Reading town records can be daunting. They are often the very last set of records that we consult in our research. Town records are often out of order, difficult to read, and contain pages upon pages of mundane town votes. They can leave the most enthusiastic genealogist a little bleary-eyed. But sometimes patience and perseverance pay off, and you can discover that little, long-sought piece of information about your ancestor.
In truth, town records are far more than simply the administrative records of a town. They can offer a wealth of information not found elsewhere, and if you take a closer look, you can find tax rolls, land grants, constable records, and sometimes abstracts of court records. You may find that your ancestor served in an official capacity or quarreled with another member of town. And reading through town records just might help you break through your brick wall.
They also come in handy when you cannot locate a vital record for an ancestor. For example, Elizabeth Dudley was born circa 1697 in Exeter, Rockingham County, New Hampshire. Before 1726, she married Simon Gilman, who died before 1749. After his death, she married Jonathan Gordon, who drowned in the Exeter River in 1767. In 1768, when Elizabeth was about seventy years old and possibly in poor health, she granted power of attorney to her son Samuel Gilman. And after that she disappeared. Vital records, church records, probate records, and land records—none revealed a trace of Elizabeth. At least nothing did until I looked at Exeter town records. Elizabeth appeared on the tax rolls in Exeter as the widow Elizabeth “Gorden” in 1769 and in 1770. But she did not appear in 1771. Though this disappearance from records does not provide concrete evidence that Elizabeth (Dudley) (Gilman) Gordon died between 1770 and 1771, it does show us she was still alive at least until 1770.
Many town records can be found digitized on FamilySearch or on microfilm (and indexed) at the NEHGS Research Library, where you can also find many published collections of town records. Have some patience and stick with it; you never know what you might find!