No matter what your family history, in order to successfully trace your genealogy you must educate yourself on the geography and time period you are dealing with so that you will know what is available to you. And with the internet bringing this knowledge into our homes, it couldn’t be easier! There are many excellent websites with links to virtually every location imaginable. One of the best is Cyndi’s List. We also have an extensive library of Mayflower and New England-related books.
Cite and copy your resources
Whenever you find that elusive piece of data, whether you open a book, or find it on a reel of microfilm, don’t transcribe it by hand – copy it! (Always include a copy of the title page if applicable.) Print copies of original records can be used to help document your line for membership. Handwritten transcripts cannot be used.
Citing sources in your genealogical work is important; instead of guessing where your information came from, or wondering how accurate your information really is, your source citation allows you to better evaluate the reliability of your data.
Data is only as good as its source
Genealogical data is zooming around cyberspace at an amazing speed, with much information easily available to us in short periods of time. However not all of it is accurate. When you come across family data, or ten generations of your genealogy, don’t assume your family tree is now complete. Just because it has been published on the internet (or in a book) doesn’t mean the information is infallible. Set out to find the sources yourself and prove the data, so that you will know for sure that each branch does indeed belong on your tree. Undocumented data can be a great starting point (case in point, the International Genealogical Index files maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), but don’t invite it onto your family tree until you’ve proved it. Your goal is to compile your family history – not what you think is your family history!
Long form records
Some vital records offices and archives have both long and short form records. Long forms are sometimes referred to as long form for genealogical purposes and can contain a wealth of information, information that you will not find on the shorter form. Not all offices have them, but if you don’t specify, then you could miss out. For example, a certificate is often a document on which has been typed the name, place and date of event, as taken from the record – but what you really want is the record that the information was taken from. The original record could contain much more information than the bare facts of a certificate. In fact, a long form death record could also give birth date and place and names of parents – which could be a blessing if you have not been able to locate the birth record. There is no guarantee it will have what you are looking for, but it’s certainly worth a try (and the cost is usually the same). Wherever possible, long form records should be obtained when documenting your Mayflower lineage for membership.
Searching early New England
Genealogical research in the New England states is a pure joy! And we have our early ancestors to thank, for unlike our later ancestors who were pioneers in new lands and had other things on their minds, they kept wonderful records. This doesn’t mean you are going to find every record you ever search for, but chances are you will find a majority of them.
When you begin documenting your Mayflower line you should always begin at the beginning (generation #3) and work forward. Your first five generations have already been done by the General Society in book form, therefore depending on our Historian’s advice, you will probably need to begin documenting your line from generation #6 forward, concentrating on generations 6 through 8. It is always a good idea to begin at this point because it is these middle generations that can prove challenging. It is best to make sure you will be successful in documenting them, before you go ahead and spend time and money on the easier generations where documentation will be more readily available. As long as your line remained in New England, then the town clerk’s office will be the place to contact for birth, marriage and death records. If your line remained in Massachusetts, vital records have been published up to 1850 for most towns. The Co-Historian has access to these and has probably already checked for you. Many Massachusetts vital records are now also available online through such sites as Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org
Ancestors on the move
If your ancestors were on the move during these middle generations, then you may run into problems finding the primary records you need. As new lands opened up and our ancestors were on the move, up through New York and into Ontario or through Maine into New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, recording family events was not high on their list of priorities (those of us whose lines went into Nova Scotia fair a little better). Therefore when primary records cannot be located, secondary sources may be used. Whether or not the secondary source you have is acceptable, depends on how reliable the source is known to be. The Historian will be able to advise you.
Since these generations are usually the most difficult, it is a good idea to complete the documentation requirements for these middle generations before you continue. It would be unwise to jump ahead and collect the documentation needed for your more recent, easier generations, only to find out later that you were unable to find proof of parentage for generation #7 and your application is at a standstill – after you have spent all that time and/or money on documentation for your later generations.
Last leg of the journey
Once you have completed the documentation requirements for your first eight generations, those remaining should be a piece of cake! Birth, death and marriage records should be available and when ordering these, remember to order the long form record, sometimes called long form for genealogical purposes. Your last three generations, (self, parents, grandparents), in fact, any date after 1900, must have full primary documentation, i.e. birth/death/marriage records, whenever possible. If a record absolutely cannot be found, such as the birth record of a grandparent, then there are exceptions. See below.
Don’t give up!
When a record cannot be found, don’t despair. There is usually another way around it, or another avenue to follow. For example, great-grandpa was born in 1865, married in 1890 and died in 1930. Registration of vital records did not begin until 1870, so no birth record for grandpa — no problem. He died late enough that a death record will be available and a long form death record may give his birth date and/or parentage. Some long form marriage records also name parents. Also available will be the 1871 or 1881 census, which will place him with his parents and the 1901 census, which will give his birth date. The 1911 and 1921 census records are also available for both Canada and the United States. In the latter case, the 1931 and 1940 censuses are available.
If you get stuck, have a problem, or are unsure what to do next in regards to the documentation requirements, just ask the Co-Historian.
Missing Records? Missing Dates?
Not all lineages are easy to prove. Some are a little more difficult and the records a little more elusive. You may find that you have been unable to identify the spouse of one of your line carriers, or you are missing a couple of birth, marriage or death dates on your worksheet. Does this mean your entire application goes down the tube? Of course not. If you have a well-documented lineage and have proven the parentage of your line carriers, but are missing the odd piece of data in your early generations, it is likely that your lineage will still be approved by the Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. The Society is not so unrealistic as to expect every lineage to be perfectly laid out or perfectly documented.