clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

RootsTech: Digitization project may connect you to a Mayflower passenger

Effort commemorates 400th anniversary of Mayflower landing

George Garmany, governor general of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, stands next to a replica of the Mayflower during RootsTech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. FamilySearch and the New England Historic Genealogical Society are working together with the General Society of Mayflower Descendants to digitize all of its member applications and publish family trees created from these documented Mayflower lines in order to make them available for free.
George Garmany, governor general of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, stands next to a replica of the Mayflower during RootsTech at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. FamilySearch and the New England Historic Genealogical Society are working together with the General Society of Mayflower Descendants to digitize all of its member applications and publish family trees created from these documented Mayflower lines in order to make them available for free.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Of the 102 men, women and children who disembarked from the Mayflower ship at Plymouth Rock in November 1620, only 51 survived the first year.

From those surviving Pilgrims, grouped into 26 families, an estimated 35 million descendants are living in the world today.

Are you one them? If you don’t know, it will soon be easy to find out.

FamilySearch and the New England Historic Genealogical Society are working together with the General Society of Mayflower Descendants to digitize all of its member applications and publish family trees created from these documented Mayflower lines in order to make them available for free.

The partnership was announced Friday during RootsTech at the Salt Palace Convention Center following remarks by keynote speaker David Kennerly, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer.

The project commemorates the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing this year.

Dressed in an authentic green Pilgrim outfit with a brown hat, George Garmany, the governor general of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, said the project will make the Mayflower Society’s verification process easier and records more accessible.

“A great many people are Mayflower descendants who don’t know it,” Garmany said. “I would encourage people to spend time looking at your own family tree, particularly if there’s a large element in New England, to see if you have a Pilgrim line.”

This is an unprecedented collaboration between three of the “greats,” said Brenton Simons, the president and CEO of New England Historic Genealogical Society, also known as American Ancestors.

“FamilySearch is a giant of the field and brings the best technologies to bear, the Mayflower Society is one of the most esteemed hereditary societies and it champions the story of the Pilgrims, and the New England Historic Genealogical Society is the founding genealogical society in the world and best known for maintaining the highest standards in the field of genealogy,” Simons said

.

“So this collaboration truly sets a new standard in our industry and in the discipline of genealogy. It is tremendously worthwhile because it gives access to innumerable documents and lineages never easily accessible before and sheds new light on one of America’s greatest founding legacies.”

The partnership formed and the collaboration began in September 2017. Since then, more than 100,000 member applications and other records have been digitized and indexed. They will become accessible as Mayflower individual records and family trees later this year.

Before this project, the only way to view General Society of Mayflower Descendants records was as a member or with one of the historians, said Lea Filson, a former governor general of the Mayflower Society.

“I think that the genealogy community is going to be thrilled because what it’s really about is getting access to records to find out who you are and who your people are,” Filson said.

“With 10 million people in America that are descended and 35 million worldwide, your chances are pretty good that you may find a line. The reason it’s so important to then join the general society is because then you’ve got an authentic, proven, approved lineage in our vault that will be there forever.”

Giving millions access to their heritage through this project is empowering, Simons said.

“The figure of 35 million people is really a ‘guestimate’ and it may well be more, but comparatively few of that huge number know it and we want to correct that through this effort,” Simons said.

“This online resource provides new perspectives about our history and, by extension, introduces the topic of the Mayflower Compact and its role in why people today enjoy the freedom of self-governance. It’s also about giving young people access to more history materials just as schools teach less American history.”

New England Historic Genealogical Society has posted authoritative biographies and sources for all the Mayflower passengers and crew at mayflower.americanancestors.org/passenger.

Linda Gulbrandsen, a partner services manager for FamilySearch, says she’s a descendant of three Pilgrims, including Plymouth colony Gov. William Bradford. Finding out that you’re a descendant can be an “enriching experience,” she said.

Festivities at RootsTech include a Mayflower Pilgrims procession, along with an anniversary booth with displays, activities, reenactors dressed in Pilgrim costumes and other information.

A John Calvin New Testament Bible in old Dutch that once belonged to Bradford and sailed to America aboard the Mayflower is on display at the Heirloom Show and Tell Booth, courtesy of owners Brent and Charlene Ashworth.

The Utah Legislature acknowledged the Mayflower Friday by signing a resolution commemorating the 400th anniversary.

The Mayflower records and family trees will become available on both the FamilySearch (familysearch.org) and American Ancestors (americanancestors.org) websites later this year.

For people wondering if they are have Pilgrim roots, one easy way to find out by logging into relativefinder.org.

Kennerly gave the RootsTech audience a fascinating look back at his long, remarkable career as a photographer. The journey began when he took a photo of his cat at age 10, he said.

Using a slide show of his most memorable photos, the 73-year-old Kennerly related accounts of capturing moments in U.S. and world history, including a young Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy minutes before he was assassinated, scenes from the Vietnam War, a boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, and a plethora of iconic moments from the lives of U.S presidents from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump.

“For all the bad things I’ve seen in my life, I still remain optimistic,” Kennerly said. “Human nature and spirit prevails over adversity.”