Except for American Indians, this is a country where we all have ties to immigrants. For instance, I am a second generation native American. My grandparents arrived here in the 1920’s and had only two children. But from those roots, I can count today about 30 living descendants.
Pete Fisher, who retired a decade ago as Newberry Park High School’s band director, has his own roots from immigrants to America as well. Before moving to Thousand Oaks, California, Fisher’s family came from Indiana and Illinois, and long, long before that – twelve generations ago – his forebears lived in Massachusetts. He can trace his lineage to an ancestor named Thomas Rogers.
The immigrant ship Mayflower arrived in America in 1620 carrying the Pilgrims. On December 21st, 102 people stepped ashore at Plymouth Rock. You may have heard of some of them. There was John Alden and Myles Standish. And, there was Pete Fisher’s great-great-great (and so on) grandfather – Thomas Rogers.
With the assistance of his wife, Mary Pat, Pete Fisher did years of genealogical research to prove his descent from Thomas Rogers and was recently entered as a member of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. The society, headquartered of course in Plymouth, Massachusetts, aims to perpetuate the memory of the Pilgrim Fathers and the preservation of American ideals of civil and religious freedom set forth the Mayflower Compact, the first agreement for self-government ever put in force in America.
The Plymouth Colony lost nearly half its members in its first harsh winter. There are only 28 of the original 102 member Mayflower party that you can be descended from today. But in those days, and through the 1800’s, most families had 8 to 10 children. And, just as interest compounds, so does progeny. Some authorities of the Mayflower Society estimate that there are 20 to 30 million living descendants of the Mayflower passengers. Roughly one in ten Americans may have Pilgrim ancestors. The society counts many presidents as descendants including Franklin Roosevelt, George Bush, and Richard Nixon.
The General Society of Mayflower Descendants however has just a few thousand members. To become a member one has to prove lineage going back nearly 400 years. Search proof is difficult but can include marriage licenses, cemetery records, probate records, family letters and diaries, tax lists, military and pension records, even gravestones.
Pete Fisher spent most of his working life as a bandleader. He was the first to take a Conejo Valley band out of the country to perform. The first to march in the Conejo Valley Days Parade. Some of his students have gone on to become prominent musicians. One even became a space shuttle astronaut. And though Pete Fisher is very proud of his Mayflower lineage and has the records to prove it, I believe he is more proud of his twenty years as the Conejo Valley’s premier high school bandleader.