So your American ancestry predates U.S. independence? We've got the goods on untangling family ties from Colonial days.
Although only 102 Pilgrims sailed on the Mayflower
to land at Plymouth Rock in 1620, the General Society of Mayflower Descendants
estimates tens of millions of people worldwide descend from those brave souls. Makes sense, since ancestry algebra says you have 1,024 ninth-great-grandparents back in the 1600s or so.
But even if your predecessors weren't Mayflower passengers, one of your family branches could spring from Colonial times. Though the United States' population wasn't yet 4 million by the 1790 federal census, the descendants of that relatively small number of colonists have rippled through the growing nation over the years since.
It's easy to forget how long what's now the United States existed—and prospered—as an offshoot of the British Empire: America's Colonial history really began 13 years before the Pilgrims' celebrated landing, with the founding of Jamestown, Va., on May 14, 1607. (A Jamestowne Society
is open to descendants of those settlers.) Not until 1945 did America's tenure as an independent nation match the 169-year span of its Colonial era. So even if you're a product of the late 19th-and early 20th-century European immigration rush, there's been plenty of time for the American melting pot to intertwine those roots with earlier immigrants. On my father's side, for example, my roots are strictly those of a typical 19th—century Swedish immigrant; my mother's family, however, goes back many generations in America, to Colonial Virginia and North Carolina.
True, some types of records are missing or sparse from this era: You won't find federal censuses, statewide vital records or city directories, for example. But never fear—as we'll show you, Colonial research resources are as varied as for any US genealogical research.
Before we go over the resources, I'll share lessons I've learned—often the hard way—from researching my Colonial ancestors.