Category Archives: Mayflower 2020

Desired havens

Rev. Ichabod Wiswall’s gravestone.

Before she married my grandfather, my paternal grandmother was Vivienne Isabel Wing. Born in Rumford, Maine in 1903, six generations after Simeon Wing (1722–1794) and his family had traded Sandwich, Massachusetts for the wilderness of New Sandwich, Maine (incorporated as Wayne in 1798), my grandmother was proud of her Wing ancestry; at times, she lamented that as an only female child she would be the last in her long line to bear the name.

Had my grandmother not been a woman of a certain generation she might have at least “kept” her name. Continue reading Desired havens

Error fatigue

You have undoubtedly seen online exchanges that go something like:

“That genealogical claim is wrong/unproved.”

Reply: “Prove that it is wrong/unproved!”

I first experienced this back in the early days of the Internet when I posted a caution that the royal ancestry attributed to Mayflower passenger Richard Warren was not proved. I was immediately challenged to prove my claim. Continue reading Error fatigue

‘What could now sustain them?’

The 2020 commemoration for the 400th anniversary of the arrival in New England of the ship Mayflower and her passengers is fast approaching. In the next two years we will be hearing a lot of words quoted from Gov. William Bradford’s first-person account of the Pilgrims’ passage in Of Plimouth Plantation.

Bradford’s manuscript, itself, has a history of passages. Compiled by Bradford between about 1630 and 1650, and used by many succeeding New England historians, the manuscript disappeared from Boston during the American Revolution. A century later it was discovered in the library of the Bishop of London (having been appropriated by British occupiers during the war) and returned to Massachusetts. Continue reading ‘What could now sustain them?’

Something about Sarah

Marriage of Ichabod Bumpus and Sarah Coombs

She was right there, exactly where I had left her – twenty or so years ago. Even now, she seemed to stare back at me from her vantage point in time, one made up of long-ago names and foggy dates in an old ahnentafel. I like to say I’d forgotten all about Sarah, but the truth is I never have, as the “who of just who” Sarah was in this world has always nagged at me. I have to believe that Sarah would have known this about me, too, figuring that I’d always make my way back to study her life again. I guess it’s because Sarah’s life looks to have had no beginning or end to it; only “a middle,” if you will. It’s been those fuzzy edges in the middle that have kept drawing me back in – and leaving me wanting to know more about Sarah. Continue reading Something about Sarah

How long is a generation?

Much of my attention over the last eighteen months has been focused on creating the online database Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700-1880. It was great to make this resource available to help people research their Mayflower ancestry.

Now we have a database with nearly 165,000 birth, marriage, and death records, and thus a unique opportunity to do some analysis on the Mayflower fifth generation descendants in aggregate, looking for interesting facts about this group. Continue reading How long is a generation?

Classroom roots

Teaching Of Plimoth Plantation in 1983.

A time of major transition – I just retired from teaching after a wonderful run of thirty-five years. No one who knows me well asks: What will you do [more of] next? While genealogy, per se, was not part of the prescribed English and history curriculum, that quest always played in the background and sometimes assumed center stage. Particularly in the teaching of American history, it became the hook which anchored students to a personalized past.

Every Thanksgiving, I would manage to sneak in a lesson on William Bradford, my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, that usually began with a recitation from Of Plimoth Plantation, committed to memory: “It is well known unto the godly and judicious…” What impressed my students more than a hearty declamation of the text was that I could recount my descent from Bradford. During my first year of teaching, when seniors just a few years younger than I sorely tried me, one student stayed after class to talk to me. “Don’t tell my friends I told you this, but I am a descendant of John Alden. Have you heard of him?” Continue reading Classroom roots

Inheriting Mayflower lines

Front, left to right: Mary (Kleeb) Morse, wife of Albert; her daughter, Emily, known as “Sunshine”; Emory Morse, my grandfather; Myrta (Pierce) Morse, Emory’s mother, wife of Millard. Standing: Albert Burgess Morse; his sister, Edith (Morse) Nickerson; her husband, Levi Curtis “Curt” Nickerson, Millard Emory Morse; and Kenneth Wesley Nickerson, age 10, son of Edith and Curt.

My grandfather and his cousin Emily (Morse) (Rees) Wetherbee (1906–1964), lovingly known as “Sunshine,” remained close throughout her life. Their fondness for one another is already evident in this family photo, taken in July 1909.

“Sunshine,” given the name Emily for her paternal grandmother, Emily Clapp (Waters) Morse (1855–1896), became the conduit through which remembered ties to Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Colony passed to me. Continue reading Inheriting Mayflower lines

Genealogical lessons

A poster dated April 24, 1851, warning colored people in Boston to beware of authorities who acted as slave catchers. Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Many genealogists will tell you that they get absorbed into the world of the ancestors they are researching. Often one can’t help but recreate their environment and the things they experienced while seeking out documents that help piece together that puzzle. Due to the nature of my work, for me this means coming face to face with the realities of slavery and colonization nearly every day.

Slavery research can be difficult logistically as I try to piece together the lives of ancestors where little documentation exists. The harder aspect of the work is emotional, particularly when it means going page by page through slavery registers of children to find an ancestor recorded among them. Regardless of the challenges, it is important work that has provided me with a much deeper understanding of our past as a nation and the continuing implications of that history on our present. Continue reading Genealogical lessons

New England winter weather

Photos of Plimoth Plantation by the author

One thing that we can all agree on is that New England weather always keeps us guessing! In a matter of days, the Boston area saw a “bomb-cyclone” drop over a foot of snow, lower than normal temperatures for consecutive days, as well as a stretch of 60-degree weather. As we celebrate a new year, I’m beginning to wonder about the weather conditions when the Mayflower passengers landed. What did they encounter? What did they expect?

We know that the passengers were not prepared for the New England weather, as many perished during the first winter (nearly half died). I am brought to Edward Winslow’s Good Newes from New England,[1] where in 1623 he states: Continue reading New England winter weather

2017: the year in review concluded

On Friday, I wrote about some of the most widely-read Vita Brevis posts of 2017. To mark the beginning of the next year, here are six more popular posts showcasing the range of subjects covered in a blog that publishes about 250 posts a year. (In fact, Vita Brevis marks its fourth birthday on January 10, and the blog’s one-thousandth post was published in November.)

In July, Michelle Doherty laid out a genealogical case usingCircumstantial evidence”: Continue reading 2017: the year in review concluded