Have you heard of the Mayflower Silver Books? In this post, learn about this useful research resource and how you can use it for your own family tree.
Those of us who enjoy family tree research are typically always on the lookout for new resources that can help us learn about our ancestors. It’s especially nice when there is research that has already been vetted by lots of experts that we can use to help us in our own genealogy pursuits.
This is exactly what makes the Mayflower Silver Books so appealing. They can be an excellent source of family tree information for those people who believe they might be descended from someone who a passenger on the Mayflower, an English ship that sort of mistakenly landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620.
The Mayflower Silver Books were originally conceived as an idea in 1959 by Lewis E. Neff, a historian from Oklahoma. However, the history of the idea of an index of Mayflower descendants goes several decades further back into history.
What is the purpose of the Mayflower Silver Books?
The Mayflower Silver Books are published by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, which is more commonly known as the Mayflower Society. This society was founded in Massachusetts in 1897, with the goal of documenting the history of those who came on the Mayflower and the families descending from each passenger.
Are all Mayflower descendants listed in the Silver Books?
Everyone who is a Mayflower descendant is not listed in the Silver Books. This is because there are likely tens of millions of people who are descended from Mayflower passengers, and the research to include everyone would be difficult, if not impossible.
The time of the Mayflower was more than a dozen generations back in most of our family trees. It would be a lot of work to thoroughly document a family line going back so far in someone’s ancestry.
This is where the Mayflower Silver Books can come in and save you some time in your research. These books contain several generations of descendants of the Mayflower, which means that you might be able to find a 3rd-5th grandparent listed in the books.
Which Mayflower passengers have the most descendants in the Silver Books?
The Mayflower ancestors with the most descendants are John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. Their large number of descendants is due largely to the fact that at least seven of their as many as ten children survived to adulthood to have many children of their own.
The grandchildren of Priscilla and John Alden number around 70, and while not all of them survived to have children, a great number of them did. The number of people that are descended from these grandchildren about 12 generations later number anywhere from 1-3 million.
Because there are so many Alden descendants, the Mayflower Silver Books that list the Alden family has been published in several parts. Part one of the series documents generations 1-4 and names the 5th generation, and parts 2-7 document the 5th generation and list of the names of the members of the 6th.
Since the number of people in families tend to grow exponentially. it is understandable that the first four generations of the family can be documented in only one book. The list of members of the 5th generation of people descended from John and Priscilla Alden is likely to be very long, indeed.
If we calculate five generations removed from John and Priscilla, 24 years in a generation, and 7 children per couple, we could have as many as 19,600 people belonging in those parts 2-7 of the Alden Mayflower Silver Books.
Which Mayflower Silver Book has your family in it?
There are 25 total volumes of Mayflower Silver Books, plus two more non-numbered volumes that document George Soule and his descendants. Most of the Mayflower passengers have their families documented in multiple parts, but there are a handful that only have one volume relevant to them.
- Volume 4 – Edward Fuller
- Volume 6 – Stephen Hopkins
- Volume 7 – Peter Brown
- Volume 8 – Degory Priest
- Volume 9 – Francis Eaton
- Volume 10 – Samuel Fuller
- Volume 11 Parts 1,2,3 – Edward Doty
- Volume 12 – Francis Cooke
- Volume 13 – William White
- Volume 14 – Myles Standish
- Volume 15 – James Chilton and Richard More
- Volume 16 Parts 1,2,3,4,5,6 – John Alden and Priscilla Mullins
- Volume 17 – Isasc Allterton
- Volume 18 Parts 1,2,3 – Richard Warren
- Volume 19 – Thomas Rogers
- Volume 20 Parts 1,2,3 – Henry Samson
- Volume 21 Parts 1,2,3 – John Billington
- Volume 22 – William Bradford
- Volume 23 Parts 1,2,3 – John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley
- Volume 24 Parts 1,2,3 – William Brewster
- Volume 25 – Edward Winslow
- Two unumbered George Soul Volumes
If you already know which Mayflower ancestor is yours, then you can use the list above (or this guide – downloadable from the Mayflower Society) to decide which book you should look at. If you don’t already know, you will need to get back to at least your 3-4th great-grandparents on the line of your tree that you think might be connected to the Mayflower.
Then, you could try searching for your ancestor at that generation (it would likely be at least as far back as your great-great-great grandparent, depending on how old you are) on this page, to see if their name is included on a previous Mayflower Society application:
The following link is to Family Search where they are supposed to have a searchable database of Mayflower descendants ready for public access, but I tried it several times and it didn’t work. However, I am going to link it here just in case I was having bad luck:
If the link doesn’t work for you, or if you know of a better database that people can use (especially for free!) please let me know and I’ll switch this link out.
Where to buy a copy of the Mayflower Silver Books?
The Mayflower Silver Books have been very popular and have only been published in very limited editions, which makes them somewhat difficult or expensive to acquire. Adding to this sarcity is that some of the original books have not been reprinted due to more accurate editions having been published more recently.
Regardless, many people would like to own a copy of the Mayflower Silver Book that pertains to their Mayflower family.
The Mayflower Society does operate a website with a shop, and many of the books or addendums (booklets with corrects or additions) can be purchased on the site for fairly reasonable prices. You can visit the Mayflower Society online shop by following the link below:
If you can’t find what you are looking for on the Mayflower Society site, you might be able to find the book used somewhere else. If you know the volume and part number (if your ancestors book was contains multiple parts), then you can search for it on sites like Ebay, Amazon, Thriftbooks, or Abebooks.
The price of the book is going to depend on the age and condition, the number of books in existence, as well as how much demand there is for the book you seek. Generally, it is more difficult to get copies of the books that a greater number of descendants.
How to view the Mayflower Silver Books for free
The best way to find the Mayflower Silver Book that you are looking for at no cost is to contact your local, regional, or state historical or genealogical society. It is common for these societies to sponsor a collection available at certain library locations, or even maintain a collection at their own headquarters.
Some of the books are available for free online, but you would have to do an internet search for the specific title that you are looking for and navigate the web carefully to find it.
Who published the Mayflower Silver Books?
The Mayflower Silver Books was based on a project that was initially begun in the 1930s that compiled the names of Mayflower descendants into an index. The person typically credited with this work is George Ernest Bowman, a genealogist and founder of the Massachusetts Mayflower Society.
I can imagine George Bowman as a studious genealogist with good intentions who was inspired to preserve his family’s history and document the growing “Mayflower families”. It’s important to mention, however, that the work of lineage societies like this one have often been used to exclude groups of people.
In fact, while I was researching this article, I found several newspaper clippings from around 1900 that mentioned the need for a Mayflower society to make sure that “false claims” of being a Mayflower descendant could be discredited. In the 1920s, news articles mention the Mayflower Society and rising immigration to the US, as well as the need to educate these people about the long history of Colonial America.
People are definitely fascinated with their family history and often get excited when presented with the idea of proving that they are descended from a particular person, especially a famous person. Even so, genealogy should be a hobby that involves and includes everyone, because the more people contribute, the more we all learn about our collective history as people in this world.
I hope that this article has helped you learn about the Mayflower Silver Books and how you might be able to use this resource to not only learn about your Mayflower ancestor, or ancestors, but learn more about their other descendants – your distant cousins.
If you have any questions about something that you read in this post, or if you would like to share your own experience with the Mayflower Silver Books or learning about your Mayflower ancestor, I would love to hear from you in the discussion below.
Thanks for stopping by today!