Sunday, September 21, 2008

Historic Houses in Massachusetts

After the meeting on 20 September and the program on the genealogy of houses, PGS member Sallie Barr Palmer approached me with a story I thought was interesting an so I am passing it on (with Sallie's approval, of course). Although it deals with a specific house in her family, there is a piece of information that will be of interest for anyone researching homes in Massachusetts...I have used bold type to highlight that. Thanks, Sallie, for sharing this follow-on to our meeting program:

"The September PGS meeting with the theme “Houses Have a Geneological Past Also” brought back memories of my search for my great-grandmother’s house in Massachusetts.
If you’re trying to find your old family home and your forebears came from Massachusetts, you’re in luck!
"About ten years ago, on a trip to New England, my husband and I decided to look for the house where my great-grandmother had been born about 150 years earlier. Although my great-grandparents had moved west to Illinois after they were married, my mother had visited the house in 1927 and had her photo taken in front of it. By that time, the house had long ago gone out of family ownership. On the back of the photo, my mother’s mother had noted the town and why the house was significant.
"We arrived in the little town of Blackstone, Mass., on the Rhode Island border, and decided to head for the local library for help. There the staff bent over backwards to help us - probably an interesting change from the routine of checking books in and out.
"The librarian produced a looseleaf binder containing a page for every house of historic interest in Blackstone. She explained that the state of Mass. had dispatched a team of researchers to seek out every house in the state over 100 years old and issue a report, with photo, description and history, on each one. The library in each town has a copy of the reports on its own historic houses. Presumably the master copies for the whole state are held in Boston.
"We had no address, but we knew what the house looked like. We paged through the binder and lo and behold, there it was. The library gave us a town map and off we went. We spotted the house easily and knocked on the door, but no one was home. We did peek through the windows, and my husband took my picture standing where my mother had stood 75 years earlier. We left a note for the owners.
"Across the street was an old graveyard, abandoned and overgrown, but we picked our way through and found a few family graves.
"We returned to the library to tell them of our success and to get a photocopy of the report on “our” house. The report traces the various owners from the time the house was built. It turned out to have been built in 1810 by my great-grandmother’s grandfather and remained in the family for over 100 years. The library had other genealogical documents, too, and we delved through some of them.
"I sent copies of the new photo and of the research report to my cousins in California. One of them wrote back that among his father’s effects, he had found a photo of the house but until now had no idea of what it was.
"Great-grandmother was descended from two early settler families - the Ballous and the Cooks - who were among the founders of the town. The two families intermarried extensively - for example, on the family tree I came across two men, one from each family, who were not only uncle and nephew, but also second cousins. Great-grandmother, however, had the good sense to marry someone from out of town."

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