Pilgrim relatives walk among us

Most Americans think of Thanksgiving as not only a national holiday, but a family tradition.
But what if your family tradition included holding the first ever Thanksgiving some 400 years ago?
Four residents from Oxford, Addison and Brandon townships can trace their roots back to the historic feast that started it all.
Long before televised parades, football games and frozen turkeys injected with butter, there were Pilgrims – a group of persecuted religious Separatists from England who crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1620 aboard a ship known as the Mayflower in search of freedom in the New World.
Although 102 Pilgrims made the arduous journey and landed in what would become Plymouth, Massachusetts, nearly half of them died during the first winter of the “great sickness.”
The survivors established the second oldest permanent English settlement on the East Coast and laid the foundation for religious freedom and self-government in what would later become the United States.
Twenty-six Pilgrim Fathers have proven lines of descent that extend to people living today, some of whom are members of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants and its local chapter, The Society of Mayflower Descendants in Michigan.
Oxford resident Marian (Buell) Moore, 88, and her son, Thomas Moore, also of Oxford, can trace their lineage back to two Pilgrims – William Bradford (on Marian’s father’s side of the family) and Francis Cooke (on her mother’s side).
At age 32, Bradford (1589-1657) became the second governor of the Plymouth Colony, following the death of the first governor John Carver.
Bradford governed for more than 30 years, “pulling the Pilgrims through many a tight and apparently hopeless situation by his inexhaustible energy, ready wit and absolutely indominable courage,” according to the 1945 book Saints and Strangers by George F. Willison.
Described as “astute and practical,” Bradford was a “farsighted organizer and efficient administrator.”
Marian discovered she was descended from Bradford after reading a genealogy book written about her father’s side of the family, the Buells.
“It said we were all descended from William Bradford of the Mayflower,” she said.
After officially documenting her ancestry to the colonial governor, Marian joined the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (or The Mayflower Society) in 1981. She joined the Michigan Society in 1998, when she moved to Oxford from Texas.
“When we go to the Mayflower (Society) meetings twice a year, the fun part is when they call the role of the Mayflower survivors. If it’s your ancestor, you stand up. And everybody standing is your cousin,” she said.
Over the years, while researching some family history for a relative, Marian discovered she was also related to Pilgrim Father Francis Cooke (1577-1633), a wool comber.
“I wish I had known all this when I was a kid in school because I hated history,” she said. “If I’d of known that I had people on the Mayflower when I was studying about it, it would have made it more interesting to me.”
Learning you’re related to the Pilgrims “makes (the story of the Mayflower and the first Thanksgiving) more real to me,” said Thomas, who’s lived in Oxford for about six years.
Thomas noted that he worked with a man for years before learning the co-worker was also descendant of Bradford.
“We were related and didn’t even know it,” he said.
Not only is Marian descended from participants in the first Thanksgiving, she’s also related to Sarah Josepha Hale (born Buell), a 19th-century self-educated teacher, social activist and magazine editor who persuaded President Abraham Lincoln to proclaim a national Thanksgiving Day in 1863.
“She was my grand pappy’s third cousin,” said Marian in her charming southern accent.
Hale, of Newport, New Hampshire, saw a national Thanksgiving Day as one means of countering the divisions that ultimately led to the Civil War.
The Moores are also related to famed American inventor Eli Whitney (1765-1825), best known for creating the cotton gin, seven patriots who fought in the American War for Independence, and former President George Bush and his son, President George W. Bush.
“We have two ancestors in common,” Marian said referring to the Bush family. “We’re kin.”
She said the elder Bush is her “eighth generation cousin.”
“Mother’s always connecting us to someone,” Thomas said. “I keep telling her if she goes back far enough, we’re all relatives.”
“That’s the theory of relativity,” responded Marian with a laugh.
Although Addison Township resident Mary Kabat, 52, isn’t famous, she’s related to the Moores because she’s also descended from Pilgrim Father William Bradford on her mother’s side of the family.
“Bradford had many descendants,” Kabat said. “I believe there’s more of his descendants in the Mayflower Society than any other Pilgrim.”
Through their involvement in the Daughters of the American Revolution, Kabat met Marian prior to learning of her Pilgrim ancestry.
When the common link to Bradford was discovered, Marian said to Kabat, “Hi, cousin.”
“Marian’s my mentor,” Kabat said. “She got me into the Mayflower Society.”
Learning she was related to a Pilgrim was “awesome,” according to Kabat, a former substitute teacher for Oxford Schools.
“I found it very interesting,” she said. Thanksgiving has “more of a historic feeling” now.
“Before it was like you knew the story of the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving, something everybody learns in school,” Kabat said. “But knowing you’re related to the actual people who did it. . .I think it’s really neat to know that.”
“It makes you feel special,” she added.
Although it hasn’t been officially documented, Kabat said there’s a possibility she also descended from Pilgrim Father Thomas Rogers, a camlet merchant.
“I really would like to find out more about each Pilgrim,” Kabat said.
Kabat’s relations to Bradford and possibly Rogers could make her cousins with Brandon Township resident Tracy Flaherty.
The 38-year-old attorney’s relation to Rogers on her father’s side was discovered by her cousin, who was researching the family’s history.
“I thought it was pretty neat,” Flaherty said. “I think it made me feel like I understood more and was closer to the past.”
Flaherty said she joined the Mayflower Society in 1991 because “I became interested in meeting other people descended from the Pilgrims.”
“Everybody calls each other cousin” at the gatherings, she said.
Although her official ancestry in society only lists Rogers, Flaherty said she’s since learned she’s also related to three other Pilgrims – Bradford, Stephen Hopkins (1585-1644) and George Soule (1600-1680).
According to Saints and Strangers, Hopkins was “shipwrecked on Bermuda while on way to Virginia and condemned to death for leading a mutiny there (but later pardoned); joined to Captain (Myles) Standish for ‘counsel and advice on First Discovery, being only one of the passengers with any knowledge of the New World.”
Hopkins served as the Plymouth Colony’s assistant governor for a while, but was “frequently in conflict with authorities in later years.”
Soule was an indentured servant from Eckington, Worcestershire, who served Pilgrim Edward Winslow, a printer.
To those who think they might be descended from the Mayflower, the Society offers this advice –
“Many families hold a tradition that they are descended from the Pilgrims, which often kindles an interest in finding out more. Sometimes the stories of a Mayflower heritage are true and it is easy to document a descent. More often the documentation is missing and must be researched and supplied to prove your line. The good news is it that advanced research techniques, improved genealogy library collections and computerized resources have made it easier to track down your Pilgrim roots.
“The best documentation to look for is vital records such as the birth, marriage, and death certificates for each person. Other documentation might be published genealogies, family documents and other official records. If you have a relative who is a member of the Society, you may be able to use their lineage documentation to help you with your research.”
To learn more about how you can find out if you’re descended from the Pilgrims log on to www.themayflowersociety.com or call 1-508-746-3188. To contact the Michigan society e-mail the Rev. C. Corydon Randall II (Society Historian) at umpadre@aol.com.