Researching Your Pilgrim Ancestry from Mayflower Ship Passengers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post—just in time for Thanksgiving—Mary searches old newspapers to trace ancestry all the way back to the Pilgrims, who crossed the Atlantic Ocean on board the Mayflower in 1620 for a fresh start in the New World.

Although endlessly rewarding, it is true that tracing ancestry is a time-consuming process requiring much patience—especially if one wishes to connect to the Mayflower passengers, those 102 Pilgrims who sailed from Leiden, Holland, in September 1620 bound for the New World—anchoring off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in November 1620.

Painting: Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, William Halsall, 1882

Painting: Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, William Halsall, 1882. Credit: Pilgrim Hall Museum & Wikipedia.

Tragically, only half the Plymouth Rock settlers survived their first winter in the New World—and if any are your progenitors, you could conceivably be required to compile from 12-18 generations of documentary evidence to trace your Pilgrim ancestry and prove you are a descendant. Fortunately, there are many ways to research the Mayflower voyage and the Pilgrims, even if you can’t visit Leiden or Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts (although please put these stops on your genealogical travel shortlist).

I traveled to Leiden, Holland, several years ago to conduct first-hand research on my Mayflower Pilgrim ancestry, and found this Dutch marriage record for future Mayflower ship passengers Isaac Allerton and Mary Norris from 1611.

marriage certificate for future Mayflower passengers Isaac Allerton and Mary Norris, 1611

Marriage certificate for future Mayflower passengers Isaac Allerton and Mary Norris, 1611, from the collection of Mary Harrell-Sesniak

However, as I say, you don’t need to travel to research your Mayflower Pilgrim ancestry—you can do it from the comfort of your own home, relying on your computer and the Internet, using several helpful websites and having access to online historical newspapers.

Common genealogical advice suggests that you start your family history research with yourself and work backwards to prove ancestry. However, with Mayflower genealogy research, you might want to work “down the research ladder,” instead of up, as it could very well save you a few steps.

Approved List of Mayflower Ship Passengers

Start at the top of your family tree by looking for surnames matching Mayflower passengers, shown on the accepted list of eligible ancestors compiled by Pilgrim lineage societies, most notably the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (www.themayflowersociety.com/).

John Alden Bartholomew Allerton Isaac Allerton
Mary (Norris) Allerton Mary Allerton Remember Allerton
Elinor Billington Francis Billington John Billington
William Bradford Love Brewster Mary Brewster
William Brewster Peter Browne James Chilton
Mrs. James Chilton Mary Chilton Francis Cooke
John Cooke Edward Doty Francis Eaton
Samuel Eaton Sarah Eaton Moses Fletcher
Edward Fuller Mrs. Edward Fuller Samuel Fuller
Samuel Fuller (son of Edward) Constance Hopkins Elizabeth (Fisher) Hopkins
Giles Hopkins Stephen Hopkins John Howland
Richard More Priscilla Mullins William Mullins
Degory Priest Joseph Rogers Thomas Rogers
Henry Samson George Soule Myles Standish
Elizabeth Tilley John Tilley Joan (Hurst) Tilley
Richard Warren Peregrine White Resolved White
Susanna White William White Edward Winslow

Publications by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants

And if that surname research strategy fails, research Mayflower descendants to the fifth generation to try and find a match to your family. Many publications exist, including the famous pink or gray Pilgrim lineage books published by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants—many of which are available at libraries. As accepted references, these Society publications allow you to bypass submitting proofs for any Mayflower descendant they’ve already established.

photo of publications from the General Society of Mayflower Descendants

Credit: from the library of Mary Harrell-Sesniak

The silver books trace the first five generations of Mayflower descendants.

The smaller pink books are Mayflower Families in Progress (MFIP), and are produced as new information becomes available.

Newspaper Evidence for Peregrine (or Peregrin) White and His Descendants

An extraordinary amount of newspaper articles and obituaries mentioning Mayflower ancestry exist in GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives.

Although not my Mayflower ancestor, I’m fascinated by Peregrine White. He was the son of William and Susanna White, who crossed the ocean on the Mayflower with his older brother Resolved. Susanna was pregnant with Peregrine during the Atlantic crossing, and he became the first Plymouth Colony baby of English ancestry when he was born on 20 November 1620 on board the Mayflower in Provincetown Harbor. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peregrine_White.)

After William White died—as so many did, during the Colony’s first winter—Susanna married widower Edward Winslow, of whom much is written. After reaching manhood, Peregrine married Sarah Bassett, and if you are one of their descendants, you have a multitude of cousins.

One of your relatives is their grandson George Young (1689-1771), son of their daughter Sarah White (1663-1755) and Thomas Young (1663-1732).

George Young’s lineage was noted in this 1771 obituary.

death notice for George Young, Boston Post-Boy newspaper article 13 May 1771

Boston Post-Boy (Boston, Massachusetts), 13 May 1771, page 3

Being such a small colony of settlers, the Mayflower Pilgrim’s children intermarried. As reported in this 1821 newspaper article, John Alden was a descendant of his grandfather by the same name—and also of Peregrine White, via his grandmother. He is thought to have married twice, first to Lydia Lazell and later to Rebecca Weston, although neither of his wives are mentioned in this obituary. Note how many of John Alden’s descendants were living when he died at the ripe old age of 103.

obituary for John Alden, Daily National Intelligencer newspaper article 12 April 1821

Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.), 12 April 1821, page 3

Elder James White, who founded the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Battle Creek, Michigan, was another direct descendant of the Mayflower Pilgrims. His religious affiliation and his Mayflower ancestry were reported in this 1881 newspaper obituary.

obituary for Elder James White, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 9 August 1881

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 9 August 1881, page 1

Reporting Trend in Pilgrim Descendants’ Obituaries

Do you notice a trend in these obituaries? The importance of being a descendant of a Mayflower passenger tends to overshadow all other aspects of an individual’s life!

For example, Ellen Gould Harmon was the spouse of Elder James White—and her obituary from 1915 makes more notice of his roots than her own.

obituary for Ellen White, Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper article 17 July 1915

Jackson Citizen Patriot (Jackson, Michigan), 17 July 1915, page 1

Are You My Mayflower Cousin?

Although I have not located Peregrine White ancestry in my own family tree, if you trace to any of the following Mayflower passengers, then you and I are cousins:

  • William Brewster and Mary (maiden name unknown)
  • Giles Hopkins and Catherine Whelden
  • Stephen Hopkins and Mary (maiden name unknown)
  • John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley
photo of the gravesite of Giles Hopkins

Photo: Grave of Giles Hopkins, Cove Burying Ground (Eastham, Massachusetts). Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

We are in good company. By 1909, one writer’s conservative estimate calculated that by the 10th generation, any of the Mayflower ship passengers could have had at least 3,500,000 descendants! Since most Mayflower descendants are now of the 13th, 14th, 15th or 16th generation, that number has skyrocketed.

The rising number of Mayflower Pilgrim descendants is reported in this 1909 newspaper article.

article about descendants of the Mayflower Pilgrims, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 18 December 1909

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 18 December 1909, page 8

If you think you are a Mayflower ship passenger descendant, this article from the New England Historic Genealogical Society may be of interest:

“The Society of Mayflower Descendants: Who they are, where to find them, how to apply”

http://www.americanancestors.org/the-society-of-mayflower-descendants-pt1/

For tips on how to research your Mayflower genealogy using GenealogyBank visit: http://blog.genealogybank.com/tag/mayflower

Have you traced your ancestry back to one of the Mayflower ship passengers? If so, please tell us about it in the comments section. We’d love to know who your Mayflower ancestors are.

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Written by Mary Harrell-Sesniak

Mary Harrell-Sesniak

Mary Harrell-Sesniak, MBA, brings to the GenealogyBank Blog a blend of technical and genealogical research skills. In addition to having been a columnist with RootsWeb Review, she was president of a computer training/consulting firm for 15+ years, worked as an editor and has authored several genealogy books. You’ll find her an active contributor to a variety of online forums, RootsWeb’s WorldConnect, Findagrave.com and indexing projects.

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14 thoughts on “Researching Your Pilgrim Ancestry from Mayflower Ship Passengers

  1. Interesting article and according to your ancestry we are distant cousins. I have built on another relatives genealogy work and am descended from- William and Mary Brewster, Thomas Rogers thru son Joseph who was a child on the Mayflower and Stephen and Mary Hopkins thru Giles and Catherine Weldon.
    I find it amazing that out of 51 Pilgrims Millions of people can claim this ancestry.
    Nice to meet you and Happy Thanksgiving.

  2. I am related to Elizabeth & John Tilley, their dau. Desire, her son, James.Gorham, his dau. Experience Gorham Lothrop, her dau. Lydia Lothrop Bacon, her son, Ebenezer, his son, Ebenezer, his dau. Margaret Bacon Lewis whose son John Bacon Lewis continued the adventurous spirit & came to California in 1849. He stayed in San Francisco until 1857 when he & his wife moved to Petaluma, Sonoma, CA where the family resided until 2000 & separated to other parts of CA.

  3. I am a descendant of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins…. my Revolutionary War ancestor, Robert Lenthal Eells, married my Alden line ancestor Ruth Copeland. Sorry we are not cousins but I know many, many people who are Hopkins and Tilley descendants like you! Just attended the Maine Mayflower Society meeting last Saturday and it was great- we had an interpreter from Plimoth to speak with us in character, Elizabeth Tilley. I am so looking forward to the celebrations in 2020 for the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims voyage!!

  4. Thank you for sharing all of the Mayflower connections! And for those who don’t share my Pilgrim ancestry, perhaps we are related in other ways.

    My best wishes for a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving!

  5. I am a descendant of Isaac Allerton through his daughter Remember. I have loved reading the Mayflower articles available on GenealogyBank.com and was thrilled to see the marriage record of Isaac and Mary Norris that you discovered in Leiden. Thank you so much for sharing that record and your knowledge on the blog!

    • Julie,

      Very happy that the Isaac Allerton and Mary Norris marriage record was a welcome addition to your family research, and thank you also for the nice comments.

      One of the reasons I pursued this line, is that I have an ancestor named Isaac Allerton, but the proof connecting him to his ancestor is missing!

      Happy Thanksgiving, and enjoy your holidays.

      Mary

  6. Happy 392th Thanksgiving & Thank you for your Blog from a William Brewster, (at least three lines) Thomas & Joseph Rogers, Henry Samson, James & Mary Chilton descendant. Ray Raser Co-Editor CAMayflower Quarterly, Governor San Diego Colony Mayflower Descendants

    • Thank you for your Thanksgiving greeting! Hope yours was as special as ours was, spent with family. So happy that you enjoyed this article.

  7. Mary
    Was excited to see your blog. I just made connection from Mary Allerton through the Cushman families of Isaac, Isaac and Sarah, who married Benjamin Spooner then through Spooners to Harriet Spooner who married Emory B.F. Draper who is my Great grandfather. Is there someway to get a copy of the marriage certificate? Thanks for your information. Lloyd

  8. Lloyd,

    Congratulations on finding your connection to the Allertons.

    An easy way to save the image is to save the article in portable document format. Go to the bottom of the blog, and select PDF next to PRINT. After clicking on it, you will be presented with a SAVE, or a SAVE AS PDF option and can then proceed to save it to your computer.

    To extract the image from the article, right-click the image and select Save As (on a MAC use Ctrl+Click as a substitute for right-clicking.) Take the opportunity to add an appropriate name such as “Allerton-Norris Leiden marriage from Mary Harrell-Sesniak and GenealogyBank blog of 2013-11-25.”

    Although the name is long, I recommend adding a similar notation so the attribution is retained.

    Hope this helps!

    Mary

  9. HI,

    I am descended from George Soule, Edward, Ann and Samuel Fuller. And probably Francis Eaton and William Brewster, and a few others but can’t prove those. Also Henry Howland, brother of John Howland of the Mayflower.

    It gets really complicated the first 4 generations from the Mayflower as there weren’t that many people to marry… cousins got married and the names were so overused… :-)
    anyway, I’m having lots of fun trying to make the “links” viable and real… sometimes there are wishful thinking people who claim some links that are just “wrong”.

    Have fun.

    • Bob,

      It certainly is fun tracking down the Mayflower connections. I recommend spending time with the pink and silver books, as well as contacting the various Mayflower groups to see if they can help you with your proofs.

      Mary

  10. I was curious about the first person in my family to step foot in America, thanks to the tv series “Who do you think you are” and “Finding your Roots”. With the help of online databases, I was shocked to discover my roots go waaaay back – both to Jamestown Colony (William Powell and Temperance Flowerdew) and the Mayflower (John Alden, Issac Allerton, William Brewster, Edward Fuller and Richard Warren).

    I wished I had paid more attention to American history in high school. And I am learning all about the English Civil war(s).

    • Lina,

      Thank you so much for sharing, and best wishes for an enjoyable and memorable Thanksgiving.

      I think all genealogists relate to your comment about wishing we’d paid more attention in history class — but as you discovered, it’s never too late to start finding your family’s place in history.

      Mary

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