Thursday, January 2, 2020

10 New Things to Know About Researching a Pilgrim in Your Family Tree

This is an updated version of a blog post from 2015. There has been a lot of new information about researching Mayflower passengers with the upcoming 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower in the year 2020.

It is estimated that over 35 million people all over the globe (not just in the USA) are descended from at least one of the 102 passengers who arrived in what is now Massachusetts on board the famous ship Mayflower in 1620.  According to Genealogy Bank, 12% of American s are descended from Mayflower passengers.  Don't you think that is an amazing number, especially considering that half of the passengers died with the first three months in the New World?  Odds are good that YOU might be descended from a Mayflower passenger, too.

#1:  You might find a Pilgrim in your tree if you start researching now, but you probably won't be able to join the General Society of Mayflower Descendants in time for the 2020 commemoration, or even in time for Thanksgiving.  But better late than never!  At least you can discuss your family history while watching the commemorative events on TV or around the Thanksgiving table.  Gathering the documents needed for your lineage application will take time, but you will have a great research story to tell everyone at Thanksgiving next year in 2021, which is the actual 400th anniversary of the "First Thanksgiving"!

#2:  Start with yourself and work backwards.  You won't have success if you pick a Pilgrim from the Mayflower passenger list and try to work forward through time.  There are too many potential descendants, and it would be a big waste of time to follow all the incorrect lineages for the estimated 14 or 15 or 16 generations needed to reach back to 1620.

#3:  You may already have a clue in your family tree.  The 102 passengers on the Mayflower had some distinctive names like STANDISH, BREWSTER, and BRADFORD, but they also had some common surnames such as BROWNE, COOKE, ROGERS, and WHITE.  To see a complete passenger list, click on this link:

#4:  Is there a branch of your family tree in colonial era (pre-1776) New England?  Were any of them born in Massachusetts?  Were any births from Plymouth County?  This can be a big clue that might lead to finding a Pilgrim.

#5:  The General Society of Mayflower Descendants has a large on-going project to publish a set of books known as the "Silver Books", which contain the first five generations of descendants from each Mayflower passenger known to have issue.  This project is mostly complete, but there are a few families with "Pink Books" (those names are "in progress" with on-going research).  There are also some families with the sixth and seventh generations completed!  If you can connect to an ancestor in one of these books, five generations of research has already been done for you!  This webpage describes the project and books:     There is a database at the New England Historic Genealogical Society website (American Ancestors, members only) of the fifth generation (does not include George Soule, or the John Howland pages from the blue Picton Press books)

#6:  The Mayflower Society also maintains records of over 200,000 lineage applications approved for membership. This archive is a treasure trove of genealogy gold.  Before working on your lineage papers for membership, send a "Mayflower Match" to the Society, and they will check the records to see if anyone from your line has ever been approved.  This step can save you lots of research hours, and is well worth the $75 price of this service to save you many hours of time.  You will receive a full report from the GSMD along with instructions on what to do next for your application.  Click here for the Mayflower Lineage Match Form:

P.S.  A large portion of these records held by the GSMD have recently been scanned and digitized by the New England Historic Genealogical Society and also by Family Search (the LDS church).  A project has been started to transcribe, index and use these records for genealogical research.  They also plan to digitize some of the GSMD journals including the first 50 years of the Mayflower Quarterly (1935 - 1984), and all 31 volumes of the "Silver Books" (see above), and The Mayflower Descendant (from the Massachusetts Mayflower Society) has already been available for a while. The databases available now from NEHGS are listed on this page:

#7:  Plymouth Colony was very small.  In the first hundred years several Mayflower passengers married each other, and even more of their children married each other, and dozens of grandchildren of passengers married each other.  If you find you are related to one passenger, keep looking and you might find several more Mayflower Pilgrims in your family tree.

#8:  Although the Mayflower passengers are some of the most intensively researched genealogy subjects in America, there are also many lasting myths about them.  Many books and web pages claim that someone’s ancestor was a passenger on the Mayflower.  Look up to #3 on this list to see the “official” list of passengers.  Caleb Johnson has a webpage with some of the most common fake Mayflower genealogy.  Check it out here:

#9:  If you find a Pilgrim in your family tree, please consider joining the Mayflower Society.  Registering your pedigree from a Mayflower passenger is part of the creation of one of the biggest, most researched, and most documented, family trees in United States history.  Having your family tree on file will insure that your future descendants can make a cousin connection and be part of the Society, too.  Membership is open to any man, woman or child who can document their descent from one or more of the Mayflower passengers. For more information, please see the General Society of Mayflower Descendants website at this link:

10#:  The Pilgrims and their story belong not just to the descendants, but to all Americans.  The story of survival, cooperation with each other, collaboration with the Native Americans, Thanksgiving and the founding of a new colony is part of American history. “The Pilgrims are America’s Family” is a quote from the past Governor General of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, Lea Sinclair Filson.

Good luck!  Maybe you will be one of my new Mayflower cousins!  I am descended of the following Mayflower passengers- Capt. Myles Standish, Isaac Allerton, Mary (Norris) Allerton, Remember Allerton, John Howland, John Tilley, Joan (Hurst) Tilley, Elizabeth Tilley, George Soule, and Edward Doty.


Please check these resources for more information:

The General Society of Mayflower Descendants 

Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts 

Plimoth Plantation Museum,Plymouth, Massachusetts 

Caleb Johnson’s Mayflower website  

Sail 1620, by the Pennsylvania Society of Mayflower Descendants  

The Leiden American Pilgrim Museum  

The Pilgrim Fathers UK Origins Association 

The Mayflower 400 Leiden website


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "10 New Things to Know About Researching a Pilgrim in Your Family Tree", Nutfield Genealogy, posted January 2, 2019, ( accessed [access date]). 


  1. Heather. Sadly, my application is stalled on the first review. We have been unable to locate a marriage for my 4th gg and cannot connect them via census (pre 1850) nor their children's vital records, most of which can’t be located, nor obits etc. Sadly, she died two years before him, so she is not mentioned in his obit. Believe me, I’ve been working on this for days now, since I got the phone call. Wish me luck. I sure hope I can get this going again. Oh and Happy New Year. Love all your posts.

  2. Many years ago as a child of the 70's, I was introduced to my most prominent middle name, you guessed it, Brewster. So with a name like Nicholas Euan Brewster Lewis, people have always commented on how fancy it sounds!! I always tell them that there is a possible connection with William Brewster and then they are interested. We traced back as far as we could but have only got as far back as the Victorian era and a lot of my relatives had similar names such as Thomas Brewster Davies and his son also Thomas. In any case I have been fascinated by the story and we are travelling to Boston MA from the UK this September.