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Why I Volunteered as Historian for the Australian Society

Updated: Aug 18, 2023

I met Sir Marshall Howard, former Wyoming Mayflower Society Historian, in a comment on a gravestone image attached to my 10th great grandfather Theophilus Whale in Ancestry.Com.

This is a controversial immigrant from England who had to leave surreptitiously, being a first cousin of the infamous Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England. Marshall agreed with my assessment that the gravestone dates of about 1616 and about 1720 were unreliable due to the appearance of this being a more modern style of marker. "New England Marriages Prior to 1700" by Clarence Almon Torrey, 1985, provides on page 798 the dates "(1616 - 1720+-)". According to the author's convention, this means 1720 following or before. The minor change of family name from Whaley to Whale and back again to Whaley is thought to have been an attempt to confuse those who were tracking down the kinfolk of Edward Whaley, executioner of Charles I, King of England. Edward had a brother Robert and as Edward had escaped to New England, authorities were questioning whether Theophilus was actually Robert. Whist colonial investigators were unable to find proof, that didn't stop future genealogists.

At this time, I was pursuing Elenora Young Snow (c1794-1853), a Brewster, Cooke and Hopkins descendant. I did not have proof she was the mother of William Henry Cooper, my 3rd great grandfather. Marshall helped look into this for months, ultimately unable to make direct progress. Elenora had four husbands and outlived all of them. She had a proven daughter Elenora Snow Cooper, which meant William was possible. It turned out with later help from the Rhode Island Historical Society, we could prove Elenora's fourth husband Edmund Cooper was the father of Elenora Snow Cooper, and moreover that it was Edmund's third marriage. There were three children from Edmund's first marriage to wife

unknown, and the eldest Henry Cooper (c1813-c1842) was determined to have been the father of William Henry Cooper, who married Ardelia Willis. Ardelia is a Francis Cooke descendant, but the GSMD will not recognize third generation Thomas Mitchell (senior) as a son of Experience Mitchell and Jane Cooke. Thomas is proved only by inference, due to there being a record of a younger Thomas Mitchell born 1660, and that's not sufficient for

Plymouth [NEHGR:1928 vol. 82, p. 458 references his birth year and father's name; the only known Thomas old enough to have been his father was the son of Experience Mitchell who arrived 1623 aboard the Anne].

At least this time I was closer, in having found a direct ancestor. It turned out that William Henry Cooper's wife Susan Austin Sweet would have a potentially provable line to George Soule. While I didn't have to overcome any Five Generations Project objection, there was still a matter of proof. It wasn't until finding the 1854 will of Susan's half-uncle James Russell Austin, that I felt I had sufficient proof. Moreover, it is complex and I didn't think even a Mayflower genealogist would understand. Marshall suggested that I write a scholarly research paper, and advised this could be submitted as evidence with an application. We had previously discussed the entirely (at the time) feasible possibility of submitting directly to Plymouth without going through any state society. To that end, he supplied advice, documents and other materials that apparently came from the GSMD. So, I learned about standards of proof and the minutiae of preparing an application. It was Marshall who also put forth the idea of forming an Australian Society, yet this seed was not something that would blossom until later. So, in a sense, the Wyoming State Society could be considered Godparent to the Australian Society.

In the end, to honour the assistance and many hours of research Marshall provided, I elected to contact his Wyoming State Society and pursue through them. I carefully prepared the research paper, such that each connection was addressed with evidence. It turned out that this was essential, as I subsequently found out that several people had tried and failed to prove their line of descent from ancestor Patience Austin (1767-1860). It also didn't help that the information in the Pink Book had question marks, and never considered that Patience had two children before her marriage.

When we were still trying to attract a minimum of twenty General Society members residing in Australia, expressing a desire to form a new “state” society, I wanted to be sure our Historian position would embody the same dedication and unselfishness which Sir Marshall Howard exemplified. Thanks to the unwavering efforts of our charter members, we not only succeeded in this endeavour, but did so on Australia Day for the 400th anniversary of the 1620 Mayflower Pilgrim voyage.

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