International Institute of Genealogical Studies


International Institute of Genealogical Studies - LEADERS IN ONLINE GENEALOGY EDUCATION

Original Records for Mayflower Research: Probates

Probate Records 

Probate records can provide important familial identifications. They can identify children and spouses, prove family relationships and provide approximate death dates. Probate records come in many forms including wills, codicils, inventories, accounts, receipts, settlements among heirs and guardianships of minor children.


A person who dies testate left a will; a person who died intestate did not. Occasionally expediency determined that a person had to make a will in a hurry, and did not have time to write it down, stating his wishes to another party who would later relay his sentiments to the probate court; this is referred to as a nuncupative will. If the deceased did not name an executor (male) or executrix (female) to oversee the administration of his estate, the courts would have to appoint an administrator or administratrix who would be required to post a bond.

What can wills tell us genealogically? They often named the children in order of birth. Children might be named in actual order of birth, or listed first by sons in their order of birth followed by the daughters in their order of birth. When birth records cannot be found it is often possible to construct approximate years of birth and family positioning based on the order of children in their parent’s will.

What happens when a child is not mentioned in his father’s will or settlement? The most likely reason is that the child is deceased with no living issue. If a deceased child has left children, these children are almost always named and identified, and receive the portion that was due their deceased parent. Occasionally, a child is not mentioned because they have already received their portion.

Once a father was deceased, guardians, who were often relatives of the deceased or his wife, were appointed for his minor children to protect their interest in their father’s estate. Generally speaking, children over the age of fourteen could choose their own guardian while those under fourteen had one appointed by the court.

In addition to proving parentage and family relationships, probate records can give an approximate time frame for a death when a death date cannot be found. A person died between the dates of his will and the next mention of his estate in the probate records which often is the date the will was presented for probate or the date administration was granted to the executor.

In New England, early probate records will be found in the county courthouses with one exception—Connecticut. In Connecticut these records have been deposited at the State Library in Hartford.

Of interest to Mayflower researchers is Roser’s Mayflower Deeds & Probates which are abstracts of records collected by George E. Bowman. Genealogy websites Ancestry, American Ancestors, and FamilySearch have probate and will databases for New England.

With our “Research: Mayflower Ancestors” course, you will learn more about your Mayflower ancestors and the information provided in those probate records.


Sunday’s Virtual Meetings

This is a reminder we have several virtual meetings scheduled for Sunday. Hope you can join us!


You can enhance your learning experience by joining a virtual meeting regarding your studies and asking questions. Even if you don’t have questions you are welcome to just listen, lurk and learn! We don’t mind in the least.

Remember, these Virtual Meetings are NOT mandatory. They are a fun and interactive way to ask questions about the courses and/or research at a relevant session.

NOTE: Times given are Eastern Standard Time. To check the current time and date, Log In to your Student Briefcase and click on “Time at Home Office” near the top right of the page.

Sunday, November 17th – Scottish courses with Sheena Tait   
Time zones:
Sunday, November 17th – 2:00 PM Eastern; 1:00 PM Central; 11:00 AM Pacific; 7:00 PM in London, England;
Monday, November 18th – 6:00 AM in Sydney, Australia

Sunday, November 17th – Analysis and Skills Mentoring Program-Part 2 – ARTICLE REVIEW with Brenda Wheeler           
Time zones:
Sunday, November 17th – 7:00 PM Eastern; 6:00 PM Central; 4:00 PM Pacific; Monday, November 18th – Midnight in London, England; 11:00 AM in Sydney, Australia

Sunday, November 17th – Methodology courses with Brenda Wheeler
Note: This Virtual Meeting is for the convenience of our Australasia students; however, everyone is welcome.
Time zones:
Sunday, November 17th – 8:30 PM Eastern; 7:30 PM Central; 5:30 PM Pacific; Monday, November 18th – 1:30 AM in London, England; 12:30 PM in Sydney, Australia

Periodicals & Journals for the Mayflower Researcher

Genealogical Publications 

Genealogical publications can be extremely helpful in your family history research. Genealogical and historical journals provide us with the latest research on a particular family as well as providing corrections of long-ago errors. Journal articles also teach us proper methodology in compiling a genealogy, documenting our research, and citing our sources.


How do you find journal articles of interest? PERSI, short for the Periodical Source Index is the largest subject index to all of the genealogical and historical periodical articles written since 1800 and was created by the staff of the genealogy department at the Allen County Public Library at Fort Wayne, Indiana. This index contains 2.7 million entries from thousands of publications. The articles are indexed according to family surname, locality, and research methodology. You can search PERSI at Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana or by searching it online through the subscription website Findmypast.

There are certain genealogical journals which are more apt to print articles concerning Plymouth Colony and Mayflower research and thus are likely to be of benefit to you in tracing your Mayflower lines. They include:

The Mayflower Descendant, published by the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, was begun in 1899 with George Ernest Bowman as editor until 1937. The Mayflower Descendant is a rich source of material that has aided the research of Mayflower genealogies and Bowman himself did more to advance this cause than any other researcher of his time. He was the pioneer in Mayflower genealogies; it is from his many years of research and the continuing research of those who built on his work to provide us with what we know today.

This journal contains much in the way of ongoing transcriptions of records including church, cemetery and vital records; probates & deeds and records of town meetings. In addition to the multitude of source records will be found articles on Mayflower families, some correcting old data and others relating new discoveries. DNA discoveries are also featured in some of the articles. This journal is available to search on the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s website American Ancestors.

New England Historical & Genealogical Register, begun in 1847 is the longest continually published genealogical journal “focusing on authoritative compiled genealogies” and is included with membership in the New England Historic & Genealogical Society. It specializes in publishing well documented articles on colonial families and as well as the English origins of these immigrants.

Digitized copies of the Register are available on the American Ancestors website.

The American Genealogist (TAG) founded in 1922 by Donald Lines Jacobus. Jacobus has been called by many as one of America’s greatest genealogists and it was he who introduced and insisted on the necessity of citing original  sources and thus improving genealogical standards. Frequent are its articles on Plymouth colony and Mayflower families where new research has often been uncovered and old myths put to rest by some of the best researchers in the field. Their issues are not available online, however, you can view a table of contents starting with volume 9 on their website, American Genealogist

Learn more about journals that feature information on Mayflower passengers and descendants from our course Research: Mayflower Ancestors”.

Town Histories for Researching Mayflower Descendants

Town and County Histories

Town and county histories often contain a great deal of genealogical data on its pioneers and early residents. As with family genealogies, search an online library catalog or digitized book website to see if a history has been written about the town where your ancestors resided.


As you peruse these older town histories, be aware that they are known to contain errors, which can mean that the unsuspecting beginner then takes those errors and repeats them. The problem is not so much that errors are circulated (although it does get frustrating to see inaccurate statements made which were corrected in journals ten years ago!), but rather that the source was not cited with these errors which means that the next unsuspecting person who receives this lovely little error will not be able to evaluate its reliability… and so on… and before we know it, it is the error which stands out over and above the ten-year-old printed correction. So, while early town & county histories and family genealogies are susceptible to a high degree of error, some more so than others, as an authored source they are important, and as a source, it is important to cite them.

When you cite this type of authored source, what does it tell you about your information? It tells you that you need to look further for verification. You have been given a clue, a starting place, and it is now your job to set out to prove the information you have found.

Some examples of New England histories with genealogical content are the following:


Jacobus, Donald L., History And Genealogy of the Families of Old Fairfield, 3 vols., 1930. Available on Ancestry.


Stiles, Henry R., The History of Ancient Wethersfield, Connecticut, Comprising the Present Towns of Wethersfield, Rocky Hill, and Newington; and of Glastonbury Prior to Its Incorporation in 1693; from Date of Earliest Settlement until the Present Time, 2 vols. New York: The Grafton Press, 1904. Available online at Internet Archive.


Lapham, William B., History of Paris Maine, from Its Settlement to 1800, with a History of the Grants of 1736 & 1771, Together with Personal Sketches, a Copious Genealogical Register, and an Appendix. Paris, Maine, 1884. Available online at Internet Archive.


Stackpole, Everett S., Old Kittery And Her Families. Lewiston, Maine: Press of Lewiston Journal Company, 1903. Available on Internet Archive.


Winsor, Justin, A History of the Town of Duxbury, Massachusetts, with Genealogical Registers. Boston, Massachusetts: Crosby & Nichols, 1849. Available online at Internet Archive.


Mitchell, Nahum, History of The Early Settlement of Bridgewater In Plymouth County, Massachusetts Including An Extensive Family Register. Boston, Massachusetts: Printed by the author, 1840. Available online at Internet Archive.

New Hampshire

Furber, George C., History of Littleton New Hampshire in Three Volumes. Cambridge, Massachusetts: University Press,1905. Available online at Google Books.


Lyford, James O., History of the Town of Canterbury, New Hampshire, 1727-1912, 2 vols. Concord, New Hampshire: Rumford Press,  1912. Available online at Internet Archive.

Rhode Island

Wilbour, Benjamin F., Little Compton Families, 2 vols. Rhode Island: Little Compton Historical Society,  1967. Available from Ancestry.


McPartland, Martha R., The History of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, 1677-1960, with Related Genealogy. East Greenwich, Rhode Island: East Greenwich Free Library Association, 1960. Available online at Internet Archive.


Cudworth, Addison E., The History, with Genealogical Sketches, of Londonderry. Montpelier, Vermont: Vermont Historical Society, 1936. Available online from Ancestry.


Wells, Frederic P., History of Newbury Vermont from the Discovery of the Coos Country to Present Time With Genealogical Records of Many Families, 1704-1902. St. Johnsburg, Vermont: The Caledonian Company, 1902. Available online at Internet Archive


Learn more about what histories are available for Mayflower families by taking our course “Research: Mayflower Ancestors”.

The Bowman Files

What are the Bowman Files?

Carrying Mayflower genealogies well into the seventh generation and beyond, are the transcriptions of the research of George Ernest Bowman, known as the Bowman Files, in the form of three volumes of multi-family works by Susan E. Roser, Mayflower Marriages and Mayflower Births & Deaths (2 vols.). Since these books contain many lines of all Mayflower passengers who left known descendants (with the exception of Moses Fletcher), it is possible to find out which Mayflower family your ancestor belongs to without checking all of the various single family books.


What are the Bowman Files? George Ernest Bowman (1860-1941) spent a lifetime researching what became known as The Mayflower Genealogies. His discoveries were published in his quarterly genealogical journal, The Mayflower Descendant, of which he was the editor from 1899-1937. During his lifetime, Bowman amassed approximately 20,600 handwritten pages of research—including lineages and family group sheets and documentation abstracts such as wills, probates, deeds, bible records, church records and cemetery inscriptions. In 1983 the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants (which Bowman himself founded in 1896), filmed the entire collection of handwritten pages onto microfiche, consisting of two hundred and twenty-nine microfiche cards, each containing approximately ninety-six handwritten pages and grouped by Mayflower family surname. Bowman’s research was the foundation for the continuation of serious Mayflower research which included the methodology that you pay careful attention to where you acquire your data and that you cite your sources.

Genealogies of Mayflower Families, by Gary B. Roberts is a multi-family book of a different sort. In it, he included all the Mayflower family related articles that appeared in the journal The New England Historical & Genealogical Register. Note however that some of the early articles in NEHGR were not well documented and contain errors.

Learn more about the Bowman Files and tracing your Mayflower ancestors with our “Research: Mayflower Ancestors” course.