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In search of the Mayflower: A reporter’s voyage to find his Pilgrim heritage

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Posted at 10:28 AM, Nov 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-25 19:40:36-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Four hundred years ago, a group of 102 passengers and a crew of roughly 35 set sail from Plymouth, England in September 1620 aboard the Mayflower to establish a colony in the New World.

Their planned destination in the extremely cramped and unsanitary ship was the Hudson River area in what is now New York, but was northern Virginia at that time.

But strong winter seas forced them to anchor at Cape Cod Hook.

Faced with the unfamiliar and harsh New England winter, within a few months, almost half the Mayflower’s passengers died.

While it was the “New World” to them, it was home to the Wampanoag Indians.

A few years earlier, European traders passed along disease which wiped out an estimated two thirds of the Wampanoag Nation.

Prior to the Mayflower’s arrival, Europeans also took Native Americans for the slave trade.

For those reasons, the Wampanoags largely abandoned the coastal area around Plymouth.

But the Wampanoags knew the Pilgrims were there and the Pilgrims knew they were being watched.

Several months after the Pilgrims arrival in Plymouth, the understandably wary Wampanoags approached the Pilgrims who also had their doubts.

They learned they could help each other.

The Pilgrims had muskets and cannons the Wampanoags could use to fend off their rivals the Narrangansetts.

The Wampanoags knew how to survive in New England, the Pilgrims didn’t.

On April 1, 1621, the Pilgrims and Wampanoags entered into a treaty which would last for 52 years.

In September 1621, a shared harvest meal would become the precursor to the modern day Thanksgiving.

By the time the treaty dissolved, the original leaders who agreed to it had died.

And then the tidal wave of European immigrants pushed Native Americans farther and farther west.

For that reason, some Native Americans observe a day of mourning on Thanksgiving for the ensuing loss of the people.

"Across the country, there's going to be mixed feelings about whether it's celebrated or not celebrated,” Gaylene Crouser, Executive Director of the Kansas City Indian Center, said.

There were no mixed feelings when then Massachusetts Governor Calving Coolidge, who would later become U.S. President, spoke about the Pilgrims at the 300th anniversary of the Mayflower’s arrival in 1920.

“They came undecked with honors of nobility. They were not children of fortune, but of tribulation. Persecution, not preference brought them hither. Measured by the standards of men of their time, they were the humble of the earth. Measured by their later accomplishments, they were the mighty. No captain ever led his forces to such a conquest. Oblivious to rank, yet men trace them to their lineage as to a royal house.” Coolidge said.

This story traces my own ancestry search to this iconic group in America’s history.

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According to family lore, my personal connection to the Mayflower is contained in my middle name, Bradford.

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Above: My dad Gordon Bradford Alcock 1931-2007 and my parents wedding day July 18,1959. My mom Phyllis Anderson Alcock 1930-2014, who’s family name is my first name, with my dad.

My late father, Gordon Bradford Alcock, told me we are descendants of Mayflower passenger William Bradford.

Bradford would go on to serve as governor of Plymouth Colony and write a journal about the experiences of those early settlers.

But as an investigative reporter, it’s one thing to say you’re a descendant of Governor Bradford, it’s something else to prove it with documented evidence.

No matter what I found, I knew I’d have a better understanding of my heritage.

My two brothers and their families and my Alcock cousins and their families would also benefit from this research.

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Above: Childhood photo with my brothers. From left to right Gordon Bradford "Brad" Alcock Jr., Garrett Gordon "Gary" Alcock and me Anderson Bradford "Andy" Alcock

To quote Longfellow, it would also give me an opportunity to “put my footprints on the sands of time” for my family and their descendants.

My personal search for the Mayflower began by reaching out to relatives on my father’s side of the family through phone calls, emails and social media.

Some of them I hadn’t spoken to in many years, and others I’d never met until I began this search.

Two people were especially helpful with their assistance.

My cousin Doug Ranney supplied copies, and in some cases originals, of family photos and documents I’d never seen before he sent them.

The same can be said of Bill Hensley, the husband of my dad’s late cousin Carol Moore Hensley.

I also found genealogists had done a lot of the work for me and attached documentation.

(A quick note about online research: The most helpful website by far has been familysearch.org - it’s free and anyone can join. Much like Wikipedia, anyone can also contribute to it. Another website, ancestry.com, provided some much-needed hints and documentation. That site is also free unless you want to start accessing documents. You can get a two-week free trial on ancestry.com to access documents, but then it’s a pay site. But like Wikipedia, not everything is 100 percent accurate.)

I started my family tree search and modifications with my own mom and dad.

Here’s a link to my branch on the family tree on familysearch.com, starting with my dad Gordon. Accessing a living person like myself is not allowed due to privacy concerns. However, I’m also including links to other ancestors on the same website as a progression back in time.

From there, my search for information led me to my dad’s parents.

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Above: My great grandparents Mary Lowe Alcock and Charles Wesley Alcock.

My grandfather Warren Joseph “Scotty” Alcock’s branch of the family tree is the one I was told would bear fruit. He was called Scotty because his mother Mary was Scottish. Both of her parents, census records show, were born in Scotland.

Grandpa Scotty suffered from dementia, and I was just a little boy when he died. He wasn’t the same guy my older cousins and my dad told me about in the short time I knew him, but I’m sure glad I did!

According to family, Scotty left engineering school at the University of Illinois to join the service.

Illinois state records show he registered for service while at college in Champaign, Illinois on June 3, 1917 and enlisted in the Army in Chicago on Dec. 24, 1917.

That same year, family and school photos show Scotty played for the University of Illinois baseball team.

Among his teammates on that University of Illinois team was George Halas, founder of the National Football League and owner of the Chicago Bears.

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Above: left to right and top to bottom, my grandfather Scotty Alcock as a University of Illinois baseball player and the 1917 U of I team. Scotty, top row, 2nd from r to l. Seated below him 2nd from r to l, George Halas, NFL founder and Chicago Bears owner. Halas and Scotty were 2 of 6 teammates featured with individual pictures and captions in the U of I Sports annual.

Part of what I learned about my grandfather I found at the World War I Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

I mentioned my grandfather’s Army registration was in 1917.

He was on a passenger list for the President Grant, a ship that departed Hoboken, New Jersey, on Aug. 22, 1918, for the “Great War” in Europe.

Records and family photos show he served in the Army Air Corps as a second lieutenant.

He was a bombardier, dropping bombs by hand from the plane in those very early days of aviation.

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Above: My grandfather Scotty Alcock with his Army Air crew during World War I, a close-up of my grandfather in the same photo and a picture of him in his World War I uniform.

According to family, his plane crashed due to a malfunction and he spent some time in a German hospital.

Those same Kansas City records show he returned home aboard the ship America on May 7, 1919.

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Above: The ship the USS America which brought my grandfather home after his WWI service and the log showing he was a passenger on that ship.

My search for the Mayflower led to a strange, coincidental discovery involving Christmas Eve.

Grandpa Scotty’s mother-in-law Kathryn Ungeheuer died on Dec. 24, 1933.

Chicago Board of Health records show the cause of her death was a fall from a second story window ruled “undetermined accidental or otherwise."

Why exactly a second story window would be open in Chicago in late December is unclear.

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Above: 1927 photo from l to r my great grandmother Kathryn Ungeheuer, who fell to her death on Christmas Eve, 1933. On her lap, my late aunt Marge Ranney. Behind her, my late grandmother Margaret Alcock and my late uncle, Warren Joseph Alcock, Jr.

Whatever may have happened that day, I’m sure it was a very sad Christmas for my family.

Seven years later, on Dec. 24, 1940, Grandpa Scotty’s own mother Mary Lowe Alcock died.

One of the most memorable and wonderful days of my life took place 65 years later. On Dec. 24, 2005, my wife Sarah and I were celebrating our first Christmas together as a married couple in our newly bought home in Louisville. We were hosting both our parents for Christmas Eve dinner when my brother Brad sent an email with a photo of my newly born niece Lucy in a Christmas stocking!

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Above: The best Alcock Family Christmas gift ever! My niece Lucy wrapped in a Christmas stocking swaddle the day she was born Dec. 24, 2005

The next branch on the tree toward the Mayflower is Scotty’s father and my great grandfather Charles Wesley Alcock.

Charles did quite well in the plumbing and heating business in Chicago.

But my dad told me he lost a lot of money during the stock market crash in 1929.

My Alcock Family history began in America with my great, great grandfather Joseph Alcock.

Joseph was born in Northern Ireland.

It certainly seems like a monumental and courageous decision for a teen-aged boy to leave his family behind and set sail to start a new life in a place across the ocean he’d never been before on his own.

But Joseph, like many immigrants, made that decision.

Passenger documentation confirmed by census data shows he immigrated to the U.S. in 1852 as an unaccompanied 16 year-old.

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Above: This document shows my Great, Great Grandfather Joseph Alcock immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland aboard a ship called "City of Glasgow", arriving in Philadelphia on August 9, 1852.

Much like Kansas City, Chicago’s growth from immigrants boomed due to the expansion of the railroads in the 19th century.

Tens of thousands of people like Joseph Alcock emigrated from Ireland in the mid-19th century, in part, due to the “Great Hunger” also commonly known as the “Irish Potato Famine.”

Many of those immigrants sought their livelihoods in America’s big cities like Chicago.

My immigrant great grandmother on my mother’s side told my mom, “In Sweden, they told us the streets of Chicago were paved with gold!”

Joseph Alcock became a plumber.

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Above: This family photo of four generations of Alcock males is from about 1919. On the left with the white beard is my great, great grandfather Joseph Alcock. To the right in back is my Great Uncle (Scotty’s older brother) Charles Wesley Alcock, Junior. To the far right is my great grandfather Charles Wesley Alcock. The little boy in the middle of the picture is Charles Wesley Alcock III, who was called Wesley. Tragically, Wesley was killed on his bike as a boy by a train in the Morgan Park neighborhood on Chicago’s south side.

The key to my possible Mayflower heritage, I found, is Joseph’s first wife, my great, great grandmother Sarah Ann Chapin Alcock.

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Above: Records from a Chapin Family genealogical book published in 1924 and a copy of their marriage license I obtained show Joseph Alcock married Sarah Ann Chapin on Sept. 5, 1866 in Racine, Wisconsin.

Racine is just north of the Illinois border and relatively close to Chicago.

One question I tried to answer is why a New England blue blood with long roots to Colonial America would marry a man fresh off the boat from Ireland and leave her New Hampshire home to move to Chicago.

Large waves of 19th century Irish immigrants sometimes faced discrimination. “Irish need not apply” signs were common at some businesses hiring workers.

However, genealogist K.C. Reid said if the new immigrant was from the same mother country as the family into which he or she was marrying, that individual would be well received because he or she would share cultural ties and traditions with that family.

And depending on the town of origin, that individual may carry news about family members still living there.

According to Reid, country of origin and religious beliefs were far more important to potential spouses in 19th century America then recent immigration status.

In my family’s case, religious beliefs appear to be a factor in Joseph Alcock’s marriage to Sarah Ann Chapin.

There are several prominent church leaders, including ministers, in Sarah Ann Chapin’s and my ancestry.

For example, that Chapin genealogical book I mentioned traces the ancestors of Deacon Samuel Chapin, a church and civic leader in Colonial Springfield, Massachusetts.

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Above: A statue of Deacon Chapin, my 9th great grandfather, can be found in Springfield.

The statue called "The Puritan" of my 9th great grandfather Deacon Samuel Chapin, completed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Springfield, MA 1887

And there’s Reverend John Wilson, my 10th great grandfather, a Puritan, he was the initial minister of the First Church of Boston until his death.

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Above: Rev. John Wilson, the initial minister of the First Church of Boston, my 10th great grandfather

And there’s Reverend Thomas Hooker, another of my 10th great grandfathers, who as a Puritan minister, led a congregation to establish a new colony in what’s now Connecticut.

Based on his sermon, Connecticut’s constitution was written.

It was also the eventual framework for the U.S. Constitution.

A statue of Reverend Hooker holding a Bible is located at the Connecticut State Capitol.

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Above: Rev. Thomas Hooker, a founding father of Connecticut and wrote the prototype for the U.S. Constitution, my 10th great grandfather

From this long line of Puritanical Protestants, Sarah Ann Chapin married Joseph Alcock, who was also a Protestant.

Joseph was part of Ireland’s religious minority known as the Orangemen.

The Orangemen are named after the former King of England, Ireland and Scotland, William of Orange, who was known for his staunch Protestantism.

The green in the Irish flag represents the Catholic majority while the orange represents the Protestant minority.

In deference to my ancestors, I wear orange on St. Patrick’s Day, which makes me subject to an occasional pinch for not wearing green!

It would appear Joseph was also a pretty charming guy! After his wife Sarah died in 1898, Cook County, Illinois, records show he married again in 1903 to a lady named Hattie Ross.

At the time, Joseph was 68 and Hattie was 46.

The next branch on the family tree toward the Mayflower is Sarah Ann Chapin Alcock’s parents.

They are Charles Church Chapin and Sarah “Sally” W. Partridge who, records show, were married in Westmoreland, New Hampshire, on New Year’s Day, 1835.

Census records from 1850 show Charles was a farmer.

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Above: The headstone for the grave of Charles Church Chapin, my 3rd great grandfather, in Westmoreland, New Hampshire.

Two key families in my ancestry united on Feb. 5, 1791 when Charles Church Chapin’s father, Calvin Chapin, married Abigail Church in Orange, Massachusetts.

Abigail Church lived past her 90th birthday, while her husband Calvin didn’t make it to his 40th birthday.

However, the couple still managed to have 9 children, including my third great grandfather Charles Church Chapin, Calvin and Abigail’s 7th child.

Calvin’s father Stephen Chapin, my 5th great grandfather, National Archives records show, served as a corporal in a Massachusetts Regiment during the Revolutionary War.

Those records show his service began on April 19, 1775 as part of Captain Gershon Nelson’s Company which marched to Cambridge and Roxbury to engage the British.

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Above: This Revolutionary War Era Company Roll from 1778 shows Corporal Stephen Chapin, my 5th great grandfather, as the third name down from the top on the right-hand column.

But it wasn’t Calvin Chapin and Corporal Stephen Chapin’s line which led me toward the Mayflower.

Instead, it was Calvin’s wife, Abigail Church’s family, which pointed toward the Pilgrims.

Abigail’s parents, Charles Church and Eunice Peckham, are the next link back in time towards the Mayflower.

Records show Charles and Eunice were married on August 18, 1756 in Bristol, Rhode Island.

That couple, I would find, is a unity point for four different Mayflower family lines.

The Church Family line is the first one I followed.

Charles Church’s parents Constant Church and Mary Reynolds were married in Bristol, Rhode Island, on Jan. 25, 1732.

Constant Church’s parents Charles Church and Hannah Payne also married in Bristol, Rhode Island, on May 20, 1703.

Records show Charles Church was a high sheriff of the county and a representative to the general court.

His parents were Colonel Benjamin Church and Alice Southworth, who were married in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the day after Christmas in 1671.

Colonel Church, my 8th great grandfather, was a carpenter, military officer and ranger, a precursor to the U.S. Army Rangers.

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Above: Colonel Benjamin Church, a military officer, his unit was a precursor to the U.S. Army Rangers, my 8th great grandfather.

Colonel Church was also a leader in King Philip’s War colonists fought with Native American allies against other Native American tribes.

The Rhode Island Society of Colonial Wars honored Colonel Church with a plaque at his grave site for his “fearless leadership and effective command”.

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Above: Plaque honoring Col. Church's service at his grave

With Colonel Church and Alice Southworth, I’m within two generations of the Mayflower and my connection to Governor William Bradford, my namesake.

To find that connection, I went to Alice Southworth’s line and her parents, Constant Southworth and Elizabeth Collier, who were married on Nov. 2, 1637 in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Records show Constant Southworth is Governor Bradford’s stepson.

Here’s the connection.

Constant Southworth’s parents were Edward Southworth and Alice Carpenter.

Constant was born on May 25, 1613 in Leiden, Holland, where many Pilgrims first left England to escape religious persecution before coming to Colonial America.

Sometime before 1623, Edward Southworth died.

My tenth great grandmother, Alice Carpenter Southworth, boarded the ship Anne in 1623 and took her two young sons Constant, my ninth great grandfather, and Thomas to Plymouth, Massachusetts.

William Bradford himself was a widower.

Imagine making the treacherous trip across the Atlantic in frigid temperatures with limited provisions 400 years ago and then accidentally dying after arriving.

William Bradford came on the Mayflower with his wife Dorothy May.

While Bradford had left the vessel on one of the many expeditions to scout for a settlement opportunity in a desperate attempt to get a foothold in the New World, Dorothy fell off the Mayflower on Dec. 7, 1620 into the frigid waters of what’s now Provincetown Harbor and drowned.

Less than three years later, William Bradford married my tenth great grandmother Alice Carpenter Southworth on August 14, 1623 not long after her arrival on the Anne.

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Above: Alice Carpenter Southworth Bradford, my 10th great grandmother and connection to Gov. William Bradford, his second wife.

The couple would have three children, William II, Mercy and Joseph Bradford.

While all those children and their ancestors are my distant relatives, I’ve not been able to find one of those lines showing I have a direct blood relationship to Governor William Bradford himself, my middle namesake.

It would seem my search for the Mayflower might end there.

However, it didn’t.

One slight change sent me in a different direction.

Instead of following Alice Southworth’s line to get to Governor Bradford, I followed Colonel Church’s line.

His parents were Richard Church II and Elizabeth Warren who were married on March 14, 1635 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, just 15 years after the Mayflower arrived there.

Elizabeth Warren’s father was Richard Warren, one of the Mayflower passengers.

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Above: Richard Warren, my Mayflower descendant and 10th great grandfather, he signed the Mayflower Compact.

Warren was one of the cosigners of the Mayflower Compact, the first governing document of Plymouth Colony.

Warren came alone on the Mayflower, leaving his wife and five daughters, including my 9th great grandmother Elizabeth Warren, behind in Europe.

They came to Colonial America a few years later in 1623 aboard the Anne, just like my tenth great grandmother Alice Carpenter, who married William Bradford, did.

After their arrival in Plymouth, Richard Warren and his wife Elizabeth Walker had two sons, Nathaniel and Joseph Warren, to go along with their five daughters.

In addition to Elizabeth Warren, my research found I’m also directly related to two more Richard Warren children.

Nathaniel Warren is my 9th great grandfather and apparently my first ancestor born in Colonial America in 1625.

I also found a direct line to Richard’s daughter Sarah, another 10th great grandmother.

If in fact I’m a direct descendant of Mayflower passenger Richard Warren, I have a lot of company.

Because Warren had seven children who survived into adulthood and had many children themselves, he’s the most common Mayflower ancestor.

Among Warren’s descendants and my very, very, very distant relatives are President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President Ulysses S. Grant, Ernest Hemingway and astronaut Alan Shepard.

I also discovered Sarah Warren, my 10th great grandmother, married John Cooke in Plymouth in 1634.

John Cooke, my 10th great grandfather, was another Mayflower passenger.

He traveled on the Mayflower as a 13 or 14-year-old boy with his father, Francis Cooke, my 11th great grandfather.

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Above: Francis Cooke was the 17th cosigner of the Mayflower Compact.

Much like fellow Mayflower passenger Richard Warren, Cooke, other than his oldest child John, left most of his family behind in Europe.

And like Warren, Cooke waited until the colony was better established before his wife Hester and their other children Jane, Jacob, Elizabeth and Hester traveled aboard the ship Anne to join him.

As previously noted, Warren’s wife and children as well as Alice Carpenter and her two sons also came to the New World in 1623 on the Anne.

However, still not completely convinced I’d found a verified link to Warren and/or Cooke, I sought confirmation from the Mayflower Society, the organization of modern-day Mayflower descendants.

On April 3, 2019, I sent the preliminary research I found to the Mayflower Society showing my line from Richard Warren to me, 13 generations in all.

It was long before I found all three connections to Warren and the connections to my other apparent Mayflower descendants, Francis and John Cooke.

On April 8, 2019, I received a return email stating previous research and documentation confirmed the connections from Warren through generation six on my submittal.

But there was more work to be done to prove my heritage to the satisfaction of the Mayflower Society.

“Going forward, you will need to provide documentation proving everything from the 7th generation onward to yourself,” the email reads in part.

To do it means gathering birth, marriage and death records.

And if those documents aren’t readily available, other information like land, wills, military, published genealogies and census records can plug the gap.

It certainly appeared and turned out to be a daunting task, but one I felt I had to complete to have definitive proof of my Mayflower heritage.

I pressed on starting with the necessary records for myself, my parents, my grandparents and through to generation seven from Richard Warren, Abigail Church and Calvin Chapin.

Getting the records for myself, my parents and my grandparents was relatively easy because I already had some of those documents and knew where to find the rest of them.

The first problem getting the rest of the records started with my great grandparents Charles Wesley Alcock and Mary Lowe Alcock.

Census records indicate they were both born in Chicago around 1868.

But 1871 was the year of the Great Chicago Fire.

Records like birth certificates were among the fire’s casualties.

I also asked for the wrong death record from Cook County, Illinois, for my great grandmother Mary Lowe Alcock.

The wrong record was for a woman named Mary Lowe, who died six years after my great grandmother Mary Lowe Alcock.

Another issue was trying to get a series of 19th century town records from Westmoreland, New Hampshire.

A small village in the southwest corner of New Hampshire, Westmoreland was where my great, great grandmother Sarah Ann Chapin Alcock was born.

Sarah’s parents Charles Church Chapin and Sarah “Sally” W. Partridge were also both born there, they were married there and they died there.

While I didn’t get some records, Westmoreland Town Clerk Jodi Scanlan, after an exhaustive search, did send me a record showing the deaths in that town for Charles Church Chapin, Sarah “Sally” W. Partridge and Charles Church Chapin’s parents Calvin Chapin and Abigail Church Chapin who all died in Westmoreland.

Also complicating the approval process with the Mayflower Society was the pandemic.

Because of the coronavirus, it took months for the Cook County, Illinois, Clerk’s Office to re-open and return vital records.

Ultimately, I had enough documentation to send in my application in May and was able to forward additional documents I received after that point through Kansas Mayflower Society Historian Walter Murphy.

But Murphy also told me application reviews were taking six months to process.

Then on Oct. 21, Murphy sent me an email.

It reads in part, “Congratulations! Your preliminary application as a 12th generation descendant from Richard Warren is being approved by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.”

A few days later, it became official!

On Oct. 27, in an email from Della Regenold, Governor, Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of Kansas, she wrote, “Congratulations on becoming a member of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants and the Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of Kansas. Thank you for showing pride in your Mayflower ancestry by becoming a member.”

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Above: The top of my membership application to The Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of Kansas.

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Above: The signatures of the Kansas and General Mayflower Society historians accepting my application for membership.

It’s been a remarkable journey of learning and appreciation for my ancestry.

While the search for the Mayflower is part of my ancestral story, EVERYBODY has their own family history.

While it can be challenging and time consuming to find it, I found it was well worth it and extremely gratifying!

And there will be new stories to tell for the latest generation as it makes a mark in the world.

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Above: The newest Alcock generation shares a group hug in 2013. From l to r, my niece Allison, my niece Lucy, my son Gordon, my niece Lauren and my niece Laney.

We ALL owe a debt of gratitude to our ancestors who came before us.

There’s a Chinese proverb at the beginning of the Chapin Genealogy book worth noting.

“To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.”

Know of something we should look into? Leave us some info below.