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Mayflower Society applications jump as 400th anniversary nears

By SHAWNE K. WICKHAM
New Hampshire Sunday News

November 22. 2017 7:44PM
Members of the New Hampshire Mayflower Society dressed as Pilgrims to attend the 2017 General Society of Mayflower Descendants Congress held in Plymouth, Mass., in September. From left are Marcia Huntley Maloney, Heather WIlkinson Rojo, the society's Governor, Anne Vadakin and Priscilla Ryan. (COURTESY)

The New Hampshire Mayflower Society has seen a jump in membership applications. It seems nobody wants to miss the party.

Heather Wilkinson Rojo of Manchester is governor of the organization, a lineage society for people who can trace their heritage to those who came here on the Mayflower in 1620.

The 400th anniversary of that historic landing is just over two years away.

“All of a sudden, we have gotten an onslaught of applications from people who want to belong to the Mayflower Society before 2020,” said Rojo, who lives in Manchester.

The New Hampshire chapter has 557 members and used to get five or six membership inquiries a year, she said. “Now it’s every month.”

It’s not that easy to join the society: Applicants have to trace their lineage back 13 or 14 generations. “That’s how many generations it takes to get back to someone who was born in England in the late 1500s and who came over on the Mayflower in 1620,” Rojo explained.

But there’s help available, she said. The national organization already has documented the first five generations of those who survived that first winter in what they called Plimoth.

Of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower, only about half lived to celebrate the first Thanksgiving in 1621, Rojo said. And not all of them left descendants.

So the historians at the Mayflower Society can give you a head start. But you’ll still have to trace your family back eight or nine generations.

The society typically requires birth certificates or marriage documents to prove ancestry. “But if you don’t have those,” Rojo said, “and you can make a case with Bible records or gravestone photos, that’s what you need for each generation,” she said.

Rojo only learned of her own connection to the Mayflower 15 years ago. She’s a genealogist but for years she didn’t recognize the name of her ancestor, Isaac Allerton, as a Mayflower passenger. She was doing some research at the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston when the connection clicked.

“I almost fell off my chair,” she said.

Through her research, Rojo has since learned she is related to 10 Mayflower passengers, including an Allerton daughter named Remember.

She believes thousands of Granite Staters may have a similar connection but don’t know it. Some common names that date back to the Mayflower include More, Browne, Eaton, Fuller and White, she said.

“If you’ve got Colonial roots, if you know your family has been here for a while, it’s worth looking into,” she said.

Rojo knew a woman who only found out she was a Mayflower descendant when she was in her 90s. “She became a life member” of the society, she said. 

On Wednesday, Gov. Chris Sununu invited about 10 members of the society to join him as he signed the proclamation honoring Thanksgiving Day in New Hampshire and expressed eagerness about the coming 2020 celebration.

“I plan to be here,” Sununu quipped, referring to the fact the party will take place after he stands for re-election in early November 2020.

Heather Wilkinson Rojo of Manchester, right, is the Governor of the New Hampshire Mayflower Society. Rojo, her daughter, Catalina Rojo Ianetta, and granddaughter, Isabella Ianetta, dressed as Pilgrims when they attended the General Society of Mayflower Descendants Congress in Plymouth, Mass., in September. (COURTESY)

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J. Dennis Robinson, a Portsmouth author and historian, points out that by 1623, there were fishermen settling at Odiorne Point in what would become New Hampshire.

Capt. John Smith — he of Pocahontas and Jamestown fame — had actually landed on the Isles of Shoals in 1614 and drew the first map of the New England coast. “It’s his map that the Pilgrims are using when they come in 1620,” Robinson said.

And it was Smith who told his investors that the true wealth of the New World was not gold but natural resources: “trees, furs, fish,” Robinson said. The first seal of New Hampshire even featured a tree and fish, he said.

The 400th anniversary is going to be quite a party, according to Rojo. In Plymouth, Mass., she said, “they’re already planning parades and balls.”

“And they’re going to recreate the first Thanksgiving, and the first meeting-the-Indians, and the first everything for the years 1620 and 1621.”

Rojo is hoping her New Hampshire society can organize a bus trip to some of the celebrations down there.

The anniversary won’t just be celebrated in this country. Rojo recently traveled to England and discovered that many towns are planning to celebrate the Mayflower’s voyage over there.

There are Mayflower Society chapters in every state and members in Europe, Canada and Australia. Rojo said as many as 35 million people could be descended from someone on the Mayflower.

“They just don’t know it yet,” she said.

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For more about joining the Mayflower Society, visit www.nhmayflower.org/membership.


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