Myths and Misconceptions

…and Other Sundry Misinformation on our Families

Last Updated: 11 December 2018

On this page, I will explore some misinformation that always seems to be circulating about our genealogy and history.

The Royal Lineage of Thomas Rogers of the Mayflower

For quite some time it was believed that Thomas Rogers(#322) of the Mayflower was a descendant of Rev. John Rogers the English martyr, who was burned at the stake in 1555. Rev. John was a direct descendant of King Edward I of England through the de Courtney and de Bohun families. This would have meant that Thomas Rogers was of royal descent. There was just one problem. It was not true! It was disproved in the 19th century by two highly esteemed genealogical researchers named Joseph Chester and Henry Waters.

Despite it being disproved in the 19th century, we find it often repeated in the 20th century beginning with the Lineage of the Rogers Family, England: Embracing John Rogers the Martyr, Emigrant Descendants to America and Issue, by John Cox Underwood, published in 1911.[i] Others would use Underwood as a source and repeat the error. One of these was Leon Clark Hills who published the first volume of his History and Genealogy of the Mayflower Planters in 1936.[ii] In this book, he recounts the entire erroneous lineage once again. In 1969 our own Uncle Giles picked up this book by Hills and used it as a primary source for his work on the Rogers and Basset families.

This is one myth that doesn’t want to die. Any search on will give you a royal lineage for Thomas Rogers. There are probably more sources in error than are correct. If you mention to one of these Rogers descendants that their royal ancestry isn’t true, you can bet the fireworks will fly. For many of these people, this is holy writ. Many have seen the fact that it was disproved in print and ignore it because there are still more recent works claiming the royal descent is true. I think they believe what they wish to be true and if others are supporting the idea as true in published works, why shouldn’t they believe?

In 1996 an article appeared in the Genealogist announcing that the record of Thomas Rogers’s birth had been found in parish records, along with his marriage record, in Watsford, Northamptonshire, England. This led to birth records of his children, wills of his in-laws, and much else to prove that this is our Thomas Rogers.[iii] This is an entirely different Rogers family than that of the Martyr, and an entirely different part of England. This information can be reviewed in depth in Mayflower Families Through Five Generations, Vol. 19, (2000).[iv]

I was in the Eastham Public Library during the summer of 2004. There on the shelf was the first publication of the 21st century on Thomas Rogers. I had heard that it was to be the most comprehensive ever, being 416 pages in length. I figured I needed to check, so I took the Pilgrim Thomas Rogers, by Dolly Silva, off the shelf to check it out. My hopes were shattered as I read the account of his descent through the Martyr, Rev. John Rogers.[v] The first work in the 21st century was reporting the lineage disproved in the 19th, despite everything that has happened in the last decade. This is one that is not going to go away anytime soon.

[i] Underwood, John Cox, Lineage of the Rogers family, England: Embracing John Rogers the Martyr, Emigrant Descendants to America and Issue. New York: Press of W.E. Rudge, 1911.

[ii] Hills, Leon Clark. History and Genealogy of the Mayflower Planters and First Comers to ye Olde Colonie. (Washington, D. C.: Hills Publishing Company, 1936).

[iii] Stott, Clifford, “The English Ancestry of the Pilgrim Thomas Rogers and His wife Alice (Cosford) Rogers.” The Genealogist, 10:138-149.

[iv] Westgate, Alice Wilma Andrews, Mayflower Families Through Five Generations, Vol. 19, the family of Thomas Rogers, revised by Ann T. Reeves, (Plymouth, Massachusetts: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 2000), page 1.

[v] Silva, Dolly (Minshall), Pilgrim Thomas Rogers and Some of His Descendants, (no location is given, Penobscot Press, 2001), pages 47-70.


The Identity of Stephen Hopkins’s First Wife; and Wortly, Wooton-under-edge

When Stephen Hopkins(#100) came to New England on the Mayflower, he brought his wife Elizabeth(#149), and his three children with him. (A fourth was born during the voyage.) It has long been known that Elizabeth was his second wife since they were married on 19 Feb. 1617/18, in Whitechapel, London, England.[i] When they set out on their voyage across the Atlantic, their daughter Damaris(#150) was about a year old. But Stephen had his two older children along too, Giles(#99) and Constance(#137). They were about 11 and 13 years old respectively[ii], so obviously, Stephen had been married before his marriage to Elizabeth. Who was this first wife, the mother of Giles and Constance?

There has been a lot of conjecture on this subject through the years, but no reliable evidence. The most prominent theory is that his first wife was Constance Dudley. This seems to have come about by taking another unproven, and blown out of proportion, theory and then taking some weak circumstantial evidence to make the identification. The unproven theory I am talking about is that Stephen Hopkins was born in Wortley, Wooton-under-Edge.

Charles Banks covers the Wortley theory, and the basic story is this. Banks decided that since families usually recycled Christian names throughout the generations, that looking for the rare first name of “Giles” among the Hopkins families of England could lead to some clues. Well, he found only one in the correct time frame, and he was 44 years old and living in Bristol in 1639. It just so happened that in the village of Wortley, only 16 miles from Bristol he found a parish register with a few Stephen Hopkinses listed in it. This included one who had a son William in 1607 and then there is no further reference. He could have moved to London after this, which is where he might have joined the Mayflower party.[iii]

Banks even stated that this was not enough to make an identification of this Hopkins as our Stephen, but like most smart researchers, he included it in the hopes that in the future someone would continue the line of inquiry and prove, or disprove, it. Unfortunately, as often happens in these cases, it has somehow been twisted through a process of being accepted as possible, being accepted likely, and finally as fact.

In 1998, Caleb Johnson published an article in the American Genealogist providing proof that Stephen was not from Wortley, Wooton-under-Edge. He was from Hursley, Hampshire, England and by the way, he also uncovered the probate records for Stephen’s first wife. Her name wasn’t Constance like Banks suggested it might possibly be. It was Mary(#1052).[iv]

[i] Austin, John D. FASG, Mayflower Families Through Five Generations, Vol. 6, Stephen Hopkins, 2nd edition, (Plymouth, Massachusetts: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 1995), 7.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Banks, Charles Edward, The English Ancestry and Homes of the Pilgrim Fathers (1929, reprint, Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co. Inc., 2001), 63-64.

[iv] Johnson, Caleb, “The True Origin of Stephen Hopkins of the Mayflower,” The American Genealogist, 73(1998), pages 161-171.


The Identity of Elder William Brewster’s Wife, Mary

There are a few theories as to who exactly Mary (????) Brewster(#999) was. I want to begin by stating that we still do not know who she was, or what her maiden name was, but many people wish to believe either of the two popular theories because either one would probably give her a royal descent.

What we do know about Elder William Brewster’s(#1000) wife is scant. Her first name was “Mary,” and she appears to be the mother of all of his known children. She accompanied her husband on the Mayflower and settled in Plymouth. She died there 17 April 1627.[i]  In Leyden, Holland, Mary is known to have signed an affidavit in June of 1609 and stated that she was 40 years of age. In the same document, her husband, Elder William, stated he was 42. This would put their births at about 1569 and 1567 respectively.[ii]  Nothing else is known about her.

The theory that she was Mary Wentworth has been repeated in many places and is based on the following facts. Brewster’s father became the Bailiff-Reciever of Scrooby upon the death of Thomas Wentworth, who held the position before him. Wentworth had a daughter Mary who was about the right age. That is it.

The Mary Wyrrall theory is also based on a Mary in the Scrooby area about the right age, and at the right time. In this one, however, there is an added twist. When Mary Wyrrall’s uncle, Sampson Mallory, mentions her in his will, he refers to her as “Mary Butho” in 1600. This theory asks us to accept that “Butho” is an erroneous form of “Brewster.”[iii]  You Decide.

[i] Robert Charles Anderson, The Pilgrim Migration, Immigrants to Plymouth Colony 1620-1633 (Boston, Massachusetts: The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, the Great Migration Project, 2004), page 68.

[ii] Dexter, Henry M., “The True Date of the Birth and Death of Elder Brewster,” Genealogies of Mayflower Families from The New England Historic and Genealogical Register, 3 volumes (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1985, 1:387; originally published in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register Vol. 18 (January 1864): pages 18-20.

[iii] Sherwood, Mary B., Pilgrim: A biography of William Brewster, (Falls Church, Virginia: Great Oak Press of Virginia, 1982): pages 86-7.


Our Plymouth Ancestors Were Puritans

If I see one more picture of the Pilgrim Fathers dressed in all in black, with a hat and a big buckle on it, a blunderbuss in one hand and a Bible in the other, I’ll just puke! These depictions are based on the wrong assumption that they were Puritans. In the early 17th century, Massachusetts was really two colonies. The Massachusetts Bay Colony centered around Boston, and it was here that we find the Puritans. The other colony was, of course, Plymouth, who were more properly termed “Separatists.”

Unlike the Puritans, Separatists wore colorful clothes and had a much less somber attitude towards life. But the primary difference was that the Puritans were trying to reform the Church of England in its ways and remain members in good standing. Separatists, on the other hand, were trying to gain independence from a mother church such as the Church of England, and have a system where each congregation governs itself.