Mudstone strata have a vast variety of physical, biogenic, and chemical attributes at the lamina to bed scale (approximately millimeters to decimeters thick). Our observations of more than 7 km of Paleozoic to Cenozoic mudstones revealed ordered patterns in this variety, i.e., recurrent associations of lithofacies, bedding style, sedimentary structures, and stratal architecture at bedset to parasequence scales (approximately decimeters to meters thick). We quantified characteristics of each association and their stacking patterns in vertical succession and linked them to sets of depositional processes. Most shelf mudstone strata appear to have accumulated in one of three facies association successions (FASs) that can be related to depositional regimes through characteristic modes of sediment transport and accumulation, as well as variations in benthic-energy and oxygen levels. We interpret these three FASs as records of mud accumulation on different portions of continental shelves that were dominated by storm waves, river floods, or tidal currents. Each FAS records a distinct parasequence type. This approach can help fully integrate insights from oceanographic studies into more robust interpretations of the rock record and rock-property maps.