Mayflower group not easy to get into

These papers from Carolyn Davidson's grandmother's research show their family's ties to the Mayflower — Davidson's 11th great-grandfather was Edward Fuller.

As you sit down to your plate of turkey and stuffing today, consider this: You could be related to someone who was at the first Thanksgiving.

About 10 million people are part of that group, according to the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.

On Sept. 6, 1620, 102 passengers and 30 crew members set sail from England across the Atlantic Ocean in search of religious freedom.

The Mayflower landed 66 days later, establishing the Plymouth Colony in what was then called northern Virginia.

Many of those passengers, known as Pilgrims, didn't survive the journey or died the first winter from the "great sickness."

In November 1621, the survivors, settled into life in the new land, gathered with the Indians for a three-day feast of venison, duck, goose, turkey, clams, eel, corn bread, hasty pudding, leeks, watercress and more, all washed down with wine, according to the society.

Those survivors -- 21 men, four married women, five adolescent girls, eight adolescent boys and 13 younger children -- now have 10 million descendants.

Among them are several celebrities, professional athletes and politicians, and many average folks.

"Most of them don't know it," said Nick Maher of Lady's Island, historian for The Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of South Carolina.

The General Society of Mayflower Descendants was founded in 1897 as a national society to honor the Pilgrims. To become a member, a person must be able to prove lineage from a passenger. Only 84,000 people have done that.

"I didn't know I was until I started researching my family history in 2006," Maher said. "I'm the first guy in my family to take it back that far."

Maher is a descendant of three Pilgrims: Stephen Hopkins, who was part of all the early exploring missions at Plymouth; Thomas Rogers, who died the first winter; and William Brewster, the religious leader of the new colony, who traveled to Plymouth with his wife, Mary, and two youngest children, Love and Wrestling.

As historian for the state society, it is Maher's job to help others document their lineage so they can apply to the society. The group, which was founded in 1938, has almost 1,000 members statewide, more than 200 of whom have joined in the last two years.

"Unless they have a family history, it's very hard to figure out," Maher said. "I'm very happy to help these people. There is a lot of stuff you have to gather, and we work on it together."

The task has gotten easier because much of the information is available on the Internet, he said. The society accepts copies of documents such as birth, marriage and death certificates, deeds, wills, family Bibles and gravestones. It has genealogical records for the first five generations of those on the Mayflower.

Carolyn Davidson of Summerville is one who recently joined.

"My grandmother did the work many years ago, and I kind of felt like I should carry it on," she said. "I don't know how she managed to get the family history. She had no telephone. There were no computers. She had to do it all by writing back and forth."

Her grandmother was a member of the society, but her mother was not.

"I was always the one more interested in history and my lineage," she said.

Davidson's 11th great-grandfather was Edward Fuller, who traveled on the Mayflower with his wife, whose name is unknown, and son Samuel. Edward Fuller and his wife are believed to have died that first winter.

Davidson said she has also learned there is a Fuller Society, which she plans to join.

"I had been thinking about tracing my family history for a long time but didn't have the chance to do it," she said. "But I've found that as you get older, you become more interested in your family history."

Famous Mayflower descendants

George Herbert Walker Bush (1924- ): 41st president of the United States. Descendant of John Howland, Francis Cooke and John Tilley.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945): 32nd president of the United States. Descendant of Isaac Allerton.

Julia Child (1912-2004): American chef. Descendant of William Bradford and William Brewster.

Bing Crosby (1903-1977): Actor, singer. Descendant of William Brewster.

Clint Eastwood (1930- ): Actor, director, producer, composer, politician. Descendant of William Bradford.

Richard Gere (1949- ): Actor. Descendant of John Billington and William Brewster.

Hugh Hefner (1926- ): Publisher, founder of Playboy magazine. Descendant of William Bradford.

Katherine Hepburn (1907-2003): Actress. Descendant of William Brewster.

Ashley Judd (1968- ): Actress. Descendant of William Brewster.

John Lithgow (1945- ): Actor, musician, author. Descendant of William Bradford.

Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962): Actress, model. Descendant of John Alden.

Christopher Reeve (1952-2004): Actor. Descendant of William Bradford.

Cokie Roberts (1943- ): Journalist, author. Descendant of William Brewster.

Dick Van Dyke (1925- ): Actor, comedian, writer. Descendant of John Alden.

George Orson Welles (1915-1985): Actor, director, producer. Descendant of John Alden.

Joanne Woodward (1930- ): Actress. Descendant of Isaac Allerton.

Any person able to document their descent from one or more of the following Mayflower Pilgrims is eligible to apply for membership in the Mayflower Society:

John Alden

Bartholomew Allerton

Isaac Allerton

Mary (Norris) Allerton

Mary Allerton

Remember Allerton

Elinor Billington

Francis Billington

John Billington

William Bradford

Love Brewster

Mary Brewster

William Brewster

Peter Browne

James Chilton

Mrs. James Chilton

Mary Chilton

Francis Cooke

John Cooke

Edward Doty

Francis Eaton

Samuel Eaton

Sarah Eaton

Moses Fletcher

Edward Fuller

Mrs. Edward Fuller

Samuel Fuller

Samuel Fuller (son of Edward)

Constance Hopkins

Elizabeth (Fisher) Hopkins

Giles Hopkins

Stephen Hopkins

John Howland

Richard More

Priscilla Mullins

William Mullins

Degory Priest

Joseph Rogers

Thomas Rogers

Henry Samson

George Soule

Myles Standish

Elizabeth Tilley

John Tilley

Joan (Hurst) Tilley

Richard Warren

Peregrine White

Resolved White

Susanna White

William White

Edward Winslow