My grandfather has told me for years that us members of the Briscoe family are directly related to a doctor that came to this country aboard the Mayflower. He said that in his attic somewhere are personal effects that belonged to him including correspondence, books and a diary but he always had an excuse for not rummaging it up. For the longest time I thought these were just stories that he told to me when I was a kid, but I am pushing 30 and he is a lot older now, and he recently brought it up again. It makes me wonder if maybe there is some truth to this.

I did a Google search and the first hit actually mentioned the possibility that such a person existed.

First found in Cumberland, England, in the parish of Newbiggan, where from time immemorial the Briscoes were Lords of the manor of Birkskeugh. Some of the first settlers of this family name or some of its variants were: Dr. John Briscoe who settled in Maryland. He set sail from Newbiggin, Cumberland, and settled in America in 1632; soon after the Mayflower

Source: http://www.houseofnames.com/briscoe-coat-of-arms

My first question is if the information on this site is reliable? I understand that there were probably a thousand original Briscoe families and that just one of those were Scottish Lords, but it might not be coincidence that the information about a Dr. Briscoe being an original settler is strangely similar to stories he shared with me. It is also possible that he did a very unthorough genealogy search decades ago and fabricated fantastical stories.

My second question is, other than badgering my grandfather to dig up artifacts of questionable existence, what is a more reliable way to easily find out more information about this Dr. Briscoe?

  • Very lucky to have a document from Lord Baltimore to confirm placement in this country's history. Much of what I am going off of is second and third hand stories, which I think one then can only call family legend. I do have stories regarding my ancestors travels with a Lord Baltimore, so seeing the name in print helps place space and time of this individual. For everyone's benefit, I understand Mayflower did make more than just one journey over to Americas, 1620 is the famous one, but there are supposedly more journeys and last was the 1632 journey, I have been told. Speedwell also linked to
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    Mar 2, 2015 at 18:53
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1 Answer 1


I have not researched this Briscoe family, but in my experience is it more rewarding to prove your family connection back to the immigrant ancestor than it is to try to trace the early ancestors lines forward.

Nonetheless, for some of us, adding a little sizzle to the mysteries we seek to solve is often that "thing" that gets us going and keeps us coming back!

Dr. John Briscoe

I am not familiar with the different early Briscoe families, but found the passage that follows; seemed this might be the "Dr. Briscoe" others reference.

Julian Street, American Adventures: a second trip "abroad at home" (New York: The Century Co., 1917) p. 112-114 (Internet Archive). The passage that follows is from chapter 11, "The Virginias and the Washingtons."

One of the most charming of the oldhouses in the neighborhood of Charles Town .. still occupied by the descendants of its builder, is Piedmont, the residence of the Briscoe family. ... it contains two of the most interesting relics I saw on my entire journey in the South. [...] The other relic is a letter which Mrs. Briscoe drew from her desk quite as though it had been a note received that morning from a friend. It was written on tough buff-colored paper, and, though the ink was brown with age, the handwriting was clear and legible and the paper was not broken at the folds. It was dated "Odiham, Sept. 1st, 1633" ...

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This letter from the second Lord Baltimore refers to the historic voyage which resulted in the first settlement of Maryland, thirteen years after the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. As for Dr. Briscoe, to whom the letter was written, he was one of the three hundred original colonists, but after settling in St. Mary's, near the mouth of the Potomac, removed to the place where his descendants still reside.

Interviewing older relatives

As for approaching your grandfather (lucky you), my suggestion is that you more or less independently research your grandfather's parents and siblings. In that process, you are likely to learn something he didn't know about or find some information he'll view as not quite right. At least in my experience, "new information" (whether right or wrong) gets folks talking.

A second suggestion is to "covet thy family photographs," by offering to scan and document them. Lay them out on the closest table to your grandfather's favorite chair and set out to make notes about them. I've never met anyone who didn't enjoy talking about the past around a good collection of old family photos.

Privately held family artifacts (updated)

Artifacts from the 1600s would be remarkable family treasures; these could have other value too. Consider that your grandfather's decision to keep them out of reach is part of his approach to preservation. None of us can really know how well that is working for him.

Once you understand better what the artifacts are, your grandfather may want your assistance consulting with experts to learn more about the collection value and about different approaches to continued preservation.

Reliability of houseofnames.com information (updated)

I know little about http://www.houseofnames.com/briscoe-coat-of-arms. I tend to pass on sites that sell crests and arms attached to a "name." There is so much really good information available about our families and so much more to be discovered.

  • Thank you so much! What an amazing wealth of information! It is clear he existed. If I can get him to show me the diary then that would be explicit proof that I am a descendant of him, but then that would take all the fun of the hunt out of it. Dec 18, 2012 at 14:36
  • If he was concerned about the preservation of it then he probably wouldn't keep it in a dusty attic, but I digress. I would never sell such a thing. My only reason for ever wanting an appraisal would possibly be for insurance purposes but to me, such a treasure would be priceless. Dec 18, 2012 at 17:11
  • 1
    @maple_shaft Sounds like you are laying the ground work for another great Genealogy.SE question.
    – GeneJ
    Dec 18, 2012 at 20:30
  • @maple_shaft I'm going to convert my second comment to an additional passage in the answer.
    – GeneJ
    Dec 19, 2012 at 14:36

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