Legacy

I just spent a nice afternoon with Tom, a fellow Alden descendant and historian, talking about the Alden legacy. He is gathering information on what he’s calling his “Aldens-engaging-with-Aldenness” project that may become a book.

He wanted to know how I was first introduced to the Aldens (my grandmother discovered our line when I was about three and had my picture taken sitting next to Priscilla’s gravestone), how I got involved with the Alden Kindred (they needed a genealogist and I needed the cachet for my professional resume), and such things as my opinions on hereditary societies and attitude towards our Pilgrim ancestors.

That gets into some deep thinking. In my opinion, the family hereditary society is dead. Many small family groups never did require genealogical proof to join because of the labor and expertise needed to process lineage papers. The Alden Kindred has already opened its membership to the world, regardless of Alden lineage, although Alden descendants can still have their lines authenticated by the Kindred’s genealogist. That move was motivated a few years ago by finances – we have a house museum to support. The only other Mayflower family with a house is the Howland family, which still maintains its hereditary membership requirements, but almost certainly will follow in the footsteps of the Aldens for the same economic reasons. Membership in all family societies flat-lined decades ago. I belong to any number of groups that are essentially nonexistent today.

In my opinion, the family hereditary society is dead.

The Mayflower Society and Daughters/Sons of the American Revolution have much larger constituencies and still attract new members, but the bugaboo for such organizations is retention rates. Many people join just to prove they can join and then drop out once their papers are signed. Both organizations have buildings to maintain, the costs of which are reflected in member dues that can’t help but discourage retention.

Add to this the inevitable generational twist between us Baby Boomers (remember when WE were demanding that the “old folks” listen to us) and today’s youngsters – what are they called these days? – who need to be wooed through Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook (and I imagine those platforms are woefully old-fashioned in the world of today’s “cool” kids – yes, I know they don’t say “cool” anymore).

As to my attitude toward my Pilgrim ancestors, nothing has changed.

The future of family organizations will, like most everything else, be “cloud” based. People will belong to on-line groups that have common interests, but none will be “hereditary societies” as we have known them. They are unlikely to have genealogical entrance requirements, although some way of posting and critiquing lineage papers may be worked out.

As to my attitude toward my Pilgrim ancestors, nothing has changed. I still have the highest regard and feelings of awe for them and what they accomplished. Yes, they did and said some things in their own time and place that we might not be comfortable with today, but, hey! they are still family.

Alicia Crane Williams

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia is the lead genealogist on the new NEHGS study project, Early New England Families, 1641-1700. Prior to joining the NEHGS staff, she compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant, the Alden Family Five Generations project, and the Harlow Family : Descendants of Sgt. William Harlow (1624/5-1691) of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University. In October 2016, Alicia was elected a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists.

40 thoughts on “Legacy

  1. This is very true however also very sad. I so regret not asking questions of my grandmother when she was alive. And even more so for my in-laws. Hopefully our children and grandchildren will feel the desire to know “where I came from” earlier than I did. Regardless, I am leaving every shred of information I can find to my daughter as she has asked me for information. My husband’s family has requested the same only they are MUCH harder to find than anticipated. I will continue to “press on regardless”!

  2. I agree. Many lineage societies did a good job by publishing volumes of well researched genealogies, but if they are still in existence, they are trying to work out how to fit in the world of the Internet. The DAR has genealogies submitted by members that are totally wrong, and good luck getting them to correct it.

    1. The NSDAR has made great strides towards updating/correcting their Patriot database. Generally a correction is made when a prospective member or an existing member submits an application with the correct proof. Many older Patriots have been essentially put on hold meaning no new members may join under that person until new documentation has been provided to prove service, residence or genealogy links. It is a huge undertaking and is an ongoing project.

    2. Carole, the upgrading of old lineages is a chronic problem of all the organizations and it has often been like pulling teeth. The promise of more members with less effort is the bright shiny ornament.

  3. The ‘youngers’ are gung ho about can drives for food pantries, flash mob cash drives, and internet GoFund Me links. They are socially conscious, but they don’t yet realize that joining an organization and INTERACTING with people, sharing the passion for a project, and achieving a goal BUILDS the very societal structure and stability they take for granted and will want for their children. Somehow we need to drive that into their consciousness (clever social media PR campaign?)

    We need to get it across to them that social media is a useful tool for connectedness, but that social interaction and shared goals provide relevancy and meaning in life!

    1. From what I see, the young people have developed very active personal connections. They use social media as a way to find each other and organize. In some of the advocacy groups I am part of, there are more young people than grey heads, I am happy to say. And we work well together. I find it a blessing to be part of this kind of communal action. This is the community that has meaning in today’s world.

  4. I always enjoy your posts! Some of the younger generations, such as you baby boomers, are always interesting .

  5. If anyone would like to read a documentary of the lives of our pilgrim fathers, then get a copy of OF PLYMOUTH PLANTATION by William Bradford. I am currently reading it on my Kindle and am learning so much I never knew of their struggles with England as well as here in New England. I find it amazing that they survived and started part of this grand country of ours.

  6. Certainly can understand the “deep thinking,” before replying. Good!! And am glad you did mention the finances word. It is a first thought for me before joining anything.

  7. It seems the hereditary societies within the gen societies are still popular, and still require proof of lineage. However, I can see how independent societies could evolve to become private Google+ (or other online social site) groups. There are any number of online groups with membership requirements, with volunteer leadership and some collect dues. Let’s embrace technology and evolve, we may be amazed by the results.

    1. Barb, hopefully it will work out, but the “volunteer” part is the stone around the neck of any of these organizations. There will be capable volunteers at times, but the wear and tear of keeping up with the work inevitably gets to even the best of us.

  8. I fervently hope you are wrong while fearing you are right. GSMD, NSDAR, etc at least try to uphold standards in genealogy…so many others do not…thus the prevalence of ‘trash trees’ on the internet. Maybe when DNA testing drills down deeper and goes really mainstream it will pique the younger generations’ interest.

  9. I know of what you speak as our local Genealogical Society is finding it difficult to attract a good attendance at our monthly meetings. Where a few years ago we would have 50 + attending, we are lucky now to have 30 and most of them are officers and their spouses. It is a question that will be considered at our next Annual meeting in November.

    As to attracting the “younger” crowd, we must embrace the new technology and keep the message out there. We have many younger members in al the lineage societies that I belong to but they are busy with families and jobs, and find it difficult to attend meetings. We need to consider different times and ways to have engage them so they can be part of our group.

    As the DAR Registrar for our local chapter I had a full 8 x 11″ page of ways they could contribute to our chapter from home. I sent this to every new member and also referenced it frequently in our Chapter newsletter .

    My own children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and now even two g-g-children always new that one of the gifts they would receive at birthdays, Christmas, etc., would pertain to their ancestry in some way. I tried to interest them at a young age, and part of their Christmas gift is the membership dues to the lineage societies that I enrolled them in as they became old enough.

  10. I suppose my own attitude toward hereditary genealogy societies is pretty common: I’ve never had any interest in belonging to or participating in them. I’m a pretty active amateur genealogist/family historian, and have descents from several Mayflower passengers (including John Alden — my grandmother’s discovery of that descent circa 1973 is commemorated by my younger brother’s middle name, Alden) and a few Revolutionary War soldiers, but I don’t belong to the Mayflower Society or the SAR (one of my cousins is applying to the Mayflower Society based on one of our shared descents, though). My maternal grandmother was an active DAR member until her death in 1993, and I’ve still got her boxed of DAR publications with all the other family history materials she bequeathed to me. Grandma enrolled my mom, too, but mom never had the time or interest to participate in DAR activities. I guess I “inherited” mom’s disinterest. For me it’s enough to learn about and document our genealogy for future generations.

    1. Jared, I understand. My mother simply did not want to be involved with DAR after listening to meetings at her mother’s home, although she was happy to embrace her Mayflower ancestors — probably because they don’t have local meetings! There are a lot of people who are not interested, period.

  11. Alicia, I found this post particularly interesting as an amateur genealogist with several Revolutionary War ancestors as well as a recently discovered line back to several Mayflower ancestors. (and yes, one was John Alden.) I have hesitated to apply for membership because of feeling that I would not be a good member in terms of supporting local meetings and chapters. But you’ve convinced me to send in a donation to the Alden Association, and perhaps to the DAR as well.

    1. Linda, thank you for your donation! The Aldens have a wonderful museum and a group of people very interested in making sure that it reaches its full potential

  12. I belong to DAR and USD1812. I also participate in several family reunions. Last weekend I attended the Van Scoy-Knapp reunion of descendants of my great(3)-grandparents. We meet in odd numbered years, and each year I subject my family to a presentation of some new facet of our family history. Last Saturday I talked a bit about the lives of the 13 children of that couple who moved to Greenwich, Huron County, Ohio, in 1832.

    I always send a copy of my talk to the reunion list afterwards because I’m frustrated that the early minutes of the reunion (that began in 1907) say frequently that so-and-so gave a very interesting talk on such-and-such. I wish we had copies of those talks! As I learn more about our Mayflower ancestry I also send an annual Thanksgiving message with some family history tidbits. I hope that some of my cousins will pass these reports down to future generations so that 100 years from now some of this history will still be known!

    Is it worth it? This morning while editing my notes from my talk on Saturday I found a note I sent to my DAR chapter after the 2013 Van Scoy-Knapp reunion. Here is an excerpt.

    – – – – – – – – – –

    My first cousin Dennis forwards these emails to his children and grandchildren.  One day (I think a year later, in November of last year)  he received a phone call from his 7th grader granddaughter in Cleveland.

    “Pop-pop, we learned about John Alden in school today!” 

    I was pleased that she (1) cared enough to read what her grandfather had sent her, (2) remembered and recognized the name John Alden as that of an ancestor, and (3) is proud of her connection to him.

    Dennis’s story about his granddaughter was my personal highlight of the reunion this weekend!  It’s good to know that some of the family history has reached an interested person two generations younger than I!

    The goal, of course, isn’t bragging rights.  Rather the goal is to help young family members feel a personal connection to U.S. history and adopt the values of these ancestors.

    1. It is wonderful when the younger generations take and interest and always hope they will be sharing it with their descendants. We took our Grandson to the gravesite of his Civil War Ancestor 2nd Great Grandfather, took his photo there. He had been studying that War in 4th grade. Also wanted to mention that some local newspapers in earlier days printed things about family reunions, whole speeches (and even one big photo) given have shown up. I took time to copy out them for lines in both my husband’s and my own lines. And have Blessed the memories of the person who thought to send them to a newspaper and the Editor who thought them news worthy.

  13. Your comments concerning hereditary societies is probably quite true. Not being a member of such an organization I have to rely on your expertise with such societies. On the other hand, my experiences with other organizations leads me to believe the demise of the organizations I have been associated with is also true. I believe this down-turn in joining associations, societies, and the like, to be an indicator of what is happening in general to our society.
    One might postulate all manner of reasoning for it, but I believe it has to do with the mobility of society today and the fact so many do not put down roots for very long. The migration of people throughout our country from other parts of the country leave many “newbies” stranded with a shredded social fabric and no clue how to repair the tears. That is too bad because a hereditary society would help them get back in touch with who they are and where they came from.

    1. These organizations bloomed at the turn of the last century when everything was still local. Just as everyone went to the church fair, everyone had some patriotic organization and with the family all within the area, it was not hard to gather a crowd. Yes, times have changed. A lot of these stranded people are being connected, though, through things like Facebook and their enthusiasm is high.

      1. It’s easy to forget that ever since our forebears came to this continent, people migrated, many of them several times. There were those who stayed, but by and large throughout American history, the seminal events in a person’s life happened in different places as the family moved on to the next area of settlement. Much of my research has revolved around determining migration routes, and trying to locate where this person married, that person was born, where the generation before is buried, etc. Though related families often migrated together (and sometimes entire communities or neighborhoods), throughout American history, they created new communities that became the primary social outlets. I have cousins who joined lineage societies, but I’m not interested. And when you think about the number of descendents that are alive today vs the number who join lineage societies, it’s pretty obvious that the community is still the dominant social fabric. And for me, it is the communities my ancestors became part of that interests me: the social, cultural, economic factors that influenced their decisions and lives. There are fascinating, interwoven stories there.

  14. I joined DAR when my grandmother died and the local chapter provided all the ‘grandmothers’ I could want. When my children were small and we were moving and I had to work, I did little with that organization or the DAC I was also talked into by one of the grandmotherly ladies. Later, with time but no children to care for, I did become active. The genealogy part is just that, a part of why I stay. And NSDAR has really gotten more stringent about the proofs sent, to verify the blood lines. DNA is beginning to be an accepted proof so they are using modern techniques as they become more common. Those papers mentioned by another person that are wrong, Many were sent in when families did not have much more than stories to tell. Because the women who sent them were only granddaughters or gr.granddaughters of the patriot, the information was accepted. Families being what they are, my Putnam ancestor turned out not to be the General Israel Putnam, but the Private Ussial Putnam. That is corrected now and the other one my gr. grandmother did was of her ancestor Arrunah Waterman and it was completely correct.

    1. Catherine, Yes, all of the records have been greatly improved in recent years. One advantage that Mayflower and DAR still have is the cache of belonging to an organization that only accepts proved descendants, and I think they are big enough to continue because they can afford paid staff.

  15. I agree. I inquired about joining the Alden Society based on my line which goes through Canada– United Empire Loyalists who were resettled there. I have a Sarah Banta m Samuel Van Wyck (mother Abigail Seabury), both from NY but resettled in Canada. Her father was a notorious UEL agitator/fighter named Weart Banta and both are from a well-documented New Amsterdam families. The Alden Society refused to acknowledge the line because of an obvious transcription error in an early 20th c genealogy which identified Sarah Banta as “Sarah Barlow,” and which the Alden Society mindlessly replicated in their database. Canadian records clearly identify Sarah wife of Samuel Van Wyck as Weart Banta’s daughter. I was so annoyed, I said to h-ll with them, it doesn’t change the fact that I am descended from John Alden/Priscilla Mullins through David Alden.

  16. I am English by birth and residence. In England there are many One Name societies, but no hereditary ones I know of. A leading genealogist here is Michael Gandy who for many years has held senior positions in the Huguenot Society of England, and he has written a great deal about the Huguenots in England and elsewhere. If he were a member of the Huguenot Society of America, his experience would be of great benefit to that society too; but he has been FORBIDDEN from membership because he has no Huguenot ancestors! (He is in fact a Roman Catholic convert.)

    1. Hi Michael. The One Name Societies haven’t caught on here in US. There are other Aldens who do not descend from John, but the interest is in John, alone, although technically now the “Henry Aldens” could join, albeit not file lineage papers.

  17. When I sent my message just now I forgot to add that those born in England in the 1990s and 2000s are called “millenials”. Is this word not used in the USA?

  18. What interesting comments! “Aldens-engaging-with-Aldeness” caught my eye and I sure would enjoy hearing more about that project.
    Almost fifty years ago I knew little or nothing about my family history. I asked many questions but no one seemed to know a great deal. One Thanksgiving my young family visited Plymouth. I was just looking at the photos today. We are near an elderly seated woman dressed as a pilgrim and I remember the guide saying “She is a direct descendant of John Alden.” The idea was almost shocking to me and I thought it was amazing to even be aware of that lineage. How very wonderful.
    Many years later I began my journey with family history and discovered that I too could make that claim. In quick succession I joined DAR, Colonial Dames of the 17th Century and Alden Kindred. I am not a “joiner” and my research skills are pretty solid as I have an MLS in Library Science but in order to honestly share what I have discovered with my six grandchildren and five great grandchildren it was important to me to have a professional genealogist verify my findings. I did work part time after I retired in a genealogy department of a fine library and there are a lot of “tall tales” out there.
    It is my sincere hope that by sharing our family history with our younger generation someone will care to keep the knowledge alive. Yes, the format may change but I hope these societies find a way to persevere.

  19. I too find that family name societies are dwindling; as the families grow, the members grow apart because it is difficult to find time in today’s hectic world to connect with more and more cousins; we find them online, etc. and our “family” grows. Hereditary societies are not family name societies, they require a person to prove their lineage & they serve so many purposes. 1. as a way to record one’s history, give it “official” standing as recognized history, not an internet story that may or may not be true. 2 As a way to HONOR one’s family story/members/ancestors. 3. Some join simply because they are joiners, but that’s ok too, they pay dues, read the newsletters and may even participate. 4. All of the above but they also have a volunteer ethic which makes them want to volunteer for projects, be officers, etc.
    5. Some only join to say they could & did, for a long list of personal reasons. But it doesn’t matter, we need members of all types…some to help with the finances because they pay dues and don’t cause trouble! Others because they DO attend meetings. Sure, younger people are busy with families, jobs, etc. Women of course used to not work, so they had more leisure time. All of this nothwithstanding, every group I belong to, which is many, is welcoming more new members, yes losing the older ones, but still enticing new members – with newsletter type communication, with websites, with interesting programs at nice venues, with nice opportunities to meet others of like-minded interests, to study historic subjects of mutual interest. Having said all of this, it is pathetic that so many people in today’s world don’t care about history….as evidenced by the desire to tear down monuments that remember people who in THEIR day were valuable. But say as we might that these societies are waning or no one is interested in history, why is it that in April (before school was out) my husband and I couldn’t get into the Smithsonian Museum of American History?????? No, it wasn’t closed, it was sooo crowded by the time we got in the door it would have been too late in the day to do it justice. Don’t despair, we must think ruffians of bad behavior who deface monuments, people who aren’t joiners, women who are busy working and care-taking, and young folks with their faces into their phones do care about history…give them some time to grow up or lose enough loved ones that suddenly their family history means more to them than they thought it did. It’s a cycle, there are many baby-boomers reaching that “certain age” now, so it feels like there aren’t enough to replace us, but give the younger set some time to catch up, they’ll come along…they ARE joining DAR…maybe Mayflower too…but in some states it takes so long to join Mayflower that some are losing interest!!! But there are many lineage societies to join…if one doesn’t work, another will…will they all survive? Who knows, but they’re not dead yet. Many are thriving and growing… and doing SO MUCH good for society…volunteering, helping with veterans’ affairs, supporting all sorts of stellar efforts for the greater good of our fellow men & women.
    If you didn’t realize that, go look up how many volunteer hours were donated in 2016 by members of the Daughters of the American Revolution!

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