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Reunion traces hundreds of years of Geer family history

Ledyard — A Geer by any other name — Gear, Gere, Geere, and all the married names that have replaced it along the way — is still part of the family.

About 40 descendants of George and Thomas Geer, brothers who arrived in the U.S. from England in 1638, convened on Ledyard Congregational Church on Friday to kick off the first day of the triennial reunion of the Geer Family Association. The gathering alternates between Ledyard, where George settled, and other locations around the country with a large population of Geers, such as Minnesota and North Carolina.

As Friday afternoon’s festivities indicated, there is no shortage of them. George Geer alone had 11 kids and 62 grandkids and is the direct ancestor of most people in the U.S. with the last name Geer and its variations. Many reunion attendees this year were 10th-generation descendants, coming from as close as across town to as far away as California, Texas and Nebraska, among other states.

In addition to the association’s genealogical records and reunion archive, family members brought old memorabilia to share, from historical photos of ancestors to artifacts made by Geer-owned businesses. Some also made science fair-style posterboards detailing their segment of the family.

Secretary Audrey Geer Masalehdan, who lives in Pittsburgh, shared some research she conducted on her Geer lineage while looking up an ancestor’s burial site to submit to the Daughters of the American Revolution. She said she still hasn’t figured out where he is, but along the way she was able to trace the family’s migration from Connecticut to New York and Pennsylvania in the early 19th century.

“When you do it this way, all the people come alive to you. You see all this interaction and all the things that affected them,” she said. “It’s not just names, it’s love and life and tragedy and all those things. It’s family.”

She noted that historical families like the Geers often intermarried, with cousins marrying cousins and siblings marrying siblings of other historical families.

Scott Bill Hirst of Ashaway, R.I., said he was a Geer twice on his mother’s side and also has connections to New London County families, such as the Averys and Bills. He said he enjoys genealogy work and digging for famous connections to the family. The late Warner Brothers animator Hal Geer and champion lumberjack Dave Geer, who later ran Geer’s Tree Farm in Griswold, are both in the family tree, as is actor Richard Gere, though Gere has never attended a reunion. Several Geers also have held state office in Connecticut and beyond.

Association historian Ginger August, who lives in Princeton, N.J., said the reunion organizers often host field trips to local historical sites as part of the weekend’s activities. For part two of the reunion, Saturday afternoon’s agenda features a tour of family sites including the Geer Hill School, the “everbearing” spring on George Geer’s original property in town off Colonel Ledyard Highway, and cemeteries in Ledyard and Griswold containing members of the family; president Ken Geer, a Ledyard resident, noted that the town has more than 100 family cemeteries, and most of them have at least one Geer buried there.

This year, the tour includes for the first time a visit to the Allyn cemetery, which is on the Allyn Point Plant property in Gales Ferry. Ken Geer said Robert Allyn, buried at Allyn Point, came with George Geer to Connecticut from Massachusetts, and his daughter Sarah later married George. Thus, he shares a seventh- or eighth-great-grandfather with Ledyard Mayor Fred Allyn III, who was planning on attending that part of the cemetery tour Saturday.

And in one case, a Geer made family connections overseas. George Gilbert Geer, who lives in Derby and has presented at previous reunions on Geers in the Civil War, gave a presentation on his uncle Gilbert Geer, who served in World War II. “Uncle Gil,” as he called him, was killed in a tank ambush in 1945 and buried in a cemetery in the Netherlands for American war victims, and in 2015 George received a letter from a man whose family had taken care of his uncle’s grave at the cemetery. They’ve been pen pals and Facebook friends ever since.

For more information on the Geer Family Association, visit geerfamily.org.

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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