Genealogy Studies Program

The Bias of Perspective

Governor William Bradford was an artful storyteller whose Of Plymouth Plantation chronicled the Pilgrims’ struggles from an eyewitness perspective. His retrospective account of the First Thanksgiving was just seven sentences dealing with the harvest of fish, waterfowl, turkeys, and Indian corn. Bradford says nothing about Massasoit and the ninety tribesmen who attended the three-day feast. For this story, fellow Pilgrim Edward Winslow must be consulted as printed in Mourt’s Relation. A contemporary account, Winslow mentions that the guests killed five deer to share.

A single source, no matter how praiseworthy, will always present just part of the story. Perspective is part of the bias that every informant carries. Winslow converted what could have been an unremarkable harvest report into a timeless tale of international cooperation and respect. A similar insight may be just one source away as you pursue your reasonably exhaustive search.

Melinde Lutz Byrne