Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Beginning the Mayflower Quest Part Fourth: On my way to the passengers

An Old Postcard By Pub. by Smith's Inc., Plymouth, Mass. Tichnor Bros. Inc., Boston, Mass. - Boston Public Library Tichnor Brothers collection #61532, Public Domain,

There are only two generations between my Great-grandmother, Thankful Tefft LKKM-LWN, and the 5th generation of Mayflower descendants. So, for me, the task of connecting to a Mayflower passenger is simplified by using the Silver Books. Here is the book for Francis Cooke LZ2F-MM7.

Wood, Ralph V., and Lucy Mary Kellogg. 2015. Mayflower families through five generations: descendants of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth, Mass., December 1620. Vol. 12 family of Francis Cooke

Thankful Tefft's father was William Tefft LZBC-H9Y. I showed the sources for his parents and birthdate in the previous post in this series. However, I left that post with a need to do some more research. However, the five generations in the Mayflower series included the family of his mother, Esther Brownell LWQZ-G2B, who is actually the next person in line. So, with the inclusion of William Tefft LZBC-H9Y, I have the gold standard source for his birth and parents. 

Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700-1880. (Online database:, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2017). From Mayflower Families Through Five Generations: Descendants of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth, Mass., December 1620. Plymouth, MA: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1975-2015.

William Tefft appears on the next page and you can see that the Mayflower Society agrees with the 29 February 1732 birthdate. 

Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700-1880. (Online database:, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2017). From Mayflower Families Through Five Generations: Descendants of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth, Mass., December 1620. Plymouth, MA: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1975-2015.

What if the Silver Books are wrong? Well, you could join the Mayflower Society, assuming that you have a Mayflower passenger as an ancestor and you could do all the research and submit your proposed findings to the Mayflower Quarterly Magazine or directly to the Society for consideration. I have seen some corrections to books in the past, but this is the most recent edition of the books and includes five generations of descendants. 

In this case, the information supplied in the book for William Tefft exactly supports the conclusions in the Family Tree. Here is the question. What else is not supported by the research documented in the Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700-1880? Well, right off the bat, we have an extra child in the Joseph Tefft KP42-4JS and Esther Brownell LWQZ-G2B family. Here is the screenshot. 

If you look at the page of the book above, you will see that there is no "Nathan Tefft" listed. This extra child was added back in 2028 and so far the addition has not been challenged. This person has no Sources and no Memories. There is also a possible duplicate. This is one of the most common if not the most common unsupported changes made to the Family Tree. In this case, the fact that the person has a name and an approximate date is not persuasive of any relationship. The fact that this extra child does not show up in the Silver Books outweighs any argument that there was an extra child. Here is the screenshot of the possible duplicate.

I could talk about the "burden of proof" here but legal jargon and arguments are not appropriate. Good research methodology would suggest that adding a child to a family be supported by some contemporary, historical source document. When I went to view the possible duplicate person, I found that he had at least three possible duplicates with other parents. None of these possible duplicates have any listed sources. It appears that there is a pool of Nathan Teffts out there with no supporting sources and they have been attached or not to various other people in the Family Tree. A quick search for anyone named "Nathan Tefft" on FamilySearch comes up with 10,784 results. I guess you can take your pick. 

For now, without any supporting documents at all and given the duplicates, it is time to detach him from the Joseph Tefft and Esther Brownell Family. Of course, I am going to leave an explanation. I thought I would start sharing my explanations with this series of posts. Here is what I wrote as a reason for removing Nathan Tefft. 
Thank you for your interest in the Tefft family. You added an extra child to this family, Nathan Tefft L1HZ-29Z. You did not supply any sources for the addition of this extra child in the family. Extensive research done by the Mayflower Society over the past 100+ years has failed to find any additional children in the family of Joseph Tefft and Esther Brownell. I have detached Nathan Tefft from the family. If you have any documentation showing Nathan's parents I would be glad to have him added back into the family. See Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700-1880. (Online database:, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2017). From Mayflower Families Through Five Generations: Descendants of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth, Mass., December 1620. Plymouth, MA: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1975-2015.
It is very likely given the duplicates that came up that this individual is really a child in another family. When a person is detached from a family, nothing happens to the individual detached. They are still in the Family Tree and with some research, they could be attached to another family. I did not make any of the possible merges. There is not enough information about the person named Nathan Tefft to distinguish him from the other 10,784 of them in the Family Tree.

Now I am back another generation to Joseph Tefft and Esther Brownell. Esther Brownell is my direct line ancestor back to Francis Cooke. By the way, I learned that FamilySearch is adding some of the Mayflower genealogy to the Community Trees section of the Genealogies link on 

On to the next generation.  

See these previous posts:

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Beginning the Mayflower Quest Part Three: Step by Step Back in Time

The goal of this post series is to illustrate a research process in conjunction with the Family Tree. The goal is to reaffirm my direct line connection with a remote ancestor, Francis Cooke LZ2F-MM7, and then monitor the status of this "Revolving Door" ancestor and try to slow down the number of changes made to this person. I am begging this process with a well-verified ancestor named Thankful Tefft LKKM-LWN. I verified this particular ancestral line many years ago and since that time, I have added a substantial number of additional sources to the Family Tree along that line. 

As I have written before, the idea here and with every entry in the Family Tree is to verify with sources the connection between every child and every parent. In following this rule, all of us need to make sure the places, names, and dates are reasonable and supported by those same sources. Adding an inappropriately sourced child to a family is easily one of the most common mistakes made when working on the Family Tree. Sometimes it is a real challenge to get the children right. I will be returning to this issue frequently in this series. 

Now, starting with Thankful Tefft LKKM-LWN, there are presently 56 sources. Let's see if any of them substantiate her birth and the identity of her parents. 

Here are the sources with both birth information and the identity of her parents (by the way, there are several duplicate entries):
  • Tifft, Maria Elizabeth (Maxon). A Partial Record of the Descendants of John Tefft, of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and the Nearly Complete Record of the Descendants of John Tifft, of Nassau, New York .. Buffalo, N. Y. : The Peter Paul book company, 1896.
  • Rhode Island Births and Christenings, 1600-1914", database, FamilySearch ( : 17 December 2019), Thankful Tefft, 1757
  • Rhode Island, Birth Index, 1636-1930 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2000.
  • Book Title: Descendants of John Tanner : Born August 15, 1778, at Hopkintown, Rhode Island : Died April 15, 185, North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2016. (Only father identified)
All of these entries are consistent as to the date, place, and name information. There have been some issues in the past over the correct place information but a timeline of the name changes shows that the most accurate place name is "Hopkinton, Kings, Rhode Island." FamilySearch adds "British Colonial America" to its standardized entries but there is a lack of consensus as to whether or not this is an appropriate geographical or political designation. 

Do I feel confident in moving on to the next generation? The places are reasonable because her children were also born in the same location. The time is reasonable because calculating her age at the time each child was born is possible and consistent. This, along with marriage information adds a degree of certainty to the birth information. Although none of the sources are first-hand accounts of her birth, they are all reasonably reliable and consistent. 

So, I move on to William Tefft and Mary Kenyon. The first obvious issue is that none of the Thankful Tefft sources except the first one give Thankful Tefft's mother's maiden name. But the book is very specific and gives the marriage information. Here is a screenshot of the entry in the book. 

Remember, the Family Tree is an open, collaborative wiki-like website and someone could find a document or record at any time and challenge or change information. That is the main reason that I keep adding sources. 

In this case, since the next generation to connect to Francis Cooke LZ2F-MM7 is through William Tefft LZ2F-MM7, we do not have to spend a lot of time in this post looking at his family. Of course, I have done research on his family, including his wife. Mary Kenyon LWQZ-JG2, Thankful Tefft's mother is well documented with 34 sources. In this series of posts, because the ancestral line connecting me to Francis Cooke is through William Tefft's parents, I will focus on whether or not there are sources connecting William Tefft to his parents. 

William Tefft has 47 sources. Let's see if any of those sources indicate his birth information and the identity of his parents. His birth information is as follows:

This entry says there are five sources for his birth. Let's see if that is correct (I never really have any confidence in automatically generated information)
  • Rhode Island Births and Christenings, 1600-1914", database, FamilySearch ( : 17 December 2019), William Tefft, 1731.
  • Book Title: Descendants of John Tanner : Born August 15, 1778, at Hopkintown, Rhode Island : Died April 15, 185, North America, Family Histories, 1500-2000 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2016.
  • Edmund West, comp.. Family Data Collection - Individual Records [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2000.
  • Tifft, Maria Elizabeth (Maxon). A Partial Record of the Descendants of John Tefft, of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and the Nearly Complete Record of the Descendants of John Tifft, of Nassau, New York .. Buffalo, N. Y. : The Peter Paul book company, 1896.
In going through these records, one of the entries has an exact birth date for him. It is 29 February 1732. This is an unusual date because it indicates a leap year. I confirmed that 1732 was actually a leap year so this date may be correct. Since we have a source already cited, I decided to add the specific date to his individual record with an explanation. This entry also shows the maiden name of his mother. 

At this point, I wanted to see if there were any other sources showing his parents and/or exact birthdate. Time to do some research. So stay tuned to see what that research shows and to continue on with working my way up the pedigree. 

See these previous posts

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Beginning the Mayflower Quest Part Two: Working my Way Back in Time

This is a close up shot (not mine) of the famous Plymouth Rock. You may or may not believe that this rock is where the Pilgrims landed, but the reason there is a photo at the beginning of this post (other than the tie-in with the Mayflower and Pilgrims) is that the rock is the subject of graffiti attacks about five times a year on the average. See "Vandals paint Plymouth Rock with red graffiti." Graffiti and adding unsubstantiated entries to the FamilySearch Family Tree have very much in common. Both are acts that seem to have no logic or reason behind them and according to the article above, they can both be "cleaned up" in a short time. Unfortunately, like graffiti, much of the unsupported and unsubstantiated additions to the Family Tree are still there just like the graffiti that decorates most of the cities around the world. (I saw more graffiti in Madrid, Spain than I have seen in Los Angeles, California).

When you look at a person such as Francis Cooke LZ2F-MM7, a Mayflower passenger, you have to wonder why his entries change so often on the Family Tree. The main reason, as I have surmised, is that not only does he have an extraordinarily large number of descendants, he is also part of a group of people that are part of a prestigious number of individuals who are remembered through a lineage society for immigrants who came over on the Mayflower in 1620 so he is in a sense a "target" ancestor, as are all the Mayflower passengers. Of course, these issues are not limited to the Mayflower passengers, there are societies and associations for the settlers in any part of the United States and other organizations for people whose ancestors came as immigrants from almost every country of the world. But the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (The Mayflower Society) is one of the most recognized in the United States.

Despite the overwhelming amount of very specific information about a person such as Francis Cooke LZ2F-MM7, the urge to be a descendant of such a person overwhelms considerations of basic research methodology. In my years of helping people with their research, I have also found this same overwhelming drive in people who believe they are related to a Revolutionary War veteran or to an Indian Princess or royalty or whatever. 

The other part of the equation that makes up the perpetual changes to a person such as Francis Cooke LZ2F-MM7 in the Family Tree is the seemingly unending supply of old GEDCOM files and copied pedigrees. When people decide to "do their genealogy" they turn immediately to the piles of old family group forms or an old Personal Ancestral File (PAF) file and assume because it is old and handed down from a grandmother or someone really old, it must be accurate and of course, all the other people working on the Family Tree do not have these "historical gems" and must be enlightened even is the person making the changes is not quite sure why the Mayflower passengers are important other than we remember them every Thanksgiving here in the United States. 

When I go back over my own early research, I just ended up copying everything I found for a considerable time. Most of my initial information came from paper family group sheets submitted to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. When I had assembled a huge pile of paper and entered it all into a computer program (eventually PAF) I began to do some actual research and soon eliminated a fairly high percentage of all of the extended lines. Unfortunately, since those family group records in the Salt Lake City Family History Library ended up as the original source documents for the Family Tree, many people will have their genealogy validated simply because all their stuff is right there in the Family Tree today so it must be true. 

Which brings me to the starting place for this particular effort. See "Popularity on the FamilySearch Family Tree is not always productive." Because I have researched and validated every ancestral link back to my 4th Great-grandmother, Thankful Tefft LKKM-LWN, I decided to begin with her. She is also the person most mentioned in my family as the direct descendant of the Mayflower passenger Francis Cooke LZ2F-MM7 even though all of Francis Cooke's direct descendants have the same exact claim to his ancestry. Part of that reason is also that Thankful Tefft and her husband Joshua Tanner are listed in the Mayflower Society's registered descendants' books. So, if a descendant of Thankful Tefft has "proved" their genealogy back to her, then they should be able to prove the rest of the generations by referring to records already accepted as valid. Each of the lineage steps from me back to Thankful Tefft in the Family Tree has, at least, 61 sources attached so if you have any questions about any of these individuals you will have to read through a total of about 561 source citations to records, books, certificates, and biographies to decide if I have any of the wrong people. But because I have added most of those records myself, I am starting with Thankful Tefft and working back through the sources for this older set of ancestors so there is no doubt about my relationship back through the seven additional generations to Francis Cooke. 

In each generation, I am focusing on the parent/child relationships. Sometimes I find people with a huge number of sources that mysteriously are missing any reference to the person's parents. No matter how many other sources provide information about the person's spouse or children or death or whatever, if there are no sources substantiating the identity of the person's parents, the line stops right there and any speculation about the identity of the parents is pure speculation. So you can expect me to discuss every step of the process going back generation by generation until I reach the ultimate conclusion that I am almost certainly a direct descendant of Francis Cooke and by the way of his son John Cooke and John's wife Sarah Warren and her father Richard Warren. Both John Cooke and Richard Warren were also Mayflower passengers and when this is finished I may well be a direct descendant of several more Mayflower passengers. Time will tell and so might the research. 

See these previous posts

Monday, June 29, 2020

Beginning the Mayflower Quest: Evaluating the FamilySearch Family Tree: Part One

In the Family Tree, people who have constant changes for no reason at all are called "Revolving Door" ancestors. Those who are knowledgeable and concerned and watch these Revolving Door Ancestors can have dozens or hundreds of changes to evaluate and correct every week and with some of the extreme Revolving Door Ancestors, those changes can add up to a significant amount of work every week, week after week. The changes are like a fast-growing cancer that cannot be contained but if left alone would soon kill the host meaning the Family Tree. 

The most obvious Revolving Door Ancestor in my family lines is Francis Cooke LZ2F-MM7. His importance in the Family Tree arises from the fact that he was a Mayflower Passenger and possibly one of the most well-documented people on the face of the earth. He has an entire book published solely about his genealogy that the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (The Mayflower Society) has spent over 100 years researching. Because of the color of their covers, these books are known as the Silver Books. Here is the link to that book:

Everything that is known about Francis Cooke is contained in this relatively newly published book. Here is the statement from The Mayflower Society about the contents of this book. 
Francis Cooke, Volume 12

A "Mayflower Families" GSMD Publication, part of the Silver Books with an addendum added.

This addendum, by Susan E. Roser, Secretary General, and Judith H. Swan, Former Governor General and Director, Silver Books Project, seeks to list all known corrections,
deletions and additions that have been made known to the Silver Books Project by December 31, 2016. 

This addendum uses the 1999 book which was a reprint of the 1996 edition.
I can assure you, after spending nearly forty years researching my family lines that there is no better documentation than this series of books. If you really think that you have information that changes the entries in the Silver Books, I suggest you make your case to the Mayflower Society and see what they have to say about your research. 

This brings us to the most recent change to Francis Cooke detected by the Family Tree program. I do not make these things up. I am sensitive to the fact that not all the people who work on the Family Tree have my background. I try to help people and not attack them. 

Here is today's offering from a Family Tree contributor:

Notice where the information came from, a GEDCOM file with no sources. Unfortunately, the Family Tree has no level of filtering out this information other than notifying me and others watching these families that there is a change or duplicate or whatever. We do all the work to correct this stuff. I blurred out the name of the person who submitted this entry.

Well, this is the first entry in this saga. I started with my direct line ancestor Thankful Tefft LKKM-LWN and verified her listed sources and added a few more to bring the total to 56 sources. One source I added was an extensive book written in 1896.

Tifft, Maria Elizabeth (Maxon). A Partial Record of the Descendants of John Tefft, of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and the Nearly Complete Record of the Descendants of John Tifft, of Nassau, New York .. Buffalo, N. Y. : The Peter Paul book company, 1896.

The main issue here is whether or not there is a historical record that substantiates the parents of each of the links back to Francis Cooke. Once I reach the fifth-generation descendants, I can use the Silver Book cited above.

Well, now I have another list of changes to the Family Tree from my weekly list from FamilySearch. Here are the changes today for Francis Cooke LZ2F-MM7. In this case, I am not going to blur out the names since the changes are publically available on the website and anyone making changes to Francis Cooke should be aware that we can all see those changes and also, that the people working on making the corrections should be recognized for the constant and immense work they do on just this one person. 

I am wondering how long this has to go on before FamilySearch realizes the basic problem with the Family Tree and the destructive nature of the changes?

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Popularity on the FamilySearch Family Tree is not always productive

Every week I get an email report from advising me of the changes to people I am watching. If "watching" is a term you are not familiar with see "Watching, Waiting And Editing The Family Search Family Tree." Every week, almost without fail, my direct line ancestor, Francis Cooke LZ2F-MM7 has dozens up to in the hundreds of changes. Francis Cooke was a passenger on the Mayflower in 1620. He likely has hundreds of thousands of descendants. There are an estimated 35 million descendants of the surviving Mayflower passengers. Apparently very few of them seem to know more about him than the fact he arrived in America on a boat. Here is a screenshot of that part of the FamilySearch email showing me the changes for the week ending June 7th, 2020.

This was a relatively light week for changes. In this one week, child relationships were changed, Burial information was changed, his birth record was changed, Parents were added, and many other changes were made. In total, that week of June 7, 2020, with all the other changes, there was a total of 82 changes to 19 people. Most of those changes, 9 of those changes were to Francis Cooke. 

Now, is Francis Cooke such a controversial person that all these changes reflect a lack of real information about him and his family? Far from that. In fact, there are probably relatively few people from the 17th Century who are as well documented as Francis Cooke. The General Society of Mayflower Descendants has been researching the 102 passengers on the Mayflower since it was founded in 1897. Of this original number, 45 of the passengers died during the winter of 1620-21. The lives and descendants for five generations have been exhaustively researched and published in a set of books known as the "Silver Books." The book containing information about Francis Cooke is in the twelfth volume of the series. Here is the citation for that book. 

Wood, Ralph V., and Lucy Mary Kellogg. 2015. Mayflower families through five generations: descendants of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth, Mass., December 1620. Vol. 12 family of Francis Cooke.

New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) has partnered with General Society of Mayflower Descendants (GSMD) to bring new searchable databases created from authenticated Mayflower Pilgrim genealogies and from 50 years of published Mayflower passenger scholarship from the Mayflower Quarterly. GSMD members will enjoy generous discounts on new memberships in New England Historic Genealogical Society, the founding genealogical organization in America.

Known as the "Silver Books" because of their distinctive covers, the Mayflower Families Through Five Generations series from the General Society of Mayflower Descendants meticulously documents the first five generations of descendants of Mayflower passengers who arrived in 1620. This essential resource has previously been accessible only in print format. As a result of this partnership, the fifth generation portion of these will be available online on for use in family history research.

The "Silver Books" series is comprised of 31 volumes, of which the fifth generation of each will be brought online as a database as the digitization is completed. 50 passengers on the Mayflower are known to have living descendants, however, the “Silver Books” treat the 25 families that left American descendants.
OK, so why are there so many people out there making changes to a person whose five generations of descendants have been meticulously documented and when the documentation is readily available in libraries and online?

That is a good question. For some years now I have been working through all of my ancestral lines and purposely avoiding the Mayflower line. I have been watching the changes made to just one passenger, Francis Cooke, for years now. With the pandemic and the loss of all my direct contact with libraries and Family History Centers, I think it is now time to take on the Mayflower line. I actually have several lines that trace back to different Mayflower passengers, but this will be my test case. I have (or will have) complete access to the Silver Books and I can take a stand on the Family Tree and work my way back documenting every connection again and then when I reach Francis Cooke, I will start helping with the corrections. If you are thinking about changing anything that has been completely documented previously by the Mayflower Society, I would suggest having a second or third thought on this subject. 

I am drawing a virtual line in the sand. I will be documenting my research here on this blog so if you want to help or question or criticize you will have an ample opportunity to do so. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Languages, Scripts, and Genealogy

The United States is a nation of immigrants. About 1.6% of the population are Native Americans. If we persist in doing genealogical research we will all find ourselves trying to read difficult to decipher handwriting and nearly all of us will find a challenge in reading a foreign (to us) language. In my ancestry, I will encounter Irish, Scottish, Welch, older forms of English, and Danish. If I go far enough back, I will find some Dutch. Also, in almost every line, I will eventually have some difficulty in reading the handwritten records. 

My first Danish speaking ancestor was born in 1863 and came to America as a young child. His father, Jens Christensen, has a Danish christening record. Here is a copy of the record.

Here is a magnified copy of the entry for Jens Christensen. 

The date is 31 July 1819. In the event, we run into either a language challenge or a handwriting challenge we either have to spend our time learning enough of the target language to get by with reading the records and learning how to read the handwriting or hire someone who can help us with both. Persistent and dedicated genealogists "bite the bullet" and learn both. 

If you are confronted by a language barrier, the first place to start is a word list. Here is one from the Research Wiki.

Many years ago, FamilySearch printed some Research Outlines covering the basic research techniques in countries all around the world. Here is the cover of the one for Denmark.

This particular Danish Research Outline is 253 pages long but all these old Research Outlines are no longer in print. However, all is not lost. All of them are available in PDF files on the Brigham Young University Family History Library Website.

In addition, if you need more help, you can find links to even more information on The Family History Guide Countries Research section.

Now let's suppose you still have trouble reading the handwriting in old records. Why not try the following website for some instruction:

When you start getting into difficult handwriting and languages you do not know, you are just getting into the interesting parts of genealogical research and the best parts also.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Reclaim the Records wins FOI fight for 19th and 20th Century Yonkers, New York Birth and Death Records

Reclaim The Records

Quoting from an email recently received:
Hello again from Reclaim The Records! We hope everybody has been hunkered down safely and soundly for the last few months, maybe working on some genealogy from home with some of the records we've helped release online over the past few years. Well, we're back to announce some great new records you might want to check out while you hunker in your bunker. And as always, these new records we've acquired and published are totally free.

After literally years of negotiating and haggling (although luckily stopping short of yet another lawsuit), we are pleased to announce the first-ever publication of tens of thousands of late nineteenth and early twentieth century births and deaths for Yonkers, New York. We've photographed the alphabetical indices, and for most years we were able to photograph the full birth and death registers, too!

And none of these record books had ever been available to the public to use or browse before, not even on microfilm at a library. And the people listed in these records were generally not in the statewide birth and death indices that we previously acquired and published for New York.

These photos are all new, and they're gorgeous:

To read the rest of this fascinating story, go to the Reclaim The Records website:

Here's where the records are published for free: