Welcome to my genealogy blog. Ancestors I Wish I Knew is a combination of genealogical information and stories about individuals in my family tree. The focus is on those from my Cochrane, Eitelbach, Merrett, Minarcik and Richards lines and their descendants.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

#27 Jonathan Fairbanks—Building His Family a House

Any time I have an opportunity to visit a place that is in my genealogy, I try to do that.  So several years ago, when I was in Boston, I went out to Dedham on the MTA and bus to see the Fairbanks House.  The house is timber-framed and is the oldest such structure in the United States.   I wanted to see the house because Jonathan Fairbanks  (Fairebanke; Fayrbanks), the builder of the original structure,  is my  8th  great grandfather and one of my immigrant ancestors.

Jonathan was born in Sowerby in Yorkshire, England and came to Boston Massachusetts in 1633, probably in the Speedwell.  Accompanying him were his wife, Grace Smith (last name sometimes given as Lee) and their six children.  Until 1636 they lived in Boston, then they moved to Dedham.  In 1637 Jonathan signed the Dedham Covenant, was granted a house lot, and became a freeman on March 23, 1637.   In addition to his house lot, Jonathan was  granted land on many other occasions.

The house as it stands today was constructed over a long period of time to meet the changing needs of the family.  Sometime between 1636 and 1641 the first part of the house was built, probably on his original house lot.  This part of the house consisted of four rooms:  a great hall (kitchen) and a parlor on the first floor and two bedrooms on the second floor with storage space above.  The house was heated by three fireplaces, one of which was on the second floor.  While by out standards, the house sounds small for eight people, for its time, it would have been considered quite comfortable.  Supposedly an addition on the west end of the house was added sometime in the early 1650’s for John Fairbanks and his new bride.  Other additions to the east and west ends of the house were made in the late 1700’s.

From the time it was first built until 1904, the house was passed down from generation to generation of Fairbanks.  So, it was continuously occupied by one of the Fairbanks for 268 years.  In 1904 the Fairbanks Family in America began to operate the house as a museum.

I had a wonderful tour of the house. My guide was extremely knowledgeable and able to explain the various parts of the house and the ways in which family members used them.  I had plenty of time to look at the different rooms and their furnishings.  Since the interior is rather dark and it was not a particularly sunny day, my guide used a flashlight to show me the darker corners.  You are not allowed to take pictures inside the house, but I was able to get a lot of shots of the exterior.   If you are in the Boston area, I highly recommend seeing the Fairbanks House; it will give you a real feel for the ways in which our ancestors lived.

I wonder what Jonathan Fairbanks would think about the house today and the fact that it has become a museum.  Of course, if I could, I would ask him.


  1. How interesting! What a treat to have visited there.

  2. Jonathan Fairbanks is also my ancestor. The picture of this house hangs in my mother's house. I would love to visit the Fairbanks home one day. Fairbanks did many remarkable things and I think it's great to research my rich lineage.

    1. It was amazing to tour the house and to think about what it must have been like to live there. Hope you are able to visit one day.