Pilgrims: America's First Families

The Pilgrims [were] a simple people, inspired by an ardent faith in God, a dauntless courage in danger, a boundless resourcefulness in the face of difficulties, an impregnable fortitude in adversity: thus they have in some measure become the spiritual ancestors of all Americans. — President Abraham Lincoln

The First Thanksgiving
By 1621, Pilgrims had managed to cultivate enough food to last through the winter, built homes for themselves, and were at peace with their neighbors. To celebrate this success, Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving that would be shared by all colonists and their Native American neighbors.

This custom of hosting an annual thanksgiving after the harvest continued for years. Although proposed by the Continental Congress in 1782 (see the proclamation), Abraham Lincoln was the first President to recognize a national Thanksgiving. In 1863, he issued a proclamation calling for the observance of the fourth Tuesday of November as a national holiday.

"For the very reason that in material well-being we have thus abounded, we owe it to the Almighty to show equal progress in moral and spiritual things ... The things of the body are good; the things of the intellect better; the best of all are the things of the soul; for, in the nation as in the individual, in the long run it is character that counts." — Theodore Roosevelt's Thanksgiving Proclamation

Learning About Your Pilgrim Ancestors
Finding out that you are related to America's earliest immigrants could make your Thanksgiving celebration that much more meaningful. Whether you've traced your family tree back to the Mayflower or are just getting started, here are some groups and published resources that can help you.

Mayflower Societies & Groups
Joining a Mayflower society puts you in touch with a community of like-minded researchers and helps to keep the memory of the Pilgrims alive. Most organizations limit their membership to Mayflower descendants and in order to join, you must be able to provide sourced evidence of your lineage. These organizations will be able to tell you, by comparing their research to yours, if you are really descended from one of America's earliest first families.

Benefits of membership in a Mayflower organization often include annual meetings, newsletters or journals, research assistance and even educational scholarships. Some groups to check out...

Published Resources
Haven't quite traced your connection to the Pilgrims? These resources can help...

  • Pilgrim Genealogies and Histories, 1600s-1900s
    In this collection of twenty historical and genealogical volumes you'll find essays, family histories, lineages, biographical sketches, and more.

  • The Complete Mayflower Descendent and Other Sources, 1600s-1800s
    The only electronic publication of the entire forty-six volumes of The Mayflower Descendant authorized by the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, you'll find vital records, essays, and family histories for approximately 200,000 known Mayflower descendants. Read a review.

  • Lineages of Hereditary Society Members, 1600s-1900s
    Proven lineages collected from esteemed hereditary societies including The National Society of Sons and Daughters of Pilgrims.

Learn More...

Family at Table
Learn More...
Gain insight into the first 30 years of Plymouth Colony by reading excerpts from Governor William Bradford's journal.
Find out more about the history of Thanksgiving.
Check out what Pilgrims wore and lists of items listed in their estates.
Pay a virtual visit to a 1627 Pilgrim Village and learn what daily life was like for early settlers.
Horn of Plenty
Did you know?
The menu for the first Thanksgiving included roasted wild fowl, cornmeal, cod, sea bass, and venison.
At the first Thanksgiving, you wouldn't have found forks - the Pilgrims didn't use them. They used spoons, knives, a napkin and their fingers.
102 passengers sailed from Plymouth, England, and 102 arrived in New England. One passenger, a servant of Deacon Samuel Fuller died, and one child was born at sea. In all, it took 66 days for the Pilgrims to cross the Atlantic.
Pilgrim families averaged seven children. Mothers raised the children fathers instructed the family's religious study.
Children began to help their parents at around the age of 6. Girls worked in the house with their mothers, while boys worked in the field or workshop with their fathers.

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