Mayflower family traditions

Following the author's wedding to Ian Holland at Old South Church in Boston in 1991.

With all the excitement about the four hundredth anniversary of the Mayflower sailing, I’ve been looking for my own Pilgrim ancestors. While my maternal side is mostly nineteenth-century German and English immigrants, my paternal side does have deep New England roots. So far, I haven’t found anyone who came over on the Mayflower in my family tree. Yet, I still feel a connection to those feisty Pilgrims. Their religious beliefs have rippled down through the centuries, with a few embellishments and changes, but are still flowing strongly in me and my family today.

The Pilgrims were a radical group of Puritans labeled as Separatists. While the Puritans wanted to purify the Church of England, the Pilgrims wanted to take it a step further and separate themselves into their own congregations. They wanted no church hierarchy and no one telling them what their congregation could or could not do. Plymouth Colony was founded on these principles in 1620.

Their less extreme, fellow Puritans arrived in America ten years later and started the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. However, once in America these Puritans were influenced by the Pilgrims’ separatist views. Eventually, the religion of these Pilgrims and Puritans became known as Congregationalism. And it was these beliefs that formed the flourishing Congregational Church in New England.

All my early Massachusetts ancestors were Congregationalists. Each worshipped in his or her own town’s church. These churches often still exist, with names like the First Congregational Church of Plympton, or Sutton, or Holliston. However, there is one Congregational church that resonates with me today.

Old South Church in Boston is a church firmly rooted in radical ideas like those that helped create Plymouth Colony.

Old South Church in Boston is a church firmly rooted in radical ideas like those that helped create Plymouth Colony. It is a church with members just as feisty as the Pilgrims and includes a Mayflower descendant as a founder. But, best of all, it is a church my ancestors attended and where I am still a member.

Old South began in 1669 with dissenters from the First Church in Boston. Just like the Pilgrims, they felt the need to separate themselves – this time, over church membership and the right to have one’s child baptized. Because there were already two Congregational churches in Boston at the time, they were initially called the Third Church. Later they became known as Old South.

Over the years Old South has had its share of fiery members. These included the group behind the Boston Tea Party. It also included my grandmother, Catherine (Yeagle) Dauber, who was elected Old South’s first woman moderator in 1969. When I think about all the generations of Old South members between myself and its founders, I can feel the connection back to those Mayflower Pilgrims. I may not have a genealogical Mayflower ancestor, but I have many spiritual Mayflower forebears!

Pam Guye Holland

About Pam Guye Holland

Pam has been researching family roots in Ireland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Germany for over twenty years. She is the genetic genealogy director for the Massachusetts Genealogical Council and is a certificate holder from the Boston University Genealogical Research Certificate program. She lectures internationally, is a regular contributor to the NEHGS blog, Vita-Brevis, and has published articles on genetics and genealogy in the American Ancestors magazine. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, she grew up in West Virginia, and currently resides in the Boston area. During her earlier career she earned a BA in International Relations from the College of Wooster and a MS in Computer Science from Northeastern University. Areas of expertise: Irish immigration, Irish records, DNA, church records, German, New York (both city and state), and New England.View all posts by Pam Guye Holland