By Thomas Palance…
I’ve always been fascinated by the notion that my ancestors are fully responsible for abilities, instincts and sometimes a familiarity with things I have not experienced in my lifetime.
I have always wondered what my ancestors looked like and behaved like. What were their daily rituals? What did they do for work? How were they responsible for shaping the world in a small or more significant way? I always wished I could know about their adventures, happy moments and struggles.
Many years ago, I was sitting at a bar located on the northeast coast in Portsmouth, NH and couldn’t help staring at a wonderful maritime painting from the 18th century. When I looked at the artwork displaying sailing ships and the rocky harbor, I had a deep feeling of familiarity much like the feeling you get when you go home to a place that you spent many years in your life. It’s the feeling of having a childhood warm blanket wrapped around you. At the time, I had not spent one minute on a ship and very little time on the coast. After that I was drawn to the New England seacoast.
I spent 20 years in the Washington, DC area living in the most wonderful neighborhood, experiencing close friendships, well-groomed roads and a very temperate climate. I strangely dreamed of a time when I might come back to pot holes, aggressive drivers, endlessly cold springs and long harsh winters with very little time to enjoy a beach without the famous greenhead flies. What pulled me to Ipswich?
After I retired from the Navy, my wife Lisa who was born and raised in Salem, MA and I decided we both terribly missed New England in spite of its challenges, so we took a few road trips, one of which brought us to Ipswich. When we crossed the border from Hamilton and got to the center of town, we were both struck by this charming well-preserved place near the ocean.
The people here were hard working, had character and appreciated the arts. The first person we met was Ray Morley. We loved his stories, sense of humor and passion for this town. As musicians, we felt right at home, but I didn’t realize at the time how much it WAS home. When I drove through the Ipswich streets I found myself smiling and feeling an incredible sense of peace and inner warmth like going home for Christmas while I was an undergraduate student.
After living here for about 13 years, my mother (DAR member) who did genealogical research before it became popular through companies like onegreatfamily.com or ancestry.com called me to say she found that we had a couple of direct ancestors from Ipswich. This was so exciting because history has been preserved here through its first and second period homes, graveyards and well-kept publications from our Historical Society. I had an opportunity to know these people through actual structures, well-kept documents and monuments. My mom revealed that Thomas Burnham was my 9th grandfather. It was quite the thrill to see those Burnham family homes still standing, read stories of Burnham’sshipwreck on Pemaquid Point, ME and discovering his role in founding Ipswich/Essex. Through this ancestor, I felt closer to this town Lisa and I chose to live.
Since the discovery of my family relationship to Burnham, I have found that my family also goes directly back to Marie Lawrence, Caleb Kimball, John Whipple, Susanna Clarke, Jeremiah Belcher, Mary Lockwood and Rev. John Wise, all Ipswich residents and carrying with them incredible stories of rebellion, survival and leadership! Rev. Wise wrote sermons that directly led to the words written 70 years later by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. He also led a famous revolt, along with (John) Appleton, against taxation without representation. He stood up to the myth of witchcraft and passionately fought against discrimination!
My understanding of why I chose to live in Ipswich has become complete. Is it possible that I was drawn here by deeply ingrained ancestral memories? Perhaps you don’t believe in inherited memories. Since seeing that painting in a Portsmouth bar many years ago, I’ve formed an opinion that reinforced memories help explain instinct and deep knowledge that is otherwise hard to understand. Eye color, physical features and health are inherited, why not memories? There has been scientific proof of inherited memories, but that subject is too vast to share in this article.
I suspect that thousands of New Englanders have their roots based in Ipswich. We now have online tools such as the sites I mention above along with the excellent Historic Ipswich site by Gordon Harris that will assist you in your journey. I encourage you to research your past. Who knows, you may find a buried treasure of fascinating stories like I have found and enjoyed. You may realize that you are connected to positive change and find a newer deeper understanding of your humanity resulting from the decisions by your ancestors made years before your existence. You may also more profoundly understand that your choices in life will shape the world to come!
No, I wasn’t born at Cable Hospital, but yes, I consider myself a proud townie!
—–Thomas Palance, Jeffreys Neck Rd., Ipswich