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Pilgrims to Americans

Not everybody has Pilgrim ancestry or even New England colonial ancestry, but researching these folk is interesting.


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Resource: Tracing Lines
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In elementary school, I was introduced to the painting "Pilgrims Going to Church" by George Henry Boughton (1833-1905). It really didn't matter to me who painted it, but the painting held a message. There was snow on the ground and people in old clothes walking in the snow to church. Men in the painting held guns, some looking sideways as if they had heard something in the woods. A child was also looking sideways, perhaps she heard something also. The message was that the Pilgrims had a hard life, a scary life, and yet they survived. Not everybody has Pilgrim ancestry or even New England colonial ancestry, but researching these folk is interesting.

The next painting I was introduced to was Jennie Augusta Brownscombe's oil painting, "The First Thanksgiving." This portrays a small group of people of various ages seated or standing by an outside table, about to eat, but first praying. Another clear message ... the Pilgrims came here because of their religious beliefs.

Our Thanksgiving celebration has changed dramatically through the centuries. Today is is more symbolic of over-stuffing on turkey and watching football on TV. It signals in another holiday ... Christmas. What we don't realize is that we wouldn't be here today without our early ancestors, whether they were Pilgrims or immigrants coming here in the 20th century.

Like many other immigrants who came to these shores, the Pilgrims were fleeing religious persecution. They had left England to obtain religious freedom in Holland in 1609, only to eventually discover that their children were assimilating into the Dutch culture and speaking the Dutch language. When the Mayflower set sail on 6 September 1640 with 44 Pilgrims and 66 "Strangers" on board, there had to be apprehension as to where they were going to settle, perhaps fears of surviving the voyage, and yet their faith sustained them.

The result of their famous voyage was that while many died the first winter on the shores of the New World, there were those who remained, married, had children and grandchildren, eventually increasing the population of America with people who would claim ancestry to the Pilgrims. John Howland who came on the Mayflower as an unmarried man, is noted as falling overboard in the Atlantic, but rescued. He married three years later and together with wife, Elizabeth Tilley, had ten children. Many of those had large families and thus there are descendants today who claim Howland ancestry.

This first settlement led to other sailings, some bringing family members or new comers to what would be called Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Wintrhop fleet in 1630 is referred to as the beginning of Puritan immigration. It lasted a decade and became known as the Great Migration.

There are many web pages devoted to Pilgrim history, ancestry and records. First you will want to read and explore the web page, Plimoth Plantation at While this is primarily about the Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts, it offers information on what is there for visitors as well as events. An electronic version of William Bradford's famous journal can be found at Here you can read about the history of the settlement and the Pilgrims, in his language.

For sometime Caleb Johnson's Mayflower has been a valuable addition to Internet. It can be found at Caleb Johnson's Mayflower History Page. Check out the Mayflower Passenger List to see if you have any family names! If you suspect that you may have Mayflower ancestry, be sure to look at The Mayflower Society: General Society of Mayflower Descendants at The General Society of Mayflower Descendants. Many libraries have collections of their publications, including "The Mayflower Descendant."

The leading facility to do New England research is the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston, Massachusetts. Their extensive library and events provide great assistance to genealogists. Check out their excellent web page at New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS).

Source Information: Tracing Lines, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2009.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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