Monday, August 7, 2017

"Why Don't You Speak for Yourself?"

Almost anyone familiar with the saga of the Mayflower's landing in the New World will recall the names of passengers John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, and her retort to his proposal, immortalized in the account by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: "Why don't you speak for yourself, John?"

When I first discovered my eligibility to join the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, I learned it was through this couple's line that I gain my link.

Of course, I haven't done all the hard work to trace that lineage back to the 1600s. I've been advised, thanks to some well-documented genealogies of past eras. In fact, the key to the discovery came when I was researching my maternal grandfather's descent from the Tilson line, thanks to the genealogy published in 1911 by Mercer V. Tilson.

Granted, that book was published more than one hundred years ago. A lot has changed in the research world since then. We have such ease of access, compared to prior centuries, and can pull up records to verify assertions which an author of that time period would be hard pressed to obtain quickly. Yet, genealogies of that era are held in such high regard that we tend to forget that, just as we can do now, those researchers of prior time periods could easily have made mistakes in their research.

That's why I like to take those old genealogies and run their assertions through the mill, testing each step of the lineage against digitized records to see what can be supported by documentation. I'm still in that process, but you can be assured my speed will be supercharged with this new goal of applying for Mayflower Society membership.

Even though I haven't yet proved the line for myself, I have one more resource encouraging me. A supplement to the original Tilson genealogy, published sixty seven years after the original Tilson genealogy, asserted that the connection between the first five generations—documented in the Society's "Silver books"—and my Tilson line was reliably recorded.

I'll outline the generations for you, beginning tomorrow. But for now, suffice it to say the task ahead of me will involve three parts.

The first, of course, is to insure (at least for my own peace of mind) that the span of the already-documented five generations from John Alden and Priscilla Mullins does indeed reach to the woman linking to my Tilson line: Janet Murdock. This can be accomplished, once I see those Silver books with my own, inquiring eyes.

The next step is to follow the Tilson line, as shown in The Tilson Genealogy, through as far as my particular line is included in the book, and insure that I have documentation for each generation's details as given in the genealogy—or, if incorrect, obtain the proper information.

From that point onward, I'm on my own. That is the point where my earliest Davis forebears arrive in Virginia, and then northeastern Tennessee, by the early 1800s. A small part of that segment is already documented, thanks to my application for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution. But that's only a small part of the big picture. Where my DAR application branches to the maternal side of my grandparents' lines, the Mayflower project will take me to the paternal side of that couple.

That third part is where I'll begin the journey in piecing together my argument, for in all genealogical projects, we need to start from what we know, and work our way back in time from that vantage point. So, once again, I face another challenge to document the story of a couple who, for whatever reason, decided to change their names without any legal authorization. Only last time, the burden of proof was eased by virtue of a family whose letter-writing propensities awarded me the benefit of the doubt. This time, thanks to the nature of life in the rural communities of the Tennessee hills, there won't be as many written traces of proof to support my contention.

Above: Postcard, circulated from about 1930 through 1945, representing Priscilla and John Alden, from the Tichnor Brothers Postcard Collection at Boston Public Library via Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. Replies
    1. Yes, I'm off on another project, and hoping it will, indeed, be great! Of course, it helps that my sister is cheering me on--and hoping the results include Mayflower Society membership for her, too.


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