Thanksgiving and The Mayflower Part I: Proof of Fern’s Parentage

Thanksgiving: A Mayflower Connection

Thanksgiving festivities in the United States commonly harken back to what many call “The First Thanksgiving” celebrated by the Plymouth pilgrims after their first harvest in the Americas in October 1621.[1] Though there are debates about when and where the first Thanksgiving celebration actually happened in what is now the United States, observance of the holiday we celebrate today on the fourth Thursday of November is closely tied to the event in Plymouth in 1621.  

This month marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts (11 November 1620). This year, traditional Thanksgiving celebrations, meals, and gatherings are being discouraged due to the continued threat and shadow of the coronavirus pandemic. For many, this year’s festivities will be quite different from in previous years.

Despite these discouraging developments, one exciting piece of news was an announcement by FamilySearch, American Ancestors.org (New England Genealogical Society) and the General Society of Mayflower Descendants that “in concert with the 400th Anniversary of the Mayflower… tens of thousands of Mayflower Society member applications (over one million images) and documented descendant family trees of the Mayflower passengers are now freely accessible online.”[2] After receiving this announcement, I visited FamilySearch.org/Mayflower to learn about which of the couples I might be related to myself. I found proposed connections to several Mayflower passengers but confirming those lines will require some additional work.  

FamilySearch Family Tree is a collaborative tree with multiple users and contributors. While many profiles on this tree have attached sources, the tree at large is still a compiled source. Therefore, before accepting the information contained therein, it is important to verify and confirm the proposed generational connection through documentary evidence. Original documents provide the basis for the genealogical relationships proposed in FamilySearch or any family tree and while discussion of these documents might seem silly for more recent generations of known ancestors, they are an important step in communicating how we know what we know in terms of genealogical relationships.

Genealogical Proof is achieved through:

  • Reasonably exhaustive research
  • Complete and accurate source citations
  • Critical tests of relevant evidence through process of analysis and correlation
  • Resolution of conflicting evidence
  • Soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusions.[3]

This year, I will work toward proving the connections between my grandmother, Fern Laurine Stoddard, and one set of proposed Mayflower ancestors: John Alden and Priscilla Mullins.

The First Generation: Fern Laurine Stoddard to Ira Stoddard

One of my proposed descent lines from John Alden and Priscilla Mullins is through my grandmother, Fern Laurine Stoddard Woodbury (1929-2020). Several of my previous blog posts have been dedicated to details regarding her life. One of my previous articles even described my genetic relationship to her and the amount of DNA that I inherited from her – an amount of DNA typical of a grandparent-grandchild relationship. My efforts to document my connections to the Mayflower begin with her.  

Fern Laurine Stoddard was born at 2:30 AM on 21 April 1929 on her family’s ranch near Bancroft, Idaho which at that time was part of Bannock County.[4] Fern’s birth certificate filed with the state of Idaho originally listed just her surname but was amended in 1986 to include her given names and correct her mother’s middle name. The source supporting this later amendment and addition was Fern’s certificate of birth from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints where she had been blessed and entered on the record of the church on 5 May 1929 just two weeks after her birth.[5] From these two records, we learn that Fern was the sixth child of Ira Stoddard (a 59-year-old farmer from Utah residing in Bancroft) and Opal May [sic] Coumerilh (Opal Gay Coumerilh in the church record and corrected to Opal Gay Coumerilh in the 1986 revision of the original certificate). Opal was a 39-year-old housewife and a native of Colorado also residing in Bancroft. The information for Fern’s birth certificate was recorded by G.G. Fitz the doctor present at the delivery.

Birth certificate of Fern Laurine Stoddard. Her given names were added and Opal’s middle name amended in 1986. This record reports that Ira was 59 and Opal was 39. In fact, Ira was 38 and Opal was 25.

In the 1930 U.S. Census, 11-month-old Fern was enumerated in the household of her parents in the Kelly Precinct of Bannock County, Idaho.[6] While the record confirms that Fern was the sixth child of the family, and while it corroborates her parentage and birthdate and birthplace, it offers conflicting information regarding the ages of Fern’s parents. Fern’s birth certificate in April 1929 reported Ira was 59 years old and Opal was 39. The 1930 census reported that Ira was 37 years old and Opal was 26. The reason for this discrepancy is not exactly clear, but the ages reported in the census are more consistent with other records for Ira and Opal which will be discussed later. In this case, the information for Fern’s birth certificate was filed by the attending physician a week after the birth. While the record provides primary evidence of the details of Fern’s birth, it provides secondary (and perhaps less reliable) evidence for other details recorded in the same record including Opal’s middle name which was later amended and the ages of the parents which may have been estimated, misreported or misunderstood. Ten years later at the time of the 1940 U.S. Census, Fern was still living in the household of her father, but by that date Opal was no longer living with the family. Opal and Ira were divorced 31 May 1938 after Opal had abandoned the family.[7] A few weeks later, Ira married Mattie Scott, a widow with two sons of her own who had been assisting Ira with managing the household in the absence of his wife.[8] The 1940 enumeration of Ira’s household included his second wife, Mattie, and her two sons Raymond and Raleigh.[9] This record corroborates Ira’s age as reported in 1930 rather than in Fern’s birth certificate. In 1946, Fern received a scholarship to attend Weber College at which time she began living with Maude Dee Porter. At the time of Ira’s death in 1950, “Fern Stoddard [of] Provo, Utah” was identified as one of Ira’s surviving children.[10] At the time she was attending Brigham Young University with Maude’s assistance. After graduating from BYU, she returned to live with Maude and continued to reside with her until her marriage in October 1952. Fern married Frank Alan Woodbury on 10 October 1952 in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah.[11] They would go on to parent seven children of their own and enjoy a long and happy marriage – a topic for future blog posts. Fern died 7 May 2020 at the home of her son in unincorporated Arapahoe County, Colorado.[12]

Not only is Fern’s relationship to her parents supported by documentary evidence and her personal recollections in life, but also by genetic evidence. Before her death, Fern performed DNA testing at several genetic genealogy testing companies. Three of Fern’s nieces/nephews have also performed autosomal DNA testing and share between 1484 cM and 2091 cM with her – exactly what we would expect given their proposed relationships with no indication of possible half niece or half nephew relationships which might throw into question her own paternity.[13] Fern also shares appropriate amounts of DNA with at least 41 other descendants of paternal aunts and uncles – descendants of Elanthropy Stoddard and Sarah Ann Steed.[14] Her relationships to these tested individuals range from first cousins once removed to first cousins four times removed and she shares between 15 cM and 671 centimorgans with them. While there are some outliers, on the whole her purported relationships are well supported by the amounts of DNA she shares with these individuals. A host of other proposed connections to Fern’s maternal ancestors are also supported through DNA evidence and may be explored in future posts.  

Based on Fern’s recollections during life, the documentary evidence and the genetic evidence, I conclude that Fern was born 21 April 1929 in Bancroft, Bannock, Idaho to Ira Stoddard and Opal Gay Coumerilh. She married Frank Alan Woodbury on 10 October 1952 in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah. She died 6 May 2020 in Unincorporated Arapahoe County, Colorado. Next up – to prove the vital events and generational linkage of Ira Stoddard to his parents Elanthropy Stoddard and Sarah Ann Steed.


[1] “Thanksgiving (United States), Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thanksgiving_(United_States), accessed November 2020.

[2] FamilySearch, “FamilySearch and Partners Digitize Mayflower Descendant Records,” https://media.familysearch.org/familysearch-and-partners-digitize-mayflower-descendant-records/, accessed November 2020.

[3] Boad for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 2nd ed. (Washington D.C.: Turner Publishing Co., 2019), pp. 2-3.

[4] State of Idaho, Department of Public Welfare, Bureau of Vital Statistics, birth of Fern Laurine Stoddard, 21 April 1929, Bancroft, Bannock, Idaho, certificate no. 170250. Document in possession of author.

[5] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Historical Department, Certificate of Birth from information recorded in Idaho Stake, Kelly Branch, Record of Births and Blessings, birth of Fern Laurine Stoddard, 21 April 1929, Bancroft, Bannock, Idaho, page 1202, line 492. Document in possession of author.

[6] 1930 U.S. Census (population schedule), Kelly, bannock, Idaho, ED 51, sheet 2A, Ira Stoddard household, https://www.ancestry.com/ , subscription database, accessed November 2020.

[7] Bannock County (Idaho), County Recorder, Decree of Divorce, Ira Stoddard vs. Opal Gay Stoddard, 13 May 1923, Pocatello, Bannock, Idaho, case 11390. Document in possession of author.

[8] Utah, County Marriages, 1887-1940 (index), marriage of Ira Stoddard and Mattie Scott, 16 June 1938, Cache, Utah, no. 627, https://familysearch.org, accessed April 2020; and,

Fern Woodbury, Bob Stoddard, Jack Stoddard, and Barbara Rose, Stoddard Family Reminisces, 1983, p.2.

[9] 1940 U.S. Census (population schedule), Kelly, Bannock, Idaho, ED 3-49, sheet 2B, Ira Stoddard household, https://ancestry.com, subscription database, accessed November 2020.

[10] “Ira Stoddard,” Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah), 31 January 1950, p. 18, https://newspapers.com, subscription database, accessed November 2020.

[11] County Clerk, Salt Lake, Utah, certificate of marriage of Frank Alan Woodbury and Fern Laurine Stoddard, 10 October 1952, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah, license no. 127993. Document in possession of author.

[12] Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Vital Records Section, certificate of death for Fern Stoddard Woodbury, 6 May 2020, Unincorporated Arapahoe County, Colorado, certificate no. 1052020015933. Document in possession of author.  

[13] “Fern Woodbury’s DNA Matches,” estimated close family relationship with PRIVATE, sharing 2091 cM across 50 segments, https://ancestry.com, private database, accessed November 2020; and,

“Fern Woodbury’s DNA Matches,” estimated close family relationship with PRIVATE, sharing 1819 cM across 56 segments, https://ancestry.com, private database, accessed November 2020; and,

“Fern Woodbury’s DNA Matches,” estimated close family relationship with PRIVATE, sharing 1484 cM across 43 segments, https://ancestry.com, private database, accessed November 2020.

[14] “Fern Woodbury’s DNA Matches,” ThruLines for Elanthropy Stoddard, 48 DNA matcheshttps://ancestry.com, private database, accessed November 2020.

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