If I give you the title of the book I could just stop there. It pretty much is self-describing:
The Town Officer: Or, The Power and Duty of Selectmen, Town Clerks, Town Treasurers, Overseers of the Poor, Assessors, Constables, Collectors of taxes, Surveyors of Highways, Surveyors of Lumber, Fence Viewers, Field Drivers, Measurers of Wood and Other Town Officers, as Contained in the Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, With a Variety of Forms for the Use of Such Officers, To which is Prefixed the Constitutions of Said Commonwealth and of the United States: and Thereto is Added the Power and Duty of Towns, Parishes, and Plantations, a Plain and Regular Method of Keeping Town Accounts, and a Table of Crimes and Punishments, Also, an Appendix, Containing Some Inspection and Other Laws at Large; with Other Useful Matter
Whew! For short, I just call it, The Town Officer. The 7th edition, from 1808, is accessible for free on Google books here.
I reviewed a similar book earlier, for New Hampshire, The New-Hampshire Town Officer of 1829. What I said there applies here as well. Resources like this let you get into the heads of town officers of the time period — the creators of records you might be examining today in your research — and better understand the records they created and the rules they were following.
An example. Suppose you were wondering about marriage intentions and how they worked. Flip to page 104 of The Town Officer and you find the 1786 Massachusetts law quoted:
Persons desiring to joined in marriage shall have such their intentions published at three publick religious meetings, on different days, at three days distant exclusively at least from each other, in the town or district where they respectively dwell or shall have their intentions of marriage posted up by he clerk of the town or district for the space of fourteen days, within the same town or distinct fairly written: and shall produce to the justice or minister who shall be desired to marry them a certificate under the hand of the clerk, of such publishment, and also that the intention of marriage hath been entered with him, fourteen days prior to the date of said certificate
That, and so much more, and all for free. Highly recommended. Be a better interpreter of records. Think like a town clerk.
Publisher: Thomas & Andrews (Boston)
Coverage: Massachusetts, 19th century