Thanksgiving became much more personal for Jeannie Riddle two years ago when she discovered she was a descendant of four Pilgrims at the original feast in 1621.
"It has so much more meaning to me," said the Martinez resident. She is a descendant of Mayflower passengers John Alden, William Mullins, William Brewster and Richard Warren.
"It really is something. I remember studying about them in school and those were just dates to me. Now, that's my DNA, my flesh and blood," she said.
Riddle has received certificates from the General Society of Mayflower Descendants confirming her relationship to the four men. She garnered the first certificate for John Alden in June 2006, followed by William Brewster in October 2006, Richard Warren in January and William Mullins in May.
After finding a Mayflower connection to her family about 30 years ago, Riddle said she didn't do anything with that information until a Thanksgiving 2005 church sermon jogged her memory.
"Really that night and the day after Thanksgiving, when other people were shopping, we figured it all out," Riddle said. "I knew that it was these four. I knew, but to prove it is a different issue."
Riddle and her husband, Joe, spent the better part of two years tracing her lineage and tracking down the necessary information through birth and pension certificates, marriage licenses, wills, cemetery records, obituaries and Bibles.
"Bibles were the records at that time," Riddle's husband said, adding that family histories including births were typically recorded in family Bibles.
Once she discovered the William Brewster connection, Riddle said she was able to trace her family line much farther back through well-kept English records.
"I can go all the way back to 42 generations to Charlemagne, documented," Riddle said.
Riddle said she also found a few well-known names, including former kings of England Henry I, II and III, and William the Conqueror.
When the last of their three children left for college in September, the Riddles traveled to Plymouth, Mass., to visit the Mayflower landing site. They visited Burial Hill, where the Pilgrims buried the many who died the first winter so the Indians would know Pilgrim numbers had diminished.
They also saw what is believed to be Plymouth Rock, where the Mayflower captain wrote in his log that he'd stepped off the ship.
Riddle said of the four men, she does have a favorite Mayflower relative -- William Brewster. He was an elder, in his 50s when he and his wife made the trip across the Atlantic. Riddle said she found it fascinating that the minister gave up an easy retirement to travel to the New World. History written by Pilgrims states that Brewster was a man who was highly respected and felt the trip was God's will for him.
"I just felt like he was a man of principle," Riddle said. "I just felt like he was a man of conviction, a leader. He is my personal favorite."
Despite some good-humored ribbing from friends about her Pilgrim connection, Riddle said she felt it was divine providence that lead her to research her lineage.
"It is amazing when you think about the Lord, he put all these little pieces in place," Riddle said. "Without each one of these people in all those generations, (I) wouldn't be here. Isn't that amazing?"
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