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Researching Your Mayflower Ancestors: Part IV: Internet Research: Sorting the Good from the Bad
Alicia Crane Williams
You know the saying -- “Don’t believe everything you read.” The lure of Mayflower ancestry very often leads people astray. Fanciful, faked, or mistaken Mayflower lines have a life of their own – and the Internet spreads them around the world.
In Part II of this series, I gave the authoritative list of Mayflower passengers from whom descent can be proved for membership in the Mayflower Society (see also additions at the end of this article), and in Part III I listed the authoritative publications of the Mayflower Society on the first four or five generations of these families (see additions below). Any claims to Mayflower ancestry should always first be checked against these sources; but that still leaves many generations between a prospective member and the “Five Generations” publications. The Internet naturally provides a great opportunity to locate Mayflower connections and documentation to support them if used with appropriate caution.
Acceptable and not acceptable
Information taken from the Internet is not useable as documentation with the exception of scanned images of original documents (such as census records), scanned images (not transcriptions or abstracts) of published books, and fully identified transcriptions of primary material (such as cemetery records). Family trees, genealogies, message boards, etc., are not acceptable. Databases and indexes are not acceptable – you must obtain copies of the original records. For example, ancestry.com includes a database titled “Illinois Marriages, 1851-1900.” The database entry cannot be used as documentation but it does cite the microfilm number at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City from which the information was abstracted, which can be used to obtain a copy of the original.
Unfortunately, the Mayflower Society, itself, does not have a published database and there are very few on-line databases specifically for Mayflower families. The Alden Kindred of America has an 8-generation database on its website, www.alden.org (both the html and GEDCOM versions are also available on CD-ROM), which comes with a strong caveat that it represents an index only to names that have been collected from many sources, only a fraction of which are documented in the database. Some of the information taken from lineage papers of the Alden Kindred is documented, but other information may be waiting for documentation in the ongoing “Alden Kin Search Project” dedicated to locating all Alden descendants (only 45,000 names appear in the database out of an estimated one million descendants!). Inquiries should be sent to the Alden Kindred genealogist (firstname.lastname@example.org) to determine the sources supporting the information in the database. An update to the database, originally published in 2003, is planned for 2006.
A similar publication for the descendants of Thomas Rogers through the sixth generation is available at http://www.tracycrocker.com/TRS/index.htm, and the Edward Doty Society’s web page, www.edward-doty.org, includes a “lineages” section for members only. Several family organizations (Bartlett, Chilton, Francis Cooke, Delano) have databases and/or are pursuing sixth and seventh generation extensions of the Mayflower Society’s “Five Generations” project, but I have not located any other on-line databases for families of Mayflower passengers. The website of the Society of Mayflower Descendants in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania provides a good page of links to other Mayflower-related websites (
User submitted “trees” and message boards
The quickest way to survey what other people have collected is to access the millions of user-submitted pedigrees, “trees,” family group sheets, etc., available on-line through such sites as
(Ancestry World Tree, OneWorldTree),
(Ancestral File, Pedigree Resource File), and
(World Family Tree, Family Tree Maker Home pages)
The drawback to most user-submitted on-line trees is inadequate or non-existent documentation, repetition, and size. A large number of uploaded trees incorporate other trees previously downloaded from other on-line trees, creating a perpetual circle of duplication upon duplication of the same information (ancestry.com has 1500 entries for William Mullins with wife Alice – most incorrectly identifying her as Alice Atwood and many including the spurious claim that Mullins descends from the Molyneaux family; sources or notes are included for only 200 of these entries and most of those are merely to other trees!). Searches for common names may provide tens of thousands of “hits,” even with advanced search capabilities.
Nonetheless, even though these trees and pedigrees cannot be used as documentation, there is good information in some, which may lead to a source or specific information to aid in locating documentation. The trick is to compare what you find with other sources and track down any documentation that is cited.
Many of these sites also provide message boards where users can post questions and answers, and the regular users of these boards are often savvy advisors regarding typical pitfalls about their particular subject. Ancestry.com’s message boards (under the heading Ancestry Community) includes a board for Mayflower Descendants (under Boards>Topics>Organizations and Societies) as well as surname boards for all of the Mayflower family names.
Databases and transcriptions from “primary” sources
Databases derived from original material – such as vital records, probates, deeds, cemetery, etc. – are very useful, keeping in mind that the database itself is not documentation and cannot be cited as such. If a scan of the original document is not also on-line, you should obtain a copy of the original from its source.
The premier site for databases on New England locations and families is, of course,
. Outside of New England there are many on-line local sites such as those accessible through
, which links to state, county and town records posted by a cadre of volunteers working in the USGenWeb Project, among others. These records vary widely from location to location depending on the activity of the volunteers. Some sites contain large and detailed transcriptions, while others may only contain minimal information about where to write for records. Www.cyndislist.com provides a portal to thousands of websites with genealogical information indexed by location and topic.
Scanned secondary sources
Heritage Quest’s Family and Local Histories collection of scanned images of tens of thousands of published genealogies (accessible through newenglandancestors.org), literally brings the library into your home. These images can be used in the same way as photocopies from the originals (however, the text scanned versions available on some sites are not acceptable because of the many errors introduced during the text scanning). Most of these books are older, out of copyright publications, so you will not find the most up-to-date genealogies, but the old classics are there, including some rare volumes that are not available in many libraries (such as Franklyn Howland’s 1885 work on the Howland family, and Andrew Adams’s 1898 work on the Adams family containing many Alden descendants).
Finally, any thorough Internet search should include the use of a search engine, such as www.google.com. Make it a habit to do a Google search every time you look for a name or place. A recent search on the name Augustus Alden brought me to sites on Civil War artillery companies, Andersonville Prison, mayors of Nashville, and Amherst College alumni!
Some common Mayflower errors
Here are a few bad connections to watch out for:
Alden – The parentage of John Alden has not been discovered despite various claims. Henry Alden of Billerica and Dedham, Massachusetts, was not a son or grandson of John Alden of the Mayflower, although Henry left descendants who are often confused with the John Alden family.
Brewster – William Brewster’s wife Mary remains unidentified and has no proved royal ancestry. Neither William Brewster of Jamestown, Virginia, nor Rev. Nathaniel Brewster of New Haven, Connecticut, was a child of William Brewster of the Mayflower.
Brown – Claims of royal ancestry for Peter Brown are unfounded. He has descendants only through his daughters and was not the father of Peter Brown of Windsor, Connecticut. Therefore, finding a “Brown” ancestor will not lead you back to the family of the Mayflower.
Cooke – Josiah Cooke of Eastham was not a son of Francis Cooke of the Mayflower.
Doty – Claimed baptismal records and ancestry for Edward Doty are fictional.
Fuller – The second wife of Samuel2 Fuller was not a descendant of William Brewster.
Goodman/Dunham – John Goodman of the Mayflower was not the same man as John Dunham who later settled in Plymouth and left descendants.
Hopkins –Neither John Hopkins of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Hartford, Connecticut, nor William Hopkins of Southold, Long Island, are descendants of Stephen Hopkins of the Mayflower.
Howland – John Howland’s wife, Elizabeth Tilley, was not a daughter of John Carver of the Mayflower.
Mullins – Claims that the Mullins family is really the Molyneaux family or that William Mullins of the Mayflower was Huguenot are false, and claims of royal ancestry are unfounded. The maiden name of his wife Alice is not known.
Rogers – The only children of Thomas Rogers to have known descendants are sons Joseph and John. Attempts to connect other New England Rogers families with this family are false.
Sampson – Abraham Sampson of Plymouth is not a brother to Henry Sampson of the Mayflower, although he may be a cousin. Henry Sampson’s son John died without issue and is not John Sampson of Beverly, Massachusetts.
Standish – Thomas Standish of Wethersfield, Connecticut, was not a son of Myles Standish of the Mayflower.
Warren – Claims that Richard Warren has royal ancestry are unfounded.
White – William White’s wife Susanna’s maiden name is not known; she was not a sister of Mayflower passengers Samuel and Edward Fuller.
Some additions to Parts II and III of this series:
Mayflower lineages from women passengers
The Mayflower Society is now accepting lineages filed from three women who came on the Mayflower; previously, all lineages had to begin with one of the male heads of families. The three new qualifying ancestors were chosen because they were adult, married women whose maiden names are known:
Mary (Norris) Allerton, wife of Isaac Allerton and mother of passengers Remember and Mary Allerton.
Elizabeth (Fisher) Hopkins, second wife of Stephen Hopkins.
Joan (Hurst) (Rogers) Tilley, wife of John Tilley and mother of passenger Elizabeth Tilley.
New Mayflower Families publications
Since the publication of Part III of this series, the General Society of Mayflower Descendants has published:
Mayflower Families Through Five Generations, Volume 23, Part 1, John Howland, containing the first four generations of his younger children: Lydia (who married James Brown), Hannah (who married Jonathan Bosworth), Joseph, Jabez, Ruth (who married Thomas Cushman) and Isaac. This leaves two middle children – Hope, who married John Chipman, and Elizabeth, who married Ephraim Hicks and John Dickinson – who have not yet been treated in print.
Mayflower Families in Progress, George Soule, Fifth and Sixth Generations, Part Four (Family Numbers 552-636).
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