It is an unfortunate result of learning how to do genealogy on sites like Ancestry.com that so many of us (including myself) were not at first antiquated with which sources we should consult and cite for genealogy research of early 17th century New England colonists. That being said once we start to read quality research in peer reviewed journals we being to understand what proper sources to use, how to cite them. Learning how to do this is vital if for example you wish to join the Mayflower Society or the Daughters/Son of the American Revolution, etc. It's also important if you actually want your tree to reflect reality. So much bad information is out there and the result is many erroneous trees and DNA results that make no sense. So we all have to take the steps to move beyond bad data sets. The following sources should never be used as evidence in genealogy:
1) North American Family Histories
2) Compiled Marriages, 1633-1850
3) U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s
These are all databases based on unsourced trees. They are not considered sources by genealogists.
For research in 17th New England valid sources include primary records recorded at the time of the event: wills, probate records, vital records, town records, land records, colony records, church records, journals kept by people living at the time, court records, deeds, passenger lists, town lists, jury lists, land grants, cemetery records etc.
Secondary sources include quality peer reviewed journals like The American Genealogist, The Genealogist, The Essex Genealogist, etc. They also include books published by NEHGS especially those who are members of FASG like Robert Charles Anderson, John Brooks Threlfall, Donald Lines Jacobus, Dean Crawford Smith, Melinde Lutz Sanborn, Gary Boyd Roberts, Walter Goodwin Davis, etc. Books published by the Mayflower Society (The so called Silver Books). What all these books and journals have in common is they are based primary sources and they reject any inference that is not based on primary sources and in general they give the reader the exact citation for the source used. Most of these are peer reviewed before publication. For immigrants to arrived from 1620-1640 the first sources to consult should always be:
Robert Charles Anderson, George F. Sanborn Jr. and Melinde Lutz Sanborn, The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England, 1634-1635, 7 Volumes
Robert Charles Anderson, The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England, 1620-1633, 3 volumes (Boston 1995)
Robert Charles Anderson. The Great Migration Directory: Immigrants to New England, 1620–1640 (Boston, Massachusetts. New England Historic and Genealogical Society. 2015)
Sybil Noyes, Charles Thornton Libby and Walter Goodwin Davis,Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire (Portland, Maine, 1928-1939; rpt. Baltimore 1972)
Mayflower Families - See the General Society of Mayflower Descendants for a list of titles.
NEHGS databases on AmericanAncestors.com and Findmypast.
These are where we should start. Follow that up by visiting Clarance Almon Torrey, New England Marriages Prior to 1700 (Boston, Massachusetts: New England Historic Genealogical Society, April 2011) 3 Volumes
These books will list all of their primary and secondary sources. Take those and look them up individually. Always pay attention to the date of the publications be certain to consult the latest publication because research is never static and new discoveries are made all the time.
It is OK to consult 19th century and early 20th century genealogies such as family genealogies, place histories etc. But know that these genealogies are often not evidence based when it comes to English origins of early 17th century immigrants and must of what was published then was pure fantasy or lacked supporting evidence. You'll notice the sources I used below follow these guidelines. They are primary sources or quality peer reviewed secondary sources.
Start by downloading this sketch written by Robert Charles Anderson in the Great Migration Series. He and his crew at NEHGS are *the* authorities on the subject of Great Migration immigrants:
Notice how each fact is followed by a pair of "" and within those brackets are abbreviations for the title of the source used, the volume and the page number like VOL#:PG#. These are standardized abbreviations for sources used by most peer reviewed journals and NEHGS publications. You can look up most of them here:
The arrival date for John is given specifically in Robert Charles Anderson's Great Migration Directory p 371 as 1638 in Weymouth. He cites the following sources: MBCR 1:375; SPR Case #2012; Weymouth Hist 4:753; Charles H Farnam, History of the Descendants of John Whitman of Weymouth, Mass. (New Haven, Connecticut, 1889)] See also his brother in GM2:7:359-63
The arrival date is critical. He is using primary records for example MBCR 1:375 stands for Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England , 1628–1686, Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, ed., 5 volumes in 6 (Boston 1853–1854) Vol 1 p 375. SPR Case #2012 standard for Suffolk County, Massachusetts, Probate Records, New Series which has his actual will and probate records and can be accessed online in americanancestors. These are primary sources and this is evidenced based genealogy. There is no evidence of John Whitman on any ship passenger list or any colony record prior to 1638. So that has to be our starting date. Any source that you read that claimed 1635 was sloppy. We know that he is brother to both Zachariah and Elizabeth (Whitman) [Stream] Otis because they state so directly in their probate records or indirectly by naming each other's children. We know via primary records (see below and the above article) that they came from Leigh, Buckinghamshire, England. We know that on Elizabeth Whitman's marriage record it states the name of their father as Richard Whitman of Leigh, Buckinghamshire, England. These are the primary records we have on the subject. Much conjecture was made about the origins of this family in 19th and early 20th century genealogies such claims lacked evidence. That Abijah was their father is just one such baseless claim. We now have conclusive evidence to the origins of these three immigrants. By the way Zachariah did indeed arrive in 1635. Zachariah is listed on p 371 of the Great Migration Directory as arriving on the truelove. Great Migration 2:7:359-63 (attached via the URL above) gives the sources for this information. He arrived with the children of Elizabeth Whitman his sister. Her two sons are listed in the GM Dir on pages 322 and have their own sketches in GM2:6:573-77 and GM2:6:578-80. If you haven't purchased a copy of the Great Migration Directory and are serious about doing early 16th century genealogy than I would highly recommend you do so. You can buy it directly from the publisher and you can also get 10% off all NEHGS books if you become a member:
Membership includes access to all the volumes of the Great Migration Series (except the directory) Torrey's 3 vol set including sources (not the ridiculous abbreviated version you get on ancestry.com with no sources), The American Genealogist, NEHGR, and many other journals and hundreds of databases, probate records, etc. These resources will give you solid evidence for your research and are invaluable.
As far as the name of his wife being Ruth Reed this is a conflation with his son John who died 1 Feb 1712/3 in Weymouth who married Ruth Reed on 19 Oct 1662. This sort of mix up between marriages of a father and a namesake son are typical of these sorts of databases and you have to ignore them.
If you decide to join americanancestors and get the GMDIR feel free to reach out to me and I'll show you how I setup my reference lookup system using Excel so I can quickly convert citation abbreviations to full source names and access their databases quickly.