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 Passengers

Start at the top of your family tree by looking for surnames matching the list of passengers on the Mayflower, shown on the accepted list of eligible ancestors compiled by Pilgrim lineage societies, most notably the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.

John AldenBartholomew AllertonIsaac Allerton
Mary (Norris) AllertonMary AllertonRemember Allerton
Elinor BillingtonFrancis BillingtonJohn Billington
William BradfordLove BrewsterMary Brewster
William BrewsterPeter BrowneJames Chilton
Mrs. James ChiltonMary ChiltonFrancis Cooke
John CookeEdward DotyFrancis Eaton
Samuel EatonSarah EatonMoses Fletcher
Edward FullerMrs. Edward FullerSamuel Fuller
Samuel Fuller (son of Edward)Constance HopkinsElizabeth (Fisher) Hopkins
Giles HopkinsStephen HopkinsJohn Howland
Richard MorePriscilla MullinsWilliam Mullins
Degory PriestJoseph RogersThomas Rogers
Henry SamsonGeorge SouleMyles Standish
Elizabeth TilleyJohn TilleyJoan (Hurst) Tilley
Richard WarrenPeregrine WhiteResolved White
Susanna WhiteWilliam WhiteEdward 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

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 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 descendant of the Mayflower passengers, 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”.

Learn more about the people on the Mayflower passenger list and how to research your Mayflower genealogy using GenealogyBank. Or search our ship passenger records to start tracing your family history on the Mayflower and other passenger ships from 1704-1984.

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.

34 Responses to "Researching Your Pilgrim Ancestry from Mayflower Ship Passengers"
  1. Interesting article and according to your ancestry we are distant cousins. I have built on another relatives genealogy work and am descended from- William and Mary Brewster, Thomas Rogers thru son Joseph who was a child on the Mayflower and Stephen and Mary Hopkins thru Giles and Catherine Weldon.
    I find it amazing that out of 51 Pilgrims Millions of people can claim this ancestry.
    Nice to meet you and Happy Thanksgiving.

  2. I am related to Elizabeth & John Tilley, their dau. Desire, her son, James.Gorham, his dau. Experience Gorham Lothrop, her dau. Lydia Lothrop Bacon, her son, Ebenezer, his son, Ebenezer, his dau. Margaret Bacon Lewis whose son John Bacon Lewis continued the adventurous spirit & came to California in 1849. He stayed in San Francisco until 1857 when he & his wife moved to Petaluma, Sonoma, CA where the family resided until 2000 & separated to other parts of CA.

  3. I am a descendant of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins…. my Revolutionary War ancestor, Robert Lenthal Eells, married my Alden line ancestor Ruth Copeland. Sorry we are not cousins but I know many, many people who are Hopkins and Tilley descendants like you! Just attended the Maine Mayflower Society meeting last Saturday and it was great- we had an interpreter from Plimoth to speak with us in character, Elizabeth Tilley. I am so looking forward to the celebrations in 2020 for the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims voyage!!

  4. Thank you for sharing all of the Mayflower connections! And for those who don’t share my Pilgrim ancestry, perhaps we are related in other ways.

    My best wishes for a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving!

  5. I am a descendant of Isaac Allerton through his daughter Remember. I have loved reading the Mayflower articles available on and was thrilled to see the marriage record of Isaac and Mary Norris that you discovered in Leiden. Thank you so much for sharing that record and your knowledge on the blog!

  6. Happy 392th Thanksgiving & Thank you for your Blog from a William Brewster, (at least three lines) Thomas & Joseph Rogers, Henry Samson, James & Mary Chilton descendant. Ray Raser Co-Editor CAMayflower Quarterly, Governor San Diego Colony Mayflower Descendants

  7. Mary
    Was excited to see your blog. I just made connection from Mary Allerton through the Cushman families of Isaac, Isaac and Sarah, who married Benjamin Spooner then through Spooners to Harriet Spooner who married Emory B.F. Draper who is my Great grandfather. Is there someway to get a copy of the marriage certificate? Thanks for your information. Lloyd

  8. Lloyd,

    Congratulations on finding your connection to the Allertons.

    An easy way to save the image is to save the article in portable document format. Go to the bottom of the blog, and select PDF next to PRINT. After clicking on it, you will be presented with a SAVE, or a SAVE AS PDF option and can then proceed to save it to your computer.

    To extract the image from the article, right-click the image and select Save As (on a MAC use Ctrl+Click as a substitute for right-clicking.) Take the opportunity to add an appropriate name such as “Allerton-Norris Leiden marriage from Mary Harrell-Sesniak and GenealogyBank blog of 2013-11-25.”

    Although the name is long, I recommend adding a similar notation so the attribution is retained.

    Hope this helps!


  9. HI,

    I am descended from George Soule, Edward, Ann and Samuel Fuller. And probably Francis Eaton and William Brewster, and a few others but can’t prove those. Also Henry Howland, brother of John Howland of the Mayflower.

    It gets really complicated the first 4 generations from the Mayflower as there weren’t that many people to marry… cousins got married and the names were so overused… :-)
    anyway, I’m having lots of fun trying to make the “links” viable and real… sometimes there are wishful thinking people who claim some links that are just “wrong”.

    Have fun.

  10. I was curious about the first person in my family to step foot in America, thanks to the tv series “Who do you think you are” and “Finding your Roots”. With the help of online databases, I was shocked to discover my roots go waaaay back – both to Jamestown Colony (William Powell and Temperance Flowerdew) and the Mayflower (John Alden, Issac Allerton, William Brewster, Edward Fuller and Richard Warren).

    I wished I had paid more attention to American history in high school. And I am learning all about the English Civil war(s).

  11. I am a decendent of Peregrin White, He was my 8th great grandfather on my fathers side, (George W Young 1901 to 2000), the direct decendent of Sarah White and Thomas Young. I am curious as to how much information exists about Sarah and Thomas and the decendents from them. My father was born in Arkansas and moved his family to the bay area of northern California in the mid 40’s, where I was born in 1946 he passed at age 99 in 2000. I currently live in northern Cal, just 120 miles north of our original home site. I had no clue as to who I was until after the deaths of my parents, my first introduction to was exciting beyond my wildest dreams and then I went to Europe, on line, and found ancestors on my fathers side, of grandfathers Young, Yonge etc. back to the year 1325 My mom was also the decendent of very early pilgrims sur names Savage/Glotfellty who settled in the north west parts of Pennsylvania and southern Maryland, the Savage side of which may have been here even before the Mayflower, as they came from the Virginia area. Wow, Who knew? Very exciting stuff!

  12. Your information is a great help. I started my family tree and could go no further back than Ellis Island. So I started to work on my husbands. His grandmother was Florence Alvord and if I am accurate, through Ruth Norcott, there is relation to multiple Mayflower passengers. I was more excited I think than he was! Remembering grade school and our study of the Mayflower and Pilgrims. Imagine being a descendant! You would have been a celebrity! Anyway, I am afraid to tell the rest of the family until I am sure. Some of the information and references you provided will make me feel more confident with my findings.

  13. Bonnie,

    Wonderful to hear that my article helped with your husband’s research, and I sincerely hope you’ll be able to discover more of your own.


  14. I discovered your blog of November 25, 2013 on Genealogy Bank while researching Stephen Hopkins. The blog starts out with the article titled: “New Discovery about Mayflower Pilgrim Stephen Hopkins” The blog refers to the dilemma that Hopkins had getting supplies to Jamestown and that soon after he finally arrived with supplies the colony was evacuated back to England. Can you lead me to the reference for that? I live near Jamestown and have not heard that. I’m research Stephen Hopkins for more Mayflower connections and Jamestown Society. One brick wall for 6-7 connection…need one birth record for Silvanus Whiting (Whitten) son of Asa and Lydiah Cooke of Mayflower lineage. Thanks, Judith Letchworth

  15. Hi Judith,

    Glad you enjoyed my Mayflower blog.

    The article titled “New Discovery about Mayflower Pilgrim Stephen Hopkins” was not in my article, but was posted in a companion blog by Thomas Jay Kemp on 7 November 2014. Follow this link to read it:

    Good luck with finding the birth record of Sylvanus Whiting. I wasn’t able to find anything in the newspapers, but recommend you visit the National Archives to see if they have any clues.


  16. In researching my husbands family I found out the line goes back to William Holmes who came here from England in 1632. His oldest son was John who was born 1638 in Plymouth Colony. John’s oldest son was Joseph who married Mary Brewster. My father-in-law gave us a book titled “The Giles Memorial” and in it was preserved “The Holmes of Marshfield”. I have been researching my parents ancestry as well as the Holmes and have enjoyed and been amazed at the discoveries. It’s been wonderful.

  17. Hello, cousin! I am a descendent of Stephen Hopkins and his daughter Constance. My line runs through Shelburne County, Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, I cannot find proof for one ancestor. I can find proof he existed but not of his parentage. He’s the son of Nathan Snow and his wife Mary aka Polly. It’s been a decade. I am related to two of his offspring and can prove to his parents and the generations after him. Maddening!

  18. I am related to George Soule ,his daughter married a Weston who came on a later ship. My great grandmother was a Weston. I want to share this information with my near relatives at Thanksgiving.

    I’d also like to try and join the Mayflower society, I live in Washington state.

    thanks for all your sharing and information

  19. I guess we also are distant cousins, as I am a descendent of Giles Hopkins on my father’s side and Edward Fuller on my mother’s side. As you point out, there would necessarily have been a fair amount of intermarriage among the surviving Mayflower families, so I am trying to figure out how to track down from other Mayflower families to my own. I would really like to see a connection with the Howland family as a good friend of mine is a descendent of that family. I am sure in this age of computerized databases I ought to be able to input my name, or some of my ancesestor’s names into a Howland family database to see if there is a connection.

    Do I have to join a society to do such? If so, do have you a recommendation as which would have better search facilities for finding connections between generations?

  20. Thanks for your research and blog. I believe I am a descendent of Edward Doty. I am having problems connecting several generations back to him. Is there a site or source where I can obtain a chart or description of his line of descendants?

  21. I have recently stumbled upon a connection to Stephen Hopkins as follows:
    Stephen Hopkins>Constance Hopkins>Mark Snow>Thomas Snow>Aaron Snow> Phebe Snow>Oliver Crowell>Susannah Crowell>Oliver Crowell Dickey>Alphonso Dickey>Leslie Dickey>Lura Dickey>Vernett Fish>Marjorie Smith Elliott. I have one generation (Susannah Crowell m. William Dickey) that fits, but is difficult to find the actual proofs. However, I am “like a dog with a bone” and will eventually find it! I never have as much fun as I do when I am chasing “dead people.”

    Marjorie Elliott

  22. I’ve been doing my ancestor research for a few years now and came across a Sarah Hannah White born in 1641 in Durham, Strafford, New Hampshire to a John White and Lucy ??. John White was born about 1604 in Bradford Abbas, Dorset, England and died November 1678 in Kittery, York, Maine. His parents are Thomas White and Ann White(Looman). Sarah’s siblings are Mary White(Thompson) and Hannah White(Allen) that I have found so far. Is there anyway I could find out if his line is connected with Peregrine White?

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