Keeps Records of More than Just the Pilgrims
by Bob Brooke
When genealogy first became popular in the late 19th-century, many people claimed they were descended from Mayflower passengers. "An Allerton was on the ship," someone might say. "That was my great-great grandfather Allerton."
It was possible, of course. But just having the same last name is never proof that anyone is related to you. To clarify exactly who was who, the Society of Mayflower Descendants was founded in the 1880s.
Today, the Society, with over 25,000 members, is housed in a stately 1754 mansion in Salem, Massachusetts. Behind it in the garden stands a modest building housing its genealogical library. Caroline Lewis Kardell is its perky historian.
"We began the library 25 years ago to help people prove their lineage," Kardell said, "and it grew like Topsy. All of a sudden it got very large, and we decided to open it up to everyone who wanted to do Mayflower research to help them find their Pilgrim lines."
Kardell noted that many people, whether Pilgrim related or not, come to the library to do their genealogical research. The library contains all the published vital records for Massachusetts towns up to 1850, plus all the vital records from the collection of the Connecticut Historical Society. In addition, there are early records from Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. "A lot of these records were given to us, and we've purchased others," she said. "Our Massachusetts collection is our best." Census records both in census indexes and microfilms of Mass 1850 by name and in many of the Mass. towns, the state census from 1855 and 1865.
According to Kardell, the library contains 8,000-10,000 volumes, 1,000 of which came from one person. It also has original manuscripts, film and microfiche.
"We have probate records up to 1850 for Plymouth and Barnstable County on microfilm," said Kardell. "We figured people can get the modern material on their own."
Kardell believes that what made New England different and probably is responsible for many early records is that the boards of assistance of these colonies didn't allow the formation of a new town unless the people had promised to set up a town government and a church and take a minister with them. To this end, Kardell is also in contact with the New England Genealogical Society, of which she has been a member for 45 years.
But the Mayflower Society Library doesn't stop with here. It also contains the Mormon IGI on microfiche, which Kardell said she uses as an index. "If we know the town, we can go to the IGI and find it and then after that use the vital records of that town to find the name of the person since all vital records are indexed alphabetically by name," she added.
Kardell has created a one-stop shop for genealogical research for the 15th generation after the Mayflower. For more information, contact her at the Society of Mayflower Descendants, P.O. Box 3297, Plymouth, MA 02361 or visit the library Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. year round, closed weekends and holidays. Admission for non-members is $2.50.