This year we celebrated the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage. While this milestone wasn’t the biggest news of the year (😐), it is still important to history. And to the large number of us with colonial ancestors!
Since we are all busy this holiday season, I want to focus on some of the new resources released with the anniversary. And for good measure, some additional places to look to find your Mayflower ancestry.
Mayflower At 400
400 years ago, the Mayflower landed at Plymouth (Plimouth), setting into motion centuries of myth and legend. While the story we were taught as children is straightforward and sanitized, it left out a lot of hard reality. Thankfully we are now starting to look at all the aspects of the Mayflower. This includes the historical context of the New England region and the reality of the relationships between all of the peoples, both indigenous and European.
For a relatively quick primer on the expanded and inclusive examination of the Mayflower, check out this documentary. Be forewarned: it is 50 minutes, but it gives pre-voyage context and a look at what is being done now to tell the entire story.
This major anniversary is being celebrated not just here in the U.S. but also in the UK and the Netherlands. Websites have been set up to examine the Mayflower’s legacy, one for each major country in the story:
The UK (the best and most useful of the websites)
The USA (the most commercial of the websites, sadly)
The Netherlands (where the Puritans lived in exile before deciding to relocate to the American colonies)
Unfortunately, there isn’t a formal associated anniversary website for the Native nations. The British has the better page dedicated to Wampanoag history.
Thankfully, the importance of the Mayflower to the mythology of the United States has resulted in a large amount of existing research. The trick is getting your family tree back far enough to connect with that information!
Not all of the passengers managed to procreate or have surviving offspring. Below is a list of those known to have created New World families. This list includes the women who bore the children as well, so it is a bit longer than some of the standard lists.
Recognize any names from your tree? I have the family names but not yet any direct branches. Maybe someday!
- John Alden
- Priscilla (Mullins) Alden
- Bartholomew Allerton
- Isaac Allerton
- Mary (Norris) Allerton
- Mary (Allerton) Cushman
- Remember (Allerton) Maverick
- Elinor Billington
- Francis Billington
- John Billington
- William Bradford
- Love Brewster
- Mary Brewster
- William Brewster
- Peter Browne
- James Chilton
- Mrs. Chilton (wife of James)
- Mary (Chilton) Winslow
- Francis Cooke
- John Cooke
- Edward Doty
- Francis Eaton
- Samuel Eaton
- Sarah Eaton
- Moses Fletcher
- Edward Fuller
- Mrs. Fuller (wife of Edward)
- Samuel Fuller (son of Edward)
- Samuel Fuller (brother of Edward)
- Constance (Hopkins) Snow
- Giles Hopkins
- Stephen Hopkins
- Elizabeth (Fisher) Hopkins
- John Howland
- Richard More
- William Mullins
- Degory Priest
- Joseph Rogers
- Thomas Rogers
- Henry Samson
- George Soule
- Myles Standish
- Elizabeth (Tilley) Howland
- John Tilley
- Joan (Hurst) Tilley
- Richard Warren
- Peregrine White
- Resolved White
- Susanna (Jackson) White Winslow
- William White
- Edward Winslow
For a full list of passengers, whether or not they successfully went forth and multiplied, check out this site.
There are a number of societies and groups for the European Mayflower descendants. Here are a few to get you started. Alas, most resources have subscription or membership fees ($$). Check with your local library for access to some of the databases to help save some money.
- The Mayflower Society (for confirmed descendants, similar to Daughters of the American Revolution) $$
- American Ancestors (New England Historic Genealogy Society). Dedicated Mayflower-specific Resources $$
- Mayflower History.com. A labor of love for all things Mayflower, including genealogy resource lists. Free
- Family Search Pilgrims & Colonists. Free. Some parts require free login.
- Ancestry.com Genealogies of Mayflower Families, Vol 1. Search is free, subscription is required to view results. $$
For a lot of us, physical resources are a little hard to get our hands on right now. But once we can move about freely again, there are some options that have yet to be digitized:
“The Silver Books” by Bruce Campbell MacGunnigle. Printed by the Mayflower Society, these are detailed histories of the folks listed above. They include about 5 generations of descent, so if you can get within roughly 100 years or so of 1620, you may find a gold mine. You can buy them from the Society or hopefully find them at your local library.
Speaking of, your local library–especially if they have a genealogy center or section–may have a number of publications for you to get your research on!
If you know of a specific book title, check WorldCat to find a copy near(ish) to you. Most libraries offer interlibrary loans if it is several states away. And don’t forget Google Books and Archive.org for digitized public domain books.
There are also a number of general history books that explore the Mayflower, Plymouth, their history, and the impact of the settlers. Some of the newer ones include:
- The Mayflower: The Families, the Voyage, and the Founding of America by Rebecca Fraser
- Mayflower Lives: Pilgrims in a New World and the Early American Experience by Martyn Whittock
- They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty by John G Turner
- Of Plimoth Plantation (400th anniversary Edition) by William Bradford. Fully updated and annotated release of Bradford’s account of the early years of the settlement (not cheap-hopefully your library has it!).
Please note that each of these books has a different perspective and aim. Check out the description and reviews to best meet your interests.
Native American Resources
If you have or suspect you have Wampanoag or other regional tribal ancestry, we’re finally starting see some resources available for your research as well. A good place to start is with the American Ancestors’ Native Nations of New England page. It includes tribal information, available records, historical resources, and more to begin or expand your research.
Before We Sail On
Do you have any Mayflower connections? If so, what do you know of them? As we widen our view of the history of the Mayflower, has your opinion of this connection changed in anyway? Let me know below!
Personally, I have found ancestors going back to at least 1630. This fills me with tremendous pride–good job on surviving, peeps! But also with a sense of responsibility to understand their history and how it has shaped–for better and worse–the America we have today.
Thank you for following along on this quick resource overview of the Mayflower! Stay tuned for a more seasonally appropriate article soon!*
* Author’s Note: Apologies for the Thanksgiving after Christmas theme. I fell afoul of the plague and am at last recovered. This was already drafted and I wanted to release it in the actual anniversary year. Thank you for humoring me! 🙂
Mayflower Oil Painting: Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall. 1882. From collection of Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain, PD-US-expired.
Mary Chilton Arrives: Excerpt from Stories of the Old Bay State by Elbridge Streeter Brooks. Published by American Book Company, 1899. Page 29. Google Books. Public Domain.
Successful Landing: Desembarco de los puritanos en América by Antonio Gisbert. 1883. In the collection of Palacio del Senado, Madrid, Spain. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain, PD-US-expired.
John Smith Map: Excerpt from A Description of New England, or, Observations and discoveries in the north of America in the year of Our Lord 1614, with the success of six ships that went the next year, 1615 by John Smith. From The University of Pittsburgh Collection. Public Domain.
That magical time of year is upon us, when we are frantically trying to get everything done for the holidays. Added bonus: all things 2020 are making the season even more difficult! So let’s take a much needed break and chill out with some traditional Christmas music.
While our modern Christmas often looks quite different from our ancestors’ holiday season, we do have one thing in common: Christmas Carols. Music, like food, is a way we can reach across the ages and experience what people in the past experienced. Through our shared musical history, we can connect in a very visceral way.
For today, we’re focusing on carols found in the colonies that have English/British origins. This represents the largest population group in the colonies and seems to have the greatest proportion of carols we still enjoy today. Of course, some colonists weren’t so OK with the singing and dancing–conservative Puritan New England was not down with the revelry! But most colonists incorporated music into their daily lives, just as we do now.
For these performances, I chose versions that would approximate what the colonists would have heard. No giant choirs singing at Westminster or modern pop interpretations. There would have been improvisation but no jazz, blues, or rock influences since those genres didn’t exist yet.
Without further ado, grab some eggnog, mulled cider, or hot chocolate and check these out these carols!
The First Noël
“The First Noël” has a bit of a fuzzy history. The song is probably Cornish from the Early Modern period (~15-16th centuries). And it is possibly based on an even older musical style from medieval France. Side note: I’m a huge music geek. We won’t discuss the rabbit holes that happened during this research! 🤐
I like this performance because it is small and intimate. It would have been easy for colonials to perform in this style at home or in church. The guitar, in several historic forms, was available at the time, as were a number of other string instruments.
God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
One of the oldest known carols, going back to at least the 16th century, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” is also one of the most enduring. Questions of the language use and the tricky rhyme in the third verse aside, this would have been a common song among the English-language colonists.
The Coventry Carol
Another oldie but goody, “Coventry Carol” is also from the 16th century or earlier. This time, we’re going with a small choral group (renowned artists The Sixteen) to represent the scale of colonial churches. We didn’t have giant cathedrals like Westminster or York in the colonies. Instead, the churches were built for our smaller communities.
I Saw Three Ships
This is a fun way to end our quick exploration. Here we have a great example of the improvisation that would have been popular in the time period. Printed music was expensive and a lot of musicians would have learned by ear and then creatively filled in the gaps.
The song itself is probably from the 17th century (or, like the others, possibly earlier). “I Saw Three Ships” is one of my favorites to play because of the jaunty tune. Lindsey Stirling (sitting still!) and crew add a Gaelic feel to it, which would have been common in some regions of the colonies.
I hope you found these entertaining and just what you needed this week. 🙂
Which of these did you like most? In general, what is your favorite holiday song? Is it a traditional tune like these or are you more of a Santa Baby fan? Does your family have any “must be played” holiday music? Let me know below!
Have a happy and safe Holiday Season! 😀
I Saw Three Ships Sheet Music: From William Sandys’ Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern Published London: Richard Beckley, 1833. Available on HymnsAndCarolsOfChristmas.com.
First Nowell Sheet Music: From William Sandys’ Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern Published London: Richard Beckley, 1833. Available on HymnsAndCarolsOfChristmas.com.
Country Christmas: Pinterest: Colonial Williamsburg Education board.