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.

German American Newspapers for Genealogy at GenealogyBank

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary provides search tips to help you find family history information in GenealogyBank’s online collection of German American newspapers.

America has long been a prized destination for immigrants. In the case of our German American ancestors (known as Deutschamerikaner), many arrived during the early years of the British colonies—with evidence dating to the 17th Century.

This long history of German Americans in America can be researched in the many German American newspapers, or “Deutsch-Amerikanische Zeitungen,“ found in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Early German American immigrants were especially drawn to New York and Pennsylvania, with families typically settling among those of their same origins. Later there were westward migrations, most notably in Midwestern areas such as Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee and northern Kentucky. In many of these areas, you can still find strong German influences on the culture, customs and food. In Cincinnati for example, where I attended elementary school, I remember that the cafeteria often served sausage and sauerkraut—a dish we no longer encountered when our family moved south.

Immigrant community names are often reminiscent of their homelands, as demonstrated in this 1732 estate notice from the American Weekly Mercury:

“To be Sold by Richard Martin Executor of William Harmon of Upper-Dublin, in the County of Philadelphia, deceas’d…a considerable Quantity of clear’d Land and good Meadowing in Dublin-Township; and One Hundred and Ten Acres of Land near Germantown…”

estate sale ad for William Harmon, American Weekly Mercury newspaper advertisement 30 March-6 April 1732

American Weekly Mercury (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 30 March-6 April 1732, page 4

This estate notice was published in the same year that Founding Father Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) published the first German-language newspaper in America, the Philadelphische Zeitung.

Although Franklin’s newspaper didn’t last even a year, publishers recognized the need to communicate with the German-speaking population. So it is common to see bilingual papers with the placement of foreign language articles and advertisements side-by-side with those printed in English.

collage of various ads, Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper advertisements 3 March 1742

Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 3 March 1742, page 4

In the above example from the Pennsylvania Gazette we see a German-language notice regarding an Evangelical Conference; followed by an English-language estate notice for Joseph Woollen, late of Germantown Township; and an English-language ad for the The Pocket Almanack. Note the reference in the last ad to Poor Richard’s Almanack, another of Benjamin Franklin’s publications, which appeared from 1732-1758.

There was such a desire to publish newspapers in German that in 1775, one of the Committees of Correspondence resolved that their notice should “be published both in the English and German news-papers,” as reported at the end of the following article.

notice about a meeting of the Committee of Correspondence, Pennsylvania Evening Post newspaper article 10 June 1775

Pennsylvania Evening Post (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 10 June 1775, page 242

Their concern was that the British Ministry was “fully determined and bent upon the total extinction and utter destruction of American liberty.” These Committees, as noted in a Wikipedia article, were an integral part of the colonists’ resistance to British rule, providing coordinated efforts to distribute information for their safety.

Clearly, there is a lot of good family history information in German American newspapers—so how does one begin one’s search for German ancestors in historical newspapers?

How to Search & Read German-Language American Newspapers

It helps if you are fluent in German, but if not, don’t despair—try the following strategies.

Familiarize yourself with common Germanic words found in ancestral birth, marriage and death notices. Numerous lists can be found on the Web, but here are some commonly-used terms:

  • Familial relationships: wife (frau, gattin), mother (mutter), father (vater, väter), son (sohn), daughter (tochter)
  • Genealogical events: birth (geburt), born (geboren), married (verheiratet), death (tod, todesfall), died (starb, gestorben), buried (begraben, bestatten)
  • Days of the week (in order): Montag, Dienstag, Mittwoch, Donnerstag, Freitag, Samstag, Sonntag
  • Months (in order): Januar, Februar, März, April, Mai, Juni, Juli, August, September, Oktober, November, Dezember

Use a language translator, such as Google Translate (at translate.google.com) to translate German to English. If a word or phrase doesn’t translate exactly, try breaking it into parts. For instance, the newspaper Volksfreund doesn’t translate, but if you separate the two parts into “Volks” and “freund” the translator will respond with “people friendly,” indicating that the translation of the newspaper’s name is something like People’s Friend.

Try alternate spelling variations (don’t expect standardization). If the translator fails, experiment with changing a few letters. Local dialects affect spellings, and over time the accepted way to spell words has changed. FamilySearch’s German Word List, located at https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/German_Word_List, will give you a head start. Some of its suggestions are to interchange: p for b; a for e; and t for d or dt.

“Americanize” spellings. Although German words typically have umlauts applied to letters, such as ä or ü, GenealogyBank’s search engine may perform better if you ignore them.

Let GenealogyBank’s search engine identify what type of article is on a newspaper page.  If you are struggling with the description presented, expand the page information on the left-hand side of the screen, where GenealogyBank’s search engine notes the types of articles found on the newspaper page. In this example, the content of this newspaper’s page two is listed with many German descriptions—but the search engine also explains, in English, that there are advertisements, mortuary notices, and matrimony notices on this page—helping you to better understand the content you are looking at on page two.

screenshot of GenealogyBank showing an article from a German American newspaper

Finally, it’s useful to learn as much as you can about a particular German American newspaper publication. Where was it published? Who was the editor? When did it initiate and cease publication? Were there gaps in coverage, and was it ever published under an alternate name?

In this example, I expanded an article to view the nameplate of the 16 March 1801 (16ten Merz) edition of Die Harrisburger Morgenrothe. With this expanded view, we can read that this newspaper (diese zeitung) was published every Monday morning (Montag morgen) in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

masthead for the German American newspaper Die Harrisburger Morgenrothe 16 March 1801

Die Harrisburger Morgenrothe (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 16 March 1801, page 1

Some of this information can be confirmed at the Library of Congress’s website U.S Newspaper Directory, 1690-Present, located at http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/search/titles/. Not only is it a comprehensive list of every known newspaper, but it also serves as a target list for potential research.

screenshot of the Library of Congress website, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers

Credit: Library of Congress, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers

For example, this is the information I found about the German American newspaper Die Harrisburger Morgenrothe using the Library of Congress Newspaper Directory site:

  • Title: Die Harrisburger Morgenrothe und Dauphin und Cumberland Caunties Anzeiger: (Harrisburg [Pa.]) 1827-1839
  • Alternative Titles: Harrisburger Morgenrothe, Morgenrothe
  • Place of publication: Harrisburg [Pa.]
  • Publisher: Wm. Boyer und J. Baab
  • Dates of publication: 1827-1839; Nr. 1476 (11 Aug. 1827)-Nr. 2142 (9 Mai 1839)
  • Frequency: Weekly
  • Language: German

Examples of German American Newspaper Mastheads

masthead for the German American newspaper Erie Tageblatt 8 January 1910

Erie Tageblatt (Erie, Pennsylvania), 8 January 1910, page 1

masthead for the German American newspaper New Yorker Volkszeitung 17 August 1804

New Yorker Volkszeitung (New York, New York), 17 August 1804, page 1

masthead for the German American newspaper Readinger Adler 8 July 1800

Readinger Adler (Reading, Pennsylvania), 8 July 1800, page 1

Example of a German American Newspaper Obituary (Gov. Frank Higgins)

obituary for Frank Higgins, Erie Tageblatt newspaper article 13 February 1907

Erie Tageblatt (Erie, Pennsylvania), 13 February 1907, page 1

For more information, read Mary’s earlier Blog article:

How to Do Genealogy Research with German-Language Newspapers

German American Newspapers at GenealogyBank

Discover a variety of genealogy records and news stories in these 33 German American newspapers:

Click on the image below to download a printable list of the German American newspapers in GenealogyBank for your future reference. You can save the list to your desktop and click the titles to go directly to your newspaper of interest.

German American Newspapers

Embed This Image On Your Site (copy code below):