Sep 28, 2014 1:08 AM

Balch Family Reunion at the “Old Planters Weekend” in Beverly, Massachusetts

The Balch House, Beverly, Massachusetts

I didn’t attend any of the events at the Old Planters Weekend, but I made it a point to get to the Balch family reunion yesterday. There were many reasons why I wanted to go:

1. I’d never been to this reunion before. In fact, I wasn’t even a member. I took care of that as soon as I got there. If you are interested in joining the Balch Family Association, contact the Beverly Historical Society.

2. The reunion was held at the Balch house, which dates back to the early 1600s. It’s always very interesting to attend a family reunion at the home of an ancestor. You can read about my first visit to the Balch house at this link HERE. This house recently underwent some renovations, check out the newly restored windows and front door.

3. I grew up in a house a few blocks from the Balch house. My great grandfather, grandfather and father all worked at the United Shoe Machinery Corporation (now the Cummings Center), which is on the other side of the railroad tracks behind the Balch House. They all walked to work, and home for lunch, and back to work, and home for dinner for over sixty years. Even my grandmother worked there as a “Rosie the Riveter” during WWII. And they all walked right past the Balch House, but no one in my family had ever seen the interior until last year.

4. Two new books were debuted at this family meeting. Both had never been seen before. I’ll talk about them below. The authors both spoke, both had ties to the Balch family and Balch house.

5. The Woodbury family reunion was held at the same house at the same time, and I’m also a Woodbury descendant. I wasn’t the only one there with descent from both families. There were quite a few of us, which makes sense if you’ve ever studied colonial New England history from Essex County, Massachusetts in the 1600s. Who else did these families have to choose from when considering marriage?

The family meetings of the Balch and Woodburys took place in the back yard of the Balch House. I did a lot of schmoozing and running back and forth to take a peek at as many charts and family trees as possible. I think the folks who brought their big 10 generation fan charts were the most useful. It was easy to glance at their charts to see if we had other kinships. Many folks had lots of other Beverly Old Planter families in their lineages, so I found a lot of cousins besides just Balch and Woodbury cousins.

Walter Beebe of Essex Restorations spoke for a long time, and answered questions, about the ongoing restoration work at the Balch House. Recent window and door work was visible when the descendants toured the house after lunch. The president of the Beverly Historical Society, Dan Lohnes, gave an explanation of the funds needed for ongoing projects, including starting a possible trust fund for the house. By the end of the reunion a large sum had been pledged by Balch descendants.

Robin Balch Hodgkins’ newly revised Balch Genealogy was debuted at this meeting. The original compiled genealogy was written by Dr. Galusha B. Balch in 1897. Several years ago Robin put out a notice for descendants to contact her with their lineages and proofs. All descendants were to be included, not just those with the Balch surname. Yes, I’m in the book, with my lineage from my 2nd great grandmother, great grandmother, grandmother, and mother back to the original planter John Balch. My daughter is even in there, too! (You don’t often find women in these compiled genealogies because they are often dropped because they don’t carry on the Balch name) It was very fun to buy one of the first copies of this book, and to see my name in it, and to have it autographed by Robin. The new book has over 12,000 Balch descendants.

The kitchen of the Balch House
After lunch and a brief tour of the Balch House by the curator of the Beverly Historical Society, Tad Emerson, the author of the brand new book A Storm of Witchcraft, spoke about his connections to the Balch house, and the Balch and Woodbury connections in his book. Professor Emerson W. Baker (Tad) was the archeologist for Plimoth Plantation, and also for the Beverly Historical Society when they uncovered the remains of the original John Balch house under the lawn of the historical Balch House several years ago. He wanted to write a book that traced the entire history of the 1692 Salem witch hysteria, since many books focus on just one or two angles of the story. This new book traces the origins of the problems in the community, through the trials and to the years after 1692. He even traces the story to today and considers the Salem witch trials one of the first American “governmental cover up stories”. I can’t wait to read it, and yes, I got it autographed, too!

After a bit more schoozing with cousins, and exchanging contact information with some, we had a bit of time to revisit Beverly’s Central Cemetery where we were finally successful in finding another ancestor. I’m still unsuccessful at finding one last ancestor, and I think the cemetery department has given me the wrong information on their maps. That will mean that I will have to contact them again and take a FOURTH trip to Central Cemetery this year. Sounds like fun!

For the truly curious:

A Storm of Witchcraft, by Emerson W. Baker, Oxford University Press, 2014

Balch Genealogy, compiled by Robin Balch Hodgkins, Beverly Historical Society, 2014 (Contact the Beverly Historical Society to buy a copy of this book info@beverlyhistory.orgor call 978-922-1186.)

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Copyright © 2014, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


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