Pending arguments

New York City map, 1834. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

I have worked on some challenging research cases lately that involved trying to prove Mayflower lines.  While I am well versed in creating proof summaries for cases that don’t have cut and dried evidence, trying to prove the Silkworth and Merrithew lines has really tested my abilities. Both cases involve problem generations where no direct evidence could be found; therefore, linking grandchildren to grandparents became a plausible option. After conducting exhaustive research, my clients and I decided to proceed with proof summaries, although we are still waiting to see if they will be approved by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.

The Silkworth Family of New York City

My research on the Silkworth family was daunting given the lack of direct evidence for the following generations:

7: Nancy Lester and William Silkworth

8: John Silkworth and Maria Wood

9: Sarah Silkworth and James Bagley

John Silkworth was particularly lacking in evidence for both a connection to his parents Nancy and William and to his daughter Sarah (Silkworth) Bagley.

The Revolutionary War pension for William and Nancy (Lester) Silkworth proves that they were living at Kingston, Ulster County, New York in 1832 and at times in New York City.[1]  William Silkworth died on 3 June 1835 in New York City.[2] His residence was noted as Second Street. This could have been Second Street in New York City, which was close to locations we found for his suspected son John Silkworth. Or it may have been the Second Street in Brooklyn, located near the Second Street Methodist Episcopal Church that Sarah Silkworth, his suspected granddaughter, attended in 1842.

Census records and city directories prove that John Silkworth also lived in Kingston and New York City during similar time periods. John’s New York addresses included the street names Delancey, Rivington, and Lewis, all in close proximity to known locations for his father, William Silkworth, and his presumed daughter, Sarah Ann (Silkworth) Bagley.[3]

Census records for the household of William Silkworth indicate that he and Nancy Lester had three or four sons born between their marriage (in 1783) and 1800.[4] In order to strengthen our argument we had to rule out other men of Ulster County who were born around this time as possible fathers of Sarah (Silkworth) Bagley.

The red boxes mark locations in Manhattan (on the left side of the river) and Brooklyn (on the right).

Sarah Bagley died in Brooklyn 25 February 1857. She was 32 years, 7 months, and 16 days old, indicating that she was born 9 July 1824.[5] Census records provide New York as her birthplace.[6] The 1830 U.S. census for the household of John Silkworth of Kingston in Ulster County shows that there was a female age 5 to 9 years old living in the home.[7] We found no other Silkworth households that were a fit for Sarah Ann Silkworth.

All in all, the fact that William Silkworth died in the same area we found John Silkworth and Sarah (Silkworth) Bagley was a strong point for this argument and helped to bridge the gap between these generations.

The Merrithew Family of Nova Scotia & Ontario

My research on the Merrithew family was equally frustrating.  The goal was to link the following generations:

6: Roger Merrithew and Patience Burgess

7: Benjamin Merrithew (1741-1825)

8: Benjamin Merrithew (1776-1861)

Roger and Patience (Burgess) Merrithew are proven Mayflower descendants, but evidence for the Benjamin Merrithews is lacking. An article from The Maine Genealogist, “Refugees to Maine: The Family of Roger Sr. and Patience (Burgess) Merithew, and their Godfrey and Robinson Kin,” provided a very thorough summary of the research that has been done on this family, particularly to link Roger to a son Benjamin, although there was no mention of anything about the children of Benjamin Merrithew (1741-1825).

The 1851 census for Benjamin Merrithew at Cayuga, Haldimand County, Ontario proves that he was born in Nova Scotia about 1776.[8] Based on a search of early Nova Scotia census and land records, the family of Roger and Patience (Burgess) Merrithew was the only Merrithew family found in Nova Scotia during this time. The 1773 census for Yarmouth, Nova Scotia shows that Patience, Benjamin, and Jonathan were all living in Yarmouth. Both Jonathan and Benjamin had one boy in their home. While Benjamin Merrithew was not born until 1776, this record shows that both Jonathan and Benjamin were the right age to be having children.[9]

1773 census for Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Courtesy of the Nova Scotia Archives

A major issue here is that we could not determine if Benjamin or Jonathan may have been the younger Benjamin’s father. Either way, if Benjamin Merrithew was born in Nova Scotia in 1776, he was undoubtedly a descendant of Roger and Patience (Burgess) Merithew. The Merrithew proof summary has yet to be completed, although it will certainly focus on linking Benjamin Merrithew (1776-1861) to his grandfather Roger Merrithew. Further research will consist of trying to gather more information on the children of Benjamin and Jonathan Merrithew to see where Benjamin Merrithew may fit in.

I still don’t know if the Mayflower Society will accept my arguments. However, it was interesting that both arguments relied upon a grandparent link and involved unique surnames. My clients and I will continue to work together in the hopes that our diligent research might prove a new line for future generations. If not, we go on with the knowledge we have and write it down anyway. Not every line can be documented with perfect accuracy. If the evidence points to a certain conclusion, the acceptance of the lineage society is just a bonus!


[1] Widow’s Pension of William Silkworth, New York, W.24964.

[2] Widow’s Pension of William Silkworth, New York, W.24964; Death of William Silkworth, 2 June 1835, City of New York, Department of Health, Borough of Manhattan, Register of Deaths, Liber No. 9 (14 December 1833 to 1 January 1836), FHL Film #447548.

[3] City of New York Map (1834), Library of Congress.

[4] Household of William Silkworth, 1790 U.S. census, Newburgh, Ulster County, New York; page: 238 <ancestry>; Household of William Silkworth, 1800 U.S. census, Marlborough, Ulster County; page: 265 <ancestry>.

[5] Sarah Ann Bagley death announcement, New York Tribune, Saturday, 28 February 1857, p. 8; Household of James Bagley, 1850 U.S. Census, Williamsburg, Kings County, New York, Page 263b <ancestry>.

[6] Household of James Bagley, 1850 U.S. Census, Williamsburg, Kings County, p. 263b <ancestry>.

[7] Household of John Silkworth, 1830 U.S. Census, Kingston, Ulster County, p. 68 <ancestry>.

[8] Household of Benjamin Merrithew, 1851 Canadian census. Library and Archives Canada, pp. 63, 65.

[9] Households of Jonathan Merithrew and Benjamin Merithrew, 1773 census of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Census Returns 1767-1787. Nova Scotia Archives.

About Michelle Norris

Michelle holds a master’s degree in history from Salem State University, where she specialized in women in colonial New England. She completed her bachelor’s degree with concentrations in history and gender studies from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Michelle has a background in public history and has worked with the National Archives and Records Administration in Waltham, the Beverly Historical Society, and the Sargent House in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Her research interests include women’s history, society and culture, early America, and the American Revolution.

9 thoughts on “Pending arguments

  1. It would be interesting and educational to read your proof summaries when they’re done.Will they be published in the Register?

  2. My question would be is there a known religious affiliation for those in question? Church records if they survive and can be found, sometimes offer the only proof of family connections. Sometimes you push the “rock ” as far as you can, theorize what might be next, then let others pick up the story…Rick

  3. And that’s when I said, I don’t need to apply to any kind of society. If my people didn’t live in the wilderness and half of them didn’t baptize a child what does that leave me? I’ll keep my 50 bucks and go out to eat. Same party. And it beats putting a $50 bill in a scrapbook and whoever cleans out my house pitches it into the dumpster.

    1. Toni, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I agree with you but … While the $50 one might spend on the sophomoric rubber chicken lineage society luncheon can always be better spent (like sending a check to help Ukrainian refugees) there can be a real satisfaction in achieving the goal of a third party evaluation of your work as a family historian. For me the lineage society is a sounding board for my ability to provide genealogical proofs. And yes, no doubt such an “acceptance” isn’t needed or can be gotten elsewhere, it can be (because the standards of proof are quite high) very rewarding. Consider too all the good genealogical work that is preserved by these lineage societies – and their charity.

      Like you I have long since given up any desire to participate in their dress up parties. Much of it is another form of political circus. I’ve great respect though for the value of that lineage that the society preserves, and if you will, brings to the table.

      As you say it may all end up in the dumpster. The lineage society will however (with any luck and God’s grace) help keep it from the flames.

      I hope this will make sense for you.
      Best regards,


  4. Brooklyn did not become a part of New York City until 1898, and it did not have a 2nd Street as early as 1835. The box you’ve drawn on the east side of the map is in what was then the Village of Williamsburg in the town of Bushwick. Williamsburgh became a separate town in 1840, and then a city (minus its final “h”) in 1851. It was annexed by the City of Brooklyn in 1854.

    1. I am currently filling out the application for membership in the Mayflower Society. Rules for doing so have been few and far between — we prefer vital records, if not, these are primary and secondary sources. Period. Where in the process does the concept of a proof summary arise? I would be most interested in an answer to this question.

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