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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Pilgrims and Thanksgiving
by Rhonda R. McClure

November 23, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Believe it or not there are at least 40 million people who will be sitting down to Thanksgiving Dinner today who can claim descent from one of those first Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower in December 1620. And there are even more who while not actually descendants themselves have spouses, children and grandchildren that can claim this descent.

There is something about this time of the year that turns our attention to these possible connections. And it isn't just those who have New England connections that turn out to be descended from the Mayflower passengers.

At least 40 million people can claim descent from those first Pilgrims from the Mayflower.

Pilgrim vs. Puritan

However, with all those relatives, many people still confuse the Pilgrims with the Puritans. It was the Pilgrims who arrived in 1620. Back in England they were known as "Separatists" those who wanted to be completely separate from the Church of England.

The Puritans were "purists" and had another agenda where their religious belief were concerned. While the Puritans would come to Plymouth Colony, it would not happen until a year after the Pilgrims arrived.

Those Early Beginnings

While there were 102 passengers on the Mayflower when it began its journey, one would die at sea (William Butten) and four would die at Provincetown Harbor (Dorothy Bradford, James Chilton, Jasper More and Edward Thompson). There would also be two births; one was at sea (Oceanus Hopkins) and one at Provincetown Harbor (Peregrine White).

This brought the total count up to 99. You may think this is a good number of people for the start of the Plymouth Colony. However, by the time the next ship would arrive, the Fortune that arrived in November, 1621, only 56 people would still be alive.

Claiming Descent

Those who can claim descent from a Mayflower ancestor must claim it from one of 23 individuals. The list of 23 includes: John Alden, Isaac Allerton, John Billington, William Bradford, William Brewster, Peter Brown, James Chilton, Francis Cooke, Edward Doty (or Doten), Francis Eaton, Edward Fuller, Samuel Fuller, Stephen Hopkins, John Howland, Richard More, Degory Priest, Thomas Rogers, Henry Samson, George Soule, Myles (also Miles) Standish, John Tilley, Richard Warren, William White and Edward Winslow.

Much has been written about these 23 people. And you will find that there are number of resources to help you in researching your possible connection to these ancestors. A couple of them are listed here:

  • Plymouth Colony by Eugene Stratton, published by Ancestry, Inc.
  • Mayflower Vital Records, Deeds & Wills by Susan E. Roser, published by Genealogical Publishing Company and now available on CD from Family Tree Maker.

You will also want to visit The General Society of Mayflower Descendants. This is a lineage society that is open to those individuals who can prove their direct lineage to one of the 23 individuals mentioned above. This society has done a lot of work and publishes a The Mayflower Descendant. The quarterly of the society.

In Conclusion

Even if your research has so far been in the Midwest, it is possible that you have a connection to the Mayflower. It is not my staunch New England maternal lines that bring me my connect, but my Midwest paternal lines that eventually trace back to this famous ship and its passengers.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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