CONCORD, Mass. — John Avedian has been an amateur genealogist since he was old enough to ask questions.
The Winchester, Massachusetts, resident said his earliest memory of being aware of the geographical homelands from which his forebearers came was in December 1988. Through the speaker of his Panasonic radio, he learned of the tragic earthquake in Armenia that killed 30,000. He interviewed grandparents and "bent the expectations of every school writing assignment" he could to have a chance to report what he knew about his German, Irish and Norwegian ancestors.
But now, the Claremont, California, native is digging far and deep into his connection to America's earliest days.
Last fall marked 400 years since the pilgrims landed in Plymouth. After one of Avedian's family members hinted a decade ago that there may be a connection to the Mayflower, he began researching. He eventually was able to prove to the Society of Mayflower Descendants that his family is descended from George Soule, a Mayflower passenger and Mayflower Compact signatory.
"I applied to the Michigan Society of Mayflower Descendents for my mother, who resides there, and she was inducted a few weeks ago," Avedian said. "She is now a lifetime member of the society."
Avedian traced his maternal great-grandmother's lineage eight years ago when he learned his Aunt Dawn, another genealogy fanatic, suspected that the line went back to a passenger on the Mayflower named George Soule.
"This she presumed from searching the family trees of others on Ancestry, which is a notoriously unreliable source," he said, "but can be beneficial to genealogists who are conscious of the limitations, where information is not well-substantiated."
As a genealogist, Avedian said he knew that a story was just that unless it could be proven true. His research began a decade ago while living in California. He estimates to have spent over 500 hours researching with the help of his wife, Arevik.
"We visited libraries in California, Massachusetts and Connecticut," he said. "My mother, Linda, was able to help by searching through family records for obituaries, death certificates, and newspaper clippings and coordinating with relatives who might have some of these items in their own possession. Once we moved to Boston I was able to visit and search records held at historical libraries throughout New England including the Massachusetts State Archives in Dorchester, the General Society of Mayflower Descendants Library in Plymouth and the State Library of Connecticut in Hartford."
As an officer in the administration of Harvard University, Avedian had access to vast collections of books and databases of historical documents through Harvard Library. But even with those connections, he ran into challenges on the marriage of his fourth great-grandmother (Abigail Weston) to William Fairchild, and the birth of their daughter, Lucy Juliette Fairchild.
"Numerous hours were spent calling, emailing and mailing to historical societies, local and state vital records departments and elsewhere," he said. "Often, inquiries were not answered, calls and e-mails not returned, or worse."
Avedian said he visited the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (GSMD) in Plymouth in the summer of 2016 and was able to trace from George Soule down five generations to Benjamin Weston. That trail went cold when the Westons left New England for Otsego, New York, where recordkeeping was not nearly as advanced.
He spent three years trying to document Weston's daughter and granddaughter — Abigail Weston and Lucy Juliette Fairchild. He said he had been under the impression from his 2016 visit to the GSMD that only primary vital records sources could be accepted to document a lineage.
When Avedian's mother visited the family in Winchester in October 2019. he took her to Plimoth Plantation to see the Wampanoag Homesite and the structure that was referred to as the home of George and Mary Soule.
"Afterward, we made an unplanned visit to the GSMD," he said. "I wanted to show mom the library and also to inform them of my struggles."
Avedian said he was surprised to learn an approved member had referenced the very book he'd found earlier, "Early Fairchilds in America and their Descendants" by Jean Fairchild Gilmore, as proof of the line. The development permitted him to move forward with proving his family's connection back to that line and using the member number of the recent inductee to prove the lines earlier than Lucy Juliette Fairchild.
Avedian also discovered that his fifth great-grandfather, Benjamin Weston, who was newly married at the time, volunteered to fight as the British were preparing to March on Concord, and participated in the Battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill.
"Once my research was completed, I decided to submit the application for my mother's membership to the Michigan Society of Mayflower Descendants," Avedian said "The review process began years ago, but once the documentation was submitted it took about eight months for review by the historian in Michigan. In November, we received word back that the application had been approved. My mom was ecstatic. As a gift, my eldest sister, Laura, and I paid for a lifetime membership to the society for her, on this 400th anniversary of the landing of our great-grandfather."