I have had innumerable “oh wow” discoveries in my genealogical explorations over the years. Many of those moments resulted in some pretty incredible stories. But not many of them resulted in the “Oh wow, you’ve got to be kidding me!” moment like I had recently.
I was gathering items for a story I was writing for this blog. The branch of the family on which I was working had come to America very early on and had landed in Plymouth colony. But these family members came at least 15 years later than the Pilgrims. I was content knowing that the members of this branch of my family were “almost” Pilgrims.
Yet while I was collecting illustrations for my story, I came across photos I had taken of an old 18th century Vermont cemetery that I had visited several years ago. The photos reminded me that I had never tried to research that side of the family’s grandmother who was buried there — Mary “Polly” Bacon who married Benajah Strong. (Genealogists, don’t forget your grandmothers. If you tend to get focused on family surnames,don’t forget to research the grandmother’s surname. Some of my most interesting stories have been found by turning down the path of my grandmothers.)
I researched her and my grandfather’s names and found a genealogical record that took her line back five generations! That was awesome enough in itself — until I began working my way backward through the generations.
Each successive generation gave me more clues about my family. As expected they all lived in the New England area. But then I came across town names in which I was unfamiliar — Barnstable and Yarmouth in Massachusetts. I looked them up on a current map and found both towns were located on Cape Cod. The families were living in these towns in the mid 1600’s. That’s even a closer connection to Pilgrims than the family members about whom I already knew.
Then I went back to my research. I looked at the fifth generation back from my grandmother and my heart gave a jolt! The word “Mayflower” jumped off the page at me. I looked again to double check. Yes, that’s what it said! I looked further and the amount of information on this man was boggling — in genealogical terms when all one may normally uncover is a death date!
Did my eyes deceive me? Was one of my grandfathers really a Pilgrim? Yes, he was. His name was John Howland. He was not just any Pilgrim, but the one who fell overboard during a storm and was miraculously recovered. (More about him in a future post.)
I sat there in my chair dumbfounded. I felt like I had just opened a treasure chest and found it full of gold. A Pilgrim. A Mayflower Compact-signing, Thanksgiving Day Pilgrim. The same Pilgrims everyone reads about in elementary school history.
I can’t believe it. What a find! I am not “almost” a Pilgrim. I AM a Pilgrim!