks.

    1. Stephen, Yes, I use FamilySearch, Ancestry, AmericanAncestors. Each treats the material in a different way, with different kinds of indexes, etc. My go-to is Ancestry, which lets you go directly to the county, then have a list of all of the volumes for that county.

  3. You have chosen what can at times be a humbling profession. Just think how us “amateurs” feel about having to face the professionals and make corrections to contributions we have made. You just made it easier for us all! Thank you.

  4. Hi, Alicia! Thanks for the reminder to be both thorough and thorough AGAIN when doing research. Recently found a land agreement for my Ralph Pain filed in the very messy Freetown Town Records (at Ancestry) only by going page by page for another project, and I have been “sketching” Ralph et. al. since I joined the Society in 1977! (The two men did not want to pay the county fees, I suspect.)

    Now two technical questions:
    1) re copybook records. Certainly, easier to access via web (and I am now in the PNW, and thanks for the reminder kink). But I know I used the Suffolk County copybooks on microfilm in the Society, re Bulkeley-Lake (in this case, copybook is essential as Lake file papers folder is empty for the 1st John Lake). If that wasn’t the SC probate copybook, then what was it? And aren’t the other county copybooks on microfilm at the Society, also?

    2) Creating Revised Sketches. I take that to mean that, even though the NG sketch is in hardcover/softcover print, this V2 will take the place of the original on this website? I would think it would on the basis of having readily available The Most Up-To-Date Sketch possible for future researchers. But is this policy now? Is RCA’s thoroughly revised John Cotton sketch been substituted for the original GM sketch here at NEHGS? Now that John C. Brandon has published new information on JC’s 1st marriage (TAG 91:315), will there be yet another version, rather than a note located elsewhere, only to be found through a site search?
    There are several GM related additions and corrections in that issue of TAG (see Battle on “it is St. James, Colchester, not St. Andrew, Shalford” [p.316-317]). What, if anything, is being done about those?

    1. Hi Bob,

      First question, the digital images available now are, of course, the same as the microfilm. However, often there are multiple microfilm/digital rolls that overlap the same time for records or odd things like that. Try going through the list of files in the Ancestry dropdown under US MA Wills etc. Check dates that overlap.

      Second question. In the case of Early Families I do update then on AmericanAncestors because they have been uploaded as PDF files that I can change and have re-uploaded. The headers include the version numbers and the year the new version was done. To update the books is a major headache involving whole publishing departments. In EF, the first volume was updated and revised in 2021. Unfortunately, the only way you would know that is to look on the copyright page, which has at the bottom of the list, “January 2021 errata et corrigenda.” Some of the sketches were major rewrites, others were minor. The good news is that all corrections and additions have been uploaded to the online database.

      Great Migration is not being updated online because those images are scans that cannot be corrected. Updates to GM do appear whenever Bob does one of the specialty volumes, such as the recent Pilgrim Migration. Otherwise, you just have to keep an eye on recent publications for new work on these families.

  5. It seems to me that every time I review research I’ve done on one ancestor or another, I find something new! Both wonderful and frustrating.

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