Few cinematic icons have endured in our collective consciousness as well as James Dean. Nearly seventy years after his death, his short and quixotic life has caused many to study not only his life and legacy, but also the possibilities of his ancestry. Indeed, with over fourteen hundred James Dean family trees on Ancestry.com, it seems that interest in this proverbial 1950s bad boy isn’t going away anytime soon.1
For me, there’s still an unabated curiosity revolving around the possibility of Dean having Mayflower ancestry. A quick look at several biographies and a myriad of trees reveals all the “old names” (Dean included) that might lead back to our cousins at Plymouth Rock. Yet nowhere among them could I find anything definitive, beyond the most tepid of answers or the vaguest research. I kept expecting someone to say that Dean had descended from the irascible Doty or the pious Brewster, or perhaps simply confirm that all possible Mayflower connections had been unequivocally disproved. Thus far, I’ve only found oneresearcher who was willing to make a definitive statement: “no such descent has been found.” That conclusion was drawn in a mid-1990s article by author Richard E. Brenneman.2
A friend relayed to me this episode: an older individual was leaving a research facility when security, per policy, asked to inspect their bag. The individual declared to my friend working at the reception desk: “I find it insulting that security asked to check my bag, because I’m a Mayflower descendant!”
An occasional project I have worked on is compiling a list of “near- Mayflower” families. These are families who were not on the 1620 voyage themselves, but most or all of whose present-day descendants share Mayflowerancestry. There are easy cases at the first or second generation like Robert Cushman (whose only surviving child Thomas married passenger Mary Allerton), Thomas Little (who married Ann Warren, daughter of passenger Richard Warren), and my ancestor Christian Penn (spouse of passengers Francis Eaton and Francis Billington). Others are more complicated. Continue reading Let it snow!→
Every time when I look in the mirror/All these lines on my face getting clearer. ~ Aerosmith, 1973
Like a thief in the night, old age has claimed me. I’m not sure when that ignoble laird decided to vandalize me, but it’s certain I wasn’t paying very close attention. I expect it happened in the usual way, though I never expected to be harpooned by fishy-sounding Beta-blockers or riddled with Star Wars-like statins. And while I can’t see “the sunset” just yet, I can tell you that some of those evening stars have indeed arrived. Continue reading All these lines→
After reading Alicia Crane Williams’ recent post on Nathaniel Glover of Dorchester, I was reminded of a Glover ancestor of my own, Uriah Glover of Long Island, New York. Looking back through my notes and revisiting “all things Uriah,” I recalled that Uriah’s first wife Sarah Hopkins was an alleged descendant of that old tempest himself, Mayflower passenger Stephen Hopkins.
Since I’m always on the hunt for any elusive Mayflower line, I had to check it out. Unfortunately, I recalled that this possible connection had already been long since debunked, and my chances of picking up another line to Plymouth Rock were (yet again) quickly dashed against said rock.Continue reading Blended wives→
A few years ago, PBS began airing the BBC travel documentary series Great American Railway Journeys, with host Michael Portillo, a British journalist, broadcaster, and former government official. Mr. Portillo traveled across the United States and Canada, mostly by train, his journeys informed by the 1879 Appleton’s Railway Guide to the United States and Canada, originally published in two volumes and usually referred to simply as Appleton’s Guide.Continue reading Not all is changed→
Forty years ago, my grandfather’s first cousin “Burgess” Morse took pride in pointing out the gravestones of our ancestors, Simeon Morse and his wife Sylvia Fish, and the nearby grave of Levi Fish (1754–1837). Findagrave.com photo #118544184, at left, is much clearer than the one of Levi’s stone I took at that time (and shown below). When I asked Burgess if he thought Levi Fish was Sylvia’s father, he quipped, “Who else would he be?”
Old Style, the designation applied to dates before the calendar change in 1752, may also represent the way we conducted research before the advent of the internet, digitization of records, and DNA evidence. In the absence of definitive evidence, building circumstantial cases for identifying an ancestor evolved slowly. Take, for example, this story of a once-assumed but-now-proven great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Levi Fish. Continue reading Old Style→
Back in 2015, I was delighted to learn that my Elder William Brewster lineage for membership in the Massachusetts Mayflower Society had been approved. I had traced my descent through Brewster’s daughter, Patience, who married Gov. Thomas Prence, and their daughter Mercy Prence, who married Major John Freeman, the son of husbandman Edmund Freeman (1590-1682) and his first wife, Bennett Hodsoll (1596-1630).
I particularly appreciated how the lineage had interwoven the Freeman family – Edmund and his second wife Elizabeth (1600-1676), who, in 1637, were among the founders of Sandwich, Massachusetts – with my Wing family, who were also among the town’s first settlers.Continue reading Lost and found→