Friday, June 3, 2011

Yay! My Ancestor Arrived on the Mayflower.......Wait, Not So Fast!

I started researching my family history about 6 months ago.  My first step was to join is awesome!  The website has a huge amount of resources which make researching family genealogy much easier than having to do it all from scratch.  It has literally enabled me to find out things about my family in the course of a few weeks or months that may have taken me the better part of a lifetime to find on my own.

One of the best features of is the "hints" that appear as a leaf on the person you are researching.  These "hints" provide you links to documents such as census, marriage or death records.  These can save you a lot of time and provide valuable hints to other family members.

Another huge timesaver on is your ability to see the Family Trees that other contributors have already created.  It is fascinating that other members who are distantly (sometimes very, very distantly) related to you have already been researching the same family members that are of interest to you.  In a matter of minutes you can leverage all the hard work and research of other contributors.  

So within a few weeks of starting on, I had leveraged the work of other members to trace my family history to, you guessed it, several passengers on the Mayflower.  Yes, tracking back to those hearty pilgrims who left England to come to the New World to seek religious freedom.  

Specifically, I learned that Dr. Samuel Fuller was my ancestor.  He arrived at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts in 1620.  He was one of those first 100 pilgrims to come to our country, over half of whom would die in the first year of establishing the colony.  Also, he was one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact which is often considered the first instance and precursor of the colonists asserting their own ability to rule themselves independent of the influence of England.

I was thrilled!  

This was just the type of thing you dream of when doing your family history!  I was related to someone with real historical significance.  I even looked into joining the Mayflower Society.  The official society made up of descendants of Mayflower pilgrims.

There was only ONE wasn't true!  

How could this happen?  Well, sometimes when you rely on the family research which has already been done, you can be a victim of the mistakes they made in their research.  

My Great-Grandmother's name was Elizabeth Fuller born in Portland, Maine in 1886.  I had no idea what her parents’ names were.  However, the Family Trees I found identified her parents as William Fuller and Helen Waterhouse Fuller (based on several family trees).  William Fuller was only 8 generations removed from Samuel Fuller.  This all looked right to me and I started researching even farther back than Dr. Samuel Fuller to see how far back I could trace my family tree.

However, problems started to crop up.  

I kept researching and eventually came across a marriage record for Elizabeth Fuller, but it stated that she had a different husband.  Doing some additional research, I ended up finding two women named Elizabeth Fuller born within months of each other in Portland, Maine. 

Uh, oh, this could be a problem.  

How was I to know which one was my ancestor?  I decided to see if I could get a copy of Elizabeth Fuller's obituary to see if that could shed some light on who her parents really were.  

I knew that Elizabeth Fuller died Sept 23, 1971, but I didn't have a copy of the obituary.  I contacted the State Library of Maine to obtain a copy (more on the variety of great genealogy resources that are available from Maine in future posts).  

Long story, short.  The obituary identified her parents as James Fuller and Margaret Armstrong Fuller.  Not a match.

So, at least for now, my dreams of being descended from the Mayflower pilgrims are dashed.  So far, I have traced my ancestors, on my father's side, back to the 1750's in Nova Scotia.

My cautionary tales isn't meant to suggest you shouldn't trust the work that other contributors have done…but as Ronald Reagan used to say "Trust, but verify".    

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