By Don Taylor
I don’t recall ever finding a newspaper article about a family reunion for my direct ancestors. I found an article on Ancestry.Com that mentioned my third great-grandparents, Stephen and Fanny (Taylor) Blackhurst. The article was from 1923. Stephen died in 1869 and Fanny died 1889, so a first family reunion taking place over 50 years after Stephen died and over 35 year after Fanny died was a surprise. It showed the pride the family felt to be a part of each other. The article was in the August 12, 1923 edition of the Evening Chronicle (Marshall, Michigan).[i]
The first annual reunion of the Blackhurst family occurred Sunday at Victory park, Jackson, and was attended by thirty-five members of the family. Descendants of Stephen and Fannie Blackhurst, who came to this country from England, settling first in Auburn, N.Y., and in 1869 coming to Albion which was their home during the remainder of their lives.
Officers were elected during the afternoon following the picnic dinner as follows:
- President, Mrs Flora Sears of Marshall
- Vice-President Owen Brownell of Eaton Rapids
- Secretary and Treasurer, Mrs. E. W. Banks of Albion
The after dinner hours were pleasantly occupied with recitations and speeches by the guests and by the reading of letters and telegrams received from those not able to be present. Relatives and friends were in attendance from Big Rapids, Eaton Rapids, Spring Arbor, Battle Creek, Marshall, Detroit and Albion.
[Note: formatting above is mine.]
My research did indicate that the Blackhurst did first settle in Auburn, N.Y. However, they were in Sheridan Township before the 1860 Census.[ii] They were in Auburn during the 1855 New York Census,[iii] so they appear to have moved to Albion between 1855 and 1860 and not in 1869.
President Mrs. Flora Sears of Marshall: I don’t have a clue who that could be. Apparently from a family line I haven’t traced yet. It is interesting to note that next to the Blackhurst farm near Hall’s Lake was another farm owned by J.W. Sears. Nearby farms also included Sanders, Brownell, and Clough names known to have married into the Blackhurst family.
Vice-President Owen Brownell of Eaton Rapids. Must be Charles Owen Brownell (1870-1962), who was a grandson of Stephen and Fanny. I learned that he lived in Eaton Rapids in 1923.
Secretary and Treasurer, Mrs. E. W. Banks of Albion, is Phebe Ann (Eslow) a granddaughter of Stephen and Fanny. I learned she lived in Albion in 1923.
In 1923, my 2nd great-grandmother Sarah (Blackhurst) Barber was 76 years old. In 1920 she was living with my grandmother in New York City. In 1928 she was living with my great-grandmother Ida (Barber) Knight in Detroit. So, Sarah and Ida, could have been there as the “relatives from Detroit.” Donna’s whereabouts are unknown during August 1923 so she could have been there as well. Donna, Ida, and Sarah all lived in Albion at various times so they would have known the people and could well have had a desire to be a part of the first family reunion.
My direct ancestors (Madonna, Ida, and Sarah) left Albion and Calhoun County before 1900, and they never spoke of Blackhursts or Albion. It wasn’t until my research that we learned that Madonna was born in Albion, she always said she was born in Detroit. When queried, my mother and uncle said that Ida was born in Detroit. And neither of them recall ever hearing the surname of Blackhurst in their family history. That make me wonder what made them apparently abandon the Blackhurst family and totally lose contact. Maybe I’ll be able to find the Blackhurst Family Reunion of 1923 and learn more.
There is hope on that front. This article shows many Blackhurst family members remained in Calhoun County and the Albion/Sheridan township area. Their having a family reunion in 1923 is evidence they wanted to keep their family in touch. Albion is about 1-1/2 hours west of Detroit and the Albion Historical Society is open weekends from mother’s day until September. I think it would be a great excursion to visit the Historical Society during my next trip to Detroit and see what they might have.
I wish I lived near Albion. Next door to the Blackhurst farm was a farm owned by J. S. Sears. (Possibly somehow related to Blackhurst Reunion president, Mrs. Flora Sears?) One farm beyond that was a farm owned by T. Sanders. Just south of that a farm by W. Brownell. It is like half the names of the Blackhurst spouses came from these neighbors. I would be a fun exercise to look at all of the relationships.
In my wanderings, I have found other people for whom The Blackhurst legacy was a big deal. They spoke about the family going back and forth between Chicago and Albion and sharing stories about when Stephen and Fannie left England and came to America and lived in the “wilderness of Michigan.” Maybe they will share those stories with this black sheep Blackhurst descendant.
- Reach out to other Blackhurst researchers.
- Visit the Albion Historical Society.
- Research – Any records showing John F. Montran or any Montran surnames.
- Research – Any records regarding the Blackhurst family of Albion particularly prior to 1900.
- Determine who Flora Sears of Marshall is and how she related.
- Do a neighbor study of the Blackhurst family and the relationships of Stephen and Fanny’s children’s spouses.