The thing that’s more exciting than tracing your family tree back to the Mayflower.
In the 1700s, Thomas Prince wrote “A Chronological History of New England: In the Form of Annals.” The lengthy tome is a record of events for the early Pilgrim settlers year by year, sometimes day by day.
Though Prince’s lifetime was removed from the beginning of Plymouth events in New England by over 100 years, he is remembered to have been the ultimate scholar and historian—poring over original texts and diaries. He writes in his preface:
Having amassed above a thousand books, pamphlets, and papers of this kind in print and a great number of papers in manuscript; so many indeed, that I have never had leisure to read them.
Prince extends this sentiment by calling out two Bible verses on the cover of his “History”:
Dueteronomy 32:7 — Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations.
Job 8:8 — For inquire, I pray thee, of the former age, and prepare thyself to the search of their fathers.
This is significant; not just because Thomas Prince was a devout and pious man … not just because it’s important to him to tease out the religious freedom motivations of the early Pilgrims … but because Prince’s “History” of the pilgrims begins with “the creation of Adam to the death of Moses; containing nearly 2,553 complete years.”
Details of a Harrowing Journey
With time and patience (along with a digital, scrollable copy), Prince’s “History” is a fascinating read.
I learned that one baby was born during the Mayflower voyage: a boy listed with the family of “Mr. Stephen Hopkins.” He is named “Oceanus.”
Only one passenger is said to have died on the journey:
November 6: Dies at sea, William Butten, a youth and servant of Samuel Fuller.
On November 11, the pilgrims finally land in New England. (Full disclosure: This is more than halfway through Prince’s “History.”) They pray … and begin the next phase of their harrowing journey:
Through a great variety of obstacles and hardships, this small and pious people are at length arrived and seated on this strange and distant shore.
What comes next is a(n) historian’s bonanza:
The Pilgrims sign the Mayflower Compact.
They engineer a peace treaty with a local tribe, the Wampanoag, to fend off attacks from other indigenous tribes.
They begin the struggle through disease and brutal weather.
And they celebrate the first Thanksgiving.
A Famous Ancestor
Thomas Prince is careful to note that 101 people boarded the Mayflower for Plymouth … and 101 people arrived on the Mayflower in Plymouth. This, due to the one death and one birth.
There is also one other notable birth:
In addition to Oceanus Hopkins, another baby is born on the Mayflower—after the voyage—while the ship was anchored in Cape Cod Harbor. This baby son was born to the family of Mr. William White … and named “Peregrine.”
Peregrine White was the first child of European descent born in New England.
Peregrine White is also a distant (and documented) ancestor of Kim Ostermyer of Sheridan, Wyoming.
The Genealogical Lynchpin
Kim has been working on his family’s genealogy for some time. He’d been able to chart the White line back to 1800, but he’d been stuck on a the predecessors to a man named Henry White. The geneaological trail seemed to end there.
Then, Kim found some breakthrough information from a newly available collection called the Barbour Collection. It turned out to be the lynchpin for his knotted research.
It’s this piece that connects everything together, and it made me get into the colonial history. Eventually, one thing led to another, and I made these connections to Peregrine White. I was excited. It’s a big breakthrough.
It’s actually a fairly large group of Americans who can trace their family back to someone on the Mayflower. Something called the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, founded in 1897, says “the Mayflower Society has established a network of more than 150,000 descendants all over the world.”
But how many can trace their line back to baby Peregrine White?
And that’s how I got in touch with Kim.
Those Who Make the History Books
I interviewed Kim Ostermyer for my podcast and, early in the conversation, he defined genealogy as more than just lining up names and dates.
There are so many good stories tucked away in there. The reason I do love my genealogy stuff is to find those connections to these historical events. We’re all looking for some way to connect to the past.
Later, he added:
Certainly, a lot of my folks were people that never made it into history books.
I love this about what Kim said. More than just names and dates, more than connections to famous events and famous Americans, more than a clear line back to the dawn of time … Kim finds joy in uncovering why people went on the move.
“I’ve been working more locally to focus on … more recent stuff,” Kim told me.
I’m looking at my people when they came out west to homestead and some of those dynamics of what they were going through crossing the plains. … The same movement across the plains is similar to what they Mayflower passengers went through as well.
This is why Kim loves his genealogy work. He’s uncovering names and the stories behind those names.
It’s a huge gift to his ancestors, to us—and his family today.