March 30, 2006
Genealogical Work Concludes With Induction Into Mayflower Society
The infamous Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. Nearly 400 years later one of the ship’s passengers has been traced to Memphis, Missouri.
That pilgrim didn’t actually cross the Mississippi River and settle here, but one of his descendants now calls northeast Missouri home.
After three years of genealogical work, Boyd E. Bissell of Memphis recently was inducted into The General Society of Mayflower Descendants.
The Memphis man recently completed research on his family background, which traced all the way back to that infamous trip across the Atlantic Ocean. Bissell was accepted into the historical group in February after the organization verified that he was a direct descendent of Richard Warren, one of the original travelers on the Mayflower.
Boyd first became interested in tracking his lineage following the death of his son in a car accident several years ago.
“I really got started with genealogy after Travis was killed,” Boyd said. “He was our only child, so that is the end of this branch of the family.”
Little did he know that his work on the Internet and his membership in the Scotland County Genealogical Society would culminate with numerous historical findings. Those ultimately have resulted in the placement of several special medallion’s on Travis’s headstone at the Memphis Cemetery, including the marker as a member of the Mayflower Society.
The Society was founded more than a century ago in an effort to perpetuate the memory of the Pilgrims.
Bissell’s family history research verified that he is a direct descendent of Richard Warren, one of the original passengers on the Mayflower.
The lineage began with Richard Warren, whose daughter Alice Warren was married to Thomas Gibbs. To that union a daughter was born, Sarah. Sarah Gibbs married Isaac Cushman. They had a son, Nathaniel Cushman who was the great, great-grandson of Richard Warren.
Nathaniel married Sarah Coomer and the couple had a daughter, Harriet Cushman, a fifth generation descendant of the Mayflower passenger.
Bissell made his first connection to the Mayflower when he learned that Jonathan Bissell, Sr., his great-great-great-great-great grandfather, was married to Harriet Cushman.
Bissell’s family research didn’t conclude when the dots were connected.
The 12th generation Mayflower descendent became enthralled in the history of the infamous trip from Europe when a 64-foot long wooden ship crossed the Atlantic Ocean to bring his ancestors to America. It took 65 days to make the crossing that brought Richard Warren and the Pilgrims to America.
The process was the culmination of three years of research that eventually led Boyd and his wife Jeanie on trek back to the East Coast.
The couple started in Illinois on September 24 as they began to trace Jonathan Marsh Bissell and his wife Harriet (Cushman) Bissell, and their son George Bissell and his wife Sophronie Scott Bissell who called the state home back in the 1840s.
They traveled through Indiana and Ohio en route to New York where they stopped at Duane, in Franklin County, the jumping off spot for their ancestors trek to Illinois. The small town is just 30 miles from the Canadian border.
The search landed Boyd and Jeanie in Colchester, Vermont to search genealogical records at the library. The librarian connected the couple with a local expert, Becky Munson.
“What a wonderful lady,” Boyd stated. “She had never met us before, yet here she was inviting us into her home and sharing her research with us as if we were best friends. Ultimately this proved to us what a small world we live in. There on the farm where Becky lived, was an old family burial plot, where my fifth generation great-grandfather and grandmother, are buried. Go figure.”
The search for a birth certificate for Boyd’s great, great grandfather George Augustus Bissell kept the couple in Vermont for four days without any luck. Despite being unable to find that birth certificate, Boyd and Jeanie did add plenty of historical information regarding the family, including one treasure.
A search at the Montpelier library not only turned up the marriage license for Jonathan Marsh Bissell and Harriet Cushman – it landed them in the middle of a stack of original correspondence from a fifth generation cousin, Nodiah Bissell to Ethan Allen’s brother dating back to the American Revolutionary War.
“It was amazing to be handling these original letters, from one of my ancestors,” Boyd said. “They told the tale of how he mortgaged his home to secure guns and supplies for the rebellion, only to have the ship that was carrying them across the ocean sink. He lost everything and ended up dying in debtor’s prison.”
Several more stops in Vermont and Massachusetts yielded no new information so it was on to Windsor, CT. The Bissell name was well known in this community, as the town was founded by Captain John Bissell, one of the founders of the Bissell Ferry, which served the region as one of the longest running ferry services in the United States.
Finally the trek arrived in Plymouth, MA. Despite being unable to secure an official copy of George Bissell’s birth certificate, the remaining evidence proved overwhelming, linking Boyd all the way back to Warren and the Mayflower.
In addition to being on hand to file the paperwork with the Mayflower Society, the Bissell’s were treated to a tour of the Mayflower II replica and also the Plymouth Plantation, a re-enactment site where actors portray the original pilgrims.
“It was amazing,” Boyd said. “The more you work over the years to research your ancestors, the more you feel like you begin to know them. Then here we are, face to face with an actor, who is portraying that ancestor, and it really brings it all to life for you.”
The trip concluded after two weeks of research stops across the East Coast. But that doesn’t mean the couple’s work has concluded.
“I’ve traced the Bissell family back to Europe, back to where the name originated. Now it is time to start working on Jeanie’s family tree.”
Who knows where the hours of Internet research and census examinations will lead Boyd and Jeanie?
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