ICYMI: Mayflower trolls

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 20 January 2020.]

Internet trolls are people who lurk on social media and generally cause trouble for everybody else. I recently found a list of the ten types of internet trolls, and suspect I probably qualify under No. 5, “The Show-Off, Know-it-All Or Blabbermouth Troll.” Or at least that is how I feel whenever I chime in on one of the Mayflower/Alden-related Facebook pages or the like. It becomes my job to deflate the balloons of some of these wonderful newly-found Mayflower descendants, who have, most unfortunately, inadvertently gathered and believed all the dross of Internet information about their ancestors.

I do feel bad about it, which is why I don’t post very often. It is discouraging when one must post the same things over and over and over and over, and it is amazing how many people resist facts once they have found an interesting old story. Even when I steer newbies to a legitimate website, such as Caleb Johnson’s MayflowerHistory.com, I get the feeling not many of them care to make the effort to look at it.

All of this is important now, of course, with the 2020 celebrations of the four hundredth anniversary of the coming of the Mayflower and her Pilgrims. It got me to thinking that what we really need is a Mayflower clearing house website that would post all the correct information in one spot!

Two thousand twenty also marks sixty years since the inception of the Five Generations Project (now the Silver Books project) in 1960.

That would be nice, but right now the Mayflower Society has plenty on its hands with hundreds of new inquiries and applications. Anyway, it is not as though they haven’t been doing anything. Two thousand twenty also marks sixty years since the inception of the Five Generations Project (now the Silver Books project) in 1960. The idea then was to create documented works to help people apply for membership in the lineage society. The estimate for documenting and publishing five generations of Mayflower descendants in “short” little sketches for every family was something like, oh, five years. Yeah, right.

In these sixty years the General Society of Mayflower Descendants has published in one form or another – silver books, pink pamphlets, etc. – what must be close to 100 different editions and revisions, some now extending into the sixth and seventh generations, all with the intention of “getting it right.” If one wishes to make the effort, one should be able to find in a library or buy a book with vetted information about the early generations of every Mayflower family. Even better, now we have access to indexed images of the fifth-generation “Silver Books” on AmericanAncestors.org.

That is all well and good, and we eagerly look forward to the day when online images of the entire series of books are available, but it doesn’t solve my problem today. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could direct people to a website where they could find, with one push of a button, the reasons why they should not believe in such things as the imaginary “Molyneaux” ancestry of the Mullins family, or the invented royal ancestry of Richard Warren, or that John and Priscilla Alden had a son named Zachariah?

Maybe I’ll put it on the Christmas 2020 wish list.

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

32 thoughts on “ICYMI: Mayflower trolls

  1. A prime example of perpetuating myths of herd mentality. “I heard or read it was true …so it must be true”. Love your idea for a clearing house!

    1. Dan, one wonders whether we could develop “herd immunity” to blindly accepting everything on the Internet? Alas, probably not.

  2. Alicia, I agree that we need a comprehensive and accurate online database where people could do research on their Mayflower ancestry. I know that the GSMD has expressed interest in this idea, but they just don’t have the resources right now, especially with the 400th anniversary peak in applications. The NEHGS is reliable with its information, but it is also not yet comprehensive. In the meantime, I think the best advice is for people to take any online “information “ with a grain of salt, unless that information is backed up by authentic documentation. I used to subscribe to Ancestry.com years ago, until their unvetted database became too corrupted with inaccuracies to have any credence in many, many cases.

    Perhaps Vita Brevis could try to organize something whereby documented Mayflower descendants could post their Mayflower ancestor(s) and invite inquiries from people who are trying to do research into their lines. I’d be happy to participate in such an undertaking and would be able to provide accurate information on lines of descent from Chilton, Cooke, Doty, Hopkins, Warren, Allerton, Tilley/Howland and E. Fuller.
    Steve McLane

    1. Steven, I would love to share my documented info with you on a branch of the Warren line. My line ends in the Warren book Part 2 (p245) with Hannah, dtr of Sarah Church (#567) and Joshua Crossman. The Silver book says his children were not named in his will but the probate document do name them in the margin of the final distribution: William, Hannah Clark, Sarah Bond and Joshua. I have Hannah’s marriage record to Ephraim Clark and the births of their 1st 4 children. If you have any additional info on them I would sure love to hear it!

      1. Barbara, I assume that the line you are following is through Richard Warren’s daughter Elizabeth, who married Richard Church. Is that correct? My lines to Richard Warren run through his children Mary and Joseph, so I don’t think I can help with what you’re looking for. The only tidbit I know about Elizabeth Warren Church’s line is that her son Benjamin played an important role in King Philip’s War, as the colonel who led the group which eventually killed King Philip. Sorry, that’s about all I can contribute unless you’ve got an interest in Mary or Joseph Warren.
        Steve McLane

    2. Steve, while a wonderful idea in theory, as most “bulletin boards” show the information that is posted is not from any documented paper or source. The problem is like the Gordian Knot, ever twisted on itself. It would be nice to have a place where everyone could exchange their Mayflower information, but it would have to be monitored by people who could root out the really bad stuff, at least. That would be an exhausting task! So for now, we must chug away at getting all of the GSMD material, books and lineages, on AmericanAncestors — the day will come, eventually.

  3. I’ve been trying to find out if the probable ancestry of Daniel Geer’s first wife, Hannah, the supposed youngest daughter of Christopher Christophers and Elizabeth Brewster Bradley has been accepted by the Mayflower Society. According to “internet” sources, this line has now been approved but I haven’t been able to find a source to confirm it. Like you, I would love to see a clearing house or one website that answers these questions and puts away all the misinformation out there.

  4. Unfortunately I think the only people who would check a clearing house are the ones who are serious about getting their lines correct. Many others are so desperate to have certain connections to famous ancestors they will grab at any detail they find that supports their theories. And woe to those who try to set them straight! I have given up on that effort myself.

  5. With all of the “silver books” showing the first five generations of Mayflower descendants available to search online at americanancestors.org, it should make life easier for people who have genuine Mayflower ancestry to apply for Mayflower Society membership. They do not have to reinvent the wheel by proving the first five generations. There is a pretty definitive source for that information. If someone claims Mayflower descent, I encourage them to file an application to the Society. If they have neither joined nor filed an application, I always tell them to find their qualifying ancestor in the silver books. If they have done none of the above, I don’t waste my time with them. I have no known Mayflower ancestry, but have had the pleasure of being the first one to tell many people that they are Mayflower descendants. I also encourage anyone researching early New England ancestry to join NEHGS.

    1. Jeffrey, keep up the good work. The small glitch at the moment is that not all of the Silver Books are up on AmericanAncestors. All of the 5th generation books are there, but the books covering generations 1-4 which are were a lot of the repetitive errors have been corrected are not yet in the collection, but we certainly look forward to the day when they are.

  6. I’m actually a bit glad I have never found a Mayflower connection with all of the misinformation that I am reading about lately. If I do get my family traced back that far, I will be sure to seek out verified information.

    1. Sara, Since there are probably 200 million people in the world who either do not have a Mayflower ancestor or haven’t found one yet, you are in good good company. That said, would be lovely if you find one!

  7. There are some people who have parts of my line and they have extended it back to the Vikings and before. They actually believe that stuff. Very entertaining!

    1. Barbara, Yes, I know I had Viking ancestors according to my DNA results, but I am pretty sure I’m not going to be able to document them!

      1. Alicia, my DNA showed that too to the absolute delight of my sons. But I would never in a million years enter actual names of forebears back that far as some have done and believe that to be true. Leaves one wondering!

  8. Excellent line of musing, as usual. A consolidated database of all the vetted ancestors would be on my Christmas list; an electronic version of the card file the GSMD has in their vault. That way I could check to see if someone already has Reuben Wing in an approved line. I have every piece of documentation for another supplemental line except for anything that documents his birth and 1st marriage.

    1. Steve, the card file would be nice. They are working on creating a database, but as I’m not involved I don’t know any details or timeline if/when it may be available to the public. But it is being done.

  9. Alicia – you shouldn’t feel guilty about having to set the record straight when folks just blindly forge ahead posting unverified and unsubstantiated data. The real harm comes when others copy the bad data, even if the original poster sees the error and issues a correction. The correction may never see the light of day. Of course, people engaged in the same carelessness in the old days using (old fashioned) books, re-publishing bad entries and perpetuating the errors. That said, I don’t mind the publication of a good hunch that clearly states it is just that. For example, a long-standing puzzle is the Lois Hayward, b. 1732 Bridgewater, MA, listed in the silver books, descendant of Cooke and Alden. Is she the same as the Lois Hayward who married Simeon Fuller in Kent, CT, May 7, 1749? There is no such evidence, only a possibility. At least one website poster adds a note saying, what’s a 16-year old girl from Bridgewater doing getting married in Kent, CT? Until there is a probate record, gravestone date, or other document pointing to this being the same person, it is not enough. Even if there is no other Lois Hayward that fits the bill (and all the other Lois Haywards in the timeframe are accounted for).

    1. Tom, with access to more original records, who knows what might turn up. Just to be nit-picky, “there is no other KNOWN Lois Hayward that fits the bill.” Could be any number of Lois’s who haven’t been discovered yet.

  10. As long as there are certain MAJOR websites to perpetuate misinformation, I fear there will always be a problem with accurate lines and it is a gift that you, Alicia, have always been there to help keep the records straight, thank you for your assistance.

    1. Cheryl, many thanks. Considering that when we (or at least I) were/was born, there was no Internet, it seems probable that in the future some one will invent a solution to rampant junk — but then again, we can’t get rid of the commercials either.

  11. Steve, Not yet. At Ann Lawthers‘ suggestion I inquired and the editor of the Mayflower Descendant invited me to write it up a couple of weeks ago. Never having seen a copy of that journal I am somewhat daunted by what the typical style and length would be and by getting all of the citations right. It’s kind of on the back burner temporarily.

  12. Alicia, my oops. Sorry for calling you Steve. And if I can’t even get your name right what does that say about my genealogy skills?!

  13. When I was working, those Silver books, Mayflower five generation books were priceless and many people used them. It was a History Room, but so many people came in doing their Family History, can’t understand why people wouldn’t rely on them instead, Oh Well….

  14. Mary, Most people still do not know about them unless they have visited a library with the collection, and most people using the Internet do not go to libraries!

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