Three hundred years of Massachusetts ancestry

Click on image to expand it. Courtesy of the Perry-Castañeda Map Collection at the University of Texas

My maternal grandmother Sylvia was the youngest of seven children born to Rufus Herman Bailey of Windham, Rockingham County, New Hampshire and his wife Mina P. Watson of Boston, Massachusetts. Her Bailey lineage traces back to immigrant Richard Bailey, who died in Rowley, Essex County, Massachusetts, in 1647. My grandmother was a definite survivor. She lost her twin sister at eight months. She was hit by a car in 1920 at the age of 18. She lost her first daughter to scarlet fever when Shirley was just shy of her fourth birthday. Sylvia epitomized New England stoicism. She joined the Daughters of the American Revolution so that she could volunteer at the General John Stark house, which was just a block from her home in Manchester, New Hampshire.

It was her DAR application that I used to begin my journey into family history.

As I branched out from the Bailey direct line, I found many other early New England families: Chandler, Emerson, Farnham, Sheldon, and Webster, to name a few.

The more I researched, the more people I found, but none of the families traced had moved beyond Essex County. The towns of Andover, Bradford, Danvers, Haverhill, Ipswich, and Rowley were my stomping grounds – at least in books, as I was living in Florida when I began this research.

Even as I began to research my grandfather’s lineage, I was once again tracing old Massachusetts surnames of Ayer, Corliss, Merrill, and Webster. I discovered my grandparents were seventh cousins through the Websters. And I was once again researching the records of these same Essex County towns.

Despite still being part of the Great Migration – the British immigration to New England from 1620 to 1640 – it appeared that none of these lines would connect me to a Mayflower passenger.

If your early Massachusetts ancestors settled in the many towns of Essex County, then you too will not find a Mayflower line.

If your early Massachusetts ancestors settled in the many towns of Essex County, then you too will not find a Mayflower line. Essex County is located in the northeast corner of Massachusetts. Its northern border is New Hampshire and its eastern border is the Atlantic Ocean. It was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a second English colony in what is now the state of Massachusetts. It was established by a royal charter from King Charles I on 4 March 1628/29, three years after the earliest settlers had arrived in what would be known as Salem.

The rest, as they say, is history.

My grandmother always wanted a Mayflower connection. She even hired a professional genealogist in the 1960s; it was not to be. As for me, I did eventually find a line that led me to a Mayflower passenger, but it was through my father’s ancestry by way of Illinois back through Ohio, New York, and Rhode Island to Massachusetts and William Brewster. And I’m pretty sure I heard my grandmother roll over in her grave when I made the final discovery. You see, she never liked my father.

About Rhonda McClure

Rhonda R. McClure, Senior Genealogist, is a nationally recognized professional genealogist and lecturer. Before joining American Ancestors/NEHGS in 2006, she ran her own genealogical business for 18 years. She was a contributing editor for Heritage Quest Magazine, Biography magazine and was a contributor to The History Channel Magazine and American History Magazine. In addition to numerous articles, she is the author of twelve books including the award-winning The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Online Genealogy, Finding your Famous and Infamous Ancestors and Digitizing Your Family History. She is the editor of the 6th edition of the Genealogist’s Handbook for New England Research, available in our bookstore. When she isn’t researching and writing about family history, she spends her time writing about ice hockey, covering collegiate to NHL teams and a couple of international teams. Her work has allowed her the privilege of attending and covering the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, Korea and the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

49 thoughts on “Three hundred years of Massachusetts ancestry

  1. Rhonda, this article really hit home for me! My only line that takes me back through three hundred years of American history is my maternal grandfather’s line from Marblehead in Essex County, Massachusetts. The other three grandparents’ lines started in Italy, Ireland or Scotland. Those Marblehead ancestors never, ever left the area! Even my grandfather was the eighth or ninth generation to live and die in Essex County!

    I have also been searching for a Mayflower line, and, except for great great aunts or uncles that married a Mayflower ancestor, I am not having any luck, There were only two possible connections, Richard More and Isaac Allerton that could possible work in Essex County (as far as I know) and that just hasn’t happened.

    Thanks for the interesting article. You know, I think I will just keep digging because it is still fun to learn more about the idea that I descend from planters, governors, Salem Witch Trial judges and accusers, witches, and more!

    1. Hi Mary – Thanks, happy you enjoyed the article. Like you I also enjoy the digging and am an equal opportunity descendant when it comes to witches – though mine were from Andover.

      1. I too have Andover witches in my family tree: Ann Foster and Mary (Clements) Osgood. Do we share either?

  2. I was convinced that I didn’t have any Mayflower Ancestors also because “all” of my maternal ancestors were in northern Essex County MA. My mother’s sister started to work on the family genealogy in the late 50s/early 60. When she had “finished” she sent a copy to her brother and sister (my mother). She continued with it but I don’t think that she ever found the 5 Mayflower Ancestors that I have found. It is ironic that they are all of her father’s side of the family. He had a few lines that started out in Southern Masschusetts. I started with her “genealogy and corrected a few “mistakes” and branched out. I’m sure that she would be surprised and pleased with what can be done with DNA and the internet.

    1. I’d love to see how you connected to your Mayflower ancestor. I have many of those northern Essex county ancestors but also a few from southern Massachusetts. On my moms side there are a lot of Rhode Islanders including a couple of governors and Anne Hutchinson.

      1. Four of my 5 Mayflower Ancestors had descendants who moved to Vermont and then before and after the Revolution. They then moved to New Hampshire near Concord where they married my Essex County MA ancestors.

  3. Interesting. I suspect the map you provided is a modern creation based on data accumulated from 1796, although that is not clear from the specific map information. I’d be interested in knowing the map’s creation date and how to get a high resolution copy for my own use.

  4. I guess we are distant cousins many times over. I have traced my ancestry back to several of the Essex County surnames that you mention.

  5. I also have many ancestors who lived in Essex County, in Newbury and surrounding towns. Also like you, my one Mayflower line is to William Brewster and was more round about, going through New Hampshire. Isn’t tracing these lines interesting!

  6. FamilySearch traces your line back to James of Rowley, not his brother Richard, so there must be an error somewhere on FS. Can we fix it?

    1. Hi Dave – I believe you can edit any FamilySearch tree. However, the first one I found traced it correctly back to Richard, son of Godfrey. There are, I am sure, a few trees for this line.

    1. Hi Jo Anne — It wasn’t the easiest of lines to research as there were major spelling changes to the surname and some Quakers along the way. But eventually I was able to make the connection.

  7. I have a lot of Essex County ancestors on both parents’ sides. Good for Salem Witch Trial but not for Mayflower lines. I finally found and proved a line via my maternal grandmother Elisabeth Oblenis Bogert, whose ancestors are mostly New York / New Jersey Dutch. Luckily a Hamlin from Barnstable County (via Litchfield County, Conn).and descended from John Howland moved to Red Hook in Dutchess County, and his daughter married a Vermilyea.

  8. Rhonda, I am a descendant of Nathanial Merrill, born 1601 in Wherstead, Suffolk, England, late of Newbury, Essex, Massachusetts.

    A whole lot of cousins out there!

  9. I am an Essex County baby too. Two Emerson lines from brothers Michael and Robert b. England 1627 and 1629. Hannah (Emerson) Duston is my 8th great-grandmother, which causes my husband to sleep with one eye open.

    1. Hannah is my 1st cousin 9 X removed twice and the first cousin 8 X removed from my ex-husband. You name a person in Essex County in the 1600s and I’m probably at least their 3rd cousin several times.

  10. Plenty from that southern region came to Essex. I like Richard More as an example. He was the forgotten one. Buried in Salem.

    Thank you for mentioning what we could call having a ‘Mayflower pure’ bloodline. What I have seen are close calls, like descending from the sister of the wife of Richard and many more examples. Another case would be step-siblings, from different mothers with one being of MF descent.

  11. Great article. Agree with your core premise that Essex County folks had very few Mayflower connections. As you can tell by my surname, I descend from the Salem Village Putnams as well as other Essex County surnames. In fact, eleven generations including my dad lived in Danvers. Fortunately, my paternal grandmother and mother had WMass roots via SE MA and CT which provided me with several Mayflower ancestors. Amazing how history and genealogy work. Great article…always great to see articles about my Essex peeps!

  12. Something similar in our family. My father was a Yankee from New Jersey and my mother was a Texan. Her family were not too pleased to have a “dam Yankee” in the family. So my husband and I giggle about the fact that his research turned up the fact that it was my father’s cousin who was famously a part of Sam Houston’s army. My grandmother would have had a conniption fit it she’d known.

    1. None of my ancestors lived south of MA and only a few as far south as RI and CT. I now spend the winter in Austin TX (grandsons are here). I have discovered that Stephen F Austin is my 4th cousin 6 X removed. My daughter-in-law’s maternal side goes way back in Texas history but isn’t related to him. But thanks to my 9th great grandfather, Robert Adams who settled in Newbury MA I’m his “cousin”.

  13. Yep, I have more than 300 years of Massachusetts ancestry through three grandparents and no Mayflower connections yet. Direct relation to lots of the players in the Salem Witch Trials, though. I think that might be more fun, anyway!

  14. an army of us out here who have long-standing new england ancestry (almost 400 years in my case) but no known mayflower connection belie the myth that anyone in new england before 1700 was related to everyone else here. my paternal grandparents in northern vermont came from families that came to massachusetts in 1630 but went to connecticut & rhode island within a very few years. i don’t think they liked the politics in the bay.

  15. I feel in good company here! Three of my grandparents’ lines arrived in the great migration, including some Mayflower folk. I’ve got strong connections in all three lines to the witch trials, especially in Andover (Faulkner, Dane, Howe, through the Marble family). Do your Webster people go back to Gov. John of Hartford, Connecticut? Mine do! Would be fun to hear!

  16. Hi I am also descended from Chandler and many other Essex County ancestors. One was an accused witch (the judge pardoned a group of 10 including her and her stepmother). My Chandler ancestor testified against a witch who was executed I learned the other day. I am heartened because like your Grandmother I keep thinking I must have Pilgrim ancestors, but not finding anything. I do, like others have mentioned, have many who came in through Southern Mass. and ended up in Rhode Island so now I have renewed help. Great article!

  17. I surprised your bio doesn’t specifically mention your impressive book, “The History of the Brigham Family.” I couldn’t have straightened out my family tree without it. Thanks.

  18. A month late in reading the original post but as a bonus I was able to read all the interesting comments. My paternal grandparents illustrate the point. My grandfather’s family settled in Massachusetts Bay in the 1630s. They were primarily from Middlesex County, but some were from Essex. Not a Mayflower ancestor to be found in the group. My paternal grandmother’s family was primarily from Barnstable County with a Rhode Island line and a little bit of Bristol County. Her mother’s (my great-grandmother) family was lower Cape and her ancestry included, Hopkins, Rogers, Brewster. Her father’s family (my great-grandfather) was upper Cape and went off the Cape. He had seven Mayflower lines, but they were all Howland.
    My Mayflower surprise was finding that my maternal grandfather had Mayflower ancestry. He was born in West Virginia. His mother was very proud of her New England roots, especially her Putnam ancestry. Her parents families had been part of the movement from New England to Ohio in early 1800. Her grandmother was Triphena (Stedman) Branch and because of her mother Sarah Cushman I could add Allerton, Priest, Eaton, and Sampson to my list.

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