How to Find the Original Murder and Trial Records

Kristin Luce, July 2015

As Alice Martin Bishop (AMB) researchers, we are fortunate to be looking for information in the same time period that the Mayflower passengers landed and settled in Plymouth Colony (followed quickly thereafter by John Winthrop and the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony). It’s one of the most-researched eras in U.S. history, and although we can’t place any of our AMB ancestors on that ship, we can benefit from all of the information that has been found by people who are investigating their Mayflower roots.

In the recent issue of American Ancestors (Spring 2015), David Curtis Dearborn advises genealogists looking for Mayflower ancestors to check out the following sources, most of which can be found on (the name of the website of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, NEGHS). If you’re a member of the NEGHS, you can access these online sources, including the published Massachusetts vital town records to 1850, all issues of The Register, The American Genealogist (TAG), The Mayflower Descendant, Barnstable County probate records, Plymouth County court records (not to be confused with the Plymouth Colony Records, see below), and Plymouth town, vital, and church records. On, you can also find digitized copies of Plymouth County probate records and land records for every Massachusetts county. (Eugene Stratton, in Plymouth Colony, also includes a chapter called “Writers and Records” that points genealogists to the written sources for contemporary information on Plymouth Colony, and it’s a good idea to refocus and go back to these primary sources after you’ve been chasing squirrels on Ancestry.)

We haven’t yet exhausted all of these sources, and we welcome our readers to jump in and help. The court records of Martha Clarke’s murder and AMB’s trial can be found in the Plymouth Colony Records (also referred to as Plymouth Court Records, and abbreviated as PCR). It’s no easy feat, but we’ll walk you the process here.

First, go this page and bookmark it so you have a handy link to the PCR consolidated index:

At the bottom of the page, you’ll see this link.


Click the link and enter the verification code on the next screen. The index will download to your computer.


Enter “Bishop” in the search field and you’ll see these results. Now the real fun begins.


The boldface “2” after Alice’s name indicates the PCR volume you need to look in. Unfortunately, the PCR volumes are bundled in twos, and it makes searching through them a bit tricky.

Go to this Mayflower History website page to find the links to the PCR volumes:

Note that although there are 13 volumes, only 12 of them are currently available online. The 13th volume contains wills and inventories, some of which can be found in other places. 


Click the first link to access Volumes 1 and 2. We’re in!


There’s no easy way to look through this document. Remember this is two volumes, each of which has its own index, so you need to make sure you’re looking in the correct half of the book when you search. If you prefer to look at a PDF instead, click the i button in the top-right corner of the menu bar and you’ll see these options. But I haven’t found the PDF to be any easier to navigate.


Because we know the page numbers that we’re looking for (thanks to the consolidated index) we don’t need to search in this document. If you do search, you get these kinds of indicators, which show you which pages include the name you’re looking for:


It’s a good idea to search for any ancestors both ways, since the consolidated index may contain errors or omissions. (Or, as just happened to me while testing these instructions, I got no hits when I entered the name “Bishop”!) Entries for “Bishop” appear in both the consolidated index and the index at the end of Volume 2:


So try different search methods if you don’t find what you’re looking for the first time.

When you’re ready to search within the online book, move your cursor along the edges of the pages and you can see the page numbers. An “n” before the number seems to indicate it’s in the first volume. The numbers then start over, when you get into the second volume.


Here are the records for the AMB’s trial, (and, several pages further, the record that mentions Richard’s theft and John Churchill’s guardianship of Abigail Clarke). The advantage of reading them in the online reader is that you can zoom in.





We’re posting these records on the Original Records page of this blog too. These are the only facts about her case that we have found so far — and that anyone else has found, as far as we know. Keep that in mind when you come across other descriptions of Alice Martin Bishop and the murder of Martha. 

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