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Unanticipated Genealogical Discoveries

Updated: Aug 18, 2023

As one gets further involved with their genealogy, those moments that take the breath away tend to become less frequent. This narrative is about my last two of these, curiously related and Mayflower centric. About seven years ago, after several dead ends, I’d found a potentially confirmable line to George Soule. I knew I didn’t have enough evidence to prove connections to the seventh generation, and also that this wasn’t going to have direct documentation. That much was apparent from having exhausted all of the resources available to someone living in Australia, primarily Internet. I continued to research siblings of my direct ancestors, their wives and families. Nearly two years later I found the notebook of an Austin family genealogist who had abstracted an intricate will. I had to search frame by frame on microfilm to obtain an image of the original. Mentioned therein was my 3rd great grandmother, Susan Austin (Sweet) Cooper, a contingency devisee. Her half-uncle was the testator, and his only son George Ray Austin was left most of the estate. However, if George were not to reach age twenty-one, then his share was to be divided between the testator’s wife, and children of his half-siblings. George was listed at Find-A-Grave, and his headstone imaged. He was a member of Battery B, Rhode Island Light Artillery, and "Died in the U.S. Hospital, Hampton Roads, Va". George was just nineteen years old when he became a casualty in 1862 of the War Between the States. My direct ancestor, George’s half first cousin Susan, inherited instead. The will spells out entire family relationships, and although doesn’t refer by name to the testator’s aged mother who lived with him for many years, I knew instantly that this was exactly what I needed for proof. That’s a breathtaking moment I will never forget.

The most recent moment was also one of profound gratitude, occurring this past month of May. I keep my working database and on-going research public at; consequently, having had hundreds of interactions with other people. One such subscriber, Sara, contacted me and explained that she had several photos of people who appeared to match close relatives and direct ancestors of mine. Sara explained that she belonged to a Facebook group called the Photo Angels which had its roots with website. The idea being that they would look for old photos at antique stores which had some identifying markings or labeling as clues to who they were. Once that was determined, they return them to a living family member. I had never heard of these Photo Angels although can easily imagine the joy of doing such a random act of kindness equaled that of mine. That these photos are authentic is proved by the person who wrote on the backs their names and relationships. In this case, two people held these priceless antique photos, which also identify the photographer and business location. The family who held these were cousins of my father, and included his maternal great grandparents. The photo shown here of “Hattie”, was a daughter of Susan previously mentioned. Hattie was a Mayflower descendant through both parents. Her mother’s line as a 9th generation descendant of George Soule is accepted by the GSMD, while her father’s line is still waiting for an evidentiary breakthrough at the third generation, as a 10th generation descendant of passenger Francis Cooke. I never expected that someday I might actually have photos of my 2nd great grandparents, as her husband John is also amongst those rescued from a Sturbridge, Massachusetts antique shop. One of the nine children of John’s brother Joseph Hamer Livsey had possession, as well as someone else. It doesn’t appear that Joseph had any grandchildren despite having been so prolific. How many years they gathered dust in an antique dealer’s bin of photos cannot be said. It’s a minor miracle they survived at all.

In order to qualify a lineage not previously accepted by the GSMD from a Mayflower passenger, one must convince both the Five Generations Project and the Historian General of the claim. Only then can a lineage be submitted with appropriate documentation. The standards of proof are stricter with the first five generations, as one is essentially claiming that a valid line was not included within the publications of the GSMD. It is a very difficult task to accomplish when working with circumstantial evidence. Experience Mitchell, a passenger on the Ann in 1623, and first wife Jane Cooke, daughter of Mayflower passenger Francis Cooke, had a son Thomas. That much is not in dispute, although descendants of Thomas are. There was a Thomas Mitchell who died prior to 6 May 1687 (date of estate inventory) at New Shoreham township on Block Island, Rhode Island. He was a hatter by profession and had owned a sixteenth part of the island by purchase deed. Was he the son of Experience Mitchell and Jane Cooke?

George Andrews Moriarty Jr. FASG was a consummate researcher and past president for Rhode Island of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. In 1926 he wrote an article for the NEHGR about the early Block Island families wherein he presented the case for Thomas Mitchell having children of a wife unknown (vol. 26, pp. 456-464). It is through son Thomas Mitchell Jr., that a line can be established to Harriet Eunice Cooper’s father William. Ten years after Moriarty wrote for the NEHGR, Merton Taylor Goodrich put forth the argument in favor of Thomas born c1630 in Plymouth being the man who appeared on Block Island by 1678 and had a family there, publishing in 1936.

Harriet Eunice Cooper b. 15 Sep 1862 d. 19 Jul 1923 m. 19 Oct 1880 to John Buckley Livsey

Moriarty concurred with Goodrich’s article (TAG, vol. 12, pp. 193-199) and later wrote “He was undoubtedly the son of Experience Mitchell and Jane, his wife, daughter [of] Francis Cooke of the Mayflower” (TAG, vol. 19, p. 226). The salient points supported by documentation being, and quoting Goodrich, are:

"Thomas Mitchell of Block Island and Thomas, son of Experience, have the same birth date. Thomas, son of Experience, did not die young, did not die in Massachusetts, and did not leave any children in Massachusetts. He left Duxbury shortly before a Thomas Mitchell settled at Block Island. These men appear to be identical. Every item of evidence that has been found after years of search indicates that Thomas Mitchell of Block Island was the son of Experience and Jane (Cooke) Mitchell. By gaining Experience as an ancestor, through his wife Jane Cooke, all the descendants of Thomas may claim a Mayflower line."

Such prominent researchers worthy of publication in a leading genealogical journal of the time, agree on an analysis that is very convincing. Other researchers such as Robert S Wakefield FASG writing for The Mayflower Descendant, also consider the parentage acceptable (vol. 38, pp. 187-189). He refutes the 1986 assertation of Ralph V Wood Jr., in Francis Cooke of the Mayflower, who states on p. 22 that Thomas Mitchell who married 1655 in Malden to Mary Moulton might have been the grandson of Francis Cooke. All of this serves to illustrate that proving one-and-the-same is perhaps the most difficult task for any Mayflower historian. Perhaps third time’s a charm, and the next genealogical moment that takes my breath away will be the discovery of some document heretofore unconnected to Thomas Mitchell, which establishes the contention once and for all.

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