Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Where Cumulative Learning Comes In


So, what does cumulative learning have to do with genealogy? Don't let the big words scare you. If you've ever heard folk sayings like "inch by inch, anything's a cinch," or "don't run before you can walk," you are hearing the basics of cumulative learning. Big concepts are built from smaller ideas. The steps we've already taken can point the way to next steps. When we find a way to understand the smaller building blocks first, we can piece them together to better get our head around those big ideas.

Right now, I'm grappling with the big idea of how I'm going to manage applying for membership in the Mayflower Society. It's fairly obvious there are big gaps in the necessary documentation to demonstrate a clear line of descent from John Alden and Priscilla Mullins to the members of my immediate family—and that's a problem. There are books and blog posts saying there is a connection, but a big gap in record-keeping in the murky middle of this genealogical journey has me wondering what to do next.

After purchasing the file of supporting documents for the application of a third cousin to the Daughters of the American Revolution—like me, a descendant of William "Tillson" through his son Peleg Tilson—I was dismayed to see very little references other than a few published genealogies to fill in the gaps in that paper chain of documentation. It seems to me that more actual records—coupled, at the very least with a solid proof argument—would be expected by an organization like the Mayflower Society.

Fortunately—and this is where the cumulative learning comes in—I remembered something from my Broyles research project in January. That something was the discovery of a recently-published book. That book, The Broyles Family: The First Four Generations, had been long overdue, a planned update by the Germanna Foundation which had been delayed by several factors.

Thinking of that, I remembered that somewhere I had read about the Mayflower Society also having plans to update their "Silver Books" and—possibly—add information beyond the first five generations. The key detail regarding those Silver Books is that each line of descent up through those five generations has been carefully vetted by respected professional genealogists. Applicants only need demonstrate direct relationship with that fifth generation, rather than having to document the entire way back to a Mayflower passenger.

Straight to Google I went, trying to find where I had read that detail about the Silver Books. I sure could use a confirmed line of descent stretching further than five generations. I found the answer easily: it was through Heather Wilkinson Rojo's blog, Nutfield Genealogy, where she posted news of a Silver Book Project Update in the fall of 2021. Reading the article once again, I noticed Heather included a further update at the end of last year. Apparently, the index may be out "within the next year" and "the books are all in progress."

Doesn't seem like any time soon.

The virtue of posing such questions as mine to Google is that there is always more than one answer. Studying all the search results led me on a tour of the history of the Mayflower Society's Silver Book projects. Apparently, the books have a long history from conception of the idea to precursor publications in the 1920s and 1930s up through 1956. The first volume of the five-generation concept was due to be published in 1970, but like many such enormous undertakings, suffered delays, making its ultimate appearance in 1975. In 2013—more to my current purposes—the Society endorsed a name change as it expands from the five-generation format to include subsequent generations in future publications.

Indeed, the Society's goal is "to provide clear, well-documented lineages of the ship's passengers through the seventh and eighth generations." That would clearly be of help to me. But when?

My journey through Google's possibilities didn't stop there, though. For a mere $60, the specific Project volume on my ancestor, John Alden and Priscilla Mullins' daughter Elizabeth, could be shipped to my door. But wait! Google had more to say on the topic.

Even better—though old news now—among the events included in the year-long 2020 celebration of Mayflower's four hundredth anniversary was an announcement at that year's RootsTech of the collaboration between the Mayflower Society, American Ancestors, and FamilySearch.org to make available online what is being called the Mayflower Database.

The database contains material from the thirty volume set of the five-generation project plus member applications submitted from as early as 1896, with information provided through 1910 on applications submitted as recently as 2019.

Sure enough, there is a "Mayflower Descendants Search" page at FamilySearch.org. I decided to test it out by entering William Tillson, the same name (and spelling) I had used yesterday to research the Tilson Patriot at the D.A.R. website. And there he was in the new display at FamilySearch.org, showing William Tilson's tree connecting all the way through to the Mayflower passengers I had anticipated. Better yet, the tree stretched in the other direction as well, showing me the lines of descent which included successful Mayflower Society applicants descending from Peleg Tilson's line.

Following that line of descent led me through two more generations of my direct ancestors, then branched off to a collateral line. After having studied the D.A.R. application yesterday for my third cousin's paperwork, I recognized that Mayflower line as the same one I had been reviewing yesterday from the D.A.R. application.

If the Mayflower Society handles their membership applications the same way D.A.R. does, that may mean I only have to provide verification of my connecting line up to the point of Thomas D. Davis, my second great-grandfather. How's that for a step-by-step process?  


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