Guide to Researching Mayflower Families in The Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library

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by John D. Beatty


November and Thanksgiving always bring to mind the Pilgrims, the Mayflower, Plymouth Colony, and the first Thanksgiving feast of 1621. Tracing one’s genealogy back to a Mayflower passenger is a popular and rewarding pastime. Millions of present-day Americans are thought to have a Mayflower passenger among their ancestors. Here in the Genealogy Center we are often asked to give advice about sources and techniques for Mayflower genealogical research. As in any genealogical endeavor, it is important to follow good research techniques, working backwards and documenting each generation with ample proofs, preferably from primary sources. Once you get to the mid-eighteenth century, a variety of tools exist in print to provide more substantial assistance, but one should also recognize that much erroneous information has been published, both in print and online, and care should be taken, genealogically speaking, to separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of these sources.

One of the best works to appear to date is Robert Charles Anderson’s “The Pilgrim Migration: Immigrants to Plymouth Colony 1620-1633,” published in 2004 (974.402 P74an). Authored by one of the top genealogical scholars in the nation, the book offers a careful analysis of the existing evidence for each of the Pilgrims, as well as other early residents of Plymouth Colony, and provides extensive bibliographic references to research by others. Also indispensable is the multi-volume “Mayflower Families through Five Generations,” (974.4 M45) published by the Society of Mayflower Descendants. These well-documented volumes trace all of the descendants through five generations for the following passengers: Francis Eaton, Samuel Fuller, William White, James Chilton, Richard More, Thomas Rogers, George Soule, Edward Fuller, Edward Winslow, John Billington, Stephen Hopkins, Peter Brown, Degory Priest, Edward Doty, Francis Cooke, Myles Standish, John Alden, Isaac Allerton, Richard Warren, Henry Samson, William Bradford, and John Howland. The effort is still on-going, and not all of the passengers have appeared, William Brewster being among the most notable, though Barbara Merrick has produced five-generation studies for several of the Brewster children, and her four-generation study of his descendants is also in print. Much of the above research has superseded Milton Terry’s earlier “Mayflower Ancestral Index” (1981) (929.11 T27m), though it is still useful.

There are also a number of histories of the Pilgrims in print. The earliest is the first-hand record by William Bradford, “Of Plymouth Plantation,” which is available in several editions (974.4B72bra). Written about 1647, this is one of the earliest histories of the New World. Eugene Aubrey Stratton’s “Plymouth Colony, Its History and People 1620-1691” (1986) (974.4 St8p) is a good, serviceable history, while a more recent history that has received much acclaim is Nathaniel Philbrick’s “Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War” (2006) (974.4 P534m) A variety of primary sources from Plymouth Colony have also appeared in print. “Plymouth Colony Records, volume 1, Wills and Inventories 1633-1669,” published in 1996 (974.402 P74s) contains verbatim transcriptions of the colony’s earliest probate records. Lee D. Van Antwerp’s compiled “Vital Records of Plymouth, Massachusetts to the Year 1850” (974.402 P74vi) contains useful registers of births, marriages, and deaths, as does the two-volume “Plymouth Church Records 1620-1859,” reprinted in 1975 (974.402 P74pLpc). The multi-volume “Records of the Town of Plymouth” (974.402 P74da) contains a verbatim transcript of town meeting minutes. Nathaniel Shurtleff’s “Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England” (974.4 N42r), published in multi-volume format, contains verbatim transcriptions of court records of the colony.

Other secondary sources that might prove useful to Mayflower researchers include several volumes by Susan E. Roser, transcribing the notes of George Ernest Bowman, a respected Mayflower scholar whose files are kept at the Society of Mayflower Descendants. These include “Mayflower Deeds and Probates from the Files of George Ernest Bowman” (974.4 R724ma), a transcription of thousands of deeds, arranged by the surname of the Mayflower passenger, and “Mayflower Births and Deaths from the Files of George Ernest Bowman” (974.4 R71m). Gary Boyd Roberts’ “Mayflower Source Records” (974.4 R54m) consists of reprinted articles that originally appeared in the “New England Historical and Genealogical Register.” These same articles are viewable and searchable online through the library’s subscription to “New England Ancestors,” a source of databases maintained by the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Finally, one should also consult the “Mayflower Descendant” (974.4 M447), a scholarly journal published since 1899 by the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants. This work is a treasure of compiled genealogical studies and record transcriptions that is well worth investigating.

In short, genealogists visiting the Genealogy Center will find abundant published resources for researching Mayflower genealogy, especially for the vicinity of Plymouth Colony itself. But because the descendants of these Pilgrims quickly spread outward from Massachusetts into the remainder of New England and New York in only a few generations, and from there, throughout the United States, researchers will likely need to investigate the records of many places in order to assemble their pedigree back to the Pilgrims.

Article taken from the Genealogy Gems[1]: News from the Fort Wayne Library
No. 45, November 30, 2007