10 December 2012

Genealogist’s bookshelf: Pilgrims

Landing of the Pilgrims by Cornè, circa 1805
There are many books about the Pilgrims who settled Plymouth Colony, including Governor William Bradford's own Of Plymouth Plantation and the General Society of Mayflower Descendants' silver books covering the first five generations of each family. Here are other books worth a look for genealogists. 


If you’ve ever used the Great Migration series, you know how valuable these books are for researching the 20,000 immigrants who came to New England between 1620 and 1640. For The Pilgrim Migration: Immigrants to Plymouth Colony, 1620-1633, Robert Charles Anderson was not content to package up 200 profiles from the series for this work; he reviewed and updated the profiles to include the most current data available. Each family or individual sketch follows a certain format, with as much detail as possible: last residence; migration date; first residence in colony and any removes; occupation; church membership; freemen; offices and military service; education; estate (land and probate) records; birth, death, marriage; children; associations, either related by marriage or blood or having connections to other immigrants; comments; and bibliographic notes.

Susan E. Roser has compiled numerous books based on the work of the foremost Pilgrim historian, George Ernest Bowman (1860-1941). She includes her own comments and newer resources with data from Bowman’s vast manuscript collections at the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants. Mayflower Marriages and Deaths, for example, includes 50,000 relations, so in order to fit so much information in the two-volume set, the type is small. The series also includes: Mayflower Births & DeathsMayflower MarriagesMayflower Increasings, and Mayflower Deeds & Probates. Also available by Roser is Mayflower Passenger References (from contemporary records & scholarly journals). 


In retelling the story of the voyage and settlement of Plymouth Colony, author Nathaniel Philbrick busts some myths but also adds much historical detail and turns well-known names into people with personalities in The Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War. He describes in detail items that were packed on the ship, how historians discovered the name of the Mayflower (since William Bradford forgot to mention it in his journals), their difficult voyage, and early settlement. But much of the book deals with relations with the Native American population, from the Pilgrims "borrowing" buried corn to all-out battles, culminating in King Philip's War.   


At the start of The Pilgrim by Hugh Nissenson, it is the year 1623 and 28-year-old Charles Wentworth is writing the story of his life in order to become a full member of the Plymouth Colony congregation. To do so, he must confess his sins and prove his spiritual enlightenment. Written in a first-person narrative, Charles reveals his childhood and upbringing, educational and career choices, courtship, Indian interactions, and religious beliefs. Peppered with details of disease, death, crime and punishment, and economic hardships, Charles’ story is one his Pilgrim audience is too familiar with, but the novel’s readers may not be. By using this point of view, author Hugh Nissenson effectively captures what life was like in old England and new.