Genealogy 101: Beginning Your Mayflower Research

Introduction: In this article – part of an ongoing “Introduction to Genealogy” series – Gena Philibert-Ortega describes how the “Silver Books” produced by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants are an excellent resource for your Mayflower genealogy. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”

Are you one of the approximately 35 million people who descend from a Mayflower passenger? Did your family have stories about Mayflower ancestry that you’d like to prove? Perhaps you’re hoping to take what you know and prove it so that you can join the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, or write something for your family documenting this legacy. How do you do that?

An article about researching Mayflower lineage, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper article 27 November 1997
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 27 November 1997, page 35

Once you start researching your genealogy and get back to the late 18th century, there is a source to help you continue the next five generations to your Mayflower ancestors. If you know the name of the Mayflower ancestor, your next step is to consult the series of books Mayflower Families Through Five Generations (also referred to as the “Silver Books” because of their silver covers).

Mayflower Families Through Five Generations, published by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, is a multi-volume series that traces Mayflower passengers with known descendants. These genealogies range from 200 to 700 pages and in some cases go beyond the fifth generation, providing you even more complete and accurate research.

According to the New England Historic and Genealogical Society, there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel because the “research relies on original material and has been vetted by expert genealogists.” (1)

Mayflower passengers covered in this series include: (2)

  • John Alden
  • Isaac Allerton
  • John Billington
  • William Bradford
  • Elder William Brewster
  • Peter Brown
  • James Chilton
  • Francis Cooke
  • Edward Doty
  • Francis Eaton
  • Edward Fuller
  • Samuel Fuller
  • Stephen Hopkins
  • John Howland
  • Richard More
  • Degory Priest
  • Thomas Rogers
  • Henry Samson
  • George Soule
  • Myles Standish
  • Richard Warren
  • William White
  • Edward Winslow
Painting: "Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor," by William Halsall, 1882
Painting: “Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor,” by William Halsall, 1882. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

In addition to the Silver Books, there are the pink Mayflower Families in Progress booklets (MFIP). The General Society of Mayflower Descendants says of these booklets: “Our pink Mayflower Families in Progress (MFIP) booklets are Silver Books in the making. These booklets are made available while new information is being researched. Once complete, they become Silver Books.” (3)

The Silver Books are available in larger library collections. Use the online library catalog WorldCat to locate one near you. You can also purchase these books from the General Society of Mayflower Descendants or other online sources; however, in some cases the prices may be much higher than found on the Society website so be aware. (4)

Some of the information is also available from the subscription website American Ancestors from the New England Historic Genealogical Society database, Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700-1880. Though not completed yet, they will eventually include information from 31 volumes.

Start Your Mayflower Research!

Have Mayflower ancestry? Great – with the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower in 2020, it’s never been a better time to start your research. There are many resources out there, but one place to begin is the Silver Books.


(1) “A Guide to Proving Mayflower Ancestry,” American Ancestors. Spring 2018, p. 37.
(2) “Silver Books and Mayflower Families in Progress Booklets (MFIP),” General Society of Mayflower Descendants ( accessed 23 November 2019).
(3) “Silver Books and Mayflower Families In Progress Booklets (MFIP),” General Society of Mayflower Descendants ( accessed 23 November 2019).
(4) “Mayflower fifth generation,” Caleb Johnson’s Mayflower History ( accessed 23 November 2019).

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