On the early morning of November 9, 1620, the Mayflower‘s crew spotted land. It was the first land they had seen in more than two months, and signified to the Pilgrims that they were near the end of their long voyage. I began my journey to become a member of The General Society of Mayflower Descendants shortly after RootsTech 2017. Eight months later my application has been approved! I am now a new member of The Mayflower Society!
I last wrote about my intent to become a new member of The Mayflower Society in my post, Pilgrims’ Progress, on February 27, 2017. At that point I was still waiting to receive some of the vital records that I had requested from various stewards of that data. The Historian of the Utah Chapter, Greg Cooke, continued to be very helpful to me during this process. We had some back and forth and he would let me know if anything else was needed. Then I would submit more documentation. Finally, on June 30th, he approved my application and submitted it to the national society for review.
Then the waiting began. To be honest, I was rather impatient. By the end of the summer I was surprised that I had not heard back. I emailed Greg and asked him how long the review process normally took. He responded by saying 2-3 months is typical. I don’t know why mine took 4 months to approve, but I am delighted and thrilled!
BYU Relative Finder
It can be easy to discover if you are a direct descendant of a Mayflower passenger. Especially if you have a fairly extensive family tree in FamilySearch. Brigham Young University has a fun web application called Relative Finder. It uses information stored in the FamilySearch Family Tree to tell you how you are related to famous historical figures including (among others): US Presidents and wives, Reformers, Mayflower passengers, Signers of the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution, and current and historical leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In an early post about Mayflower ancestors I included a table from Relative Finder showing 9 potential relatives who were Mayflower passengers. Since I now have one certified line back to a Mayflower passenger, I thought I would go back and start trying to validate some of these other lines.
I am only interested in direct-line ancestry, so I am able to quickly eliminate all but 2 of the original Mayflower relatives listed on Relative Finder. The others were uncles, or cousins, and so forth.
Relative Finder listed Thomas Rogers as my 12th-great-grandfather and Degory Priest as my 13th-great-grandfather. I decided to research the proposed lines that Relative Finder had discovered.
So, I logged back in to Relative Finder using my FamilySearch login.
I narrow the types of relatives being shown by checking the “Mayflower” checkbox in the left-column. Then, I click the “Table Options” link near the top. Another click switches the toggle from “All” to “Direct” under the heading “Ancestors Shown.”
This process leaves me with just 3 potential direct-line ancestors who were passengers on the Mayflower. At least, based on the data and relationships in the FamilySearch Family Tree! It is important to remind yourself of this again and again. The first two are Edward Fuller and his wife. This is the couple from whom I am now a certified descendant.
Degory Priest no longer appears in the list. Likely this is because (probably erroneous) information in the FamilySearch Family Tree has been updated in the last 6 months. So, this leaves only Thomas Rogers to research.
Just the Facts, Ma’am
I began by viewing and downloading a chart of my relation to Thomas Rogers. You can find this by clicking on his name in the table of relatives. I was delighted to see that it followed my Taylor line back to Joseph Taylor and Sarah Best. This line has been extensively researched and is very well documented. In fact there is a Joseph Taylor Family Association that boasts a database of 250,000 known descendants of this couple.
I also know that The Mayflower Society has published research about the first 5 generations of descendants of the Mayflower passengers. This research is found in what is known as the Silver Books. As a result, I only have to focus my attention on researching and validating 2 generations in this proposed relationship chart.
Within 30 minutes I am able to determine that the line is dubious, and soon after that it is false.
Rachel Higgins – John Jones
I start my verification by looking at the Higgins line. The Mayflower Society website lists about fifteen Family Societies which focus on a particular Pilgrim family and their descendants. The Thomas Rogers Society will likely have information online that is contained in the Silver Books, and perhaps beyond.
Exploring the website I see a descendants surname index, and I look for Elisha Higgins b. 1677. He is there, and I learn he married a Rachel Lincoln about 1746. No children are listed from this union. This is my first clue, that someone has created an incorrect relationship link in FamilySearch.
The next, and even more obvious clue comes by looking at Rachel Higgins (supposed daughter). She is said to have been born in 1714. Her parents supposedly were married in 1746. Spot a problem? Elisha was still married to his first wife, Jane Collins, at this time.
I decide to go in to FamilySearch and remove this relationship and add a note.
Thomas Best – Mary Ann Jones
Since I am on a roll, I decide to verify the next generation down as well. A quick email to Ron Taylor of the Taylor Family Association debunks this one as well. Mary Ann Jones is the second wife of Thomas Best. They married about 1785. They had 2 children together, but Sarah Best was not one of them. Sarah Best (who married Joseph Taylor) was the daughter of Thomas Best and his first wife.
Since the connection supposedly goes through Mary Ann Jones through her parents John Jones and Rachel Higgins, this connection is also proven to be false.
I am a new member of The Mayflower Society through Edward Fuller. Unfortunately, I have not been able to establish another connection. I have disproven the relation to Thomas Rogers in only 30 minutes of work. Although it is exciting to think you might be related to a Mayflower Pilgrim, take some time to try to verify it. It is tempting to take information you find on a site like Relative Finder and accept it as truth. However, with just a little work you might be able to disprove it.
If you wonder if you have Mayflower ancestry start with Relative Finder. Take what you see there as a starting point for research. Work your way up or down the line focusing on those relationships that you aren’t sure about. Have fun along the way regardless of the outcome!
One last note, it is much easier to disprove or debunk a relationship than it is to prove it. Establishing that you are a Mayflower descendant in order to gain membership requires careful research and documentation! Perhaps you can be lucky and most of that research has been done by others!
Take a look at Relative Finder and then spend some time trying to prove or disprove any Mayflower line there! Share your experience in the comments!