Monday, April 29, 2013

Is Estate Sale Photo A Relative?

I'm not in the habit of going to estate sales, but I recently passed one near my daughter's school and decided to check it out. There happened to be a handful of cabinet cards and a few other old photographs. Naturally, I looked through them. “Kalamazoo,” I exclaimed in surprise when among the photos taken in Nashville and Kentucky I found one by photographer L.C. Abbey. How it ended up here in Tennessee I'll never know. There was no question that I would purchase it because it was far from home, but little did I expect the story would go any further than that. Here's the photo I found.

I didn't really look at the photo carefully until after I reached home. When I did I immediately thought it resembled my great-grandmother's brother-in-law, Frederick Karl Allion (1858-1929). So, just for fun, I turned on the computer to compare my estate sale find with my known photos of Fred Allion. Here is the one that made my jaw drop.

Just so you don't think this is an aberration, here is another photo I have of Fred.

Nellie, Emma and Fred Allion circa 1895, probably shortly before the girls were put in the Kalamazoo Children's Home.

The back of the photo showed a nice little scene of Abbey's storefront.

Based on the address, the photo I rescued was probably taken sometime between 1887 and 1899, the time period I know Abbey was in business at 303 E. Main St. (from Kalamazoo city directories). It is possible the photograph was taken as late as 1904 when Abbey died, but I don't have access to the right city directories to determine when he stopped working or to indicate how late his studio was at 303 E. Main.

Fred Allion lived in Kalamazoo from at least 1893-1895, according to city directories and the 1894 census. If my estate sale photo had been in my Taylor album, where I found yet another photo of Fred and his wife, I would not hesitate to identify it is Fred Allion. But, since I found it here in Tennessee, though it looks like it could be an identical twin of Fred, I am reluctant to conclude that it's him.  I also can't imagine how a photo of him made it down here when the Allions and the Taylors (he married Nettie Taylor) lived in Ohio and Michigan (I haven't found them anywhere else). 

I'm curious what you think. Is this the same man?

To read about my attempts to follow up with the family and identify a connection see Estate Sale Photo Update.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Were Your Ancestors Boring?

I just read the book “Fancy Nancy: My Family History” to my daughter. Nancy needs to write a report on one of her ancestors, but when she learns that her great-grandfather's life wasn't exactly exciting she embellishes her story. She later realizes that she needs to be truthful and in the end she is happy presenting an unvarnished account of his life.

(Is this a boring ancestor? Possibly. Unlabeled photo in the author's collection.)

I suspect that some people start looking into their family history with the hope of discovering a cousin among the famous. That was never my goal. I simply wanted to know more about what I've come to think of as “my people.” That's fortunate because as far as I have determined I'm not related to anyone famous. One story in my family says that we are related to Samuel Clemens, via our Richard Clemens (~1796-1870), but so far, I have failed to find a connection. Another story says that our Bongey line left France to avoid losing their heads, but I have yet to trace them across the pond. I can say that my Goff/Goffe line goes back to New Hampshire (apparently, I still have some things to confirm) where four generations of Goffs served in the military from before the Revolution through the war of 1812. That was the best I could do for my brother who asked, “Was there anyone who wasn't just a poor dirt farmer?”

So, do I think my ancestors, who generally lived under the radar, were boring? No. Perhaps people who are looking for adventurers or celebrities might think so, but in my opinion anyone who thinks learning about their relatives' lives is boring either hasn't looked very hard or lacks imagination. If all you know about a particular person is when they were born, married or died, then yes, that is uninteresting. But if you add in things like having a parent die young, having several kids who died as children, having a military man in the family, moving frequently, etc. then you are starting to assemble the building blocks of a story. If you have any court records, divorce records or newspaper accounts then you are ready to start weaving the threads together. In the process of researching one person you will naturally run across other kin and might encounter someone a little more colorful, like when I stumbled across the bigamist in my tree.

While some people might consider most of my ancestors boring, I don't. I have found many interesting stories among my ordinary kin. It gives me hope that someday after I'm gone, someone might be interested in learning more about my white bread life.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Finding Landless Ancestors With Maps

For those of you who haven't seen elsewhere that in honor of National Library Week, ProQuest is making its Historic MapWorks Library Edition available from your home computer (through April 20). I saw it thanks to Family Tree Magazine's post on Facebook (you can click to the ProQuest page from there). The first thing I did was to start downloading township maps where my people had land. This took quite a bit of time because the images were quite large (often 20 MB or more). I didn't mind because the high quality maps were worth it. Although there were no maps for some counties or time periods I was interested in, I was happy to find some that I didn't already have.

Now that I have most of my landed folk from the available maps, it's time to turn to my renters in the last couple of days of access. First, I'll look for my families' neighbors (the ones who owned land, anyway) in the census. Then if I can to locate them on one of these maps I may have found the general place where my people lived. I imagine my kin rented from one of their neighbors.

You may wonder why I am interested in having a map that doesn't show my ancestors' homesteads. Well, the short answer is that I like maps. The long answer is that they can still tell me something about the world my relatives inhabited. Did they live in a very rural area or were they near a town? Were there lakes or rivers nearby? Were the farms large or small (how many neighbors did they have)? Looking at the neighbors, are there any familiar surnames? The 1890 Oshtemo township map showed me how my great-grandparents likely met; they lived just down the road from each other.

Well, it's time for me to get back to the maps. Only time will tell what else I might find.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

On Rounds With A Census Taker: 1910

If you've ever looked at a census record you may have wondered exactly what a typical day making rounds was like. One Kalamazoo Telegraph reporter happened to be friends with an census taker and reportedly spent a morning with him. The unnamed enumerator was one of twenty-six who began canvassing Kalamazoo city in mid-April, 1910. [1] The census taker brought with him a badge provided by the U.S. government that he could keep when he had completed his duties. [1] In addition, each carried a parchment stating that the U.S. Government gave him/her the authority to enumerate the population. [2] Among his instructions, the supervisor told his staff to “listen closely when people talk.” Armed with their census books and full fountain pens they set off. [2]

Photo (from the Kalamazoo Evening Telegraph, source 1) presented with permission of the Kalamazoo Public Library.

No one was home at the first door they approached so the enumerator left a census schedule behind. He hoped they would have it filled out when he returned with his supplemental schedule (for any household not enumerated on the first attempt). [2] According to the reporter, an old man, Michael Flynn, came out and informed them the family was away for a few days. [2] He said he lived alone upstairs in the barn where he kept his shop. [2] Flynn continued, “When we came over from County Cork there were five of us. Soon the first two children died. Nora, my wife, went eight years ago too, and now all I have is my boy Terence. He lives in Chicago.” All the while, the enumerator scribbled everything onto his form. “'How old are you?' he asked. 'Let me see,' pondered Flynn. 'I was naturalized in '70 and then I was 34 years old. That makes--' But the enumerator already had him down as 74, widowed, blank under number of years married, three children born and one living, born in Ireland, father and mother both born in Ireland, immigrated in 1861, naturalized, speaks English, mechanic at odd jobs, working on own account, able to read and write, rents home, veteran of the union army, and possessed of his faculties of seeing and hearing.” [3]

During the course of the morning they found numerous people away from home. When wives couldn't recall their husband's ages more second visits would be required. Two traveling men, however, were enumerated from information provided by family members. “It is possible I am duplicating enumerators in other cities with these two men. . . We take in all hotels. But nearly every traveling man who has a home will tell an enumerator so and thus be left out of the enumeration in the city in which he happens to be visiting. The home is the only basis for accuracy,” explained the census man. [3]

At one neat, little house they came upon a woman who evidently hailed from the Netherlands. She feigned ignorance of English, but when it became clear to her that neither taxes nor money was wanted she “suddenly developed a very good knowledge of the English language. She poured forth the desired information so rapidly that Uncle Sam's census taker had to sling ink at lightning speed to keep up with her flow of talk.” [3]

At another house, a Polish woman really didn't understand English. Fortunately, the census taker was prepared, and displayed his proclamation printed in Polish. The woman then brought her daughter from within to translate. [3] One stubborn Polish man refused to answer any questions, only responding “to he--” with the police and the government, even when threatened with fines and imprisonment. [4] The area supervisor would have to try wringing the information from him. [4]

According to the reporter, 74 people in 40 households were enumerated during the course of the morning. [3] “At that rate I'll finish my district in a little over a week. I only have about 12,000 names to get,” the enumerator told his friend. [3]

I was curious to see if I could find the mentioned Michael Flynn in the 1910 census to see where in the city the Telegraph reporter had been. Imagine my surprise when I found no such person in Kalamazoo county when I searched both and Perhaps, I thought, his name was mangled so that it didn't turn up. I tried eliminating his given name, expanded the birth range and didn't bother to include his birth location. I looked in the 1900 census as well and didn't find anything there either. The closest I came was a Michael Madigan of the right approximate age, birthplace, marital status and with one son living with him. Did the reporter change the name to “Michael Flynn” to protect the man's privacy? I have no idea. Now I don't know how much I can trust the article. If the rest is fairly accurate then it gives us a glimpse into how census data about our relatives was collected and that it wasn't strictly a Q&A session.

  1. “Kalamazoo Census Takers Start Out,” Kalamazoo [Mich.] Evening Telegraph, 15 April 1910, page 1, column 2, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 30 March 2013), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  2. Kalamazoo Evening Telegraph, 15 April 1910, page 14, column 3.
  3. Kalamazoo Evening Telegraph, 15 April 1910, page 14, column 4.
  4. “Kazoo Census Will Be Shy One Stubborn Pole,” Kalamazoo [Mich.] Evening Telegraph, 30 April 1910, page 1, column 3, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 30 March 2013), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

KVGS Adds New Collections

I'm pleased to announce that the Kalamazoo Valley Genealogical Society had added four new collections to their online database. Without further ado they are:

The Schoolcraft Express Obituaries, 1917-1972: These records come from a book held at the Kalamazoo Public Library (KPL) in which someone (or many someones, I imagine) typed up obituaries from the Schoolcraft Express. Thanks to the KVGS even those who cannot visit the KPL now have access to these records. The KVGS website notes that maiden names were included in the First Name search field so keep this in mind. Also be aware that obituaries for 1925 are missing. The page images are available through the website

Parsons' Business College, Class of 1901: These names come from a Photograph of the graduating class. The actual photograph is not on the KVGS website (that I noticed).

Applications for Veterans Burial Allotment: These applications were for “indigent,” honorably discharged military personnel (and their wives or widows) who had few assets to receive funds for their burials. This was a state program enacted in 1911 and amended as late as 1943, though I'm not certain of the exact year range of these records. The images are not available on the website. To learn more about these records I highly recommend you read the entry on the KVGS website.

Kalamazoo Columbian House, 1893 Chicago Exposition: So many people were expected to attend the 1893 Chicago World's Fair that more hotel space was needed to accommodate everyone. Several Kalamazoo businessmen came together to build a hotel for people from southwest Michigan (The Kalamazoo Columbian Home). Click here to learn more, including the names of those behind the project. These records contain the names of those who stayed at the hotel during the fair. Click on “Register Page” to view the images.

According to the KVGS website, the society is also working on indexing 1919 Kalamazoo county military naturalizations, 1847 Kalamazoo county militia tax (young men, non-head of household and non-property owners) and Kalamazoo's First Congregational Church, 1901.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Saturday Night Fun: Where I'm From

I am from a musical city, from Gibson Guitars and caroling bells.
I am from the red brick Craftsman perched on a wooded hill (with the best trick-or-treating neighborhood ever).
I am from the towering trees that assuaged the unhappiness, the rustling leaves who were my friends.

I am from a family that always gathered for Sunday dinner and from the woman who glued us together, from Kopp and Hartman and Taylor.
I am from gardeners who poured over seed catalogs as blizzards howled to hunters of morels and petosky stones in the solitude of the northern woods. 

From “a penny saved is a penny earned” and “try, try again.”
I am from those who believed in something greater than themselves, and lived the Golden Rule.
I'm from Kalamazoo and further back from Germany, Ireland, France perhaps, did I mention Germany and who knows where.

From the family rescued from the roof while the flood stole their piano, the children who gathered coal and asparagus along the train tracks to keep the family warm and fed, and the family shattered when their sister was slain on Christmas while wrapping her children's gifts.

I am from the memories secured in a big paper box, the ledgers, the album of nameless faces, the strength of women raising children alone, striving to feed them while hoping to protect them from life's uncertainties. I have inherited it all, tangible and otherwise.

This topic was suggested by Randy Seaver over at Genea-Musings.  To write your own poem start with the template found here.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Early MI Census Surprises

I just checked back at Seeking Michigan to see if they had added any more early Michigan Census images to their site since my previous and they had. I searched for “Smith” in the collection and found a few surprises. But wait. . . before you start doing your happy dance, like I did, let me temper your enthusiasm. In many cases you will not be able to compare the people in your family tree with a bunch of age check marks. Although the forms used in many cases were the lovely census forms I described in my previous post (More MI Census) the enumerators ignored all of those columns and simply listed the names (it appears) of men over 21. Some of the records for Washtenaw county are poor (the right portion of the image is very dark so you may not be able to find your people even if they are there). Most other images I looked at were fairly good, however.

These records come from the holdings of both the Library of Michigan, and the Archives of Michigan.

Here are the records that have been added since I posted about this earlier in the week and the type of information you can expect to find. If I don't include a note after the record available it means that the census form was used as intended. It is possible that more counties and years are represented in this database, but this is what I found in my search for “Smith.” I'm not sure how common this name was throughout the state, but there were a lot of Smiths in Eaton county. As of April 4, here are all of the early census records available at Seeking Michigan.

Branch, 1854, 1874 (Industry schedule that lists names and occupations of men over 21)

Clinton, 1864

Eaton, 1845, 1854, 1874 (Heads of households or men over 21 [not sure which] & occupations)

Houghton, 1864, 1874 (Heads of households or men over 21 [not sure which] & occupations)

Kalamazoo, 1874 (Heads of households or men over 21 [not sure which] & occupations)

Lenawee, 1845

Sanilac, 1864

St. Joseph, 1845

Washtenaw, 1827 (in some, but not all, cases the column headings were missing, so look for images from the same year), 1845 (Names of white males over 21), 1854 (Names of males over 21)

It looks like some of these records, 1874 for at least some counties and perhaps other years as well, may have been transcribed from another record or list. While examining an 1874 record for Houghton county I noticed that each name was numbered, but the first name on the page was not number one. Then mid-way down the page I saw “P16” and the numbers started from one. I can't think of a simpler explanation than that this list was compiled from another record, though don't quote me on that.

When you begin looking for your kin, remember that Seeking Michigan does not do fuzzy searches. Only exact matches will turn up. So, be prepared to search by first name and county if at first you don't find what you are expecting. That's what I had to do, but it paid off. Now, if only I could go back in time to give those enumerators a piece of my mind.

Monday, April 1, 2013

More MI Census Images at Seeking Michigan

I'm happy to report that Seeking Michigan is slowly adding images for more Michigan state census records dating between 1827 and 1874. Since late January only the 1845 St. Joseph county images have been available, but records for Clinton and Eaton counties are now online as well. If they add all of the census images available at the Library of Michigan here is what we can look forward to:

Branch 1854 (incomplete), 1874 (index only)

Clinton 1864

Eaton 1845 (abstract), 1854 (index only)

Houghton 1864, 1874

Kalamazoo 1837 (abstract), 1874

Lenawee 1845

Oakland 1845 (abstract)

St. Clair 1845

St. Joseph 1845

Van Buren 1845

Washtenaw 1827, 1834, 1845

According to the Library of Michigan (LoM) website “abstract” means that the copy in the LoM was transcribed from the original source. The term “index only” means that the LoM has an index, but not the actual record. I find this somewhat puzzling because the images for Eaton county for both 1845 and 1854 are now online at SeekingMichigan. This begs the question whether the information from the abstract/index was copied back onto census forms prior to uploading (which seems unlikely to me) or whether the actual records were somehow acquired. Either way, the images are available and everyone will have to determine how much weight to put on the information contained therein.

Keep in mind that these are early census records and therefore don't have as much information as later ones. The 1845 records include the name of the head of household, the number of white males over 21 as well as their names. Ages for all whites in the household are indicated by check marks. There are also columns to note colored persons, indians taxed, persons deaf and dumb or insane.

The form for 1854 and 1864 provides slightly more information. It lists the name of the head of family and those over 21, the occupation of those over 21 and ages of everyone in the household (check marks). There are also columns to note the number of married/unmarried people of each sex, and to indicate blind, deaf and dumb, insane or idiotic and colored persons. The number of marriages and deaths in the preceding year are also noted so don't overlook them.