Finding Mayflower Families

Copyright © 1991, 2008
Do not post or publish without written permission.
Revised 14 November 2008

“It has been estimated by Gary Boyd Roberts, of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, that there are some 30 million descendants of the Mayflower families. So even if you don’t carry the surname of one of the 23 progenitors that survived that first winter, it is still possible that you descend from one of them.”

Most of us, since we were children, have heard of the Mayflower, the Pilgrims, and that first Thanksgiving. It is a part of our history. For genealogists, who are descended from these Pilgrims, it becomes much more.

Although the Mayflower‘s passengers weren’t the first to settle in the New World, they are probably the best remembered. Historical accounts in both fiction and non-fiction are found on the Aldens, Brewsters, Cookes, and others.

It has been estimated by Gary Boyd Roberts, of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, that there are some 30 million descendants of the Mayflower families.1 So even if you don’t carry the surname of one of the 23 progenitors that survived that first winter, it is still possible that you descend from one of them.

It is more likely that if you have Mayflower ties, that you descend from one of the following: John Alden, Isaac Allerton, John Billington, William Bradford, William Brewster, Peter Brown, James Chilton, Francis Cooke, Edward Doty, Francis Eaton, Edward Fuller, Samuel Fuller (Edward and Samuel were brothers), Stephen Hopkins, John Howland, Richard More, Degory Priest, Thomas Rogers, Henry Sampson, George Soule, Myles Standish, Richard Warren, William White and Edward Winslow.

There are many resources available to the researcher of Mayflower families. One of the first that should be check is the three volume set, Mayflower Families, published by Genealogical Publishing Co., in 1985. This work contains the complete collection of articles on the Mayflower families that was published in the New England Historic Genealogical Register and are the writings of the foremost Mayflower scholars of the 1800s and 1900s. This source is available in most libraries that have a genealogical department.

For published vital records and other important primary sources such as probate records, you should see if your library has the Mayflower Descendant. This is the quarterly published by the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants. The original 34 volumes were published from 1899 through 1937. And there is an index to persons for these 34 volumes. The Mayflower Descendant resumed publication in 1985 with volume 32.2

If you are descended from a Mayflower family, then you may be eligible for membership in The General Society of Mayflower Descendants. This a hereditary society and you must be able to prove a blood descent from one of the original passengers. If you think you have enough proof, contact them at P.O. Box 3297, Plymouth Center, MA 02361 for an application.

Susan E. Roser’s Mayflower Increasings is based on the booklet that John Landis published in 1922. Ms. Roser has taken his original 37 paged booklet and revised and expanded the descent of the passengers to three generations. Her sources are well documented and this book provides us with an accurate and reliable summary of the passengers abroad the Mayflower.

A second book by Susan E. Roser is Mayflower Marriages. This 415 page book is compiled from the files of George Ernest Bowman. She has extracted some 10,000 marriages covering five generations and has strived to show the descent. George Ernest Bowman is the founder of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants and was the editor of the Mayflower Descendant until 1937. The information amassed in his files stems from fifty years of researching the Mayflower lines, and Susan E. Roser has given it to us at our fingertips. This book was published in 1990 and should be available at any library with a genealogy section.

For researching these pre-1700 marriages and names, another good source is Clarence Almon Torrey’s New England Marriages Prior to 1700. Mr. Torrey has long been considered the final word on pre-1700 marriages. Though his research in manuscript form is found on microfilm at the Family History Library and the New England Historic and Genealogical Society, the published edition is easy to use and the index makes searching for your female lines simple.

But, of course, there was more to these Mayflower families than just names, dates and places. And there are some great published accounts of their life in general. One of the first, being published in 1622, is G. Mourt’s (Morton’s) Journall of the English Plantation at Plimouth. Sometimes referred to as “Mourt’s Relation,” it describes the voyage of the Mayflower, the first explorations ashore and the construction of Plymouth Plantation.

Another popular book is George F. Willison’s Saints and Strangers. This was published in 1945 and although the author did do original research, he chose to combine fiction with it, thus making it hard to rely on. But it does make for some interesting reading and many may find the storytelling prose easier to read. For genealogical researchers though, it should be used cautiously and it should be remembered that it is outdated.

Perhaps the best book on the lives of the Plymouth Colony available today, is Eugene Aubrey Stratton’s Plymouth Colony: Its History & People, 1620-1691 (Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986). Kip Sperry refers to it as “the major guidebook for Plymouth Colonial . . . research” and says that it is “essential for beginning and experienced genealogists.”3

Mr. Stratton gives you the historical viewpoint and how it interwove with the Pilgrims and their beliefs. The book has three major sections. The first being the historical chapters, the second being narratives of such things as the political structure, law and order, and everyday life and manners. These chapters give you an inside look at how the Mayflower families felt and believed.

By far the most used and most appreciated section is the third, which has biographical sketches. These sketches are many and if your ancestor was in Plymouth Colony before 1634, it is very possible the biographical sketch is a bibliography that can help you find more information about your Mayflower ancestors as well as other early ancestors.

These are but a few of the published resources available for researching Mayflower families, but they are among the best and most reliable. And they will give you much information both in dates and places as ideas and everyday life pictures of your ancestors.

  1. Myra Vanderpool Gormley, “Shaking Your Family Tree” (Los Angeles Times), 22 November 1990, Genealogy RoundTable on GEnie
  2. Kip Sperry, New England Genealogical Research. A Guide to Sources (Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, Inc., 1988), p. 69.
  3. Ibid., p. 72.