My family never passed down any stories of Pilgrim forebears. Since 75 percent of my ancestors were mid-nineteenth-century immigrants, itâ€™s not surprising. I never even gave any serious thought to having ancestors on the Mayflower. My genealogy research was not started out of any desire to have “famous” or “first” relatives, and in most cases I had difficulty getting back to the 1700s in my American lines much less the 1620s.
Regular readers of my columns may recall I have one set of great-great-grandparents who are my brick wall: Ira and Florence Ellen (Butler) Sargent. They and their two children first “appeared” in Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois in 1880–apparently dropped from a UFO. Documenting their existence before that point in time has been difficult at best. Ira was born in Canada about 1845; Florence Ellen was born in Missouri about 1856. The every-name index at Ancestry for the Iowa state censuses gave me a potential set of parents for Ira–Clark and Mary Dingman Sargent.
And therein lies my potential Mayflower connection–with emphasis on the word “potential.”
Online searching for Clark Sargent was performed in hopes of connecting him to my Ira. I found plenty on his ancestry, but little on his descendants. Several sites indicated he is probably descended from Mayflower passenger Isaac Allerton, through Isaacâ€™s daughter, Remember.
The temptation might be to head to Plymouth and explore my Pilgrim past. Before I get too excited about this potential connection, I would do well to remember two basic tenets of sound genealogical research:
1. Work from the known to the unknown.
2. Not everything you read is true.
To begin with, the connection between my known Ira Sargent and the unknown Clark Sargent is tentative. Clark had a son named Ira, born in the “right” year and in the “right” place. Clark’s Ira did live in Illinois and Missouri as did mine. Clark’s Ira “disappears” after the 1860 census (as does the rest of his family) and my Ira “appears” in 1880. The connection is still not reliable. There are loose ends I need to tie up.
My first step in proving my Mayflower “lineage” is to make the connection between Clark and Ira stronger. Clark died in Illinois in 1847. There might be estate records, guardianship records for his minor children, or land records that could assist in cementing the relationship. My initial connection between the two is based upon census records for Clark’s family and what I know about Ira. There are records in Illinois in the 1840s and 1850s that need to be searched before I start focusing on Massachusetts records in the 1620s. And if I can make the connection between my Ira and Clark, I will then need to confirm every generation from Clark Sargent to Remember and Isaac Allerton. This is not a five-minute task. These connections will need to be made one generation at a time.
And that will be a job. The best approach is to work methodically and not get so excited about a historical connection that I lose focus.
Proving Each Link in the Chain
Proving Mayflower or Pilgrim ancestors is like proving a connection to any other ancestor. The goal is to document each link in the family and to be as correct and accurate as possible using the most accurate sources available. What I find online or in printed book form, I can use as a clue and a guide to assist me in locating primary records.
Some genealogists document their lineage in order to join a society, such as the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. Others document it just so they rest easy knowing they “proved” it.
Societies based upon descent from a specific individual or group of individuals have requirements for the documentation that is required for each generation. Broadly generalizing, a primary source is preferred for vital events and relationships. In other cases, secondary information may be acceptable depending up the type of record created, time period involved, the consistency of those secondary sources, and the perceived reliability of those records. Not all records are equally accurate and not all materials will be accepted as proof of a descent.
Getting Some Help
Genealogies have been compiled for many of those that arrived on the Mayflower, but not all the way to the present day. That is simply too large of an undertaking. The Mayflower Society has sponsored the Five-Generation Project in an attempt to document the descendants of each Mayflower passenger through five generations (http://www.themayflowersociety.com/book.htm). These materials are well documented and if I can work my connection back to appropriate book my research will be easier.
Theyâ€™re All Equal
While itâ€™s interesting to research this possible pilgrim connection, I’m just as interested in my nineteenth-century immigrants. They all played a role in American history. And in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for all of them.
Those wanting to learn more about Mayflower passengers or researching their own connections may wish to visit the following sites:
The Mayflower Society
Society of Mayflower Descendants in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania http://www.sail1620.org
This is a really interesting website. Website visitors can even write letters to Bartholomew Allerton (brother of Remember) and have answers posted to the website.
Caleb Johnson’s Mayflower History
Cyndiâ€™s List: The Mayflower, Pilgrims & The Plymouth Colony http://www.cyndislist.com/mayflower.htm
Mayflower Research Articles on NewEnglandAncestors.org http://www.newenglandancestors.org/research/services/2777.asp
Researching Your Mayflower Ancestors: Part V: Primary Research:
By Alicia Crane Williams
Michael John Neill is a genealogical writer and speaker who has been researching his or his children’s genealogy for more than twenty years. A math instructor in his “other life,” Michael taught at the former Genealogical Institute of Mid-America and has served on the FGS Board. He also lectures on a variety of genealogical topics and gives seminars across the country. He maintains a personal website at: http://www.rootdig.com