Kimmitt Genealogical Research

19 April 2015

Week #10 of 52 Ancestors: Arthur Howland--"Close, But No Cigar"

Mayflower II at dock in Plymouth, Summer 2014
© Polly Kimmitt
A quarter of all Americans believe they are descended from a Mayflower passenger. In 1999, the Historian General of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants estimated that there were 35 million people alive with Pilgrim ancestry. So you'd think that a person born twenty miles from Plymouth, with ancestors who settled the towns of Scituate and Hingham, would be positively blue with Mayflower blood. Yet to date I've got only two known Mayflower ancestors: George Soule and Degory Priest. How can this be?

Degory Priest was my 10th great-grandfather, and he is twelve generations back from me, making a total of 13 generations. On my family tree there are 4,096 tiny little boxes at generation 13 where I could fill in an ancestor's name. Bit by bit we can whittle down that number for eligible Mayflower passengers. My father's parents were Irish, so that eliminates half of my ancestry ––2,028. Then we can subtract half of that because my maternal grandmother's Loyalist ancestors originally had come from New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and other parts of Massachusetts leaving 1,016. And while there is the possibility of those including a Mayflower ancestor, it is not nearly as great as those people living so close to Plymouth, right? Well, not exactly, because one of my two known Pilgrim ancestors was through the Loyalist lines, but that was just luck.

There are a few other things going on here. First, pedigree collapse accounts for a little bit of overlap, but in my case not that many. I've also got some brick walls that take out a good chunk of potential ancestors, but most of those don't even seem promising. If they were Mayflower they most likely would have already been researched and I'd have found them, at least in the literature. But mainly, they lead to settlements where there just were no Pilgrims intermingling.

The biggest determining factor is that while the Pilgrims settled Plymouth and moved out into Duxbury, Kingston, Marshfield and even Scituate, where a good bunch of my ancestors are from, most "early immigrants" to Massachusetts came ten years after the Pilgrims. And while many people lump them together as one group, they were distinct: the Pilgrims were mostly Separatist, though of course there were some that didn't necessarily subscribe completely to the doctrine, having signed on for different reasons. Most later comers were Puritan, and in the early years the two did not mix much. It turns out that most of my remaining ancestors settled Hingham (Bare Cove) from 1633 onward, almost all Puritans, and not at all likely to mix and mingle with those perceived weirdos in Plymouth. That's really the key: I have lots of Puritans in my tree. They settled not only in Hingham, but Dorchester, Braintree, Boston, Charlestown, Salem, Amesbury, and Newburyport, among others.

So, in the end there's only a very small pool of potentials. Of those 4,096 tiny boxes we're down to maybe twenty that could have eligible Pilgrims. So of course I've studied those more closely, and I do have some close connections to more than those two Mayflower passengers, just not direct lines. It's usually a scenario such as my ancestor marrying a Pilgrim descendant as his second wife while I descend from the first wife. Or I get the brother of a Pilgrim who didn't take the Mayflower but came a little later.

Me with Judy Needham, Governor of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants
at the New England Regional Genealogical Conference, Providence, RI, 2015
Which brings us to today's close call: Arthur Howland, my 9th great-grandfather. He was the brother of John (and Henry) Howland. John came over on the Mayflower, and Henry a little later. John and Henry both have a sketch in The Great Migration Begins by Robert Charles Anderson, but of course Arthur does not because he didn't appear in records until later. GMB says only that he was brother of the other two. The supposed definitive treatment of Arthur can be found in the NGS Quarterly [Wakefield and Sherman, "Arthur Howland of Plymouth, Mass., 1640, His Wife Margaret ( ) Walker, and Their Children," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 71 (June 1983): 84-93.] It makes heavy use of derivative sources--transcriptions, and compiled works--along with the Plymouth County Records, so could probably be updated at this point.

I think they should give us extra credit for these types of ancestors. They are almost-Mayflower. They remind me of one of my father's favorite sayings: "Close, but no cigar!"