It is at this time each year that our children are taught the story of the Mayflower and that first Thanksgiving here in the American Colonies, what would eventually become the United States. Some have managed to visit the Plymouth Village that is a living museum in Massachusetts. I think that living museums are an excellent way to show children what things were like. I know I always liked it when we took field trips to such places when I was growing up.
And while I do not think that anything can really replace that feeling of seeing the candles being made or in learning how the horse was shod, the Internet and the technology of computers are giving us new ways to educate ourselves and our children about those earliest of travels to America.
As our forks reach for the turkey, our minds should reach for the history.
The Pilgrims Arrive
Anyone who has grown up in the school system in the United States has been told the story of how the Pilgrims came to the new, untamed country for religious freedom. They had moved first from England to Holland and then when the children began to take up the ways of that country, they looked for a new alternative that would allow them to retain all the good things about being English that they wanted.
We have all heard the story of the Mayflower. We have heard what a treacherous journey they undertook and how the elements were hard on the tiny group of pioneers. And for those researching their ancestry, there are many who would like to be able to claim one of these hardy individuals for an ancestor. My maternal grandmother was one, though she never was able to make the connection. I have since done so, but on my father's side, not on her side. While it impressed the kids and allowed them to go into class and claim a connection to the Mayflower, I can't say that it alters who I am. Nor should it. But the quest for the Pilgrim ancestor is ever present.
Resources to Help
Because there are so many people today that descend from those original Pilgrims, it is perhaps not surprising that there are so many different resources available to help us in connecting to those original families. Of particular interest are the volumes by Susan Roser. She compiled the information from the Bowman files and Genealogical Publishing Company published it over the years. These books usually bring the families forward two or three generations so that if you can get back to those late 1600s, it may be possible to prove the connection to one of the original Pilgrims.
For those who can prove a direct connection to one of those passengers on the Mayflower there is the Society of Mayflower Descendants. Like most lineage societies, they have strict requirements about those who can be members in the society. You must be able to prove your connection to the Mayflower, using acceptable records. Their application will let you know what records are considered acceptable. For those of you that have joined the Daughters of the American Revolution, this will seem like a very similar situation.
The Society of Mayflower Descendants is a very active group. They have published many valuable and useful resources for those researching Mayflower ancestry. They have done a number of five-generation books. Each book is for a specific individual passenger and shows his descendants down through five years. That is usually over one hundred years of births, deaths and marriages.
Like many other aspects of genealogy, it is not surprising to discover that there are a number of web sites devoted to the descendants of those who were on the Mayflower. There are also many other sites that help to educate ourselves and our children as to the realities of that first year and what the Pilgrims had to go through.
One such site is sponsored by the Missouri Society of Mayflower Descendants. They have been fortunate enough to get the illustrations and exercises created by Mr. Duane A. Cline, Education Chairperson for the National Society of Mayflower Descendants. Over the years, he has developed a kit for teachers to be able to share factual details about the Mayflower and the early Plymouth Colony. With these records and additional links, the Missouri Society of Mayflower Descendants has recently unveiled a useful web site .
As you sit around the family dinner table this Thanksgiving, don't forget to remember those very early ancestors who helped to pave the way to the country that we now all take for granted. Without those first families, we may never have had the United States that we do have today. The history of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims is full of tragedy and triumph. I look forward to this time of year with excitement. Sure, there are no presents, but for a genealogist, there is something even better - history.
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 an award-winning author of several genealogy how-to books, including The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, The Genealogist's Computer Companion, and Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at [email protected].
See more advice from Rhonda in her columns Expert Tips, Tigs and Trees, and Overheard in the Message Boards.