Billingtons three

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As my final 2020 post relating to this year’s anniversary of the Mayflower voyage, I’ll reminisce about how I found my own Mayflower line, somewhat accidentally, after nearly two decades of genealogical research. The families of my paternal grandfather, whose ancestors never left New England, actually had a tradition that they did not have any Mayflower ancestors. Early on in my researches, my aunt and I briefly thought we identified a descent from Stephen Hopkins, but we quickly realized it was a collection of mistaken connections. Over the years, I found a descent from brothers of Mayflower passengers Edward Winslow and John Howland, and from a cousin of Henry Samson. All close, but no direct ancestors on Plymouth’s first English ship.

The Mayflower Descendant, which I now edit, was actually the first journal I wrote an article for in 2004, after I discovered a new Mayflower line for an NEHGS member that added an extra child to a couple, extending a series of articles written by George Freeman Sanborn Jr. in the 1980s and ‘90s. I helped so many members over the years find their Mayflower ancestors that I became quite familiar with the scholarship, despite having no such ancestors myself. There are some families that I probably know more about than many of my own ancestors; I almost consider them my “adopted” ancestors.

There are some families that I probably know more about than many of my own ancestors; I almost consider them my “adopted” ancestors.

As I have mentioned before, my mother is from Kansas, and her grandmother, Elizabeth Belle (Severance) Challender (1883-1972), was a native of western New York state. During my first trip to Salt Lake City in 1998, I explored a lot of her ancestry, with several lines extending back to New England. However, one part of her ancestry remained a mystery, the parents of Elizabeth’s great-grandmother Lydia M. (Franklin) Botsford (1815-1887).

While census records showed she was born in Pennsylvania, every record I found for her was in Allegany County, New York (which borders Pennsylvania). The 1880 census stated her parents were born in Vermont. During a winter break from college in 2003 I drove out there, found her gravestone, and visited several town and county offices, all of which came up empty in identifying Lydia’s parents. I researched all the Franklin families in the area through land and probate records, none of whom appeared to show any kinship to my Lydia.

A breakthrough came years later when Ancestry adjusted the way you could search the 1880 census, allowing you to search by the birthplaces of listed persons’ parents. I searched for people with the surname Franklin, born ten years before and after 1815, in Pennsylvania, living in New York, with parents born in Vermont. My hope here was to find a possible brother (or unmarried sister) for Lydia. This search resulted in one match, a man named Rufus Franklin of Steuben County, New York, which is next to Allegany County. (As Franklin is a relatively common surname, I had not researched Franklins of neighboring counties, and had no clue about where in Pennsylvania my Lydia was born.)

I researched this Rufus and discovered his parents were John and Esther (Daggett) Franklin, who lived in Steuben County, as well as in neighboring Tioga County, Pennsylvania. Rufus appears with his parents and one sister Kesiah in the 1894 Doggett-Daggett genealogy. However, as I found by searching the 1820 and 1830 censuses, John Franklin almost certainly had more children, and these were just the children believed to be still living in 1892, likely when the author had communicated with relatives who provided this information. (Kesiah actually died in 1890.)

[As] I found by searching the 1820 and 1830 censuses, John Franklin almost certainly had more children, and these were just the children believed to be still living in 1892...

After some additional searching, I found the true godsend of the Tri-Counties Genealogy & History website by Joyce M. Tice. On this website, a local researcher named J. Kelsey Jones had abstracted several local records to compile genealogies of local families. These included special assessment lists in townships in Tioga County which listed residents who were unable to pay for the schooling of their children ... and named their children! John Franklin appears on these lists from 1814 through 1823, and in 1821 his children named are Rufus and Lydia! Part of the reason I never found Lydia’s relatives in deeds or probate was also because they never really owned anything. In 1812, John Franklin was assessed for one cow, his only taxable property.

Together, Kelsey and I researched this family extensively. I also found Lydia’s son John W. Botsford (not my ancestor) had moved to Venango County, Pennsylvania, where he stated in an 1890 “mug book” that his mother was a native of Steuben County, New York. John and Esther (Daggett) Franklin, while only given two children in the above genealogy, actually had eight children, and we were able to identify seven of them as adults with their spouses and all of their children and their spouses. Through Esther’s ancestry, I found my first (and only) Mayflower line back to the Billington family about which I have written here on this blog. The twenty-page article that Kelsey and I co-authored, certainly the longest article I have ever written on my own ancestry, was published in the Mayflower Descendant, and allowed for my acceptance in the Mayflower Society in 2011.[1]

Nine years later, with the attention of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower, I decided to complete applications for my two daughters who were not in existence when I had joined. As I had joined under John Billington, the patriarch of the family, I submitted the applications for my daughters under our other two (and only) direct passenger ancestors: my older daughter Alice through John’s wife Elinor, and my younger daughter Daniela through John and Elinor’s son Francis. (Daniela is one of the first applications to apply under Francis Billington.)

While I sent my application off in early 2020 knowing the interest was high, the pandemic obviously changed how commemorations proceeded. Even so, their applications (which were much easier than my own) were accepted in September of this year. Our “triple frame” shows us joining under our three Billington passenger ancestors.


[1] See also sources as given (beginning with my grandparents) in our AmericanAncestrees database.

Christopher C. Child

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.View all posts by Christopher C. Child