Family history study goes back several thousand years in some respects. In the chapter of Genesis, the lists of endless begets identified one tribe after another. However, in this country, it was not until the mid 1800's that there was much interest in tracing ancestry.
I was born and brought up in Newburyport, Ma., and am in a direct line of descent, 10th generation, from John Knight, our common ancestor, who emigrated from England to America in 1635. He was among the first group to settle the town of Newbury, Ma. Our home was about two miles from the original homestead of John Knight, which has been rebuilt and remodeled several times, but is still on the same lot where it was first erected. It has been lived in and occupied by a Knight family since the early days. The present occupant (1988) is Elizabeth Vincent Knight (3119), named after the first wife of our common ancestor.
There were a score or more Knight families living in or around the Newbury-Newburyport area when I was growing up, almost all of whom were related to some degree, and there was a rather close relationship between most of them.
In the early 1970's a sister gave me a chart she had made up of our direct line of descent going back ten generations to John Knight. I studied it with great interest, and became more and more intrigued with the subject of genealogy, so decided to make a study of the collateral descendants of the first settler, that is, Knight families who were descended from the same John Knight, but in different lines. My plan was to follow the history of every Knight family coming down after him. At the time I did not realize the great magnitude of the project that was being started, of the many thousands of hours of research time that would be necessary, and the heavy expense involved. If I had known what was ahead of me, possibly I would not have proceeded.
There is an old saying that "sometimes ignorance is bliss", which really applies in this case, because even with all the work and cost incurred, the study of the history of the descendants of this family has been a very interesting, fascinating and rewarding hobby for me. It has been a wonderful game, involving skill and ingenuity in solving some baffling problems, and in tracing names and dates and family lines. I am very thankful and happy with the results obtained.
I was a Judge in the Trial Courts of Massachusetts and retired in January 1977, so have had a lot of free time in retirement to spend on genealogy. It was truly pioneer work at first, as the only data on hand was the material relating to the local Knight families. My first step was to join the New England Historic Genealogical Society of Boston, Ma., and I did a lot of research in their wonderful library. Gradually I found other sources of information on this subject, e.g. vital records of the states, counties and towns, family bibles, town histories and directories, church and cemetery records, state and federal census files, probate and deeds entries, newspaper obituaries, and very importantly, by personal correspondence. I wrote about 2500 letters to Knight families all over the country, explaining what I was trying to do, and asking for the facts about their family. There has been wonderful cooperation and help from almost all of them.
Also there has been a lot of communication with town and state agencies in many other states in connection with vital records.
Finally, the services of professional genealogists have been employed in about 25 states to do research for me and collect data, and they have been of great assistance.
The first state in this country to establish a central registry for vital records was in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1850. It is comparatively easy to check the ancestry of families who remained in this state, however that is not so for many other states which had this data on a town or county basis until 1900 or later. The great migration of people in the 1800's from the East to the mid-West and far-West resulted in many of the newly settled towns being loosely organized. Often if there were entries of vital records, they were kept by county units, without an index of the entries. One might think that an ancestor lived in a certain state, but unless the county of residence was known, a researcher might have to check many or most of the counties, a prohibitive task.
Some vital records were destroyed by catastrophe. For example, the town hall in Norway, Me. burned down in the 1880's with all its records. One Knight family there is supposed to have had ten children, but there is information available concerning only three of the children. The earthquake and sweeping fire in San Francisco in 1906 almost destroyed the city, and none of the vital records survived.
Another problem concerns the mobility of American society in this century. It has been common practice for large corporations to make occasional transfers of employees, sometimes to distant locations. Other persons may change jobs several times, and often their new addresses are not known, so that it may be difficult or impossible to trace their careers.
The end result has been that this book is not complete, of course, and there are a number of Knight families, for whom information is lacking. It should be noted that the old records were handwritten, and sometimes almost illegible. Great care has been taken in collecting and listing data, and where possible, a check and recheck has been made, but without doubt there are some errors and omissions.
The numbering system for persons listed in this book is very simple, and easy to check. It differs from the method used in many other works on genealogy. Each Knight descendant has been given a number in rotation, beginning with No. 1 for the first settler, and 2, 3, 4 and 5 for his four children, which completes the first and second generations. The first person in the third generation has No. 6 and so on. The spouse has the same number as the Knight descendent. Persons are listed and numbered by right of primogeniture. Any person recorded in the book can locate his or her name reference to one of the indices; then by tracing the number back or forward, his or her complete genealogical line can be disclosed.
I have not appended to each individual his or her ancestry by generations, as is frequently done in many books on genealogy. Both ancestry and descent can be so easily traced, that neither the extra space entailed nor the
monotony of persistent reiteration seems to be justified. I believe that my procedure will make for easier reading.
Many published genealogies of families have the sources of the material listed by each name, which results in a great deal of extra space used. I have not followed this procedure, however I will note here that almost all of my data has been obtained from public records. For example, the Massachusetts entries came from the vital records of the pertinent town or city in the state, either from their books published by them covering from the first settlement to the end of the year 1849, or since that date by the state records.
In the other New England states (exc. CT.) their central archives have many vital records covering earlier periods, and state records since about
1890-1900. In the central and western areas, a number of the states have data for some of the towns for the 1800's, while others have information by counties. However since about 1890-1916 all of the states in this country, (exc. CT.) require each municipality to notify their central authorities annually of all births, marriages and deaths.
A great deal of the information received from the central and western areas came from my correspondence, however in many cases It was backed up by official records, as noted above.
About 4400 Knight births, all of whom were descendants of John Knight, the first settler, are listed in this book. A short summary of each of these persons is given, where available, and the male Knight lines are carried forward for each generation where possible.
Due to time and space limitations, it is obvious that to extend this record to the descent of female branches would be too vast an undertaking. It was therefore confined to a single generation of the marriages and children of the Knight women, whenever the information was readily available. A number of abbreviations have been used.
Alphabetical indices for Knight births and marriages, with names of their spouses, all keyed to the numbering system, provide instant access to any record.
While the following pages do not disclose any Knight who became really "famous or infamous", as a whole they were a sturdy lot and substantial citizens. Many were leaders in their respective communities. They contributed their full share to the service of our country in the Colonial Wars and in all the later wars.
It has been difficult to obtain a coat-of-arms which could be proved to be the official Knight heraldic design. Over the years I have seen three different Knight arms offered for sale by dealers. However, for over 75 years the Genealogy Dept. of Goodspeed's Book Shop of Boston, Ma. has been the leader in this field.
It carries over 4,000 American and British genealogies, Heraldry etc. I am using a Knight coat-of-arms purchased from them, which is very likely the most authentic.
I had also hoped to be able to secure a lot of pictures of the various Knight families, however it was not feasible to do so, in view of the large number of persons listed, and the very great additional expense Involved In printing costs. However the book will be a very valuable reference work, and I am pleased that many people will have the benefit of the compilation of a large number of valuable records drawn from so many and widely scattered sources. Without my research, much of the material herein would be most likely unavailable in a comparatively short time. Now our Knight descendants will be able to read about their kinfolk, and trace their ancestry all the way back, in some cases for thirteen generations, to the first settler in 1635. The book will preserve a record of the history of the descendants of one of the earliest emigrants to this country.
Most of the persons to whom I have written, have gladly cooperated and sent their family data to me. A few have refused or neglected to answer my requests for information about their families, to my regret, and so their particular chain of genealogy ends with them. I am very appreciative of all the help that has been given me, and am particularly indebted to Marie Molesworth of Yale, Mich., Carol Paget of Neodesha, Ks., Leota Knight of Bartlesville, Okla., R. K. Dawson of Williamsport, Ind. and many others. Without the help of these people, the scope of coverage would have been much smaller.
© Mark A. Knight 1998