New database: Shaker Records of the Fruitlands Museum

View of the Shaker Office at the Fruitlands Museum, Harvard, Massachusetts (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons).

Today we’re very excited to be announcing a new database, Massachusetts: Shaker Records of the Fruitlands Museum, 1791-1918. The database features over 14,000 records from five volumes kept by the Harvard and Shirley Shaker communities. These archives are part of the Trustees of Reservations’ Fruitlands Shaker Manuscript Collection.

These records can be a valuable resource into understanding life in the Massachusetts’ Shaker communities and can supply tremendous genealogical value in terms of dates and names of vital and church records for the community that are not reflected in state-held records.

This online database is a collaboration between the Trustees’ Archives & Research Center (ARC), and American Ancestors. In 2016, Fruitlands Museum became The Trustees’ 116th reservation, and the Shaker manuscript materials were relocated to the ARC in Sharon, Massachusetts. Currently, this online database is index-only. The original materials, as well as high-resolution digital scans, can be accessed by contacting the ARC (

In 1922, Fruitlands Museum founder Clara Endicott Sears opened the world’s first museum honoring the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, more commonly known as the Shakers. Through her research on the Transcendentalists and the town history of Harvard, Massachusetts, Sears had gotten to know the Harvard Shakers personally before the community closed in 1918. In 1920, Sears purchased the original Shaker Trustees’ Office and moved the building to Fruitlands. She restored the Office, which was built in 1794, and filled it with Shaker objects as a way to share the history and culture of the Shakers. Once the museum opened, she continued to collect Shaker materials, acquiring items through gifts, purchases, and exchanges. Some of her acquisitions came directly from the Shakers themselves, who were among the museum’s early visitors and recognized that Sears was a respectful steward for their legacy.  Materials continued to be collected by the museum throughout the 20th century.

Clara Endicott Sears with Shaker sisters at Fruitlands, 1915 (image courtesy of The Trustees of Reservations Archives and Research Center).

In Harvard, the Fruitlands Museum site continues to display the objects that Sears collected. The museum features three separate collections of significant Shaker, Native American, and American art and artifacts, as well as a historic farmhouse that was once home to the family of Louisa May Alcott and is recognized as a National Historic Landmark. The property is situated on 210 acres of land, stunning views, and miles of walking trails.

To learn more about this unique community of Harvard and Shirley Shakers and Fruitlands, please visit the Fruitlands Museum website

We are grateful to a very dedicated team of ten volunteers who worked over hundreds of hours to transcribe the list names found in these volumes.

Please note: This database is available to all NEHGS members, including Guest Members.