Pilgrim Ancestors, by Michael John Neill

My family never passed down any stories of Pilgrim forebears. Since 75 percent of my ancestors were mid-nineteenth-century immigrants, it’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 Isaac’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.

They’re All Equal
While it’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.

More Information
Those wanting to learn more about Mayflower passengers or researching their own connections may wish to visit the following sites:

The Mayflower Society
http://www.themayflowersociety.com

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.

Plimouth Plantation
http://www.plimoth.org

Caleb Johnson’s Mayflower History
http://www.mayflowerhistory.com

Cyndi’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
http://www.newenglandancestors.org/research/services/articles_primary_research_finding.asp

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

3 thoughts on “Pilgrim Ancestors, by Michael John Neill

  1. I’m looking down the lines of my family’s history and finding that most are from foreign Countries.They settled here in the USA coming from there own old countries like Germany,Switzerland,England,Italy,and many many other Countries. They Came to this new land called a Freeland they came in droves They only knew what they might find in coming to this new land as others had told them. The ones that had sailed the great ships of that time told of stories of the new land that they had found.Learning It was hard at first learning the Culture and ways of the New world. They found some people called American Indians the owners of this great land.Most Though of them as Enemies that would not share the land But as we all know now they at first only wanted to share the land. A more empty place where People stopped along the way and set up house keeping that that we know of as what we call the Homeless. from there none belief of Indians witch they called then meaning Creachers that would only kill.But the first killing of Indians was what mad a war against the Indians and the new people called the way of living in peace.But as they found there was no peace a war had been started and they blamed the American Indian for it forgetting that they had started it. Only thinking that Indians were only killers but Indians were only trying to save there land from hatred of the unknown.Now we live in peace with them only after the deaths of many caused by there on hatred. Most immigrants though this was there land that they had found think they were the first to find it, But the American Indian found it first moving to a place where they could set up a new land but they seprated into what we call Tribes. Just like Countries in the old land the indian wanted a new life and to start fresh. They now still live in the places that our Governent set aside for them caled Resevartions. But they live there on there own free will doing things in there on ways like the imagrents do. And we now go visit them to see the way of the past and rember how destrctive we can be.Fighting over something that not so important afterall now knowing we could have shaired this new lane with them.

  2. How can I further my genealogy when William Butler of Yorke Peninsula, South Australia with father named John from birmingham England born c1824, arrived Australia aged 15 years, worked as a shepherd, died January 1881 Minlaton South Australia and no death certificate or further information can be found to identify him or his family?

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