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.

DNA Testing & Genealogy: Is It Working for You?

Clearly DNA testing is revolutionizing 21st Century family history research.

DNA Testing Helps Orphan Find His Family

There are heartwarming stories about successful DNA tests—like that of 80-year-old Patrick J. Holland, who was raised in an orphanage and through DNA testing finally found his family.

Here is the full report on this touching family story, from CNN:

http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/us/2013/10/11/dnt-tx-dna-solves-mystery.wfaa.html

photo of a CNN report of 80-year-old Patrick J. Holland, who was raised in an orphanage and through DNA testing finally found his family

Credit: CNN

DAR Accepts DNA Test Results

Lynn Young, national president of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), has announced that the DAR is now accepting DNA test results as proof for women wanting to apply for membership.

For more details about the new DAR membership acceptance policy, see: http://youngblog.dar.org/dna-evidence-dar-applications-and-supplementals

photo of Lynn Young, president general of the Daughters of the American Revolution

Credit: DAR

The new acceptance program starts with a DAR member with a proven (well-documented), accepted membership. Next you need to get DNA test results from a male descendant in that line. Then, if someone is applying for DAR membership but cannot produce the paper trail documentation back to the Revolutionary War period, there is now a way for that person to still gain membership—if that person has a DNA match between male relatives in both lines. The DAR says that the DNA evidence from both lines demonstrates that the applicant is related to the already-accepted member, and the applicant can use that DNA evidence of the male relative in support of her application.

DNA Study of Spanish Jews

A new DNA study of the descendants of Spanish (Sephardic) Jews has shown that statistically all Jews alive today have at least one Sephardic Jewish ancestor. Read the new genealogical study on Spanish Jewish ancestry from Cornell University here: http://arxiv.org/abs/1310.1912

map showing migrations and settlements of the Spanish Jews

Credit: Wikipedia

European Jewish DNA Study

Another just-released Jewish DNA study shows that: “…the women who founded the Ashkenazi Jewish community of Europe were not from the Near East, as previously supposed, and reinforces the idea that many Jewish communities outside Israel were founded by single men who married and converted local women.” Read the complete New York Times (New York, New York), 8 October 2013, genealogy report here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/09/science/ashkenazi-origins-may-be-with-european-women-study-finds.html?_r=0

Genes Suggest European Women at Root of Ashkenazi Family Tree, New York Times newspaper article 8 October 2013

Credit: New York Times

Kemp Genealogy DNA Study

I am participating in a Kemp DNA study and it has changed our conclusions of our ancestral connections. The DNA test we’ve been participating in has shown that our County Cavan, Ireland, Kemp line is completely separate from the County Kent, England, Kemp line—which is the largest recorded Kemp family.

See the current Kemp DNA test results here:
http://www.familytreedna.com/public/Kemp/default.aspx?section=ycolorized

test results from a Kemp DNA study

Credit: FamilyTree DNA

Our Cavan Kemp descendants are all coded to R1a1. The English Kemp lines are all coded to R1b1, which appears similar but—the experts tell me—actually proves that the two Kemp lines are not related at all.

Interestingly, the German Kemp lines are coded to E, and the Scandinavian Kemp lines are coded to I.

The R1a1 marker has remained consistent with the Cavan Kemp descendants in the Canadian line: Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Ireland and here in the United States.

These DNA test findings changed our entire view of how “all” Kemp lines are or are not related.

Is DNA Testing Working for You?

Has a DNA study impacted your family history research? Has it changed your view of your family tree?

What are you finding?

What breakthroughs have you found from DNA testing?

Please share your experiences with DNA testing in the comments section.

Michigan Newspaper Archives: Search 120+ MI Newspapers Online

Read the history of your ancestors from “The Wolverine State” as they lived it, day by day. Dig into GenealogyBank’s deep newspaper archives of old Michigan newspapers from 1837 to today. Read about Michigan’s history from the exploits of Father Marquette to current news. Our Michigan newspaper archives contain over 30 million articles—just click and start reading!

collage of Michigan newspapers and state flag

Collage of Michigan newspapers and state flag

City Newspaper Date Range Collection
Adrian Daily Telegram 1/3/1893 – 12/28/1922 Newspaper Archives
Adrian Daily Telegram 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ann Arbor Ann Arbor News 1/2/1909 – 12/30/1922 Newspaper Archives
Ann Arbor Ann Arbor News 7/1/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ann Arbor AnnArbor.com 7/25/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bad Axe Huron Daily Tribune 12/17/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Baldwin Lake County Star 1/1/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bay City Bay City Times 1/2/1889 – 12/30/1922 Newspaper Archives
Bay City Bay City Times 9/3/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bay City Bay City Times, The: Web Edition Articles 10/22/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Big Rapids Pioneer 4/2/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Bronson Bronson Journal 3/3/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Charlevoix Charlevoix Courier 1/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Cheboygan Cheboygan Daily Tribune 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Coldwater Coldwater Daily Reporter 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Dearborn Arab American News 10/27/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Detroit Associated Newspapers of Michigan 7/20/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Detroit Detroit Independent 1/13/1923 – 1/13/1923 Newspaper Archives
Detroit Detroit Informer 1/13/1900 – 1/13/1900 Newspaper Archives
Detroit Detroit News 1/1/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Detroit Detroit News, The: Web Edition Articles 10/28/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Detroit Michigan Chronicle 8/2/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Detroit Plaindealer 9/20/1889 – 5/19/1893 Newspaper Archives
Detroit South End, The: Wayne State University 5/5/2010 – Current Recent Obituaries
Detroit Weekly Detroit Free Press and Supp.. The Household 1/2/1886 – 6/4/1887 Newspaper Archives
Fenton Tri-County Times 3/23/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
Flint Burton News 8/14/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Flint Clio Messenger 4/20/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Flint Davison Flagstaff 6/13/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Flint Fenton Press 7/24/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Flint Flint Journal 1/3/1898 – 12/31/1922 Newspaper Archives
Flint Flint Journal 4/3/1995 – Current Recent Obituaries
Flint Flint Journal, The: Web Edition Articles 10/15/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Flint Flint Township News 3/21/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Flint Flushing Observer 10/12/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Flint Grand Blanc News 6/12/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Flint Swartz Creek News 4/20/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Frankfort Benzie County Record Patriot 6/24/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Fraser Fraser-Clinton Township Chronicle 2/23/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Gaylord Gaylord Herald Times 1/1/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Gladwin Record & Clarion 10/6/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
Grand Rapids Afro-American Gazette 1/1/1991 – 8/7/1995 Newspaper Archives
Grand Rapids Cadence Advance 10/10/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Grand Rapids Grand Rapids Herald 1/1/1898 – 12/31/1900 Newspaper Archives
Grand Rapids Grand Rapids Press 1/11/1893 – 12/30/1922 Newspaper Archives
Grand Rapids Grand Rapids Press 7/25/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
Grand Rapids Grand Rapids Press, The: Web Edition Articles 10/18/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Grosse Pointe Grosse Pointe Times 1/30/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hart Oceana’s Herald-Journal 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hastings Hastings Banner 7/7/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hastings Lakewood News 7/9/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hastings Maple Valley News 7/9/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hastings Sun & News 7/16/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hillsdale Hillsdale Daily News 2/28/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Holland Holland Sentinel 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Holland myZeeland 11/3/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Homer Homer Index 5/2/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Hudsonville Grand Valley Advance 11/19/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ionia Sentinel-Standard 10/14/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Jackson Jackson Citizen 8/15/1849 – 10/16/1903 Newspaper Archives
Jackson Jackson Citizen Patriot 6/23/1859 – 12/31/1922 Newspaper Archives
Jackson Jackson Citizen Patriot 1/1/2000 – Current Recent Obituaries
Jackson Jackson Citizen Patriot: Web Edition Articles 10/22/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Jenison On-the-Town 12/1/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Jonesville Jonesville Independent 4/8/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kalamazoo Hometown Gazette 3/26/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kalamazoo Kalamazoo Gazette 1/23/1837 – 12/31/1922 Newspaper Archives
Kalamazoo Kalamazoo Gazette 1/1/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kalamazoo Kalamazoo Gazette: Web Edition Articles 10/19/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kalamazoo Western Herald 9/14/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Kentwood Southeast Advance 9/30/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lansing Lansing City Pulse 3/3/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lansing New Citizens Press 7/9/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Lowell Lowell Ledger 7/6/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ludington Ludington Daily News 2/5/1998 – Current Recent Obituaries
Macomb Macomb Township Chronicle 3/24/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Madison Madison-Park News 3/9/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Manistee Manistee News Advocate 3/1/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Marlette Marlette Leader 3/2/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Midland Midland Daily News 6/20/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Monroe Monroe Evening News 10/31/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Mount Pleasant Morning Sun 7/1/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Muskegon Muskegon Chronicle 1/30/1869 – 12/30/1922 Newspaper Archives
Muskegon Muskegon Chronicle 1/3/1997 – Current Recent Obituaries
Muskegon Muskegon Chronicle, The: Web Edition Articles 10/17/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
New Buffalo Harbor Country News 4/8/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ontonagon Lake Superior Miner 10/6/1855 – 9/10/1870 Newspaper Archives
Owosso Argus-Press 2/9/2005 – Current Recent Obituaries
Petoskey Petoskey News-Review 4/16/2001 – Current Recent Obituaries
Pontiac Oakland Press 8/8/2004 – 1/28/2011 Recent Obituaries
Portage Portage Gazette 2/12/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Reed City Herald Review 4/4/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Reed City Pioneer – Osceola Edition 6/6/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Rochester Rochester Post 6/21/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Rockford Northeast Advance 10/15/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Royal Oak Royal Oak Review 10/8/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Saginaw Saginaw News 5/2/1881 – 12/31/1922 Newspaper Archives
Saginaw Saginaw News 11/16/1998 – Current Recent Obituaries
Saginaw Saginaw News: Web Edition Articles 10/22/2012 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sault Ste. Marie Evening News 1/26/1901 – 1/10/1923 Newspaper Archives
Sault Ste. Marie Evening News 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sault Ste. Marie Sault Ste. Marie News 5/12/1887 – 12/29/1900 Newspaper Archives
Shelby, Utica Shelby-Utica News 10/7/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Southfield Detroit Jewish News 2/23/2006 – Current Recent Obituaries
Southfield Southfield Sun 8/4/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sparta, Kent City Northwest Advance 8/18/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
St. Clair Shores St. Clair Shores Sentinel 1/23/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
St. James Northern Islander 12/12/1850 – 6/20/1856 Newspaper Archives
St. Joseph Herald-Palladium 4/1/1999 – Current Recent Obituaries
State-Wide County mlive.com: Blogs 8/5/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sterling Heights Sterling Heights Sentry 2/5/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Sturgis Sturgis Journal 10/2/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Temperance Bedford Now 8/3/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Traverse City Grand Traverse Herald 2/19/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Traverse City Traverse City Record-Eagle 10/4/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Troy Troy Times 6/4/2003 – Current Recent Obituaries
Vassar Vassar Pioneer Times 3/9/2005 – 3/16/2011 Recent Obituaries
Vicksburg Commercial-Express 1/22/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Warren Advertiser Times 8/4/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Warren Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle 2/9/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Warren C&G Newspapers Web Exclusive Articles 1/13/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Warren Mount Clemens-Clinton-Harrison Journal 3/2/2011 – Current Recent Obituaries
Warren Roseville-Eastpointe Eastsider 9/4/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Warren Warren Weekly 5/15/2002 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wayland Penasee Globe 12/17/2007 – Current Recent Obituaries
Whitehall White Lake Beacon 10/13/2009 – Current Recent Obituaries
Woodward Woodward Talk 5/19/2004 – Current Recent Obituaries
Wyoming Southwest Advance 12/16/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries
Ypsilanti Eastern Echo: Eastern Michigan University 11/7/2008 – Current Recent Obituaries