Billingtons three

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As my final 2020 post relating to this year’s anniversary of the Mayflower voyage, I’ll reminisce about how I found my own Mayflower line, somewhat accidentally, after nearly two decades of genealogical research. The families of my paternal grandfather, whose ancestors never left New England, actually had a tradition that they did not have any Mayflower ancestors. Early on in my researches, my aunt and I briefly thought we identified a descent from Stephen Hopkins, but we quickly realized it was a collection of mistaken connections. Over the years, I found a descent from brothers of Mayflower passengers Edward Winslow and John Howland, and from a cousin of Henry Samson. All close, but no direct ancestors on Plymouth’s first English ship.

The Mayflower Descendant, which I now edit, was actually the first journal I wrote an article for in 2004, after I discovered a new Mayflower line for an NEHGS member that added an extra child to a couple, extending a series of articles written by George Freeman Sanborn Jr. in the 1980s and ‘90s. I helped so many members over the years find their Mayflower ancestors that I became quite familiar with the scholarship, despite having no such ancestors myself. There are some families that I probably know more about than many of my own ancestors; I almost consider them my “adopted” ancestors.

There are some families that I probably know more about than many of my own ancestors; I almost consider them my “adopted” ancestors.

As I have mentioned before, my mother is from Kansas, and her grandmother, Elizabeth Belle (Severance) Challender (1883-1972), was a native of western New York state. During my first trip to Salt Lake City in 1998, I explored a lot of her ancestry, with several lines extending back to New England. However, one part of her ancestry remained a mystery, the parents of Elizabeth’s great-grandmother Lydia M. (Franklin) Botsford (1815-1887).

While census records showed she was born in Pennsylvania, every record I found for her was in Allegany County, New York (which borders Pennsylvania). The 1880 census stated her parents were born in Vermont. During a winter break from college in 2003 I drove out there, found her gravestone, and visited several town and county offices, all of which came up empty in identifying Lydia’s parents. I researched all the Franklin families in the area through land and probate records, none of whom appeared to show any kinship to my Lydia.

A breakthrough came years later when Ancestry adjusted the way you could search the 1880 census, allowing you to search by the birthplaces of listed persons’ parents. I searched for people with the surname Franklin, born ten years before and after 1815, in Pennsylvania, living in New York, with parents born in Vermont. My hope here was to find a possible brother (or unmarried sister) for Lydia. This search resulted in one match, a man named Rufus Franklin of Steuben County, New York, which is next to Allegany County. (As Franklin is a relatively common surname, I had not researched Franklins of neighboring counties, and had no clue about where in Pennsylvania my Lydia was born.)

I researched this Rufus and discovered his parents were John and Esther (Daggett) Franklin, who lived in Steuben County, as well as in neighboring Tioga County, Pennsylvania. Rufus appears with his parents and one sister Kesiah in the 1894 Doggett-Daggett genealogy. However, as I found by searching the 1820 and 1830 censuses, John Franklin almost certainly had more children, and these were just the children believed to be still living in 1892, likely when the author had communicated with relatives who provided this information. (Kesiah actually died in 1890.)

[As] I found by searching the 1820 and 1830 censuses, John Franklin almost certainly had more children, and these were just the children believed to be still living in 1892…

After some additional searching, I found the true godsend of the Tri-Counties Genealogy & History website by Joyce M. Tice. On this website, a local researcher named J. Kelsey Jones had abstracted several local records to compile genealogies of local families. These included special assessment lists in townships in Tioga County which listed residents who were unable to pay for the schooling of their children … and named their children! John Franklin appears on these lists from 1814 through 1823, and in 1821 his children named are Rufus and Lydia! Part of the reason I never found Lydia’s relatives in deeds or probate was also because they never really owned anything. In 1812, John Franklin was assessed for one cow, his only taxable property.

Together, Kelsey and I researched this family extensively. I also found Lydia’s son John W. Botsford (not my ancestor) had moved to Venango County, Pennsylvania, where he stated in an 1890 “mug book” that his mother was a native of Steuben County, New York. John and Esther (Daggett) Franklin, while only given two children in the above genealogy, actually had eight children, and we were able to identify seven of them as adults with their spouses and all of their children and their spouses. Through Esther’s ancestry, I found my first (and only) Mayflower line back to the Billington family about which I have written here on this blog. The twenty-page article that Kelsey and I co-authored, certainly the longest article I have ever written on my own ancestry, was published in the Mayflower Descendant, and allowed for my acceptance in the Mayflower Society in 2011.[1]

Nine years later, with the attention of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower, I decided to complete applications for my two daughters who were not in existence when I had joined. As I had joined under John Billington, the patriarch of the family, I submitted the applications for my daughters under our other two (and only) direct passenger ancestors: my older daughter Alice through John’s wife Elinor, and my younger daughter Daniela through John and Elinor’s son Francis. (Daniela is one of the first applications to apply under Francis Billington.)

While I sent my application off in early 2020 knowing the interest was high, the pandemic obviously changed how commemorations proceeded. Even so, their applications (which were much easier than my own) were accepted in September of this year. Our “triple frame” shows us joining under our three Billington passenger ancestors.


[1] See also sources as given (beginning with my grandparents) in our AmericanAncestrees database.

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

32 thoughts on “Billingtons three

  1. Extremely interesting and I know some of the backstory. But some people have to wonder, how can you only have ONE Mayflower line? It was only a finite amount of people to marry in colonial Plymouth Massachusetts in the surrounding areas and within two or three generations you were going to marry another mayflower descendent of some type.

    1. It largely happens when the line leaves Plymouth Colony relatively early. In my case, Francis Billington married Christian Penn (who arrived on the Anne in 1623), and their daughter Mercy married John Martin (1652/3-1720), who arrived in Massachusetts from England in the 1660s, and they settled in Rehoboth, Massachusetts.

    2. I also share the 3 Billingtons, but have also never found a link to another Mayflower line. (I keep looking though!) Others were coming on the next ships, and the children of Francis and his wife (who came on a later ship) apparently married “newcomers.”

    3. And also, yes Michael you had helped out with several lookups of the New York State Vital Records index (now on Ancestry, but then only available in a dozen or so repositories within New York state), and were very helpful with getting data on Lydia’s nephew William R. Franklin (1855-1917) who settled in Rochester, New York!

      1. For some, President James Garfield only descended from the Billington family [], but there are plenty of other Billington descendants who have multiple Mayflower lines – Francis’s daughter Martha Billington married a son of passenger Francis Eaton, and two of their children married grandchildren of passenger Samuel Fuller.

  2. A very interesting story Chris. Oddly, I also was quite sure that I had no Mayflower line because all of my lines seemed to come in through Philadelphia or New Amsterdam via NJ into central PA – but then I found one Price/Eveland couple who left Columbia County PA and ended up in Tioga County – where their son married into the Broughton line which traveled back through Tompkins NY, CT, and on back to the Billingtons in MA via marriages with the Kingsley and Sabin lines. I was so surprised! My daughter and I have been proud members since that surprise in 2013. I found most of what I needed (Bible records!) on my first trip to the Tioga County Historical Society there, conveniently just a few buildings away from the court house.

  3. Congrats on your research. And welcome to the family of the many Billington descendants who celebrate these strong pilgrims.

  4. Have you ever asked the Mayflower society was one must make 3 applications for a proven family that is known to have arrived all together. Should not the application for John Billington cover Elinor and Francis too?

    1. You choose one passenger for your application, and can do supplemental applications for other passenger ancestors. I know at least one Billington descendant that did a supplemental application under Francis Billington

      1. That is what I did too, but wondered as I was filling out identical information for both John and Elinor why it would not cover both. Just lazy I guess. I now realize I can also add Francis as a supplemental as my line goes through Francis too. Thanks for you great posts. Always enjoy them.

  5. Thanks for another fine example of the power of “Persistence” in developing our family trees. Also after decades of looking, it is fitting that 2020 gave me my mayflower link, to Mary Chilton, through my GGGF Welthy (Orcutt) Magoon and a line of her Orcutt ancestors. I also believe in a second link from Richard More, through a daughter Katherine (More) Darling, but it is unfortunately not a recognized connection as the records of Richard More’s youngest children were apparently lost. But we never give up!

      1. Great articles. Many thanks. I was not aware, so a nice discovery. I guess it will be a couple more installments when you reach Deliverance Kingman and Ebenezer Orcutt, where my connection stems.

  6. This is a great story. My route to Mayflower ancestry was much easier as I had an ancestor who was born in Barnstable Massachusetts in 1799. But I too have the a brother of the Mayflower Winslows and the cousin of Henry Samson. Basically everybody in Plymouth was connected three ways to Sunday.

    1. Interestingly, three of the four Mayflower related families I descend from are through different parts of my family only connecting in my ancestry recently: Kenelm Winslow is through my mother’s father’s father; Billington is through my mother’s father’s mother [my mother’s grandparents married in Illinois]; A son of Henry Howland married a daughter of Abraham Samson, from which descends my father through an entirely New England line with my parents marrying in Kansas.

      1. Is your Kenelm Winslow married to Damrias Eames by chance? Does he have a line back to the Mayflower? He is one of my ancestors but have not traced him back to Mayflower.

        1. That Kenelm Winslow [Jr.] [who married Damaris Eames as his second wife], is the oldest son of my ancestor Kenelm Winslow [Sr.], the latter of whom was a brother Mayflower passengers Edward Winslow (also the 3rd Governor of Pymoth Colony), and Gilbert Winslow. Kenelm arrived later in 1631. I descend from Kenelm’s younger son Job Winslow (ca. 1641-1720). So there is no direct Mayflower ancestor there, but rather Mayflower uncles!

  7. Great article!Great research! One of my friends, now deceased, was a Billington, and spelled his first name with just one “l,” as was often done, as a namesake. In my own line, I am amused and somewhat puzzled that with an ancestor who arrived on the Fortune, I have no Mayflower ancestors…lived outside the loop, I suppose.

    1. Robert, somewhat random decision. Since John was likely older than Elinor and Francis was the youngest, I had the three of us join our respective, eldest, middle, and youngest passengers based on our ages within our family.

      In terns of why not many of have yet joined under Francis. The Mayflower Society only started to allow membership beyond the “senior male patriarch” in 2006 (see my April 2020 post), initially just with the then three female passengers with known maiden surnames, and then later allowed any passenger. Applying through the “junior” generation passenger is the least common route, most applications still go through the male patriarch, and then the female matriarch is the second most selected route since the change. Billington also happens to be one of the smallest families represented in the Mayflower Society (under 1000 have joined under them). [Moses Fletcher is the smallest (at only 14) since all descendants were in Leiden through the 20th century; Edward Winslow and Richard More are next smallest between 100-200 as both had a smaller amount of traceable descendants; and Francis Eaton is just a little smaller than Billington]

      1. Thank you for the extra detail. Did not know about rules change. Never would have thought to ask about the distribution of applications per passenger. Aldens are numero uno?

  8. Really enjoyed your detailed explanation of how, step by step, you discovered your Mayflower ancestry! Very helpful in solving a multitude of genealogy mysteries, not just Mayflower ancestry. Have a happy new year.

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