Researching Recent Obituaries for All My ‘Mayflower’ Cousins

There is more than one way to find your relatives in GenealogyBank’s massive archive of Recent Obituaries.

I’ve noticed that genealogists often go to the Recent Obituaries collection when they are researching a specific relative that died in the past 40 years. They search, find them and go.

But wait—there’s more.

There is another valuable approach you can take with the Recent Obituaries that lets us find relatives even when we don’t know their names—and even if we have never heard of them before!

Obituaries are handy resources for genealogists. They speak about the person, their interests and what was important to them. Many obituaries mention that the deceased had a sense of family and history. I often see obituaries that say so and so loved genealogy, and then name the ancestors that fought in the Revolutionary War, or who had come to America on the Mayflower.

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Tracing Your Mayflower Ancestry

Having studied this for the past 50 years, I’ve concluded that nearly all Americans with ancestral roots prior to 1820 that lived in upper New England (Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and probably Rhode Island) have at least one ancestor that came over on the Mayflower.

I know I do.

I have seven Mayflower ancestors (including Thomas Rogers) and I want to track down and document all of the descendants of my Pilgrim ancestors.

The Recent Obituaries archive is a terrific way to do this.

Typically I will enter the name of a Mayflower passenger and the word “Mayflower” in the Include Keywords searchbox.

For example, here’s a search for “Thomas Rogers” and “Mayflower.”

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search box, showing a search for "Thomas Rogers" and "Mayflower"
This GenealogyBank search pulled up a lot of accurate search results, like this one for Mary-Jane Earle Hensley.

obituary for Mary-Jane Earle Hensley, Daily News Record newspaper article 3 October 2012

Daily News Record (Harrisonburg, Virginia), 3 October 2012

This is a great genealogical find.

According to this obituary, not only was Mary-Jane a descendant of Thomas Rogers—but “She published a book on Thomas Rogers, Mayflower Pilgrim, in 1980.”

By building on the information in her obituary I can use other newspaper articles, census and other records to chain backwards on the family tree to Thomas Rogers. This way I can extend and complete our family history and document each person as I go from person to person in the tree.

You can do this with other clues in an obituary.

Did the family come from a very small town?

Do you share a Revolutionary War ancestor or other famous relative?

Build on those clues and rely on GenealogyBank’s Recent Obituaries to accurately document your family tree. To learn more about how to use obituaries for genealogy research, watch our tutorial on YouTube: “Obituaries: Clues to Look For.”

Note: FamilySearch International (FamilySearch.org) and GenealogyBank yesterday announced an agreement to make over a billion records from historical obituaries searchable online. The tremendous undertaking will make a billion records from over 100 million U.S. newspaper obituaries readily searchable online. The newspapers are from all 50 states and cover the period 1730 to the present.  Find out more at: http://www.genealogybank.com/family-search/

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History of the Plymouth Rock Landmark

Plymouth Rock, a large boulder on the edge of Plymouth Harbor, Massachusetts, is traditionally identified as the place where the Pilgrims first stepped ashore from the Mayflower in 1620 to found Plymouth Colony.

photo of Plymouth Rock

Credit: Wikipedia

Plymouth Rock has been visited, celebrated, and written about for centuries.

In 1835 Alexis de Tocqueville, a French author traveling throughout the United States, wrote:

“This Rock has become an object of veneration in the United States. I have seen bits of it carefully preserved in several towns in the Union. Does this sufficiently show that all human power and greatness is in the soul of man? Here is a stone which the feet of a few outcasts pressed for an instant; and the stone becomes famous; it is treasured by a great nation; its very dust is shared as a relic.”

Articles about Plymouth Rock have appeared in America’s newspapers since the early days of the nation.

Here is a verse from an early poem about Plymouth Rock written by Thomas Paine (1737-1809), published in 1799.

poem about Plymouth Rock by Thomas Paine, Federal Observer newspaper article 4 January 1799

Federal Observer (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), 4 January 1799, page 4

GenealogyBank has many newspaper articles reporting on Plymouth Rock celebrations over the years, including the 1820 celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ landing.

Celebration of the Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers at Plymouth, New England Palladium newspaper article 25 December 1800

New England Palladium (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 December 1800, page 4

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.

How to Find Descendants of Mayflower Pilgrims in Recent Obits

Genealogists love their ancestors—as well as the fact that important family history connections are often mentioned in recent obituaries.

Have you ever noticed how common it is for these recent obituaries to describe the name of their ancestor who came over on the Mayflower ship or fought in the American Revolutionary War?

screenshot of recent obituaries from GenealogyBank

Credit: GenealogyBank

Use those names in obituaries to your advantage in your genealogy research. If you’re searching for someone whose ancestry goes all the way back to the Mayflower and Plymouth Colony, then include the keyword “Mayflower” and that Pilgrim ancestor’s name in your search.

screenshot of a search in GenealogyBank for descendants of Mayflower passenger Samuel Fuller

Credit: GenealogyBank

For example, if you were looking for the recent obituary of someone descended from Mayflower passenger Samuel Fuller in the Recent Obituaries search page, you could type in: Mayflower, Samuel Fuller. This search will find all obituaries that mention this Mayflower ship passenger.

This particular search found 51 obituaries.

screenshot of search results in GenealogyBank for descendants of Mayflower passenger Samuel Fuller

Credit: GenealogyBank

Since each person in these 51 obituaries is the descendant of a common ancestor, Mayflower ship passenger Samuel Fuller, we know that all of them are relatives.

You will then want to research and document each generation back to this Mayflower Pilgrim ancestor to confirm these new members of your family tree.

You Want to Be Prepared as Thanksgiving Approaches

Now that it is November, the holidays will be here before you know it.

You want to prepare now.

That’s what Rose Briggs did. Her hard work set the tone for how Thanksgiving has been celebrated since 1921.

Rose’s Thanksgiving preparation is just one of the many great stories in GenealogyBank’s online newspaper archives.

collage of a newspaper photograph of Rose Briggs and an article about a 1776 Thanksgiving proclamation

Collage of a newspaper photograph of Rose Briggs and an article about a 1776 Thanksgiving proclamation

Rose Thornton Briggs (1893-1981) was always prepared for every Thanksgiving. She made the costumes and saw to the details of the annual “Pilgrim March” which was held on “every Friday in August” starting in 1921. In 1941 she added the tradition of also marching on Thanksgiving Day. Up through 1971 she participated in every one of those marches.

The Pilgrim March consists of 52 marchers, all in costume—each one representing a different Mayflower passenger that survived that first winter. All of the costumes were designed by Miss Briggs. She researched and prepared the costumes, working to make them as historically accurate as possible.

GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives let you read about the accomplishments of this energetic woman, who made a lasting contribution and changed the way Thanksgiving is celebrated annually in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The following newspaper article was published in the Boston Herald a decade before Rose Briggs passed away.

Rose Briggs, 78, Keeps Settlers' Heritage Alive, Boston Herald newspaper article 25 November 1971

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 November 1971, page 60

This Thanksgiving, let’s remember to also give thanks for Rose Thornton Briggs’ vision, creativity and hard work.

You can find other great Thanksgiving stories in GenealogyBank’s online newspapers.

For example, a “Thanksgiving proclamation” was published in the New-England Chronicle just months after the Declaration of Independence was issued and while the country was at war with England.

Proclamation for a Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer, New-England Chronicle newspaper article 28 November 1776

New-England Chronicle (Boston, Massachusetts), 28 November 1776, page 2

The proclamation ended with the stirring words:

God Save the United States of America! New-England Chronicle newspaper article 28 November 1776

New-England Chronicle (Boston, Massachusetts), 28 November 1776, page 2