Tuesday, June 20, 2006

John Burch Blaylock (1909-1995)


Caswell County Register of Deeds from December 1934 to June 1976. In addition to his formal duties as Register of Deeds, Burch Blaylock assembled Caswell County genealogical and historical records into what is known as the Burch Blaylock collection, which is housed in the Caswell County Register of Deeds Office at the new courthouse in Yanceyville, North Carolina. The materials in the collection can be searched by the person's name in the card catalogue. Copies can be made for a reasonable charge.

This photograph is from The Heritage of Caswell County, North Carolina, Jeannine D. Whitlow, Editor (1985) at 624.




Click on these photographs for a larger image.
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"Burch" by Dale Williams

John "Burch" Blaylock is well-known in Caswell County and will be well-remembered after he is gone also. He will be remembered because of his kindness to people but also for the valuable and helpful records that he is leaving behind.

Mr. Blaylock was elected to the Office of Register of Deeds in 1934. He held that office until 1976 when he retired. His duties in that office were to record births, deaths, and marriages but he went much farther than that. "Beginning in 1945, I started collecting and recording in four deed-book size books about 675 Family Bible records and hundreds of other records that dealt with people, such as cemetery records for the county." These records are located in the Register of Deeds office in the Caswell County Courthouse. There is a wealth of information to be found in these books, everything from death and birth certificates to articles about Caswell County and the people of the county.
[Note that the typewriter shown in this photograph, which was used by Burch Blaylock for decades, is on display at the Richmond-Miles History Museum in Yanceyville, North Carolina.]

The books are a valuable asset to the Caswell Register of Deeds office, Mrs Mary Lee Carter, current Register of Deeds, tells of the usefulness of these books. "We are very lucky to have these books. You can't find other records like these. They are valuable records because many times Family Bibles are lost and cemeteries get vandalized. These records are the only place to go to find out about their families." She added that people use Blaylock's research frequently.

Carter also remembers an occasion when Mr. Blaylock rescued school records that were about to be burned. "Before there was a law that said the schools had to keep the records, the school decided to burn old school records. They brought them to the courthouse to be burned. Mr. Blaylock realized they were valuable. He salvaged them and stored them. We have the school records here now. They are very important records for finding birth dates and parent's names."

There is also a large collection of delayed birth certificates for people who had no record of their birth. To obtain a delayed birth certificate, a person had to have two proofs of birthplace and one for parents' names. Blaylock tells that making the delayed birth certificates led him to a lot of research. "In 1945 the idea came to me these records are here so why not record it. There are a lot of things in them for future generations."

Blaylock noted that the job was filled with long hours but was enjoyable. "I tried to be as accurate as I could I worked a lot at night. For the first 25 years I worked night and day with no help except for a few hours. It was hard but it was pleasant. It was not a chore, time went by fast."

Blaylock explained that he collected family histories and information for future generations. "Whatever I have recorded is available to anyone who wants it. I don't get a penny for it. I did it for two reasons. One was to save records for future generations. The other reason was by way of thanks to people for being so good to me."

Even though Mr. Blaylock has retired from office, he is still actively working on his books. "My main job since I have retired is indexing all of the material I collected." He has already over 40,000 index cards on file and is still not finished.

Blaylock was born on June 6, 1909 in Hightower township of Caswell County where he lived until he moved to Yanceyville to take the job of Register of Deeds. In October of 1917, Mr. Blaylock's legs became diseased and were removed. He tells of being pushed to school in a wagon by cousins. "I have not forgotten these boys for it meant a lot to me. My father would have carried me if the boys had not wanted to push me. The children in the neighborhood accepted me as a playmate as if I had two feet."

He graduated from Bartlett Yancey High School in 1928 and then attended Elon College to study business for one year.

In 1937 Blaylock met Miss Isla Mae Coward, who came to work at the Welfare Department of Caswell County. They were married in December of 1941. She died in February of 1963. In 1964 Mr. Blaylock met Mary Ethel Gordon from Greensboro and on November 6, 1966, they were married. He feels that he has been luck in his choices. "I have been blessed with two wonderful wives."

Blaylock tells that he likes meeting and talking to people. "People would come to talk. I like people. I don't know anybody I don't like. I just appreciate living. If you put all my friends in one group and gold in another pile. I don't think I would look at the gold. I value the friendship of lots of people. After all we're all kin when you go back to Noah."

Mary Lee Carter commented that people still stop by the office and ask about him. "Nearly everyday someone comes by and asks about him. He will never be forgotten. He has helped so many people through the years."

In addition to the family records, Blaylock has collected and recorded church histories of many of the Primitive Baptist churches. Both he and his wife are Primitive Baptists.

In talking about his years as Register of Deeds and his life in Caswell, Blaylock feels that it has been good. "When I grew up and came before people for office they were wonderful in electing me. They permitted me to work there 42 years without anyone running against me. Caswell County has and is full of warm-hearted people. I'm just thankful to the Lord for letting me live this long.

Williams, Dale. "Burch," The County Magazine, May-June 1984. Courtesy Frank G. Carter, Jr.
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I do not know for sure whether Burch Blaylock had an opponent in his first bid to become Caswell County Register of Deeds, the 1934 general election (held November 6, 1934). However I do recall him saying after retirement that the people of Caswell County were wonderful in electing him and permitting him to hold office for 42 years "without opposition." Of course, one could argue that statement may not address his first election in 1934. So, let's take a look back.

The 1934 election was an off-year one (not a Presidential election). Franklin D. Roosevelt was in his second year, having been elected in 1932. Democrats built on their successes in the previous two elections, and the Democrats were solidly in control in Caswell County, as they were throughout North Carolina politics.

When Blaylock won in 1934, the outgoing Register of Deeds was Henry Stephen Turner, who had held the position for thirteen years. Even though a Republican had been in the White House during most of Turner's years as Caswell County Register of Deeds, Turner must have been a Democrat to have survived so long in Caswell County. When Turner last was elected, in 1930, Caswell County voted 71.3% in favor of the Democratic candidate for the US House of Representatives. And, of course, the NC governor was a Democrat.

So, Turner was a Democrat, and Blaylock was a Democrat. If Turner did indeed seek re-election, what procedure is there when two people of the same party are after the same office? Answer: primary election. And, the North Carolina Democratic primary elections were held June 2, 1934. I believe it would have been here that Blaylock ran against Turner and won. Then, in the general election the Republicans offered no candidate for Caswell County Register of Deeds. Thus, it is possible (and likely) that as far as the election that actually chose the Caswell County Register of Deeds, Burch Blaylock never had an opponent.

Footnote: the 1934 Democratic Party primary elections were so close with respect to County Commissioners and Superior Court Clerk that a run-off election was required June 30. James Gatewood and H. R. Thompson were running for the clerkship; and Cary Howard King, George Oliver, E. W. Carter, J. D. Norton, W. P. Aldridge, and John Newman were chasing three open commissioner seats. I do not know who won the commissioners race, but H. Ralston Thompson became the Superior Court Clerk.

In 1985, Mary Gordon Blaylock, second wife of John Burch Blaylock stated: "In 1934 Burch campaigned for the office of Register of Deeds and won the election. Thereafter he never had an opponent to run against him."

John Burch Blaylock retired in 1976, after serving as Caswell County Register of Deeds for 42 years. In 1976, he was 67 years old. As the Register of Deeds served a four-year term, he served 10.5 terms, and in 1976 would have been in the middle of a term. Had he reached mandatory retirement age?

"In the local primary for registrar of deeds, a post to be vacated by the retirement of J. B. Blalock after over 40 years in the office, Blalock's assistant Mrs. Mary Lee Carter won the Democratic nonimation with 1,965 votes. Buddy J. Terrell, a businessman, finished second behind Mrs. Carter with only 719 votes, followed by Jo Ann Upchurch, 218; Andy Pleasant, 140; and Carlton Kimbro, 66."

The Danville Register (Danville, Virginia), 18 August 1976, Wednesday, Page 7.
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Note: The Blalock/Blaylock family has not agreed on the spelling of their common surname. Most of the Blalock/Blaylock descendants use the Blalock spelling. Why John Burch chose to use Blaylock is unknown. However, because he was both a genealogist and historian without equal, his decision to use Blaylock should be carefully examined.

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