5 Steps for Finding Pilgrim Ancestors

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Are You a Mayflower Descendant? 5 Research Tips to Help You Find Out

Thanksgiving Genealogy, 5 Steps for Finding Pilgrim Ancestors

If you know your history, then you know the reason we stuff ourselves with turkey and pie each November is because of the Pilgrims; a group of brave souls who sailed to America on the Mayflower and celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. But did you also know that there are millions of Mayflower descendants living today? It’s true! It’s been estimated that 25 million people from all over the globe can prove they have Pilgrims in their family tree — and you could very well be a descendant, too.

These genealogy research tips will help you discover if you have Pilgrim ancestors of your own. Perhaps your family members can join in on your genealogy research endeavors this Thanksgiving!

Quick Guide for Finding Your Pilgrim Ancestors

1. Write Down What You Know

You’re probably reading this blog post because Grandpa Joe or Aunt Jan has told you that your family members are descendants of the Mayflower. If so, then the most important thing to do is record what you’ve been told about these Pilgrims from your ancestral past. What were their names? Who told you this information? Where did they live? Write down everything you know and ask other family members if they have information, as well. Once you have everything recorded, you’ll be able to take your genealogy research further by searching for Pilgrim ancestors’ names on passenger lists.

2. Search Pilgrim Surnames

The next step to finding your Pilgrim ancestors is to familiarize yourself with the surnames on Pilgrim ship passenger lists. From here, you can then learn names of descendants, as well. Maybe your family tree already includes the surname Bradford or Tilley. If so, you could be a descendant of the Mayflower! Begin your search by looking through the list of passengers on the General Society of Mayflower Descendants website. The Society of Mayflower Descendants in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania also has the complete passenger list, including surnames found in the first three generations after the Mayflower landed. Perhaps you’ll find you’re also a descendant if your family tree includes the name Fitch or Wilcox.

3. Read, Review, Repeat

Even if you’re new to genealogy research, you know that reading is a big part of the process. This is especially true when researching your Pilgrim ancestors. But which books should you choose to read? Thankfully, the General Society of Mayflower Descendants has made the process easier on you by publishing numerous books on Mayflower passengers and the first five generations of each Pilgrim passenger with their “Mayflower Families in Progress” project. So head to the library or buy yourself these books written by colonial genealogy experts.

4. Prove Your Findings with Primary Sources

Utilizing primary source documents for all genealogical research is the best way to find true information. So, while conducting your research, use Pilgrim primary source documents (birth, marriage and death records) to confirming your familial link to the Mayflower. Have you stumbled upon census records, deeds, probate (wills), gravestones or family bibles that contain information about your Pilgrim ancestors? If so, you can prove your lineage as long as you have original documents, or the scanned images come from original records.

5. Cite Your Sources & Check Your Research

If you’ve gotten this far in your research and feel you can prove you have Pilgrim ancestors, then a big “Congratulations” to you! You’re related to some of the most famous people in history. But don’t forget to cite your sources correctly so you and future generations can check your research for errors. Don’t miss this crucial step so you can confirm your Pilgrim lineage — especially if you want to apply to a Mayflower family association. Checking your research could help you find that your Mayflower ancestors are anything but authentic. And who wants to submit false information? Once you can confirm that your findings are correct, click here for membership information to the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.

Additional Pilgrim & Mayflower Genealogy Research Resources

  • Genealogists.com – The world's favorite and largest family history research firm with over 1,200 professional genealogists. They access the records wherever they are located.
  • American Ancestors: The Mayflower Descendant – A journal of Pilgrim genealogy and history published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS).
  • Cyndi’s List: Mayflower Lineage Societies – A list of Mayflower lineage societies by location.
  • MayflowerHistory.com – The Internet’s most complete resource on the Mayflower and the Pilgrims, with genealogy, history, primary source documents, a complete passenger list, and more.

Are you a descendant of the Mayflower? Let us know in the comments!

This entry was originally posted by Crestleaf in Genealogy Resources, Genealogy Tips, Surnames and tagged genealogy tips,Thanksgiving genealogy on November 18, 2015 by Natalie L.Like what you read? Subscribe to the Genealogists.com blog above and automatically receive our next article.

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Written by


November 26, 2015
Wesley is the founder of hello@traceyourpast.com.

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