John Howland may not be as famous as William Bradford, John Carver and Myles Standish, notable passengers on the Mayflower.

Yet Howland probably had a greater impact on the history of the United States than any of them. Hundreds of thousands of Americans sat down for Thanksgiving dinner Thursday unaware that they owe their very existence to Howland, who almost never even made it to the New World.

I am the self-appointed – perhaps self-anointed is a better term – keeper of our family tree.

My interest in genealogy began about 20 years ago when, on a trip to New England, I visited my 80-year-old aunt who showed me a picture of the family hero, a Union Army Colonel, she said had served with great distinction during the Civil War.

I was immediately curious about the Colonel.

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