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  • Mayflower Ancestors

    There were one hundred and two passengers who arrived at Plymouth on the Mayflower in 1620. Many of those passengers were religious pilgrims from the Leiden congregation; some came for financial gain and to acquire land; and about twenty were sailors manning the ship. About half of those people died during the first winter at Plymouth Colony. Today, tens of millions of Americans claim these original pilgrims as their ancestors. Those who can document their claims are eligible for membership in groups like the Mayflower Society.

    The Mayflower Society, or the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, was founded in 1897 by pilgrim descendants. It is the oldest and the most prominent Mayflower genealogical group. Both religious and non-religious Mayflower immigrants are considered "pilgrims" by the society, and their descendants are eligible for membership. For membership requirements, go to:

    Since the pilgrims were a well-known immigrant group, many people today try to fraudulently claim Mayflower descendancy. Beware of websites and published books that don't have documented sources; you don't want to corrupt your family tree by accepting someone else's fake claims as fact. But if you want to find out whether or not your ancestor's Mayflower claims are true, there are reliable sources that you can search.

    One good resource is Plymouth Massachusetts History and Genealogy, which has published online a list of all Mayflower pilgrims at: You can click on each individual to view his or her spouse, children, birth information, death information, biography, and ancestry.

    Another good website is the Plymouth Colony Archive Project at This archive has fully searchable texts for the early years of Plymouth Colony, including journals, court records, probate inventories, and wills. On the archive project's site, you can search by the name of the ancestor you're looking for.

    Don't forget the New England Historic Genealogical Society at Founded in 1845, the society is the oldest and most respected group of its kind in the United States. And, not surprisingly, its collection for Mayflower passengers is almost unrivaled. All these resources can help you learn more about your connection to these brave early colonists.

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  • Smith, Johnson, and Jones: Researching Very Common Surnames

    If you have a rare and unusual surname, searching census records, vital records, and online databases is fairly easy. You'll be able to easily trace your family back without having to worry that you've gotten the wrong person with your ancestor's same name.

    However, what about those of us with extremely common surnames. How do you search your genealogy and make sure you've got the right family members with a surname like Johnson, Williams, Miller, Davis, or Brown? Here are a few ideas:

    • Since you have a common surname, pay special attention to first names. When you're doing census searches, choose the least common first name in the family group and search for that individual. Once you've found him or her, you'll be able to find the rest of the family.

    • Location, location, location. Locality is everything when searching for common surnames. If you don't know what county or town your ancestors came from, interview living relatives to get the most specific information you can.

    • If you're searching within a large city, you'll find dozens of families with your same surname. To figure out which Tom Jones is your ancestor, map out each Tom Jones family. Print out a map of the city from GoogleMaps and use the address as given in the census to map each family that could potentially be yours. Then compare addresses listed on other documents-civil registration of births and deaths, military files, etc.-to narrow them down.

    • Most importantly, don't jump to any conclusions. Don't assume that just because someone has the same name as your ancestor that they're the same person. With common surnames, be sure to check the names of all the family members to be sure you've got the right family. Check birthdates, too. If you found more than one family that could be yours, don't jump to hasty conclusions. Print out the information for each family, and then narrow it down later when you have more information.

    Doing research on these kinds of family lines isn't the same as researching uncommon surnames. But by paying careful attention to first names and localities, by mapping out your ancestors' places of residence within large cities, and by double checking every match, you can successfully find your ancestors-even if they have a surname like Wilson or Jones.

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  • Honoring Veterans Day: How To Research Military Records

    To effectively use military records for genealogy, you have to understand the different kinds of records that are available. Draft cards, service records, and pension files can all provide different information about your ancestor who served in the military.

    During World War I, all eligible men were required to register with the government and fill out a draft card, whether they actually ended up fighting in the war or not. These draft cards list a man's name, birth date, nationality, physical description, and citizenship status. These records are available from the Family History Library or the National Archives.

    If your ancestor actually did serve in the military, whether in wartime or peacetime, you can look up his service record. Service records list what unit or regiment your ancestor served in, making it easier for you to find him in pension records and unit histories. Service records also list your ancestor's age, place of birth, physical description, and rank, although they rarely provide information about a soldier's family.

    Pension files are the best military records to use for genealogy purposes. Pensions were provided by the federal or state governments to disabled veterans, widows and orphans of veterans, or veterans who had served for a certain amount of time or achieved a certain rank. In order for a family to receive pension benefits from the government, they had to prove their relationship to the veteran, so many pension files include marriage certificates and other vital records. Pension files always list the veteran's surviving spouse, and they often list his children as well. If you have found your ancestor in a service record and know what unit he served in, it is relatively easy to find his pension file.

    When you know an ancestor's unit, you can also find his regiment history. These histories are available for many regiments, and they provide information about where soldiers enlisted, what battles they fought in, where they traveled, who the officers were, where veterans died, and where surviving veterans lived after the war.

    Most communities were fiercely proud of their men who had served in the military, so if you know your ancestor's hometown, you can find him in the county or town history. All county and town histories published biographies of prominent citizens, and military veterans were included there. You can find published county and town histories for your locality in the Family History Library Catalog, in your local library, or on

    If your ancestor served in the military in early American times, you can find him in bounty land records. After the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War, the federal government did not have money to pay its soldiers, so it paid them in land instead. Veterans were given bounty land warrants, or deeds to pieces of land in separate military districts in Ohio and other Midwestern states. A veteran could either settle the land himself or sell his deed, but either way you can look up his bounty land application and view the information there. Start by identifying your ancestor's unit in service records, and then you'll have access to the wealth of information that military records can provide. 

    We hope in honor of Veterans Day you will take time to researching those in your family who fought for our freedom. 

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  • How to Do Hawaiian Genealogy Research

    Very few people living in Hawaii today have only Hawaiian ancestry. Many are descendants of laborers who came to work in the sugar fields of the Hawaiian islands. The largest groups of immigrants to Hawaii came from China (starting in 1852), from Portugal (starting in 1878), from Japan (starting in 1884), from Korea (starting in 1903), and from the Philippines (starting in 1906). Today, those of Japanese descent constitute roughly a third of the population, the largest ethnic group in Hawaii. There was not a significant American population in Hawaii until 1875.

    An easy way to track ancestors who migrated to Hawaii is through port records. Since the main Hawaiian port is Honolulu, it is easy to track your immigrant ancestors there. Check Bernice Judd's Voyages to Hawaii Before 1860 and the Hawaii State Archives, which maintain microfilmed port records as well as entry permits and labor permits.

    Aside from microfilmed records, there are many government records for Hawaii that have been digitized online. The digitized collections include: Indexes to Marriage Records, 1826-1929; Indexes to Divorce Case Files, 1848-1915; Indexes to Probates, 1847-1917; Indexes to Wills, 1852-1916; Indexes to Citizenship Records and Naturalization, 1844-1894; Indexes to Citizenship Records and Denization,1846-1898; Indexes to Citizenship Records and Passports, 1845-1874. All of these records collections can be found online at: You can also view World War I service records there.

    Don't overlook the Social Security Death Index as a good source for more recent, twentieth-century family members. You can find Hawaiian relatives in the Social Security Death Index for free on USGenWeb also has a page devoted entirely to Hawaii and full of excellent links and resources. You can find this page at: It contains county histories and databases, immigration and passenger records, and much more.

    One good resource for Hawaiian research is William A. Cole's Cole-Jensen Collection, which contains 51 books of oral genealogy transcripts collected from Hawaii. This collection is available on microfilm from the Family History Library.

    Another good resource is Edith Kawelohea McKinzie's Hawaiian Genealogies: Extracted from Hawaiian Language Newspapers.

    Good luck searching. Pomaika`i!

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  • What Is Consanguinity?

    As part of the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church established rules that controlled who could marry within the church and who could not. Aside from being members of the Church in good standing, candidates for marriage could not be consanguineous within the fourth degree.

    What exactly is consanguinity? If you are consanguineous with someone, you are blood-related. If you share consanguinity with someone in the first degree, you have the same parents-you are siblings. If you share consanguinity with someone in the second degree, you have the same grandparents-you are first cousins. To marry in the Catholic Church, couples could not be consanguineous within the fourth degree: they couldn't share the same great-great-grandparents. In other words, if they were third cousins or shared any closer blood relation than that, they could not marry in the Catholic Church, unless they got a special certificate of permission from the bishop known as a marriage dispensation.

    Aside from the rules set forth by the Catholic Church, just how common was cousin marriage in Europe? Well, it depended on where you lived and what your social class was. Upper-class nobility were much more likely than the lower classes to marry their relatives, because they had to marry someone of their same rank and social standing, and sometimes a cousin or second cousin was the only one who fit the description. Those who lived in small isolated communities were more likely to marry relatives as well, simply because there weren't many marriage partners to choose from. In fact, marrying one's cousin because there was no one else of one's same social standing or no one else in one's small town to marry was such a common situation that there was even a special term coined for it in Latin and used in obispal marriage dispensations.

    One of the first scientific studies that were done on cousin marriage was conducted by George Darwin, son of Charles Darwin. George Darwin wanted to find out how many marriages of the current population of Britain were first cousin marriages (Charles Darwin himself married his first cousin, Emma Wedgewood). George Darwin's study showed that about 3.5 percent of marriages in Britain were first-cousin marriages. Not surprisingly, he found that there were far more first-cousin marriages among the upper class than the lower class.

    Contrary to popular opinion, cousin marriages do not cause genetic defects-unless a series of cousin marriages are perpetuated over many generations. When this occurs, there is not as much genetic diversity in one's gene pool, and so anomalies become more pronounced and undesirable recessive traits can come to the front. One of the most infamous examples of this is the Hapsburg dynasty in Europe. For more than five hundred years, the Hapsburgs were among the most powerful European families, controlling the Holy Roman Empire and, at times, Spain and its New World holdings. To maintain their status among Europe's powerful and elite, the Hapsburgs married other royalty-often their own cousins or distant cousins. As a result of centuries of cousin marriages, they became known for their protruding "Hapsburg jaw" and many were infertile or had children who died very young as a result of genetic disorders. One of the most extreme examples of Hapsburg inbreeding was Prince Carlos of Spain (1545-1568) who had only four great-grandparents instead of the usual eight. Not surprisingly, he was unable to produce an heir to the throne.

    If you want to calculate the degree of consanguinity you share with someone or to see how your ancestors are related to each other, you can use use the OneGreatFamily Relationship Calculator located on your Family Dashboard.

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