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Pre-1800 Research at the Berkshire Athenaeum:

A Sampling of Sources for the Colonial through Early Federal Period

By Kathleen M. Reilly, Local History Supervisor, The Berkshire Athenaeum

The collections available for research into this period at the Berkshire Athenaeum include sources too numerous to list comprehensively in this publication. The reader should view this article as an outline of the types of materials he/she could expect to find in the Library’s collections.  Many of these records have been discussed at length in previous issues of Archival Anecdotes, which should be consulted for further information.

The collection development policy for the Local History Collections of the Athenaeum guides the library’s choice in selecting materials for addition to or retention in the collection.  First in priority is material relating to the history of Pittsfield, followed by Berkshire County materials, other parts of Massachusetts, Eastern New York State, Connecticut, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

A list outlining the most important materials for pre-1800 research includes:


Pittsfield Vital Records (1761-1938).  14 microfilm reels reproducing the records of the Pittsfield City Clerk.

The Town of Pittsfield Original Papers.  This collection of manuscript materials covers the period 1759-1843 and includes town warrants and meetings, highway surveys and accounts, town taxes, bills and assessments, school, church and meeting house reports, military personnel from 1774-1813, pauper reports, and other miscellaneous items. The records are available for use on microfilm, and a 63 page guide aids the researcher in accessing pertinent material.

Pittsfield Tax Records - Series I (1761-1849 of the original tax records): Microfilm.

William Williams Collection: Collection of manuscript materials, relating predominantly to the early history of western Massachusetts and the settlement of Pittsfield, available for use on microfilm. Inclusive dates 1734-1869, with the bulk of the material in the 1740s-1780s.

The History of Pittsfield, Volume I, 1734-1800 by J.E.A. Smith.

Berkshire County

Collections Unique to the Berkshire Athenaeum

Rollin H. Cooke Collection – 66 volumes: Primarily church and cemetery records of Berkshire County and bordering towns in New York, Connecticut and Vermont, transcribed in the late 1800s by Rollin H. Cooke. Typescripts created in the 1930s by the WPA.  Master Index produced by the BFHA in the 1980s.

Berkshire Collection (unique as a collection) – 70 volumes:  Church, Cemetery and Vital Records of Berkshire County towns with a Master Index created by the BFHA.

Browne Collection – 9 reels of microfilm: Materials collected by William Bradford Browne primarily concerning families of Northern Berkshire County.

Shepard Collection – circa 50,000 3 x 5 cards resulting from thirty-five years of research into Berkshire County families conducted by Williams College mathematics professor Elmer I. Shepard.  No full index exists, but the BFHA has created a “heads of family” index.

Knurow Collection – 51 volumes (currently available): Wide-ranging scrapbook style   manuscript collection, compiled by Berkshire County District Game Warden and Conservation Officer Edward R. Knurow over a period of thirty years.  Master Index created by the BFHA. This collection is currently the subject of a digitization and preservation grant which will result in the inclusion of ten to twelve volumes of new material and the availability of the entire collection on the Local History computers. Project completion is anticipated in the fall of 2005.

BFHA & Beyond Berkshires Data-Bases: A computerized index comprising a master name index to over 400 volumes indexed by the BFHA over the past 20 years.

Shays Rebellion Papers: Collection of manuscript materials relating to Shays Rebellion (1786-1787), available for use on microfilm.

Other Berkshire County Sources

Histories of Berkshire County Towns and of the county as a whole; Berkshire County Gazetteer; town reports; town records on microfilm; early maps of some towns.

Berkshire County Court of Common Pleas Records, dating from 1761-1859, on forty-eight microfilm reels. The WPA created a name index to the first seventy-five volumes of the series (1761-1854), in the 1930s, which is filmed and included on reels 47 and 48. 

Berkshire County Probate Records (microfilm). Records begin in 1761.


Vital Records - Official Series to 1850 (books & microfiche)

Miscellaneous Vital Record books published after the official series

Holbrook Microfiche of many towns’ vital records (dates vary by town)

State, County & Town Histories

Massachusetts Soldiers & Sailors in the Revolution

Massachusetts DAR Genealogical Records – 39 microfilm reels w/ guide

Dwight Collection – 6 microfilm reels with guide: Collection of Richard Henry Winslow   Dwight (1859-1920) “Records the lives & times of the early settlers of Western Mass.”

Corbin Collection – 55 microfilm reels with guide: Primarily Central & Western   Massachusetts Church, Vital, Cemetery, Bible and Family records assembled by Walter E. and Lottie S. Corbin between 1932 and 1960.

Quabbin Cemetery Records

Mayflower Families; Mayflower Descendant & other Mayflower materials

1771 Massachusetts Tax Evaluation List (functions as a list of property owners for some   towns in Massachusetts in that year)

1798 Massachusetts & Maine Direct Tax Census

Massachusetts. Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England,  5 volumes in 6. 1853-1854. Records cover the years 1628-1686.

New Plymouth Colony. Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England.  12 volumes in 9. 1855-1861. Covers the period 1633-1692. [Note: see the article on court records in the Athenaeum’s collection in vol. 9 # 2 of Archival Anecdotes for other sources of early records of this type.]

New York State

Approximately 220 volumes of miscellaneous published vital and cemetery records including the Palatine Transcripts.  The Athenaeum actively adds to this collection as other materials become available.

State, County & Town Histories

Documentary History of the State of New York by E. B. O’Callaghan. 4 volume set.  Covers early New York history, circa 1600-1775.  Full name index by the BFHA.

Settlers of the Beekman Patent, Dutchess County, New York by Frank J. Doherty.

Vosburgh Collection: New York State Protestant Church Records transcribed by Royden W. Vosburgh between 1913 and 1920. A guide created in 1995 by Michael Marrone at the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society helps the researcher to utilize this material. 13 microfilm reels.


Barbour Collection of vital records to circa 1850 (microfilm)

Hale Collection: cemetery inscriptions from over 2000 cemeteries; marriage and death notices from newspapers 1750-1865.  A detailed guide is available for assistance in using this microfilm collection.

Miscellaneous published vital record books for various towns

State, County & Town Histories


Official Vital Records 1761-1908 from the statewide records at Montpelier (microfilm)

Approximately 40 volumes of miscellaneous published vital records.  The Athenaeum actively adds to this collection as other materials become available.

State, County & Town Histories

Vermont Warnings Out by Alden M. Rollins

Vermont Families in 1791 edited by Scott A. Bartley

The Vermont Historical Gazetteer edited by Abby Maria Hemenway, 5 volumes


Approximately 60 volumes of miscellaneous published vital records. The Athenaeum actively adds to this collection as other materials become available.

State, County & Town Histories

Rhode Island

Arnold Vital Records Series and supplements published by Beaman

State, County and Town Histories

New Hampshire

Approximately 30 volumes of miscellaneous published vital records.  The Athenaeum actively adds to this collection as other materials become available.

State, County and Town Histories

Miscellaneous Records

Compilations of genealogies for all the New England States and New York.  Many have full name indexes produced by the BFHA.

Hundreds of volumes of published genealogies

American Genealogical Biographical Index

Large collection of Canadian Parish Registers, and other material for French Canadian   research such as Jette, Tanguay and the Loiselle marriage index

Newspapers on microfilm

Periodical Sources such as those published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society, the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society and others.

In Summary

The discussion here of colonial and early federal period records in the collections at the Berkshire Athenaeum is by no means comprehensive. The volumes and categories listed provide an indication of the types of materials available, most of which can be located via the electronic card catalog by conducting keyword searches. Searching by specific localities or topics will result in the location of other materials.  Many other indexes and abstractions of records have been created and published. Library staff in the Local History Department are always available to help you locate records applicable to your particular research problem.

Also, as always, keep in mind that through the LDS microfilm-ordering program, records from around the country and around the world can be delivered to the Athenaeum for your use, without the expense of traveling!

Friends of the Silvio O. Conte National Archives

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 ©2003 Friends of the Silvio O. Conte National Archives.  All rights reserved.

Last revised 05/17/2006