Tracing ties to the Mayflower

Jamestown has at least four families that can trace their ancestors back to the Mayflower pilgrims, who left England seeking religious freedom and landed in the new world 395 years ago this week.Angie Kokott is Jamestown's most recently confirmed...

The Williams family, descended from John Alden of the Mayflower landing in 1620, moved to North Dakota to start a ranch near Cleveland around 1880. This photo was taken in 1920 when T.A. Williams, center front, and six of his sons were all accepted into the Jamestown Masons at the same time. In front, from left, are Ted, Timothy “T.A.” and John (Angie Kokott's grandfather), and back, from left, are Tim, Ralph, George (Mike Williams' grandfather) and Bill. Courtesy | Angie Kokott

Jamestown has at least four families that can trace their ancestors back to the Mayflower pilgrims, who left England seeking religious freedom and landed in the new world 395 years ago this week.
Angie Kokott is Jamestown’s most recently confirmed Mayflower descendent. There were always stories but no real proof, she said, and the journey of surprises and challenges was a reward in itself.
“I am proud that I found it; I knew I was close and so I kept going,” Kokott said. “I felt it was here and I just had to find it.”
The descendants
Looking back 13 generations, Kokott linked her family directly to John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, two passengers who married shortly after the 52 passengers and crew of the original 132 landed at Plymouth Rock (in what is now Plymouth, Mass.) in December 1620. Alden was a barrel maker whose work to help repair a damaged beam likely saved the ship, and Mullins was the 18-year-old daughter of parents who died during the voyage.
Tracing a lineage through the women in the line is especially difficult, Kokott said. Until the 1870s it was common for women not to be recorded in a census or other official documents, so it took second-tier materials from newspaper obituaries, church and town records and a family Bible to prove a critical link, she said.
“Sometimes it’s like a needle in a haystack,” she said.
The Kokott family line on her father’s side, James Kokott Jr., came from Poland in the 1870s, she said. Her mother, Margaret Williams, is a descendant of Mayflower passengers Alden and Mullins. Kokott researched descendants as marriages moved the line from the Aldens to the Packards and then the Williams family that moved to North Dakota in the 1880s.
One important link that Kokott said helped prove the lineage was a family Bible that was gifted from Abigail Packard to her husband, Levi Williams, in the mid-1800s when they lived in Pennsylvania, she said. Three sons of Levi and Abigail would move to North Dakota and start a cattle and sheep ranch about 12 miles south of Windsor and 9 miles south of Cleveland.
Philip LaQua, of Jamestown, is the governor for the Mayflower Society of North Dakota. He is a descendant of Mayflower passengers William Brewster and Henry Samson.
LaQua said his family was aware of the Brewster link for generations but no one ever bothered to prove it. It was his mother and aunt who did the research over 15 years, he said.
The society certified the lineage in 2004. It was another society member researching her own history who accidently discovered the LaQua link to Henry Samson, he said.
“It is extremely interesting to find out the lineage and connect with a Mayflower passenger,” LaQua said. “I am reading about the difficulties the pilgrims had, and the extreme price they did pay with half the passengers passing away on the voyage or in that first winter.”
Sources for information
Kokott applied for membership to the General Society of Mayflower Descendants in Plymouth, Mass., that certified her seven-generation search, until it merged with the society’s “silver books,” which follow five generations of Mayflower passengers from 1620 outward, and saving Kokott from doing the research on her own.
Kokott’s Mayflower lineage was certified by the society on Dec. 4, 2014.
“I can’t believe that I found two sets of grandparents on there (the Mayflower),” Kokott said.
The search could have been expensive, but she said most of the work was completed with a library card and membership. Many birth and death certificates are now online as well as newspaper archives to make the job easier, she said.
She is also a member of the James River Genealogy Club under the mentorship of club President Barb Caine, a librarian with the James River Valley Library System.
Caine is also a Mayflower descendant of Edward Fuller. It would take seven years to prove the lineage after finding obscure archives showing a father-son connection in 1824, Caine said.
One period where people most often get stuck in their research is the 1890 census, which burned in an 1921 fire at the U.S. Department of Commerce building, leaving a 10-year gap during a time of great mobility in America, Caine said. This decade presents the most frequent problems, she said.
Caine said for people who are interested in genealogy, the more work they do on their own, the more rewarding the experience.
Membership in the national General Society of Mayflower Descendants requires a documented descent from one or more of the Mayflower pilgrims. Proof of the lineage will require birth, marriage and death certificates, along with accepted genealogies, family documents and other official records that are acceptable substitutes.
The national Mayflower society is the highest level of proof for genealogy societies in the U.S., she said.
“Belonging to the Mayflower society doesn’t make us any better than anybody else, it just means that we have met a standard of proof, we have proven that we are descended from that,” Caine said.
The future of genealogy research is in DNA, LaQua said. Future Mayflower certifications will require it as the most accurate method. It is complicated and there are hurdles, he said, but in the end it will also help those with no documentation to prove a link.
“DNA is starting to become a big factor,” he said.
LaQua said the Mayflower Society of North Dakota is forming committees of people who want to participate in activities that bring awareness of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing in December 2020. Ideas include school presentations and a march in costumes in parades around the state, all leading up to the July 4, 2020, arrival of the Mayflower 3, a replica ship currently under construction in England.

Sources for genealogy research

The James River Genealogy Club

North Dakota Chapter of the Mayflower Society

General Society of Mayflower Descendents

(701) 952-8455

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