Actress Sally Field learns she is a descendant of William Bradford on PBS's "Finding Your Roots".


The episode of "Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr." airing on PBS on 12 November 2014 contained a segment with actress Sally Field learning she was a descendant of Mayflower passenger and Plymouth Colony governor William Bradford.  The full episode can currently be streamed online here: 

The Bradford segment begins at 41:54, if you want to jump right there.  If you freeze the end credits at exactly 52:06, you may notice a familiar name (yours truly).  I supplied the producers with a few of the images from the Bradford manuscript (which I photographed from my own copy of the 1896 facsimile edition) that were used in the segment when they were highlighting words and phrases like "dyed in the first sickness" to illustrate the severity of the first winter.  I also pointed them to some of the historical material used throughout the segment.

The Mayflower lineage presented for Sally Field was as follows:

Sally Field -> Richard Dryden Field -> Fleet Folsom Field -> Charlotte Berry -> Alexander M. Berry -> Jane Augusta Goodrich -> Anne Folsom -> Rev. John Folsom -> Ann Bingham -> Faith Ripley -> Hannah Bradford -> William Bradford [Jr.] -> Gov. William Bradford.

The segment had a few minor "issues" that might be worth nitpicking, as I always like to do when something like this comes out.  

First, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., indicates, "we found a portrait of him [William Bradford]."  Unmentioned, however, was the fact that this portrait was made in the 19th century, so would have no direct resemblance to the actual man.  There are only two Mayflower passenger portraits extant that were made in life, namely Edward Winslow and Myles Standish.

Second, the segment perpetuated the myth that the Mayflower was headed for Virginia but blown "so far off course" they ended up in Massachusetts.  It is well established that the Mayflower was headed for the Hudson River in modern-day New York, which was then considered a part of Virginia. Hitting Cape Cod, all they had to do was turn south and sail for another day.  Given the crude navigational methods of the time, and despite the numerous storms at sea, the ship was quite 'on target'.    

Third it was stated the Pilgrims boarded the Mayflower in Plymouth, England.  The Pilgrims actually boarded the ship in Southampton, England.  Plymouth, England, was simply the final departure point after several failed starts that also included a stop in Dartmouth.

Fourth, the segment placed some emphasis on the fact that William Bradford was a Puritan.  While there is some gray area in definitions, it is generally considered more accurate to call the Mayflower Pilgrims "Separatists" rather than "Puritans."  This is because they had given up trying to purify the Church of England (the definition of a Puritan), and had opted instead for the more radical step of rejecting the Church of England and separating entirely from it to form their own Church.  The leadership and settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, founded in 1628 at Boston, are more traditionally classified as Puritans.  

Another Mayflower descent previously aired on the television show Who Do You Think You Are on 8 April 2011 (Season 2, Ashley Judd).  My critique of that episode is found in Mayflower Descendant 60(2011):8-9.  I was somewhat more critical of that episode because the genealogy chart presented to Ashley Judd contained a completely fabricated date of birth for Mayflower passenger William Brewster.  Her lineage presented was Ashley Judd -> Michael Ciminella -> Mary Dalton -> William Dalton -> Thomas Dalton -> Rebecca Brewster -> Ebenezer Brewster -> Comfort Brewster -> Ebenezer Brewster -> William Brewster -> Benjamin Brewster -> Jonathan Brewster -> William Brewster.

Descent from Mayflower passengers is not as unique as you might initially think.  The Pilgrims lived approximately 14 generations back from us today.  Everyone has 16,384 ancestors in that one generation alone, with 8,192 ancestors in the earlier generation, and 32,768 ancestors one generation further back.  That's a lot of chances to find a Mayflower ancestor, especially given that the numbers of ancestors involved are greater than the entire population of New England in 1635!  

Other actors and actresses with known Mayflower ancestry include Marilyn Monroe, Clint Eastwood, Alec and Steven Baldwin, Humphrey Bogart, Dick van Dyke, Christopher Lloyd, Richard Gere, and Christopher Reeve.  Sally Field's distant cousins who share Bradford descent include Hugh Hefner, Civil War general George McClellan, George Eastman (of Eastman-Kodak fame), Christopher Reeve, Clint Eastwood, and dictionary author Noah Webster.