I knew I had several Colonial-era families from my genealogy research but highly doubted any of them went quite that far back. Along the way in my research I'd made a habit of noting what looked like very well researched lines from Rootsweb family trees as possible leads connected with my ancestors while knowing they weren't conclusive proof - merely hints at possible paths to research further when I got to that particular branch.
Patiently I searched the index of possible leads against the list of the 52 Pilgrims one at a time. Nope, nope, nope... oh wait, there's a name match on one of the possible lines where my research gap was pretty easy to bridge as being realistic. A ridiculously common-sounding name though. That couldn't possibly be....
OMG he really was a Pilgrim on the Mayflower.
Not only was Richard More on the Mayflower and also alive in Salem during the witch trials hysteria, he had a mysterious past that wasn't explained until 1955 about why he as a 5 year old and his 3 young siblings (who all died by that first winter) were shipped off to America on a boat as indentured servants to others without their still-living parents. Scandal! Adultery! Bigamy! Excommunication! Royal lineage! Not the things one usually thinks of when hearing about the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving, but my possible 11th great-grandfather sounded like the type of guy I'd love to chat with over an ale at the pub. Getting Down To Documentation Business
After the initial surprise of that discovery wore off, the first step was to see just how much work I had cut out for me to be able to prove that this potential connection to Richard More was true. I filled out a Preliminary Review form and, sure enough, it was the real deal. The line was already documented down through to Orange Warner, my Mormon pioneer 4th great-grandfather who probably wouldn't have been too thrilled about Richard and I at the pub. My job if I wanted to join the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (GSMD) was to prove all family connections between him on down the line to myself and our son.
There wasn't even a question in my mind that I'd try. My family is so small to begin with (so is Richard's, all of us who are his known descendants are from just one of his granddaughters) that if no one else had made this connection before, the chances of it being made again in the future were even more slim.
Initially I thought things would be very easy to prove with primary sources: Not only did I know that all the generations of my deceased family from the direct line had died in California and their dates of death to obtain death certificates, I only had to provide triads of birth, marriage & death certificates from my grandparents' generation to myself - piece of cake.
Where Documentation Went Wrong and Microsoft Helped
The next step was copying or ordering all the various death, marriage & birth certificates needed. All were quickly gathered with one puzzling exception - a death record number existed for my 3rd great-grandmother Cornelia Elizabeth Warner, but neither the County of San Francisco nor the State of California could actually locate it. I have an official Certificate of No Public Record with the Seal of the State of California embossed upon it dated September 16, 2011 stating this fact.
Ok - on to the secondary sources it was. Unfortunately there is much about Cornelia's life that is a mystery, but I compiled the 1850, 1860, 1870 & 1900 census records for her (she and the family are maddeningly missing from the 1880 census) and her cemetery record, but none of these specifically identified her as Orange Warner's daughter. Searches of country records on multiple microfilms turned up nothing showingthis missing critical link and I didn't know what else I could do.
Enter the Internet Archive's copy of Pioneers and prominent men of Utah, where a cover page notes "Digitized by the Internet Archive in 2007 with funding from Microsoft Corporation." On page 1215 in there was the missing critical link identifying Cornelia as Orange's daughter. It turned out the digitized copy was far more legible than a microfilmed copy to actually read, so printouts from the online copy were included.
The Centennial Celebration Moment
It takes a long time for the official application process to chug through, and initially some things were questioned but ultimately we made it: my application was accepted in early 2012 and I became a member and our son a junior member in March this year during the centennial celebration of the Washington Mayflower Descendants.
It's worth it to try. My distant cousins are some of the kindest and most generous people to connect with and I should have done so much earlier in the process. In 2002 one of them received both the State and Country death certificates for Cornelia that went missing by 2011, and sent copies to me in addition to a fabulous genealogy she published about Orange! In the future if anyone from Cornelia's line wants to apply, please contact me and I'd be more than happy to send the copies to you as well to spare you this primary source frustration. I'm tempted to even send copies of the death certificates and the Certificate of No Public Record back to the State with a note saying "No really, these do exist, see?"
It's not a sure thing. You may think you know primary sources exist and you can easily obtain them, but until you have it in hand keep searching for copies of any and everything else you can find about your ancestral line because you never know what you might need from them.
It's very surreal. Last Thanksgiving we knew but this Thanksgiving I've proven our ancestor was on the Mayflower. What would it have been like to turn 6 years old far from home and your parents, have all your siblings die, then have half the people around you also die? This has been a sobering issue to discuss with our son yet the entire experience of joining has also been both memorable and meaningful to him. He's still a bit young to read the excellent Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick, but we'll be covering American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving this week and contrast it with the perspective in Coming to America soon.
I'm so happy that I've been able to help get the 1940 census halfway indexed a month ahead of schedule, albeit at a dramatically reduced personal rate compared to April although I've been picking up speed again. Every bit helps though, and if you're not already signed up to index you can still give it a try.
I loved being able to log in and see my achievement badges swag today for all the states I've helped to index, although I think I need to add some more states so Tennessee doesn't think too highly of itself just because a second row had to be started for my collection. Bigger image than Alaska and California? I don't think so! :D
Killed in Action: 29 September 1918 Romagne, France
Jay Willis McElroy was called 'Bill' by his little brother 'Mac' (Joseph
Harold McElroy, my great-grandfather) and came from a family full of fun and laughter. He
was a tall man with a medium build, light brown eyes and red hair who
lived at the Berkeley, California YMCA that his parents (John William McElroy & Irene Lane Davis McElroy) helped operate, while studying at
the University of California. He was also a Corporal in Cadets who had applied
to serve in the American Ambulance Corps when he was drafted in June
1917 for World War I and served in the 99th Aero Squadron.
1st Lt McElroy was pilot and his observer was 2nd Lt Howard I Kinne when they left the airdrome at 2:10 pm 29 September
1918 on an artillery surveillance mission in the area of Romagne as part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. While
on this mission they were attacked by enemy aircraft and shot down in
Caution - the details of their deaths in the italicized paragraph below are gruesome but for me it is important to include their complete story in a digital format online so both my family and the family of Lieutenant Kinne may locate it in the future. ILT McElroy was missing in action for months, with an article in the San Francisco Chronicle published on 29 December 1918 noting "Efforts to trace McElroy through Governmental agencies have failed." His parents finally received confirmation of his death via a letter from the American Red Cross in April 1919. I cannot fathom how heartbreaking this was for them to endure, both the uncertainty and the awful finality of the truth. I doubt they were able to visit his gravesite in France, which I maintain online on Find a Grave with gratitude to the American Battle Monuments Commission for creating and transferring it to me, but one day our family will visit him there.
From the letter - Lieut. Kinne the observer jumped from the burning plane and was buried where he landed. The plane burned in two just behind the gas tank, the tail falling about 100 yards from the spot where Lieut. Kinne fell, the motor, wings, and body of Lieut. McElroy about a 100 yards further on. The gas tank had evidently exploded while the plane was falling and was blown clear of the plane, landing about 75 yards to one side of the motor, wings and body of Lt. McElroy. Lt. Kinne was stripped of all identification and rifled by the Germans and buried where he fell by the Americans who later advanced over this territory. The Americans who buried him left a note in a bottle on his grave giving a description of him. The body of Lt. McElroy was very badly burned, his arms and legs being completely gone. He had been extracted from the plane, thrown in a shell hole, and covered with two or three inches of dirt. There was absolutely no marking to indicate this was a grave and it was by the [unreadable] that his body was located [the rest of the letter is cut off]
May all who have fallen in service for freedom rest in peace.
Welcome! My name is Nikki, I live in Seattle with my family and I'm a medical librarian. I've been interested in genealogy off and on since I was in high school. No small part of this was due to realizing that I was the only biological grandchild of all four of my grandparents and that if I didn't start getting the names, dates and details of our family, no one else would, and sadly so very much has been lost in the passage of time already.
5 generations figures prominently for two reasons: I am the fifth generation born in California (my 3rd-great grandparents are included in the one and only 1852 California state census!) on one family line, and our son is the fifth generation of only children. When I compare this to my husband being one of nine step, half and full siblings combined it's quite the contrast. My family may be incredibly small, but we're still here on the way to somewhere!
I have been absolutely floored by the wonderful connections I have made with distant cousins as a result of searching for surnames online, some of whom have been searching for our tiny little family branches for many decades without much luck. Their generosity and kindness in sharing information, pictures and resources is amazing and while I don't have all that much to offer in return I'm hopeful that by blogging a little at a time we can all learn more together. Thanks so much for coming along for the ride!