Documenting Your Lineage
The first piece of advice for you is do not stall your application or put it aside and give up because certain documents cannot be found, or are not available. There is almost always another way around it, and in some cases, other types of sources will be accepted. It is important to keep an open mind regarding alternative sources but at the same time remembering that there are still certain standards that must be met. Each generation of a lineage has five events – birth and death of line carrier, their marriage, and birth and death of the spouse. This means five sources must be provided for each generation and we require long-form birth, death and marriage certificates if they are available.
No matter what your family history, in order to successfully trace your genealogy you must educate yourself on the geography and time period for which you are dealing. When did vital records begin, what is the privacy period for which recent records may not be available – 100 years? If a vital record is not available, what other sources may be available in the area your ancestors lived?
Whenever you find information, whether you open a book, or find it on the internet or on a reel of microfilm, don’t transcribe it by hand – photo-copy it. (Always include a copy of the title page if applicable.) Photo-copies of original records can be used to help document your line for membership, handwritten transcripts cannot. Citing sources in your genealogical work is important; instead of guessing where your info came from, or wondering how accurate your info really is, your source citation allows you to better evaluate the reliability of your data.
Vital records come in two sizes, long and short form. Long forms are sometimes referred to as long form for genealogical purposes and can contain a wealth of information, information that you will not find on the shorter form. Not all offices have them, but if you don’t specify, then you could miss out. For example, a certificate is often a short form, and is a fancy document on which has been typed the name, place and date of the event, as taken from the original record – but what you really want is the original record from which the information was taken. The original record could contain much more information than the bare facts of a certificate. In fact, a long form death record could also give birth date and place and names of parents – which could be a blessing if you have not been able to locate the birth record. There is no guarantee it will have what you are looking for, but it’s certainly worth a try (and the cost is usually the same). When long form records are available, they are necessary when documenting your Mayflower lineage for membership.
Conducting genealogical research in the New England states is a pure joy. And we have our early ancestors to thank, for unlike our later ancestors who were pioneers in new lands and had other things on their minds, they kept wonderful records. This doesn’t mean you are going to find every record you ever search for, but chances are you will find a majority of them.
When you begin documenting your Mayflower line, your first five generations have already been done by the General Society’s Silver Book Researchers. Our Historian Team may have added additional sources past the sixth generation therefore depending on the advice you receive from our Historian, you will probably need to begin documenting your line from generation #6 forward. It is always a good idea to concentrate on generations six to eight because it is these middle generations which can prove challenging. It is best to make sure you will be successful in documenting them before you go ahead and spend time and money on the easier generations where documentation will be more readily available.
If your ancestors were on the move during these middle generations, then you may find it challenging to find the primary records you need. As new lands opened up and our ancestors were on the move, up through New York and into Ontario or through Maine into New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, recording family events was not high on their list of priorities (those of us whose lines went into Nova Scotia fair much better), therefore when primary records cannot be located, secondary sources may be used. Whether or not the secondary sources you have are acceptable, depends on how reliable the source is known to be; our Historian will be able to advise you.
Since these generations are usually the most difficult, it is a good idea to complete the documentation requirements for these middle generations before you continue. It would be unwise to jump ahead and collect the documentation needed for your more recent, easier generations, only to find out later that you were unable to find proof of parentage for generation #7 and your application is at a standstill – after you have spent all that time and/or money on documentation for your later generations.
Once you have completed the documentation requirements for your first eight generations, those remaining should be much easier. Birth, death and marriage records should be available and when ordering these, remember to order the long form record. If a long form vital record is available for the geographic area and time period of your event, they are necessary to prove your lineage. If a vital record absolutely cannot be found or is not available from a record office, there are often alternatives we can use. See below.
Whenever a record cannot be found, don’t despair, there is usually another way around it, or another avenue to follow. For example, great-grandpa was born in 1865, married in 1890 and died in 1930. Registration of vital records did not begin until 1870, so no birth record for grandpa – no problem. He died “late enough” that a death record will be available and a long form death record may give his birth date and/or parentage. Some long form marriage records also name parents. Also available will be the 1871 or 1881 census which will place him with his parents and the 1901 census will give his birth date.
If you get stuck, have a problem, or are unsure what to do next concerning the documentation requirements, just ask the Historian Team Member who is working with you.
Not all lineages are easy to prove, some are a little more challenging and the records a little more elusive. You may find that you have been unable to identify the spouse of one of your line carriers, or you are missing a couple of birth, marriage or death dates on your worksheet. Does this mean your entire application goes down the tube? Of course not. If you have a well-documented lineage and have proven the parentage of your line carriers, but are missing the odd piece of data in your early generations, it is likely that your lineage will still be approved. The society is not so unrealistic as to expect every lineage to be perfectly laid out or perfectly documented.
No matter what your family history, in order to successfully trace your genealogy you must educate yourself on the geography and time period you are dealing with so that you will know what is available to you. And with the internet bringing this knowledge into our homes, it couldn’t be easier! There are many excellent websites with links to virtually every location imaginable and where you can purchase and easily download documents.
Of the utmost importance is proving parentage of each line carrier. In cases where women are the line carriers, her maiden name must appear on the proof of parentage for her child who is the next line carrier. If maiden name is simply not listed anywhere, there may be an exception depending on the other sources gathered.
Long form birth, marriage and death records are required whenever possible. Only when these records are not available will alternate records be permitted. If a record office will not release records for certain years, please provide us with a copy of a letter you have received from a record office saying the record cannot be found. Note: Some short-form birth records do not list parents therefore are not sufficient for proof of parentage.
Alternate sources for a civil birth record and proof of parentage:
- Baptism record w/parents
- Parent’s will or probate record stating relationship
- Deed – transfer of land from parent to child if the relationship is stated
- Census record w/parents. If child is shown in a couple’s family, but the relationship is not stated, then supporting sources must be provided.
- 1901 Census – can be used to prove parentage of a child, but can only prove the birth date of an adult unless the adult’s parent is listed in the same family.
- Long-form death record naming parents
- Long-form marriage record naming parents
Alternate sources for a civil marriage record:
- church register or record
- line carrier’s civil birth recorded in register in which his parents are named with the date of their marriage [often seen on Nova Scotia registers]
Alternate sources for civil death record:
- funeral home death record
- gravestone picture showing full date
- Probate record in which the date of death is given
Only when searches for the above sources have been carried out unsuccessfully will secondary sources such as printed family genealogies and town/county histories be permitted. Note that as a general rule, these printed genealogies and histories are not acceptable as a source for any date after 1900 and as well, they should not be used as a single source for entire generations. If you are unsure of the use of a secondary source ask your Historian Team.
Generations # 1 - 5
These generations will be sourced by the Historian Team using the MF Silver Books published by the General Society. This means that your quest for documents to prove your line will begin with the 6th or 7th generations.
Generations # 6 - 8
These middle generations will be the most challenging to prove due to the time period and geographic location, therefore it is a good idea to complete the documentation for these generations first, before gathering docs for the later, easier generations. If proof of parentage for even one line carrier in these middle generations cannot be proven with any type of printed source, then the lineage has no chance of being approved. Note however that these cases are rare.
Generally speaking, the New England states have good records and they are easy to find. If the line stayed in New England, or removed to Nova Scotia, then it is likely that the Historian Team has already been able to provide sources past the 5th generation.
Early Ontario, as well as the states of Maine and New York can be tricky, with records in the 1800’s being difficult to locate. B/M/D records may not be available for every date in these generations, therefore alternate sources may have to be used.
Generations # 9 - Present
These later generations are the easiest because of the availability of vital records (with some exceptions). It is expected that every date will be proven with a vital record. In some cases a birth record is not available in the early 1900’s and occasionally a vital record office will not release a record (in the past 75 years) due to privacy issues. In these cases certain alternate records may be used, however rarely will a family genealogy or town/county history be acceptable to prove a date in these later generations. Note that if a female line carrier has multiple marriages, marriage records must be provided for all marriages as a paper trail for her name change at death.
If you encounter a problem and cannot find a solution, please do not hesitate to let us know. If a vital record cannot be found, if parentage for a line carrier cannot be proven, if you are unsure of a source, etc. – let us know. It is important that we work closely together.