If you have New England ancestors, you are in good company. Tens of millions of Americans are descended from the first European settlers of the northeastern American coast. Most of the 17th century migration to America from England happened in what is now Essex County, Massachusetts, and the town of Ipswich was one of its major ports of entry. While some immigrants stayed in Ipswich for just a short time before moving on to other parts of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, others stayed in the town and the towns closest to it for good. Some of their descendants are even still there, four hundred years later. If you have 17th century New England ancestry, you likely have some connection to Ipswich, even if your ancestors were only passing through there. The sheer number of people in the United States who have New England ancestry is what makes the website, Stories from Ipswich (http://storiesfromipswich.org) so amazing and valuable to genealogists.
Stories from Ipswich gives you information you might never find anywhere else, and there is a metric ton of it on the site. In fact, a genealogist, or anyone who is interested in family history, can easily get lost for hours on the site, exploring what it has to offer. Billing itself as an “Antiquarian Almanac from the Massachusetts North Shore,” this website is a New England genealogist’s dream come true.
So, what will you find there? Where to begin? First of all, the site starts with a description of Ipswich, stating it was once an area the Native Americans called “Agawam,” and is currently the location of the largest number of well-preserved Puritan houses from the 17th century. Some of these houses are even still occupied, some of them by descendants of the original settlers who built them. The Ipswich Town Historian produces the site and makes it available on the Internet for anyone who is interested in colonial New England history and genealogy.
The site is divided up into numerous sections, each one containing dozens of articles on its subject matter. The categories you can delve into are located in tabs at the top of the home page. Categories available for exploration include:
Historic Ipswich (which includes information about the historic features of the town today, and historic tours that are available)
- Burying Grounds
- Open Space
- Ancient Houses of Essex County
- Stories from the North Shore
- About (sections discussing the website and the people and entities who make it available)
The History section talks about the actual history of the town, including stories of the first settlers, legends (many of which you may not know about), and vital records from the early period of settlement in Ipswich. You should be able to find out quite a bit about your early New England ancestors and their adventures here. If they are not specifically mentioned, you will at least learn enough about how the early settlers to Essex County lived to obtain a good idea about how your immigrant ancestors lived while they were there.
Images is the section where you will find old photographs of Ipswich, the surrounding towns, and its inhabitants dating back to the mid-19th century. There are also some portraits of 17th and 18th century residents there, as well. You may find a portrait or image of one of your ancestors, or get a look a how life was lived in the 19th century in Ipswich, which will let you understand your ancestors who lived there during that time better. Images like portraits and photographs are genealogical gold, so this section is well worth spending some time exploring.
Literature has a list of books that have been published about Ipswich and Essex County. The books that are listed in the Literature section of the site have all been digitized and uploaded to the website in sections, so you can spend a lot of time exploring and reading a strong selection of excellent genealogical material for the town and county. Some of these are books you will only find in libraries in the local area, and are long out of print, so definitely take some time to browse these valuable genealogical resources on your computer, without having to go to the Ipswich Public Library to access them.
The Burying Grounds section has a list of old and ancient burying grounds in Ipswich and nearby towns and villages, along with addresses if you want to visit in person, and lists of who is buried in each. Most of the people on the lists are linked to entries for them on FindAGrave.com, so you can read and learn a little bit more about them. This is an especially useful resource for finding where your Essex County ancestors are buried, finding new ancestors who are buried near them, and learning more about them, if their FIndAGrave entries have biographies. At the very least, you can get death and birth dates, if they are available on the stones or in cemetery or town records for inclusion on the site.
Open Space talks about trails and bike riding paths in Ipswich and the nearby areas, many of which are historic, and take you on historic routes, or by historic places. It’s good to study to discover if any of your ancestors have connections to these trails. If they do, walking or biking them may be something you want to do as a genealogist.
Ancient Houses of Essex County is an extensive section that has photographs of houses from the three major historic periods (essentially the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries) that are still standing and available for viewing in person (at least from the outside, as most are occupied, except for a few that have been donated to museums). Detailed stories of each house and the families who owned them are also included, which makes for fascinating reading and excellent genealogical study.
Stories from the North Shore includes interesting stories from the towns and villages closest to Ipswich, such as Andover, Danvers, and Salem. You may find some stories here about your ancestors, personal stories about who they were and what their lives were like that you never knew. These stories, like most everything on this amazing website, are genealogical treasure.