Benjamin Proctor Jr. has records. He's got documents. He flips through a loose-leaf notebook filled with genealogy charts and historical data about the Mayflower, the Compact, the Native American Indians. The genial retiree from Lutherville with blue eyes and cropped gray hair is an encyclopedia of information about all things Plymouth.
And no wonder. Proctor is descended from no less than 11 of the original 102 Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower when it landed in New England territory in 1620.
They include William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Colony; William Brewster, religious leader of the "separatists," as they were known at the time; and William Mullins, whose daughter, Priscilla, captured the hearts of both Myles Standish and John Alden, the latter two also ancestors of Proctor.
"They had a lot of children," Proctor said, explaining the multi-generational interconnections. He lists his ancestors' names as they were then spelled; uniform spelling didn't exist in the 17th century so today, Myles (Standish) is often seen as Miles and (William) Mullins as Mullens.
With the title of governor, Proctor leads the Maryland Mayflower Society, a 360-member nonprofit organization founded in 1938. The local group is part of the national Society of Mayflower Descendants, founded in 1897 and with 28,000 members in the United States and Canada.
"There are probably millions [of Mayflower descendants] in the U.S. who don't know or don't care," said Proctor, 72, a married father and grandfather, who has served at the national level on the executive committee.
Proctor grew up in the Plymouth area. Every Thanksgiving, the family gathered at his grandmother's house, located virtually a block from Plymouth Rock before it was moved in the early 1900s to another site. In fact, during the move the famous rock fell off the truck and several pieces chipped off. Proctor's great-grandfather collected some of the rock that, over the years, have been set in earrings, pendants and cufflinks.
According to Proctor, Maryland Mayflower Society's members reside throughout the state, include a range of ethnic backgrounds and religions, and have a variety of professions.
"We're not all WASPs [white Anglo-Saxon Protestants]," he said.
The society does require verification of lineage, which is passed through the male line. Acceptable documents are birth and death certificates, marriage licenses and cemetery rubbings. Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library's central branch has records through the first five generations.
"You have to tie in from the sixth generation on," said Proctor, who noted that people can do the research on their own or hire a professional genealogist.
One of the goals of the society is education, and the Maryland chapter has sponsored presentations at local schools. Last week, Kate LaPrad, director of museum affairs at Plimoth Plantation, a Plymouth, Mass., recreation of the original colony, spoke before three fifth-grade classes at Riderwood Elementary School.
"History seems like a far-away place, a foreign country. But it's full of people not so different from today," said La Prad, who spoke at the society's annual Mayflower Compact celebration the day before her school appearance.
"I try to spark the children's imagination," said LaPrad, who leads of team of five men and women, herself included, who perform re-enactments in elementary schools, mainly in New England. All depictions are based on actual residents of the Plimoth colony, the most frequent spelling of Plymouth at the time.
"The stories vary depending on the character, but we touch on the same points of life in the colony," she said of the difficult voyage from England, the challenges of building a community and farming, the first harsh winter during which half the colonists died, and dealings with the native Wampanoag Indians.
LaPrad, a native of Delaware and graduate of the University of Delaware, has given her presentation dozens of times. In it, the year is 1627 and her character is Fear Brewster Allerton, 23 years old, married to a widower with three children and one daughter of their own.
LaPrad dresses in authentic-looking clothes and speaks in the old English dialect Allerton would have used. So meticulous is the re-enactment that Plimoth Plantation hired a linguist who, with the help of Shakespeare's plays, recreated the native English of the different areas of origin.
"Fear came from northern England," said LaPrad, and her accent reflects that.
The re-enactment lasts about an hour. LaPrad said the most common question she encounters is, interestingly enough, about money.
"The students want to know whether we had coins, paper money," she said. "They had that in England but I explain that in Plymouth there wasn't a great need for money. So we talk about trade and barter, with each other and with the Indians."
Another popular question is about children and family. "We talk about babies and raising a family," LaPrad continues. "We talk about the work children were expected to do and about play."
"We bring the 17th century story to the schools," she said.
As for Proctor, he relishes his link to the past. Plymouth Colony was the first English settlement in New England. "I'm proud of my heritage," he said. "I love the society."