The Blackburn Family Association Inc. was founded in 1984 in anticipation of the 250th anniversary of the 1736 arrival of John Blackburn and his second wife, Rachel Morton, to North America. John and Rachel fled the north of Ireland with other Quakers to seek both religious freedom and economic opportunity. Shortly after their arrival they settled in Menallen Township, about ten miles north of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. From that first homestead the family has spread all across North America.
To celebrate that 250th anniversary in 1986, the Association hosted its first family reunion in the area around Gettysburg. More than 525 people attended some portion of the three-day event, with attendees coming from all over North America. In conjunction with the reunion, the Association contributed a significant amount of money for the restoration of the old Menallen Friends Burial Ground (referred to as Friends Grove Burial Ground) where John and Rachel were buried. A marker was also placed in the cemetery at that time to honor their memory and noting John Blackburn’s first wife, Mary (Courtney) Winter.
As a 501(c)(3) corporation, the Association has viewed as very important its role as a contributor to the community. In addition to making ongoing contributions of books and publications to various genealogical and historical collections, the Association provides a significant gift or pursues a major project in conjunction with each reunion. Reunions are held approximately every three years in all parts of North America.
The Association first began accepting memberships in 1988 and, that same year, began publishing Blackburn Beginnings, the newsletter of the Blackburn Family Association. That newsletter has been published continuously each quarter since 1988 in a full 12-page format, perhaps being the only family association with that degree of continuity in publication. While everyone on the family mailing list receives an annual notice with updates on upcoming activities, only members receive the quarterly newsletter. Membership is just $15 a year, with an annual Patron membership at $50.
From his two wives, John Blackburn had seven children that came to North America and had families of their own. Of the other five children, two died young, one is unaccounted for, another had a relationship outside of Quaker meeting and nothing further is known, and the last never married. As part of its efforts, the Association also maintains what it believes might be the largest single-family database around. The recorded descendants of John Blackburn now total more than 200,000. With spouses, in-laws, and other related families, the database holds more than 960,000 linked individuals.