10 September 2020

Proving (and Disproving) my Family's Mayflower Connections, part 2 of 2

As detailed in the first part of this post, 2020 marks the 400 year anniversary of the Mayflower crossing to New England. Many of the celebrations and commemorations that have been planned for years in the build-up to this year’s landmark anniversary have been delayed, altered, or scrapped entirely, due to the current COVID-19 crisis, which is, sadly, how 2020 will likely be most remembered. The crisis notwithstanding, Mayflower commemorations will continue into 2021 and still with great significance. Although “401st anniversary” doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily, it is still an impressive milestone, one year more so than the 400th! In fact, the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving celebration (setting aside the concerns about the historical accuracy of the event) didn’t take place until November in the year after they made landfall, which means that in 2021 we’ll celebrate the 400th Thanksgiving.

In my earlier post, I also recounted the way, during my 2012 research to prove our Mayflower connections, in which I had to summarily negate a long-held and cherished Mayflower descent in my family. We had long thought that we were descendants of Francis Cooke of the Mayflower through his daughter Jane. We knew that we were descendants of her husband, Experience Mitchell, and until the 1980s, all of Experience’s children were still being admitted to the Mayflower Society as descendants of Jane Cooke and her father Francis. However, research published in 1973 shows that only a few of Experience Mitchell’s children qualify. Jane Cooke died early in their marriage and Experience married again. Only two of his eight children could have been Jane’s, and we descend from a child of his second wife, thus eliminating our Mayflower connection through Jane.

After this dramatic correction to my family legends, there was still one more Mayflower connection outlined in Elizabeth Rowland’s family history, so the next step for me, back in 2012, was to prove or disprove that other descent. Given what I had just encountered, I was naturally concerned at what I might find! I really didn’t want to erase our only remaining Mayflower connection that same day. If I wanted to prove the connection, however, I had to take that chance.

The second descent outlined by my great-great-grandmother was really from three Mayflower passengers who comprised a family unit. This connection was through Isaac Allerton, his wife Mary (Norris) Allerton, and their daughter Mary Allerton, all of whom were Mayflower passengers. Traditionally, this descent is attributed to Isaac Allerton alone, very patriarchal, but that’s the practice. I’ve always maintained that our descent should be attributed to the daughter, Mary Allerton, since she was officially a Mayflower passenger and she is the closest to us generationally.

Mary (Norris) Allerton, the mother and wife, died in Plymouth Harbor on February 25, 1621 during the same outbreak that decimated so many of the passengers and crew. Her husband and children survived and settled into the new colony. Mary Allerton, the daughter, was three years old at the time, and when she died in 1699, she was the last surviving Mayflower passenger. (Mary married Thomas Cushman, who originally set out with his father, Robert Cushman, on the Speedwell, also mentioned in part one of this post.)

To start my research into the Allerton connection, I began with the Mayflower Society. Documenting the first few generations was easy, as the Mayflower Society itself publishes that information on each of the Mayflower passengers. In addition, the New England Historic and Genealogical Society has published some of this information online.

Since the research for the first five generations (in my instance, four generations, since Mary is the first Mayflower generation for me) has been documented and published by the society, they do not require further proofs for those generations. I simply documented those descents and prepared to begin my research for proof of the fifth generation after Mary Allerton. Interestingly, in documenting those first generations from the society records, I came across a connection to that disproven Francis Cooke line. 

Our Allerton descent comes through Jacob Mitchell, Experience Mitchell’s fifth child, who was born too late to qualify as a Mayflower descendant. Jacob married the granddaughter of young Mary Allerton, so although his birth order caused my erasure of the Francis Cooke connection, he redeemed himself by bringing the Mayflower back into the family through marriage. 

The Mayflower Society research and book on Isaac Allerton took me to Seth Mitchell (Jacob’s son) and Deborah Andrews in Isaac’s fifth generation, and recorded the birth of their children in the sixth generation. These children included Seth Mitchell, Jr., my alleged ancestor, but the Mayflower Society proofs ended there, so I needed to find documentation of the subsequent generations, beginning with Seth Jr.’s marriage and children.

I reviewed the line that had been written up in our family history, documented the proofs that I had at hand and began to research those I didn’t already possess. I set out to definitively identify two elements for each person: proof of their parents’ names, and proof of their marriages. If I could prove the marriage in one generation, identifying their names as parents of the next generation (usually a birth certificate, but sometimes a death certificate or other document names the parents) would be sufficient to validate the line.

I was able to find the documentation I needed for the entire line from Seth Mitchell Jr. down to my mother, with one exception! In the first unproven generation after the Mayflower Society research ends, I could find no birth record for Hannah Mitchell, daughter of Seth Mitchell Jr. and Althea Blanchard. I was able to substantiate my own descent from Hannah, and the Mayflower Society had documented her father’s Mayflower origins. I just couldn’t find the proof that Hannah was Seth Jr.’s daughter.

Parents’ names are often found in records other than birth records, such as marriage or death records, but her parents weren’t named in the abstracts I had located for her marriage or her death. I performed more detailed searches for her name, and still I could find no reference to her in other records that could indicate the kinship (wills, deeds, tax records, etc.). I was at a standstill, in genealogical terms, at a “brick wall.”

Back in 2012 when I performed this initial research, I was working under a deadline, as I was preparing all of this information for a family reunion that year. I ran out of time and ultimately provided all that I had to the family at that reunion in June 2012, with a notation that proof of Hannah Mitchell’s parents was still to be obtained.

Over the subsequent years, I made additional attempts to find more information. In fact, I consulted with an expert at the New England Historic and Genealogical Society in spring of 2019 to see if he could locate a birth record, which he could not.

To be clear, I felt certain that this line was a valid one and that my ancestor Hannah Mitchell was not from some different Mitchell line or otherwise misidentified. I was not afraid that this would be a repeat of the Cooke erasure.

I believed that I could count on eventual proof of this connection for a number of reasons.

First, Hannah’s Mayflower descent was through her father, and there was no indication of a second marriage for her mother (and had she been a daughter of a different husband, Hannah would have had a different surname), so the descent from the Mitchell line was solid.

Second, and more compelling, was the fact that Hannah Mitchell was the grandmother of Elizabeth Rowland, the author of the Gould-Chase Book in 1915. Elizabeth was close enough generationally to her grandmother to have had accurate oral family history passed along. In fact, Elizabeth’s father wrote many of the family history notes on which she based this family history book (and others), in which he documented the family of his wife Althea Chase, Hannah’s daughter.

Third, Hannah’s mother has always been identified as Althea Blanchard. I had proof of her marriage to Seth Mitchell, Jr. (who is listed by the Mayflower Society as a Mayflower descendant), and the name Althea was used for daughters in the family into the late 1800s. Hannah’s daughter, as noted above, was named Althea, presumably for her grandmother, Althea Blanchard. Then her daughter, Elizabeth Rowland, named one of her daughters Althea, after her mother and great-grandmother. The passing along of this somewhat less common name provides further substance to the argument that these are descendants of this Mitchell family.

Finally, the family had been stationary in North Yarmouth/Portland, Maine since the early 1700s, so there was a strong historical argument that they weren’t from a different Mitchell family with different geographical origins. Once I obtained all the other proofs, I was certain that this would not turn out to be a broken connection.

But I didn’t have the proof. And I still didn’t have the proof when I began to outline this blog entry in anticipation of publishing it this summer for the 400th Mayflower anniversary.

As I began to organize my thoughts for this post, I decided to look up older family histories that were more contemporary to the time. I was using a genealogy that was written in 1915, and I felt that if I could find a Mitchell family history that had been written in the early- to mid-1800s showing the same lineage, I could at least cite that as a more contemporaneous source. I also thought that there might be a citation I could use for further research, although very few family histories come with citations. (That’s a topic for another blog entry!)

I had previously confined my searches to specific names, Hannah, her parents, and her children. So I decided to look for more general Mitchell family documentation. In searching for this, I came across a local Maine periodical on Google Books titled “Old Times in North Yarmouth” published in the 1880s. In one volume there was a Buxton family history (the Mitchells married into the Buxton family) that showed all the connections I anticipated (including the indication that Hannah was Seth Jr.’s daughter), but which contained no citations. This, however, corroborated the Gould-Chase Book from 1915 and provided additional circumstantial support for Hannah’s parentage. 

Curious to see if there might be other articles that could be of interest, I looked at the table of contents. It was there that I saw another article: a transcription of baptism records of First Church in North Yarmouth, the town of Hannah’s birth.

I knew that her birth year in my records was accurate because her death record on December 14, 1818 indicated her age, 50, which matches the birth date that has been passed down, October 7, 1768. I reviewed that article, started with the 1768 baptism records. I found nothing in 1768, so I continued reading, knowing that baptisms didn’t always happen immediately after birth. Sure enough, I found the following baptism record, recorded for October 21, 1770: “Rebecca, Christiana, Ellithea, & Hannah, daus of Seth and Ellithea Mitchell.”

Eureka! This baptism record, accompanied by her marriage record, death record, multiple published family histories, and a lack of other women of her same name with conflicting records would be enough to solidify the line back to Mary Allerton. I will note, that for my own purposes, I’m fine with the use of abstracts for these proofs. The Mayflower Society may require copies of the original documents.

Either way, a\After years of searching, I finally had the final piece of the puzzle I needed to connect the Mayflower lineage. And not a moment too soon, with the 2020 anniversary upon us. I was able to update the documents I had provided to my relatives seven years ago and I was also able to finally break through a brick wall of my own. The irony is that I had previously used the “Old Times” journal as a source for the marriage of Hannah’s parents and had digital copies of the relevant issues already stored in my archives.

To be honest, I’m not much into the lineage societies myself, but I know that others in the family may have such an interest. Also, this proof is far enough back that there are likely others outside of my extended family who may be able to benefit from this documentation. The proofs I’ve accumulated are attached to this post in a PDF format through to my great-great-grandparents, Lyman Sibley Rowland (1831-1904) and his wife, Elizabeth McLellan Gould (1841-1933). Anyone in subsequent generations in my own line can contact me directly for the rest of the proofs. Click here for a copy of the PDF.

The Takeaway

There are all sorts of lessons to be learned from my experiences as outlined in this post, not the least of which is perseverance!

Look elsewhere:

I found the proof of Hannah’s parentage by expanding my search beyond just the standard birth, marriage, and death records. When I found the reference to the Mitchell family in the Buxton family article, my curiosity caused me to check the table of contents for the periodical to see what other information might be available. Since the journal was very specific geographically, there was likely going to be other relevant information available, and there was! The irony that I had used the same journal in 2012 as a source for other information was not lost on me. In 2012, I was not as sophisticated in my research and I hadn’t yet developed the mindset that I should be researching with a wider reach rather than a focus on a specific data point. My singular focus on the marriage record I was seeking kept me from thinking about what other information could be contained in such a journal, resulting in a seven year delay to my finishing this research.

Let it go:

Another valuable lesson is that one needs to be ready to press the delete key. It was absolutely no fun to discover that Francis Cooke’s Mayflower connection to our line, which had been “knowledge” in my family for hundreds of years, was invalid. Once I discovered the truth, however, there was nothing else to be done but to remove the line from the tree. As family historians, we must have a commitment to telling the true story. If a connection can be proven, wonderful! If it is definitively disproven, wonderful too – it means we finally know the truth and a new line of research has been opened to us.

Prove it:

Finally, it’s important to obtain those proofs. I inherited boxes and boxes of family trees and records, none of which provided citations. I’ve spent decades, now, proving and disproving those records. Where I have been unable to prove a connection, I’ve made a note that it is “presumed,” “likely,” “possible,” “theoretical,” or even “unlikely.”

The bottom line is: persevere, don’t assume, and find the proofs you need. If you throw a wide net, you’re more likely to find what you’re seeking.



The Gould-Chase Book, Material for Family History Gathered During Thirty Years, Elizabeth McLellan Gould-Rowland, 1915

Mayflower Families Through Five Generations, v. 17, Isaac Allerton, General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1998

Old Times of North Yarmouth, Maine, Ed. Augustus W. Corliss, 1877-1884, Google Books

Vital Records of Cumberland, Maine 1701-1892, Ed. Thomas Bennett, Publ. 2007


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