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.

More newspapers go live on GenealogyBank – 26 States

GenealogyBank adds more newspapers from 26 states.

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AL. Huntsville. Huntsville Gazette*. 1881-06-18 to 1894-12-29
CA. San Francisco. Elevator*. 1872-11-16 to 1898-06-11
CT. Mystic. Mystic Journal. 1859-03-12 to 1862-12-27
CT. New Canaan. New Canaan News-Review. 2009-11-05 to Current
CT. New London. New London Gazette and General Advertiser. 1825-01-05 to 1826-12-27
CT. Middletown. American Sentinel. 1826-04-05 to 1833-03-06
CT. Middletown. Middlesex Gazette. 1829-01-07 to 1834-01-23
DC. Washington. Colored American*. 1898-03-12 to 1904-02-27
DC. Washington. Daily National Intelligencer. 1850-10-16 to 1852-12-31
DC. Washington. Grit*. 1883-12-21 to 1884-10-18
DC. Washington. Washington Bee. 1893-01-07 to 1910-06-25
IA. Fort Madison. Daily Democrat, The. 2009-12-19 to Current
IL. Quincy. Quincy Whig. 1868-05-03 to 1876-12-30
IN. Indianapolis. Freeman. 1895-09-21 to 1911-02-11
KS. Fort Scott. Fair Play*. 1898-04-22 to 1899-06-16
KS. Hutchinson. Blade*. 1919-12-20 to 1922-04-01
KS. Kansas City. Advocate. 1916-01-07 to 1921-12-30
KS. Lawrence. Western Recorder*. 1883-03-17 to 1884-11-06
KS. Topeka. Capital Plaindealer*. 1936-09-20 to 1938-08-06
KS. Topeka. Kansas Whip*. 1934-12-21 to 1955-09-30
KS. Wichita. Wichita Post-Observer*. 1953-01-23 to 1953-12-25
KY. Frankfort. Palladium. 1802-07-01 to 1803-12-24
LA. New Orleans. Times-Picayune. 1950-04-05 to 1961-05-15
MA. Boston. Boston Daily Advertiser. 1860-01-03 to 1889-12-31
MA. Boston. Boston Journal. 1884-07-01 to 1884-12-31
MA. Cape Cod. Cape Cod Chronicle, The. 2009-10-02 to Current
MA. Gloucester. Gloucester Telegraph. 1842-01-01 to 1842-12-31
MA. Springfield. Hampden Federalist. 1821-01-03 to 1823-03-05
MD. Baltimore. American and Commercial Daily Advertiser. 1801-01-31 to 1809-4-24
MD. Baltimore. Maryland Journal. 1785-06-28 to 1794-11-28
MI. Kalamazoo. Kalamazoo Gazette. 1915-08-03 to 1921-02-23
MI. Shelby, Utica. Shelby-Utica News. 2009-10-07 to Current
MN. St. Paul. Appeal*. 1908-09-05 to 1923-11-24
NC. Albemarle. Stanly News and Press, The. 2009-10-10 to Current
NC. Newbern. Newbern Sentinel. 1826-01-07 to 1828-06-12
NC. Yadkinville. Yadkin Ripple, The. 2009-10-02 to Current
NJ. Trenton. New Jersey State Gazette. 1796-10-18 to 1799-02-19
NY. Brighton, Pittsford. Brighton-Pittsford Post. 2009-10-04 to Current
NY. Goshen. Orange County Gazette. 1806-05-20 to 1814-09-20
NY. New York. Irish World. 1893-09-02 to 1905-04-08
NY. New York. New York Herald. 1869-05-21 to 1869-07-21
NY. New York. New York Herald. 1895-07-14 to 1895-08-08
NY. New York. New York Herald-Tribune. 1856-07-01 to 1877-06-15
NY. New York. Spectator. 1823-11-18 to 1824-10-26
NY. Poughkeepsie. Dutchess Observer. 1820-11-01 to 1821-12-26
NY. Dover. New-Hampshire Republican. 1825-01-03 to 1825-09-27
OH. Chillicothe. Scioto Gazette. 1801-08-02 to 1814-04-28
OH. Cleveland. Plain Dealer. 1967-12-01 to 1970-09-10
OH. Logan. Logan Daily News, The. 2010-01-10 to Current
OH. Marrietta. Ohio Gazette. 1806-04-24 to 1811-12-09
OH. Sandusky. Sandusky Register. 1849-10-02 to 1850-02-15
OH. St. Clairsville. Ohio Federalist. 1816-08-15 to 1816-12-05
OR. Ontario. Argus Observer. 2009-10-02 to Current
OR. Portland. Oregonian. 1948-12-20 to 1962-12-15
PA. Philadelphia. Democratic Press. 1808-03-28 to 1818-06-30
PA. Williamsburg. Virginia Gazette. 1766-03-16 to 1774-12-29
PA. Williamsburg. Virginia Gazette. 1775-02-03 to 1776-07-26
RI. Warren. Herald of the United States. 1796-01-02 to 1812-12-12
SC. Charleston. City Gazette. 1825-05-02 to 1825-08-31
TN. Nashville. Nashville Gazette. 1819-05-26 to 1827-02-14
TN. Sevierville. Mountain Press, The. 2009-10-02 to Current
TX. Big Spring. Big Spring Herald. 2009-10-02 to Current
TX. Brownwood. Brownwood Bulletin. 2009-12-03 to Current
TX. Dallas. Dallas Morning News. 1979-02-01 to 1979-05-31
UT. Salt Lake City. Broad Ax*. 1895-08-31 to 1897-01-30
VA. Amherst. Amherst New Era Progress. 2009-10-02 to Current
VA. Amherst. Nelson County Times. 2009-10-02 to Current
WA. Seattle. Seattle Daily Times. 1953-01-01 to 1969-09-30

Thank you GenealogyBank!

We get letters all the time from ecstatic genealogists who broke through their brick walls in GenealogyBank. Grateful letters that say – “Wow – I finally found him” in GenealogyBank … thank you, thank you.

Tonight I received a “Wow – I finally found him” note from Jane Giavelli Lauhon. She wrote:

Thank you so much for your hard work and dedication by maintaining your website.


Since 1980 (when I began my genealogy search) I have been trying to find a connection to Italy for my Dad’s Giavelli side.
Our Giavelli ancestor’s have been a huge, huge challenge because they were affiliated with The Ravel’s (a circus group from France). I have been researching Ravel’s hoping to find information about my 2nd great grandfather, Leon Giavelli and his wife, Harriet Wells.

Today I was finally able to find the connection and am very, very happy.

I knew this family originated in Italy; I just didn’t know it until today when one of your articles connected us to Giavelli’s in Italy.

My mother’s father, Guissepe Manno, is Italian and I have been wondering how much Italian ancestry I have. Now I can say I am 1/2 Italian!

Thank you again and I am going to keep searching your site to see what other goldmine’s I can find.

Sincerely,
Jane Giavelli Lauhon

This is what Jane found – what will you find?
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Wild Bill Obama

May 27th was Wild Bill Hickok’s day – I wrote about how easy it is to find newspaper articles about him in GenealogyBank.

Wild Bill Hickok is in the news again – when Barack Obama mentioned his family tradition that he was a distant cousin to Wild Bill – James Butler Hickok (1837-1876).

(Photo: Texas Observer Blog 27 Feb 2007)

Don’t you love it when politicians talk about their genealogy!

The New England Historic Genealogical Society does and issued a statement yesterday verifying Obama’s family tradition:

Obama and Hickok are sixth cousins, six-times removed. Their common ancestor is Thomas Blossom, who came to Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1629 from Leiden, Holland. Obama’s 4th great-grandfather, Jacob Dunham, was 6th cousins with Wild Bill. Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann, is also a Dunham.

“The ancestry of Wild Bill Hickok was published by NEHGS some years back, which showed he descended from the Blossom family of Cape Cod, an early family written up in one of our scholarly publications,” said Child. He added, “Since we had also recently done the ancestry of Senator Obama, finding this connection was a little easier.”

Click here to see the Obama – Hickok family tree – Wild Bill is related to Obama through his mother Polly Butler.