How to Connect with Your Pilgrim Ancestors and Join the Mayflower Society
Would you like to join the Mayflower Society? We walk you through the steps of proving your Pilgrim ancestry!
If you know or suspect that you are descended from one of the original Pilgrims who arrived in Massachusetts on 9 November 1620 there is still time to join the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (more commonly known as the Mayflower Society) before the November 2020 celebration of the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower.
Proving your connection to a Mayflower passenger can be challenging. Tracing your ancestry four hundred years in time can mean 20 or more generations must be researched with documentation verifying the birth, marriage, and death of each individual. The steps outlined below will assist you in your quest to become a member of the Mayflower Society. As an added bonus, we discuss two unique tools to use in the process.
Step 1: Compare the names in your family tree with the names of the Pilgrims.
Compile a list of the surnames in your family tree. Eliminate those you know immigrated after 1620. This process is likely to eliminate many of the family names of your ancestors. Make a note of the surnames of the branches of your family which you have not extended back to 1620 and add them to the list of potential Pilgrim candidates.
Using the list of Mayflower passengers provided by the Mayflower Society, compare your family names to determine if you have any potential matches. Although there were 102 passengers onboard the Mayflower, only 50 of those passengers are known to have living descendants today, reducing the number of family names for comparison.
Step 2: Use the “Silver Books” to compare known descendants of the Mayflower passengers with your family’s lineage.
The Mayflower Society has documented the first five generations of Mayflower descendants in their series of books Mayflower Families Through Five Generations, known as the Silver Books because of their distinctive covers. These books are available for purchase through the Mayflower Society, for review in various libraries, and as part of the online database of the subscription-based New England Historic Genealogical Society.
Because the Silver Books trace five generations forward, the lineages are large and include the birth, marriage, and death information for descendants into the late 1700s. This reduces the difficulty of comparing your family tree with the names of known descendants of Mayflower passengers. Remember, simply finding the name of your ancestor in one of the Silver Books does not guarantee membership in the Mayflower Society. You still need to document the connection!
Step 3: Utilize the Mayflower Lineage Match Form to verify your proposed ancestry.
It takes a lot of time and effort to complete an application for membership in the Mayflower Society. To avoid needlessly spending time collecting documents for an inaccurate lineage, it is a good idea to take advantage of the Mayflower Lineage Match service. For a fee of $45, one of the genealogists at the Mayflower Society will compare your proposed lineage with their approved lineages to determine what portion of your line has been documented and to alert you to potential inaccuracies in your family tree. The service takes about six weeks and you receive a report of the genealogist’s findings and how to proceed or where the difficulty is occurring.
Step 4: Collect documentation to prove your connection from generation to generation and contact your local chapter of the Mayflower Society.
Once you are confident that your proposed lineage is likely to accurately connect you to a Mayflower ancestor, it is time to collect the necessary documentation. Birth, marriage, and death certificates are necessary for you and each succeeding generation. Copies of these records are sufficient; the Mayflower Society does not need the original documents. If a vital record does not name the parents of the individual, some other document, such as a census report, must be included to verify the generational connection.
Prior to 1900, it can become difficult to locate vital records simply because most jurisdictions did not collect this information. Census records, obituaries, wills, and other records can be used to provide the proof of the generational connections. Keep in mind that prior to 1880 the U.S. Census did not note the relationship of the individuals to the head of the household and therefore those earlier census reports are unlikely to be accepted as proof of kinship.
This is also a good time to make contact with your local chapter of the Mayflower Society. Member Societies, as they are called, are located in each state plus Washington, D.C., Canada, and Europe. To find your Member Society, go to https://www.themayflowersociety.org/join/contact-your-member-society.
The Mayflower Society has two additional tools which may prove useful for establishing your Mayflower connection, depending on your circumstances.
Are you a member of the Daughters or Sons of the American Revolution?
The Mayflower Society has provided prospective applicants with a very useful tool for determining if their Patriot Ancestor from the Daughters or Sons of the American Revolution (DAR or SAR) leads to a Mayflower Pilgrim. The Patriot to Passenger Bridge Project is a 175+ page list of Patriot Ancestors whose genealogy connects them with one of the Mayflower passengers (https://www.themayflowersociety.org/images/PATRIOT_TO_PASSENGER-to_Ply_october.pdf). The list extends the lineage of each of the related Patriot Ancestors to a fifth-generation Mayflower descendant found in one of the Silver Books.
As Muriel Cushing, the Historian of the Florida Mayflower Society and creator of the Patriot to Passenger Bridge Project notes, hereditary societies including the Mayflower Society will not accept your application from another organization, but “once you have proven your line as far as your Patriot it is not a big jump to the Silver Books and documentation to the Passenger.”
Ms. Cushing also reminds applicants the proofs they used for acceptance to the DAR or SAR can be used for application for membership to the Mayflower Society. Copies of these can be acquired from the respective societies as needed.
Using Y-DNA and mtDNA test results in special cases.
DNA has become a useful tool for genealogical research and the Mayflower Society recognizes its value for prospective members. It is important to note that an applicant may not simply present DNA evidence and expect admission to the Mayflower Society. Full documentation from one generation to the next as discussed above must be provided for all applications. However, in a specific situation where the paper trail is insufficient to prove the connection between one father and his son it is possible to use Y-DNA evidence as additional proof of the connection. There are provisions for female applicants to use the Y-DNA of a male relation as well. The Mayflower Society has also expressed its willingness to consider full sequence mtDNA testing on a case-by-case basis.
The Mayflower Society has outlined the specific situations when DNA can be used in conjunction with traditional paper documentation and the proper protocol for submitting DNA evidence. You may also review The Mayflower DNA mtDNA Project on FamilyTreeDNA.
If you believe that your case requires the use of DNA, discuss your specific needs with your Member Society.
The 400th Anniversary of the Mayflower
2020 promises to be an exciting year for Americans, particularly those who can trace their ancestry to one of the Mayflower Pilgrims. Celebrations and commemorations will be held by the General Society as well as Member Societies. A monument is planned to commemorate the landing of the Mayflower, plans with the U.S. Postal Service are underway to create a commemorative stamp, and there is a grass-roots effort to design a Mayflower-themed coin.
There will be many smaller celebrations of events leading up to the 400th Anniversary of the Mayflower’s landing at Plymouth. If your ancestors were part of that group of Pilgrims, you still have time to complete your application to join the Mayflower Society. Completing the application is a challenging task, which is why many of our clients turn to Legacy Tree Genealogists to assist in the process. We have helped a number of applicants successfully complete the process and we would be happy to help you celebrate and commemorate your Mayflower connection.
In addition to the Mayflower Society, the experts at Legacy Tree Genealogists can provide assistance for those who are interested in joining other hereditary societies in both the United States and abroad. Request your free consultation today!