Silver Books Project
History of the Silver Books Project
The idea of tracing the descendants of the Mayflower passengers started very early on in the Society’s history. George E. Bowman, the founder of the Massachusetts Society, announced in 1899 that his goal was to trace descendants down to his own time. He spent many years pursuing this goal, and in 1956 the first three generations of his findings named Family of Pilgrims was published.
Herbert Folger, the first Historian of California, endeavored to catalog descendants as well. In 1920, he published his manuscript, the Folger Four Generations Pamphlet, which filled 82 ledgers. In the 1920s and 1930s, Dr. Frank Calef of the Rhode Island Society compiled 41 manuscripts of family group sheets showing Mayflower passenger descendancy. His work was the starting point for the William White book.
In 1932, Historian General William McAuslan started compiling the Mayflower Index from approved lineage papers. At the September 1959 General Board of Assistants (GBOA) meeting, Lewis E. Neff, the Oklahoma Historian and later Governor General, proposed a resolution for a “publication of the tracing out of five generations of all the descendants of all Mayflower passengers.” The Five Generations Project (5GP) was born.
The process, conducted by volunteers, was tedious and difficult in those early years. Research was completed without the use of technology. The project received many offers of assistance from members who had volunteered information concerning branches of principal families or help in searching records in specific geographical locations. Coordinators would spend weeks in Plymouth pouring over applications and gathering information that was mailed in. In 1971, the series became known as Mayflower Families through Five Generations.
The first volume was anticipated in 1970, but the research and logistics took longer than expected. There were more delays when Miss Lucy Kellogg, the editor and developer of the project’s standards, died unexpectedly in 1973, leaving the project temporarily hindered. Finally, in 1975 the first volume containing the Francis Easton, Samuel Fuller, and William White families was released. The book was so popular that of the first 3,000 printed, 2,600 of them sold immediately at a cost of $10. Volume Two was published in 1978.
In 1985, an article in The Mayflower Quarterly Magazine (MQM) stated, “the project was a hundred times larger than originally realized. Only one volume was envisioned when this project began and that indicated that no one had the faintest notion of the scope of the project or any idea of the size of the huge genealogical tiger we now have by the tail.” Genealogical tiger indeed!
In 1986, the Mayflower Families in Progress (MFIP), or what we know as the pink and green books, were conceived when the team decided to release information to the public for review before the final Silver Book was published. The project started picking up steam in the 1990s and beyond. In 2013, a name change took place when research continued beyond five generations. The 5GP became the “Silver Books Project” named after the unique silver color of the cloth used to cover the books.
The Silver Books Project Today
The Silver Books primary purpose is for Mayflower descendant lineage verification. They also provide a map for you, researchers, and writers to study their lives and to better tell their stories.
In this way, these individuals become more than just a name on the paper or a name in a lineage chart. Sometimes the Silver Books have corrections or additions as more research is discovered. When that happens, the information is conveyed to The Mayflower Society Research Staff, the Director, and the Historian General. An article is usually written about the change and published in the MQM.
Today, there are twenty-two volumes of the Silver Books with multiple parts that make up the forty-two book catalog. Volumes One, Two, and Five have been superseded and are no longer in print. The Mayflower Society publishes all the Silver Books which are for sale in the The Mayflower Society store and on the website. The fifth generation is digitized, indexed, and available on the New England Historic Genealogical Society website in a database called Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700-1880.
The Silver Books Project team consists of researchers, reviewers, and editors. They are skilled genealogists and writers that analyze complex genealogical problems and time periods where various records may or may not be available. When vital records aren’t available, other sources are used to link the generations together.
There are various volumes being revised and updated at any given point. The goal is to publish research on all families through generation seven, naming generation eight. Some volumes have not been updated for decades, but we plan to address every family. It takes many hours of research to complete a book, often years in the making.
For an idea imagined in 1959, the project is still going strong with more and more books added every year. Little did they know they were creating one of the crowning jewels of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. It’s a privilege to be a small part of this decades-old endeavor.
Bonnie Wade Mucia is the Director of the Silver Books Project. She is a Forensic Genealogist and does military repatriation work for the U.S. Army’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. Bonnie serves as Member-at-Large for The Mayflower Society Executive Committee and is a Past Governor of the South Carolina Society.
Reprinted from The Mayflower Quarterly Magazine Summer 2021 Vol. 87, No. 2