Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Michigan Probate Records

Family Search now has probate records (various years) for 67 of Michigan's counties.  Kalamazoo and several of the surrounding counties are included. 

For Kalamazoo you'll find:
 probate calendar index, 1833-1940
 probate calendar, 1875-1907
 probate of wills, 1856-1916
 probates index, 1833-1889
 settlement of accounts, 1887-1907

While you won't find probate packets here, there are several indexes so this is a great starting point.  

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Burdick Burns And Deja Vu

On the night of March 7, 1907, smoke began to fill the Star Bargain House next to the Burdick Hotel. Once noticed by a chef at the Empire restaurant next door, the alarm was raised and every fire company in the city was eventually on site to battle the blaze. [1] For a long time the thick, black smoke prevented the firemen getting more than two feet into the building which greatly hampered efforts to douse the fire at its source. [1] Fears were great that the fire would spread to the Burdick. This was more than a passing concern as many walls had been torn down for renovating the hotel and the nearly completed Arcade (a stretch of interior shops), which separated the Burdick from the Star Bargain House. [1] If the fire managed to reach the Arcade it would create a tremendous draft that would span the entire block. In that case, the whole block could be consumed.

The staff and about 25 guests of the Burdick were asked to vacate their rooms as the inky smoke quickly filled the halls and billowed out of windows. [1] On the street, the guests joined thousands of onlookers who had gathered to watch the excitement. [1] Apparently, the smoke that blanketed the area wasn't enough to keep them far away. In fact, the fire was actually a boon to nearby businesses that sold refreshments to the throng. [1]

Fortunately in 1907, local firefighters succeeded in controlling the fire in about 2.5 worry-filled hours without the assistance of Battle Creek crews (who were on notice). [1] In another couple of hours the fire was out, though a hose was kept on the smoldering remains until morning. [1] Though the Star Bargain House was nearly a total loss and the Burdick Hotel suffered much smoke damage, no lives were lost and hotel guests were soon able to retrieve their belongings. [1] In total, losses were estimated at about $55,000. [1]

Both businesses made comebacks. The Star Bargain re-filled with goods. The Burdick renovated (again) and the Arcade was redone in grand style. Now, in December 1909, the Arcade was nearly completed with its businesses planning their grand openings. It would be a great addition to the hotel and the city. Things looked bright for this block of Main Street.

Then about ten o'clock at night on December 8, 1909 it seemed like deja vu. Just as in 1907, smoke filled the Star Bargain House, and again the cause was believed to be faulty wiring. [1,2] This time, a night watchman discovered clouds of smoke in the basement and had difficulty finding his way back out through the blackness to sound the alarm. [3] Again, all Kalamazoo's fire crews sped to the site and both Grand Rapids and Battle Creek fire departments were put on notice. [2]

Considering that in 1907 everything had turned out alright (no lives lost and most damage being cosmetic) it wouldn't be terribly surprising if everyone had the thought in their heads that this time would turn out the same as before. Last time they extinguished the fire without assistance from other cities. [1] No buildings had actually been destroyed, though goods had been lost and damaged. [1] But surely, if they could save the Burdick once, they could do so again.

Only this time was different. The firefighters suffered from low water pressure. [2] The largest fire engine was in the shop being repaired. [2] The wind was blowing in just the wrong way. [2] The temperature was below zero. [2] And then, this time, the fire reached the Arcade. [2] With the perfect source of oxygen to fuel the flames, the result was almost a foregone conclusion. This time there was no hope of saving the Burdick Hotel. 

In Burdick Hotel Heroine you can read about how one of my relatives played a role in evacuating the Burdick.
To see a photograph of the Arcade and learn more about the hotel read the article on the Kalamazoo Public Library website.

  1. “Firemen Control Fire; Avert A Conflagration,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 8 March 1907, page 3, column 1-5, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 7 December 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  2. “Loss Near $500,000; Hotel May Rebuild: Burdick Destroyed; Whole Block Is Gutted By Flames,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 9 December 1909, page 1, column 1-5, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 15 January 2013), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  3. “Night Watchman Owens Risks His Life For Duty,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 9 December 1909, page 6, column 1, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 15 January 2013), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A WWI Bravery Citation

In honor of Veteran's Day, I thought I would write about my great-grandmother's brother, Wilbur Flynn, who received a citation for bravery and devotion to duty. I wouldn't know anything about it except for a clipping from the Kalamazoo Gazette. The article said that risking his own life, Wilbur Flynn pulled Colonel Bertram Tracy Clayton from a wrecked building during a German air raid in World War I. [1] I was curious to learn more.

I began my search with Colonel Clayton. He served in the military for many years and when the United States entered World War I in 1917, Clayton was transferred to New York to be the second in command of the transport service. Dissatisfied, he requested to be sent to France to serve his country alongside the troops. [2] Clayton left for Europe in the fall of 1917 and served as the quartermaster of the U.S. First Division in France. [3]

American troops were sent to Europe in mid-1917, but no one was sure if the Doughboys could hold their own. It wasn't until the spring of 1918 that the Americans had a chance to really prove themselves. On May 27, 1918, the Germans began another offensive, thrusting through the Allied lines by about a dozen miles in the Somme region north of Paris. In the process the Germans demolished four French divisions. The following day, the Americans achieved a victory by retaking the town of Cantigny.

Now that the Americans were in front line trenches, it became problematic to keep them supplied. Colonel Clayton and three colleagues were in a brick villa just south of Cantigny discussing ways to transport drinking water to the troops when a German air raid began. [4] The bomb destroyed the portion of the villa where Clayton was meeting. [4] It was then that Flynn “displayed great coolness and good judgment in rescuing at the risk of his own life, Colonel Bertram Clayton. . . about May 28, 1918.” [1] I was grieved to learn that despite Flynn's efforts, Clayton died. According to the Arlington National Cemetery website, he was killed in action on May 30, 1918. [5]

In all of my searching I found nothing to tell me more about Wilbur Flynn in connection with Col. Clayton. Even though Flynn was unable to save Clayton's life, I'm proud that he tried. I'm also glad that I can publicize Flynn's effort, even though Clayton's family will probably never know.

  1. “Former Kazoo County Veteran Soldier Honored For Brave Act In France,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Gazette, 27 July 1921, page unknown. Clipping pasted into Clark, Mrs. O.H. An Honor Roll: Containing a Pictorial Record of the War Service of the Men and Women of Kalamazoo County, 1917-1918-1919. (Kalamazoo, Michigan, about 1920), p. 1031.
  2. “Col. B.T. Clayton Killed Tuesday In France By An Enemy Air Bomb,” The Montgomery [Montgomery, Alabama] Advertiser, 5 June 1918, Page 1, column 2, digital images, The University of Alabama Libraries (http://purl.lib.ua.edu/90748: accessed 10 Nov 2014).
  1. Biographical Directory of the United States Congress http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=C000492
  2. Fiftieth Annual Report of the Association of Graduates of the United States Military Academy. Seemann & Peters, Inc. Saginaw, Michigan, 1919, p. 51.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Lessons Along The Source Road

All this year I've been working to source my family tree. Progress is slow due to insufficient time, but I'm happy to report that adding source citations is now second nature so I'm no longer intimidated by the process. However, I'll admit I am still intimidated by the size of the remaining task. I'll just take it in baby steps and not worry about how long it takes.

At this point I have added source citations for all of the easy sources (vitals, census and a few others depending on the person) for my direct ancestors. Whenever there was a record I hadn't tracked down, I looked again at Family Search to see if I might get lucky. In three cases, I did find old Ohio marriages that must have been added recently, because I know I've looked for them before. That made my day and just goes to show that sometimes it does pay to look again. I still have sources to add, such as plat maps, city directories (which will be a big project in itself) and less common items, but I want to continue with the low hanging fruit for some of the extended family members. Now I am branching out to the siblings of my ancestors. I know it will take a while, but I suspect I'll find something I hadn't notice before.

Another good thing about systematically going through my records is that I am actually using the “To Do” function in Roots Magic to add things I want to look for. This has already proved useful. A few months ago I had to make an unexpected trip to Kalamazoo and had the presence of mind to print my Kazoo list before I left, “just in case.” As it turned out, I had most of a day free and was able to look for some obituaries at the new WMU Archives. If I hadn't been using the To Do function there is no way I could have come up with so much on such short notice.

Although I know it will take me a really long time to finish (if I actually ever will finish, because there is always some obscure source to add for somebody) I feel better about the whole process. I have learned 1) adding sources is not so hard after all, 2) it gives me the opportunity to look for missing records again (and with Family Search adding more records all the time, you never know when you'll get lucky), 3) I can work on the To Do list so I can hunt for more things to source and 4) I no longer feel guilty that I don't have proper sources.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Photo Of Great-Great Granny?

We are very lucky to have quite a few photos from my Flynn family. Some were in the bible that belonged to my gg-grandfather, Edward Flynn and some belonged to his daughter. Having scanned them all into my computer, I sometimes go through the files, studying them. The first thing I noticed was that most of Edward's daughters have round faces, as you can see in the labeled and dated photos of Cora and Elsie.

I also noticed that a photo from an earlier generation, a carte de visite (CDV), also featured a woman with a round face.

This photo is labeled “lissie.” I now think that this could be a photo of Edward's wife and Cora's and Elsie's mother. Her name was Sarah Elizabeth (Clemens) Flynn. I know that she went by Lizzie from newspaper accounts of her. [1-4] Looking through my newspaper accounts to find sources for “Lizzie” I actually one that refers to her as “Lissie.” [5]

I had noticed “lissie's” round face before, but I suppose I was prejudiced against this being my Lizzie because the pulled back hair and the large dress made me assume this was an older woman. While it is difficult to accurately judge the age of the woman in the photo, I can at least narrow down when the photo was taken. CDVs were popular during the 1860s and as far as I can tell, and admitting I'm no expert, the hairstyle, dress and sleeve style are appropriate to the time period of the photo and the album (1860s). [6] Lizzie and Edward married in 1866 after he returned from serving in the Civil War and we think the bible may have been a wedding present.

I now feel pretty confident in supposing that “lissie” is, in fact, my Lizzie. Thinking about the round face, I remembered another photo also in the bible along with the “lissie” photo of another woman with a round face.

This photo was labeled “aunt sarah.” It just so happened that Lizzie had an Aunt Sarah, her father's sister, Sarah (Clemens) Imhoff. This woman looks older than Lizzie and the photo seems to be from the same period as the “lissie” photo, and actually all of the photos in the album (all CDVs and no photos clearly from a later period). If that is correct then it would seem that the round face seen in Edward and Lizzie's daughters could have come from the Clemens side of the family.

  1. “Oshtemo,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 27 February 1902, page 4, column 6, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 26 June 2012), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  2. “Oshtemo,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 6 March 1902, page 4, column 7, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 26 June 2012), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  3. “To Mrs. Schmidt and Family, In Memory of Freda,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 5 October 1905, page 11, column 4, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 26 June 2012), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  4. “Wedding At Oshtemo,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 8 July 1907, page 7, column 5, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 26 June 2012), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  5. “Oshtemo,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 17 October 1901, page 4, column 5, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 26 June 2012), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  6. Joan Severa, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans & Fashion, 1840-1900, (Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press,1995), p. 194-197, 259.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Would You Like Eggs With That?

I think I now understand why eggs became a part of the traditional American breakfast. Now that we have chickens and they have matured enough to begin laying, not a day has gone by that there hasn't been at least one egg in the nesting boxes. We've been getting eggs for about a month now and “the girls” have been producing 4-5 eggs per day for the last week. I expect it won't be long before we'll be getting a half dozen each day, one from each hen.

One of our first eggs.

The eggs are beginning to pile up, despite making my own spƤtzle (a type of eggy German pasta), fried egg sandwiches, omelets, quiche, fried eggs on potato pancakes (I had to use up the potatoes from the garden) and even grilled cheese sandwiches with an egg on the side. What I'm trying to say is that if you have chickens, even just a few, you will quickly be overwhelmed by eggs. The only solution is to eat them, sell them or both.

A couple of double-yolkers.  Not pictured, the green beans from the garden.

I don't know about you, but most of my ancestors were farmers. Those that had enough land to appear in the agricultural census left us records of how many chickens they had and how many dozen eggs they produced in the year. Those that had less land probably still had chickens because they are easy to raise (after the initial setup) and eat garden scraps. Now when I have watermelon rinds, grapes with a couple of bug holes or split tomatoes that I don't have time to do anything with I give them to the girls and they are happy to convert them into fresh eggs. Because of this, I would be surprised if any of my ancestors not living in the city didn't have at least a few chickens. And did I mention that when you have chickens you get eggs? And when you have eggs, you have breakfast. . . and lunch. . . and dinner.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Michigan Soldier's Home

If you have soldiers who lived in Michigan in your family tree it's possible they ended up in the Old Soldier's Home in Grand Rapids at one point or another. So far, I have found three people from my tree in the database. Some soldiers died in the home and some resided there for a while and then left. One of my soldiers was in and out of the home several times. Widows of soldiers could also apply for admission. It was not necessary that a soldier served from the state of Michigan, only that he lived in the state.

It's easy to determine if one of your people spent time in the Soldier's Home with the free Veterans database  provided by the West Michigan Genealogical Society (WMGS). You can also check the Find A Grave site to see if one of your men was buried in the Soldier's Home cemetery

I first became aware of the Soldier's Home through a newspaper account. My gg-grandmother's brother, Solon Lane, walked to Kalamazoo from Van Buren county after quarreling with his girlfriend. His sister wouldn't admit him to her home so the proprietor of the Columbia House took him in for the night. Lane said he would walk to Hastings where he had friends. [1] Upon reaching Hastings, Solon Lane appeared before the probate judge bearing his honorable discharge certificate from his Civil War service and wearing his tattered army jacket. He asked to be sent to the Soldier's Home. The papers were summarily filled out and Lane was put aboard a train for Grand Rapids. He reportedly said “that at last his request to be 'buried alongside the old boys' when he died would be granted.” [2]

If you are fortunate enough to find one of your people in the Soldier's Home database you can order their records with a few clicks. The search results screen indicates how many pages long the file is and the price (ranging from about a $1/page for short files (5-7 pages) up to about $0.60/page for longer files (about 30 pages)). A WMGS member will copy the record and send it to you.

I requested the file for Solon Lane to see what I could learn about him. I already knew quite a bit about Solon from his Civil War Pension application file (Why EveryoneShould Use Military Pension Files), for instance, that he was an unapologetic bigamist having married four women without ever obtaining a divorce. But I digress. The papers in Solon's file (12 pages) consisted of his initial application for admission to the home as well as several applications for re-admission. The re-admission pages had little more information than the dates of admission and discharge. The initial application had a bit more information, including date/place of enlistment and discharge and the unit in which he served, place of birth, occupation, marital status, physical description, any disabilities and whether the person could read and write. In addition, if the person was receiving a military pension it provided the certificate number and if the soldier hadn't served with a Michigan military unit, how long he had resided in the state. Depending on what you already know you may learn something new, or at least be able to piece together a bit more of your person's whereabouts.

As far as I am aware, the Grand Rapids facility was the only Soldier's Home located in Michigan, but some states had more than one. Even if your man wasn't in the Michigan Soldier's home, it is worth checking a database at Ancestry.com, U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938.
This database includes information cards for twelve homes over various years. I found two of my people here, one was Solon Lane and another was one of my veterans who I hadn't realized ever lived in Illinois (and yes, I'm sure it's him).

  1. “Aged Man Barred From Home In City,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Gazette, 22 December 1908, page 1, column 4, digital images, GenealogyBank (http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/: accessed 5 September 2011), Kalamazoo Gazette Collection (Newspaper Archives).
  2. “Old Soldier Sure Of Home For Life Time,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 28 December 1908, page 10, column 4, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 26 June 2012), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What To Do About Pension Citations

I have copies from fourteen Civil War pension application files. They are a great source of information that may be found no where else. See One Widow's Plight and Why Everyone Should Use Pension Application Files to see examples of what you might find. Now that I am trying to do a better job of citing my sources in my genealogy program I have worked through the easy records for my direct ancestors (i.e. census and vital records, etc.), but there are a lot of things in the pension files that I really need to cite. But there begins the problem. I could cite the entire file, for example:

Lawrence H. Flynn (Cpl., Co. M, 1st MI. Eng. and Mech., Civil War), application no. 279,062, certificate no. 382,696, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications. . ., 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

It certainly indicates that it comes from the pension file, but if I wanted to look up the specific page where I found the information it would be useless. However, wading through often lengthy (60-100+ pages) files looking for one piece of information is time-consuming. While I might come across something else of interest during the hour or more it might take me to find what I was originally looking for, knowing that I couldn't quickly find what I needed might put me off from doing it at all. Besides, other things demand my time, like my daughter, so if I have to choose between reading to her or perusing the concerns of the dead, I know what I'll choose.

One solution is to preface the main citation with something more specific, such as:

Deposition of H.B. Osborn, filed 11 Oct 1912, Lawrence H. Flynn (Cpl., Co. M, 1st MI. Eng. and Mech., Civil War), application no. 279,062, certificate no. 382,696, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications. . ., 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

That would certainly narrow it down, but I would still have to sort through all the papers to find the one I want. I am coming to the conclusion that what I really need to do is just number each page, even if it is only for me, so that I can find what I need in a timely manner. I have already completed the first step, namely to organize the documents chronologically. I didn't do that when I originally received them because I thought perhaps there was a reason the documents were in that order. Eventually, I disabused myself of that notion. It is definitely much easier to see what is going on with everything ordered by date, but with so many pages finding a single one still takes time.

I know my numbering system won't aid anyone who isn't browsing my family tree program, but it will certainly help me. I will be able to quickly double check specific items and move on to something else without out wasting precious time. For me, it will mean that when I cite my pension sources they will mean something.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Slaughter House Problem in Kalamazoo

In 1902, Caroline Bartlett Crane, a well known civic reformer, promoted meat inspection and sanitary slaughter houses in Kalamazoo. Mrs. Crane and several other ladies inspected seven abattoirs in Kalamazoo and were absolutely appalled by what they found. Mrs. Crane came away from these visits determined to see Kalamazoo with a central slaughter house and a meat inspector. Though the conditions she found were “indescribable,” then as now, trying to push reforms through can be. . . um, challenging. Even fourteen years after Mrs. Crane reluctantly dirtied her soles in her slaughter house inspections, a central abattoir was still merely a dream, though some important reforms were made during that time.

A meat packing house in Chicago, from the collections of the Library of Congress

During her inspections Mrs. Crane was disturbed by the conditions she witnessed. The abattoirs “were all in an indescribably filthy condition. . . Two are simply indescribable. . . I expected to see blood, but I expected to see the blood and the refuse disposed of in a clean manner. Instead there was an awful mass of filth and offal tramped down into the floor.” [1] The facilities were “utterly and absolutely filthy. They . . . are not ventilated, have no drainage, are foul smelling, dirty, covered with cobwebs and blood, filth and mould of years, and in general are revolting.” [2] “The ground under and around is soaked with rotted blood and filth of years. Nothing but a hoe and plane could effectually remove the caked blood, grime, grease and mould and other quite unmentionable filth from the walls and floors, and nothing but a thorough conflagration could ever remedy these plague spots” that send forth most of the meat eaten by the townspeople. [3] “At all or nearly all of the abattoirs, hogs are fed on the offal and afterwards slaughtered and sold.” [1] Mr. Rufus Averill, who runs one of the slaughterhouses visited by Mrs. Crane, didn't deny that hogs were fed on offal, but said “experience has shown that they thrive and that they are just as good meat as hogs fed in any other way; besides they perform a service that could be performed in no other way.” [4] Estimating that not even ten percent of the meat sold in the city was inspected and after witnessing conditions in uninspected slaughter houses, it is no surprise that Mrs. Crane declared “after my experience in visiting the local abattoirs, I utterly refuse to eat meat that has not been inspected.” [1]

The law at the time, prohibited the sale of “putrified, poisonous or diseased meat” but provided no system for detecting it. In fact, only six officers had the job of inspecting dairies and all manufactured food products for the entire state. [1] Clearly, the task of ensuring that diseased cattle were not allowed to enter the slaughter house could not be carried out by six men for all of Michigan even if that were their only chore. Mrs. Crane recommended that a central abattoir be built to service the Kalamazoo area and that it be overseen by an inspector under municipal control. [1] A single slaughter house would make it possible for an inspector to assess all cattle brought there for processing and allow him to make sure that sanitary conditions were maintained in the facility.

Before examining the slaughter houses in Kalamazoo, Mrs. Crane had toured at least one meat packing house in Chicago. There both the incoming cows and the resulting carcasses and internal organs were inspected for any sign of illness. [2] The slaughterhouses themselves were kept “scrupulously clean” with the “floors and surroundings scrubbed daily with boiling water.” [2] One can only wonder which facilities Mrs. Crane toured because this was only a few years before Upton Sinclair published The Jungle, his expose of the atrocious conditions he discovered when he took a job in a Chicago meat packing plant.

It may be that Mrs. Crane visited a meat-packing plant that exported meat and therefore had to meet higher standards. She was angered that the laws were designed to protect trade and not the health of American families. While Michigan did have The Pure Food Laws of 1893 on the books, remember that there were only six inspectors for the entire state, one to see to dairy compliance and five for everything else. Mrs. Crane continued “we can live without jellies and candies [which were subject to inspection], but few of us feel that we can live altogether without meat. . . The butcher trade is not even protected by a license. Any kind of man may kill any kind of a beast in any kind of a place, and sell it to any dealer who may or may not be aware if that animal came to the slaughter house diseased, dying or dead.” [3]

Whenever new regulations are proposed for practically any industry, one can expect objections, no matter the benefits that would result. This case was no different. Butchers, as a whole, claimed they would be put out of business. Others suggested that regulations were unnecessary as they heard no reports of people dying from consuming diseased meat. Then there was the usual argument that a new system of inspectors would cost money. While addressing the State Conference of health officials at the University of Michigan in 1904, Mrs. Crane proceeded to explain why those objections were not based on evidence. In her closing statements she said “Is there anything a city council should be more ready to pay for, than for wholesome food supply for the city?” [5]

Nearly three years after her inspections, Mrs. Crane cited how a few small improvements toward better meat inspection and better abattoirs had been accomplished. Asked about the situation in Kalamazoo, she said that “she had no doubt that it would be accomplished here too in time. 'And,' she added, with a smile, 'you know I said I would never give it up even if it took twenty years.'” [6]

Finally, in 1907, Mrs. Crane could celebrate a significant victory. “Kalamazoo is to have meat inspection,” cried the Telegraph. [7] After years of inaction the city council finally passed a resolution to appoint a meat inspector. It probably didn't hurt that the Kalamazoo health officer presented a basket of tubercular cow lungs to the council to underline his stance on the issue. [7] Shortly after this announcement was made, it was reported that Mrs. Crane along with the city health officer, a city attorney and the “newly appointed,” but yet unnamed meat inspector would draft a meat inspection ordinance. [8]

In 1909, the Kalamazoo board of health was still discussing a central slaughter house and after a joint meeting with the meat dealers association the Kalamazoo Evening Press reported that an ordinance including a central abattoir, local meat handlers and licenses for certain types of butchers was “coming soon.” [9]

“Soon” would turn out to be the end of 1915, at least for a license requirement for butchers. The Kalamazoo Telegraph-Press proclaimed that the new meat ordinance was “most rigid in requirements.” [10] In addition to requiring licenses for butchers, with yearly renewals contingent on a satisfactory inspection of their place of business, strict regulations for slaughter houses were also to be implemented. The new rules stated that: 1) All slaughter houses must have an ample supply of water, uncontaminated by any run-off from the premises, for the purpose of cleaning the building. 2) Slaughter houses must have cement floors with proper drainage and sewer connections. 3) Floors must be washed daily and other surfaces, including walls must be scrubbed at least monthly. 4) Offal and refuse must be removed the day of slaughter and properly disposed of. 5) Animals must be treated humanely. [10] This was a tremendous leap forward and assuming the ordinance was complied with, would do much to assure that locally butchered meat was fit for consumption.

Mrs. Crane succeeded in making known the disgusting conditions in local slaughter houses and as a result the questionable safety of the meat processed therein as early as 1902. Five years after her crusade began she won a victory with the appointment of a meat inspector for the city. In 1915, licenses would be required for the first time and strict standards of cleanliness, at least in comparison to what came before, were put in place for slaughter houses. A central abattoir would remain an elusive goal at least as late as 1916 when it was still just another recommendation in the annual report to the city council. [11, 12, 13] In searching the newspapers online at the Kalamazoo Public Library through 1923 I failed to find any mention of a central abattoir becoming a reality. Be that as it may, Mrs. Caroline Crane did Kalamazooans a tremendous service by bringing the issue of filthy slaughter houses and a lack of meat inspection to light. I have no doubt that her crusade played a critical role in successfully bringing meat inspection and regulations governing butchers and slaughter houses to Kalamazoo.

  1. “Foul Places Are Abattoirs, Says Mrs. Crane,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 25 March 1902, page 1, column 1-2, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 3 March 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  2. “The Meat We Eat,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 28 March 1902, page 4, column 3, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 27 June 2012), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  3. “Meat Inspection, The Paramount Issue Among the Women of Kalamazoo,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 31 March 1902, page 7, column 1, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 27 June 2012), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  4. “Visit To Abattoir,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 27 March 1902, page 2, column 4, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 27 June 2012), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  5. “Answer to Objections Against Inspection of Meat,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 12 January 1904, page 3, column 1, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 12 August 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  6. “Abattoir Inspection Movement Gaining Momentum,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 16 January 1905, page 2, column 2, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 12 August 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  7. “Will Inspect City's Meats,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 11 June 1907, page 2, column 4, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 12 August 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  8. Changes Made In Committees,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 28 June 1907, page 2, column 3, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 12 August 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  9. “Willing On Both Sides,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Press, 13 May 1909, page 1, column 1, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 12 August 2014), Miscellaneous Kalamazoo Publications Collection.
  10. “New Meat Ordinance Most Rigid in Requirements; Assures City of Clean Meat” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Telegraph-Press, 10 November 1915, page 11, column 1-2, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 16 August 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  11. “Health Officials Want Improvements,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Telegraph-Press, 11 April 1914, page 10, column 4, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 12 August 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  12. “What Health Department Recommends” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Telegraph-Press, 10 April 1915, page 1, column 1, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 16 August 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  13. “Report Shows Health and Sanitary Conditions in City to be Excellent,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Telegraph-Press, 7 April 1916, page 6, column 2, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 16 August 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.

Monday, July 21, 2014

One Widow's Plight

Sarah “Lizzie” Flynn's husband (my gg-grandfather) died at the end of May 1900. About a week later, the census taker came around and captured that awful moment in her life. Six of her 9 children were living with her, though the eldest two (boys) were ready to (and soon did) leave home. Her remaining children, all girls, were 18, 15, 13 and 10. Sarah was 54 years old. The family lived on a small fruit farm, but as the profits were meager she applied to the government for continuation of her husband's Civil War Pension.

In her statement to the pension board Sarah described her situation and why she felt she needed the pension money to be continued.

The only property either real or personal she owns or has any interest in is a dower interest in 20 acres of land situated in Oshtemo township Kalamazoo co. Mich, which place is worth not to exceed $1500. The land is very sandy and very little but fruit is raised on it. Her husband left no will and therefore she has only a dower interest in it. There is a mortgage against the property of $600 given to a Building and Loan Association of Kalamazoo, which is being paid at the rate of nearly $10 per month, and will not be paid up for two years yet. Last year there was raised produce as follows. Strawberries $70, other fruits about $50 or $60. There was nothing else raised that was sold – no wheat, not corn enough, nor potatoes, and etc. for the farm use. Out of this was paid taxes, about $5.00 and on mortgage, $120.
The farm would not rent for hardly over $2 per acre cash rent. She is going to work the farm herself and hire what help is needed.
Aside from the above, she has no property either real or personal and no income from any source aside from her own labor in working the farm, selling fruit, and etc. and is entirely dependent upon her own labor for her support. Her husband left her no life insurance.

The Flynn farm must have grown a lot of strawberries to yield about $70. In 1900, grocers were purchasing strawberries for about $1/crate and selling them for 8-9 cents/box. [1,2] Unfortunately, I don't know how much the crates or boxes held.

Sarah would have needed the help of her children to bring in the harvest. And in case you haven't done much strawberry picking, after an hour or more of almost continual leaning over your back is less than happy. I can't imagine picking strawberries several hours per day, every day for a couple of weeks. At the age of 54, Sarah would have certainly been ready to lie down at the close of the day. Also, keep in mind that strawberries then weren't engineered to keep for any length of time. Speaking from personal experience with our comparatively tiny strawberry crop over the past few years, they are good for about one day if not refrigerated. To get the best price, strawberries were probably picked and taken directly to market and Sarah couldn't afford not to get the best price.

The brief statement from Sarah's widow's pension application may not seem like much, but it does provide a glimpse into life in the Flynn household. As is usually true of genealogical records, I wish it included more information, like what other fruits were grown. I could find out a little more by tracking down who owned the farm at the time of the 1880 agricultural census. I know it wouldn't tell me much, but I could determine if apples, peaches or grapes might have been grown.

Although this find is only a small thing, it is one reason why I'm happy to dig through pension files to find the wheat among the chaff. After all, with enough little tidbits of information it is possible to start assembling a better picture of someone's life.

If you want to see what else you might find, read Why Everyone Should Military Pension Application Files.

  1. “The Markets,” Kalamazoo [Mich.] Daily Telegraph, 19 June 1900, page 5, column4, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 21 July 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  2. “The Markets,” Kalamazoo [Mich.] Daily Telegraph, 30 June 1900, page 7, column4, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 21 July 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Fatal Accident

The story in the family goes that my gg-grandfather accidentally shot his cousin in a hunting accident in Germany. According to family lore, he never got over the horror of killing his cousin and this is one reason why he came to the US. I never really gave it too much thought because I figured I would never be able to verify any of it. Then, recently I began to research the family of Charles Schmidt living across the road from my gg-grandfather, August Hartman, and his family in Oshtemo. It just so happened that August married Sophia Schmidt so I thought it was possible Sophia was somehow related to Charles. I also knew that August's daughter-in-law wrote a poem upon the death of Charles' daughter.

To try to determine if there was a blood relationship between Charles Schmidt and Sophia (Schmidt) Hartman I started by looking for information about Charles and his family. Charles had a son, also named Charles/Carl who died in 1892. When I found his death record the red flags started waving in my head. Young Carl had died of an accidental shooting. Immediately, I remembered the family story and obtained a copy of the Kalamazoo Gazette article that mentioned his death. It detailed how Carl and his cousin, a man by the name of Hartman, had gone out quail hunting. Reportedly, they had flushed the birds and were walking along in single file with guns cocked, ready to shoot the instant the birds became visible. Hartman allegedly stumbled and his gun discharged, hitting Carl and creating a “terrible wound.” Though Carl was rushed to a nearby house and the doctor immediately summoned, the wound was fatal and poor Carl died later that night.

The newspaper article does not indicate the given name of the shooter so I can't prove that it was one of my Hartmans, but I believe that this incident is the basis of the family story. There are notable differences, however. First, my gg-grandfather was not Carl's cousin, but possibly a married relation. Second, the shooting occurred in the US, not in Germany. I don't find these discrepancies troubling because we all know how stories can change over time and depending on the narrator, with each telling. So, if my gg-grandfather wasn't the shooter, who was? I suspect that it was one of August's three sons. It would appear that they did engage in hunting, based on the above family photo which shows my great-grandfather and (based on the resemblance) one of his brothers. At the time of the shooting in 1892, Carl was about 30 years old, my great-grandfather was 9 and his two brothers were 13.5 and 12 years old. If it was one of these children, that could explain why the given name was not printed, though certainly everyone in Oshtemo would have known the identity of the shooter.

I believe that I have found the inspiration for my family story. Though the place and the person involved disagree with the newspaper account, the grain of truth, an accidental shooting while hunting, appears to be true. Though the event was tragic, it would seem to demonstrate that there is a family connection between the Hartmans and their neighbors the Schmidts. I need to keep working on that problem, but in the meantime, I think I have discovered that there is some truth in the old family story.

“A Fatal Accident: Carl Smidt Killed By Fellow Hunter,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Gazette, 22 November 1892, page 1, column 2, microfilm image, Western Michigan University Archives and Regional Collections, Kalamazoo Gazette Collection.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Rain, Food And Survival

These days we are so far removed from where our food comes from that rain can seem more of a nuisance than the life blood that it is. For our ancestors, it was a different story. Have you ever really considered just how dependent on the weather our ancestors were for their very survival? What they produced is more than likely in direct proportion to getting the right amount of rain at the right time? Too much, too little or not at the right time, rainfall was crucial for allowing families to produce the food they needed for their own consumption, for sale to neighbors to earn money for other necessities or to feed their animals.

Many people probably had a small (or even large) garden plot that could be watered, if necessary by pumping water from the well and transporting it in buckets. But when the farm in question was tens of acres or more in size, that was simply not feasible. And if you have ever closely examined an agricultural schedule for one of your families you'll see why. As an example, here is what my ggg-grandfather's farm produced in 1879, according to the 1880 agricultural census.

Michael Flynn, 1880, Washtenaw county, 40 acres
25 improved acres, 2 acres permanent pasture/orchard, 1 acre of woodland, 6 acres of mown grass lands, 12 acres unimproved
Hay: 6 tons produced
Horses: 2, 1 other cattle, 1 calf dropped
Milk cows: 1 animal, 100 lbs butter produced
Sheep: 2 animals, 2 fleeces produced (8 lbs)
Poultry: 20 birds, 80 dozen eggs produced
Indian corn: 5 acres planted, 200 bushels of indian corn produced
Wheat: 11 acres planted, 160 bushels of wheat produced
Irish potatoes: 1/2 acre planted, 40 bushels of potatoes produced

Although we don't know what or how much was grown in a vegetable garden, the production of this small farm makes clear that more than just food for the people was at stake due when bad weather struck. Without enough hay, your cows, oxen or horses may not survive the winter. With no oxen, how will you plow your fields? Without your dairy cow there won't be fresh milk, butter or cheese. If you want to see what a large farm (of 178 acres) produced, and therefore what they had to lose if rainfall was suboptimal, look at the bottom of this post.  It is interesting to note (interesting for us, not so much for the farmer) that on the larger farm 10 of the 113 sheep died due to "stress of weather."

All of our farming ancestors, which admittedly means most of them, must have been scanning the skies on a daily basis, particularly during the growing season. Does that wind mean an impending storm? Do those clouds hold rain? Will there be enough?

We have a small garden and I always keep informal track of when it last rained and approximately how much. Unlike my ancestors, I am fortunate. If it doesn't rain enough I can drag about 150 feet of hose down to the garden and spend an hour or so watering our meager crops, but our ancestors didn't have that luxury. In the absence of rain it would be time to gather up all of the buckets, prime the pump, fill the buckets from the well and lug them to the garden while trying not to spill a precious drop. My family doesn't depend upon our garden the way our ancestors did. I can always go to the grocery store to buy what I need, but if money was scarce for our forebears what was their recourse?

So, the next time it rains on your picnic or if the clouds burst when you're grilling on the 4th of July, just remember that that precious, glorious water is ultimately where all of our food comes from. Put down that spatula, put on a rain hat and go out in the rain and do a little happy dance. I'm sure through all of the years, our ancestors must have done so at least once.

Abner Brown, 1880, Cass County, 178 acres
120 acres tilled, 2 permanent meadows/pastures/forest, 46 woodland
Grass lands: mown 15, not mown 40
Hay: 10 tons produced
Horses: 3
Milk cows: 3 animals, 600 lbs. butter produced
Other cows: 10 animals, 3 calves dropped, 2 calves purchased, 5 sold living
Sheep: 113 animals, 54 lambs dropped, 1 lamb purchased, 113 fleeces of 672 lbs
Sheep deaths: 1 sheep slaughtered, 1 died of disease, 10 died of stress of weather
Swine: 2
Poultry: 23 birds, 150 dozen eggs produced
Indian corn: 10 acres planted, 500 bushels produced
Wheat: 35 acres planted, 920 bushels produced
Flax seed: 16 tons flax straw produced
Irish potatoes: 0.5 acres planted, 60 bushels produced
Apple orchards: 2 acres, 100 bearing trees, 150 bushels produced
Wood cut: 20 cords

Now, if only I could get Ancestry.com to add the second page of the agricultural census for my Michigan people for 1850, 1860 and 1870! How else will I ever know how many bushels of potatoes they grew.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Climax/Scotts Newspapers Digitized by KPL

As with any family history resource, it may be limited or relate to a small area, but if it contains information about your ancestors it can be a goldmine. If you have relatives who lived in the Climax or Scotts area of Kalamazoo county I have some good news for you. The Kalamazoo Public Library has digitized three newspapers that are now searchable on their website. They are:

Scotts Cereal 1905-1906
Climax Cereal 1900-1912
Climax Crescent 1912-2012

Yes, you read that right; the Climax Crescent images go through 2012. So, if you are trying to track down living relatives, you have a very good chance of finding them if they live in Climax. If your family lived in Scotts, don't be dismayed that that paper covers only a short period. As it is near Climax you'll likely find information about your people in the Climax paper. In fact, The Climax Crescent actually has the subtitle: “The only newspaper that thoroughly covers the territory of Climax and Scotts.”

While I only have a few distant relatives who lived in the Scotts area, I found a brief reference to the Clemens family reunion of 1918 at Indian Lake in the Climax paper. I failed to find any other description of it in these papers, but armed with the date, I can scroll through the microfilm for the Vicksburg Commercial the next time I visit the WMU Archives. With any luck I'll find something interesting on my family. Maybe you can find something on your family as well.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Ousting The Loyalist Preacher

Let me start by saying that this post has absolutely nothing to do with Kalamazoo. While working to source my Goff/Goffe line (that ended up in Cass county) I spent some time browsing the New Hampshire Town Records at Family Search. In searching for vital records in Bedford around the time of the American Revolution, I happened upon the case of John Houston. In the first entry I noticed, the town had decided to withhold his salary until he came to his sense. I was intrigued.

It seems that as of April 12, 1775 Bedford had no problem with the Rev. John Houston. At the annual town meeting on this day they voted to choose someone to collect the rates (taxes) to pay for his preaching for the coming year. [1]

Then, after the shot heard round the world, everything changed. 

Wash drawing by Francois Godefroy of the Battle of Lexington from Journee de Lexington.  Held by the Library of Congress. 

April 20, 1775:
The town received an urgent letter (grammar and spelling preserved):
“To the select men of Bedford – Gentlemen
This moment the meloncholy Intelligence has been Received of Hostilities being Commenced between ye troops Under the Command of General Gage and our Brethen of the Massachusetts Bay.
The Importance of our Exerting ourselves at this Critical Moment has caused the Provincial Committee to meet at Exeter and you are Requested instantly to Choose and hasten forward there a Delegate or Delegates to Join the Committee and aid them In Consulting Measures for our safty. In great hast I am by order of the Committee your Humble Servant. J. Wentworth” [2]

Note: The Battles of Lexington and Concord were fought on April 19th, 1775

May 2, 1775:
The town of Bedford raised the matter “Relating to the Rev'd. John Houston in thoss troublesome times as we apprehend his praying and preaching to be Calculated to Intimidate the minds of his hearers and to weaken their hands in defence of their Just Rights and Liberties as there seems a plan to be Laid by Parliment to destroy both.” [3]

I find it ironic that the warrant to inform all of the freeholders of a town meeting in which the selectmen set forth the item about John Houston's preaching was recorded “in his Majesty's Name” and after the orders of business had been listed, the selectmen of the town indicated the above items were given under their “hands and seal at Bedford this 2nd day of May in the 15th year of his Majesty's Reign Anno Domini 1775.” [3] Not surprisingly, this was the last time the meeting entries were recorded in this manner.

May 16, 1775:
“Voted that what Mr. John Houston give in is not Satisfactory to this Body.
Voted that the Meeting House doors be Shut against Mr. John Houston until the_ he Comes to a Sence of his Duty and behave himself to the Satisfaction of the town and that he Shall have no Salary from the town until he behaves himself as above.” [4]

June 15, 1775:
“Whereas we find that the Rev. Mr. John Houston after a great deal of Tenderness and pains taken with him both in publick and in privat toward him Relating to his Speeches frequently made both in Publick and private against the Rights and Priviliges of America and his Vindicating the King and Parliment their Present proceeding against the Americans and having not been able hitherto to bring him to a Sense of his Error and he has thereby Rendered him Self Despised to people in general and to us in particular and that he has Endeavoured to Intimadate us against maintening the Just Rights of america therefore we think it not our Duty as men or Christians to have him Preach any longer with us as our Minister. Therefore voted that he (viz) the Rev. Mr. John Houston preach no more in Bedford until the last day of March Next and that he have thirty Six Sabath days more to his own use and Dispossal (viz) from the 16th of May last to the last day of March Next More than the nine Sabath days Voted to His own use and Dispossal at our last March meeting and that the Town be freed from paying him anything for the Said thirty Six Sabath days.” [5]
The vote was unanimous. [5]

September 19, 1775
The town voted to treat with John Houston and to apply to the Presbytery to get him dismissed and to see if Mr. Houston himself would also petition the Presbytery asking to be dismissed. [6]

March 27, 1776:
“The town took in to Consideration Mr. John Houston Conduct as being Inimical to this Country for which he was tried by the Commitees of three Neighbouri-- towns and found Guilty as also a former Vote of this town Setting him aside from preaching to us as our Minister on the Same account till he made proper acknowledgment for his faults and Returned to his Duty – Wherefore Voted Unanimously to allow the Said Mr. John Houston the whole of his time to himself for this year for the above Reason and the town free from his Charge on Said account.” [7]

March 27, 1778:
The town appointed a committee to “treat with the Presbytery” or to create their own to put Mr. Houston on trial and see if they will dismiss him. [8]

March 8, 1779:
“To see if the town will vote to defray the cost that has already arisen by the selectmen and commettee of safty of going to Exeter against Mr. John Houston's taking the Oath of Fidelity.” [9] The town voted to pay some of these costs. [10]

May 1, 1780:
“Voted no to pay Capt. Samll [Samuel] Patton the money that he disbursted when the committees mett concerning Mr. John Houston when it was thought he was inical to the country as mentioned in the third article in the warrant.” [11]

I don't know how the case ultimately ended, or even if it did. It had already dragged on for five years and frankly, as I had found what I was looking for on my Goffe family, I stopped paging through the records to chase a man I care nothing about. The time I spend on genealogy is precious and I would rather use it to cross something off my family history to-do list. I did, however, want to share what I did find on John Houston because while it is only telling us about a few little towns in New Hampshire, this story makes it quite clear how this little settlement in the woods felt when it was time to choose sides in the American Revolution.

  1. "New Hampshire, Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records, 1636-1947," digital images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/: accessed 14 Jun 2014), Hillsborough > Bedford > Town records 1770-1794 vol 3 > image 72, page 133.
  2. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 73, page 135.
  3. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 74, page 136.
  4. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 75, page 138.
  5. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 76-77, page 141-142.
  6. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 79, page 144.
  7. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 783-84, page 153-154.
  8. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 107, page 200.
  9. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 123, page 232.
  10. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 125, page 236.
  11. "New Hampshire, . . . 1636-1947," FamilySearch, image 150, page 286.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

What Did You Inherit Besides The Obvious?

When we think about what we inherited from our ancestors we might immediately think of our eye or hair color. Family medical conditions and their impact on the current generation (like I found to explain my cousin's vein problem in Medical History Revelation) might also spring to mind. But have you thought about other traits or affinities (musical talent, mechanical inclination or dance skills, for example)? While we don't “know” how much of these sorts of abilities can be ascribed to genetics it's not unreasonable to believe there may be some contribution, especially when these things have not been taught.

Here are a few examples from my family.

Ever since I've lived away from home I've had houseplants. I now enjoy gardening, especially my flower garden that keeps expanding every year. My grandmother did as well. There were plants and terrariums all over her house, she mixed her own dirt and pored over seed catalogs with her sister. When she was alive and active I don't remember participating in her hobby so I didn't pick it up that way. My grandma's father (who died when my grandma was only five) loved planting flowers and his father (who died long before my grandma was born) worked as a gardener for a number of years. My mom jokes about going to the garden center with her mom decades ago and now in recent years with me.

My cousin really enjoys mechanics. While in the military and now as a civilian he repairs vehicle engines. No one else in the current generation has this propensity, but our grandfather worked for Fuller Manufacturing and actually made some of his own parts for his Fiat.  Also our gg-grandfather's uncle was a carriage maker and served with the 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics during the Civil War. When my cousin learned of this he felt more connected to the family than he had before.

I discovered in graduate school that I love ballroom dancing and am pretty good at it. I actually ran the school's ballroom dancing club for several years. It just so happens that my grandfather taught ballroom dancing (we still have some of the records he used to play for classes) and participated in square dancing for many years. Though I did actually dance with him once, as a child it meant nothing to me.

It's possible that these are merely coincidences, but even if they are I think it is a useful exercise to think about our similarities with our relatives. After all, anything that makes us think more about our ancestors' lives is a good thing because I believe it helps us to view them as real people who had the same emotions as we do.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sounds Of The Past

I few days ago I awoke to the sound of a gentle rain.  Probably because it was quite early my mind wandered and I found myself wondering about the everyday sounds our ancestors heard that we no longer do today.  Some of these may still be heard, but by a much smaller percentage of people than in our ancestors' day.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these were the first things that came to mind.

Chopping wood
Butter churn (agricultural census schedules often ask about pounds of butter produced)
Sweeping (no vacuums)
Rug beating
Water pump
Horse trotting (also pulling a wagon or buggy)
Farm animals (hens, roosters, pigs, sheep, cows).  Check the agricultural schedule to learn what animals your family had.

Obviously, we could also play this game in reverse, listing the sounds we hear that our ancestors didn't.  However, this list would be extremely long as you can no doubt imagine.  I'll just mention a few things that tremendously alter our soundscape:  motor vehicles (especially if you live on a busy street), televisions and radios, phones and even just the hum of a refrigerator. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

KPL Opens Digitization Hub!

We all have items we would love to digitize, but haven't done it because of a lack of time, equipment or know-how.  Although the Kalamazoo Public Library doesn't yet have the technology to add hours to your day, it can help with the rest.  Now, library patrons who live in the KPL Resident Area (mostly Kalamazoo and Oshtemo townships, see here for a map) can utilize The Hub

In The Hub you can digitize photos, negatives, slides, records, and cassettes.  You can also convert those old home movies on VHS to DVD.  There are a couple of caveats, however.  1) You need to have a cloud account, a flash drive or an external hard drive on which to save your treasures.  2) Recordings occur in "real time," meaning that if your video lasts 40 minutes you'll have to sit there the whole time waiting for it to finish.  You might consider taking a book along.

If you want to go beyond mere digitization and create narrated videos or podcasts you can use the editing software available in The Hub to create something to really wow your family.  A list of the software programs available is in the sidebar on the Hub's webpage.  A link to the user's guides for these programs can also be found there.

The Hub is located on the third floor of the central library, but is open only limited hours (Tues. 3-8 pm and Thurs. 10 am - 3 pm.)  There are four digitization stations and as many production stations.  Both Macs and PCs are available.  It is advisable to reserve a workstation online ahead of time, which you can do here

I'm not certain how much assistance the library staff can provide, but I imagine that they will instruct you in how to use the equipment.  This is a great resource for KPL patrons.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Did Your Ancestors Make The Cut?

For about fifty years the Kalamazoo Gazette employed its own librarian who reviewed the paper every day and clipped articles for later reference. [1] From the mid-1940s to the mid-1990s these clippings were put in labeled envelopes and filed away in a series of cabinets in the “Scraparium” where many a reporter went digging for information on a variety of local topics. [1, 2] Now this resource is open to the public for perusal. 

Before their removal to the Western Michigan University Archives, the clippings file was a resource available only to the Kalamazoo Gazette staff, most often to research a person before writing an obituary. [1] According to Lynn Houghton, the Regional History Collection Curator at the WMU Archives, there are no written accounts to explain why some articles were selected over others. It may just come down to the whim of the librarian. If so, the librarian must not have been a sports fan because few sports articles are found in the collection. [2]

While you can look for your family in the clippings file, there is a slight catch, you can't just rifle through the cabinets to your heart's content. You will need to fill out a form at the reference desk and wait while a staff member searches the envelopes for the topics you requested. You can also call ahead at (269) 387-8490 to see if any files of interest to you are in the collection before you make a trip to the Archives' new home in the Zhang Legacy Collections Center. If you find something noteworthy staff will make copies for 20 cents per page.

1. Mickey Cilkajlo, “Kalamazoo Gazette archives now publicly available at Western Michigan University,” MLive.com December 06, 2013, [http://www.mlive.com/opinion/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2013/12/kalamazoo_gazette_clips_now_pu.html]

2. Lynn Houghton, email communication.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Time Travel & Farm Inflation

Lately, I've had a funny feeling that in some ways I'm traveling back in time. It has been a slow process, but here I am with six baby chicks in my garage. It all began innocently enough when I got my first bread machine nearly twenty years ago (I'm on my fourth one now). I know it's kind of cheating, but I do make my own bread from scratch at the rate of about a loaf a week. After I got married we started a garden (something new for me). A few years ago I took up home canning to preserve our tomatoes and make pickles, among other things. This year, my husband wanted to try raising chickens (for the eggs) so here I am with 6 rapidly growing chicks in the garage.

Now, I can compare notes with my grandmother, well, with her notes anyway. She kept log books with purchases for the house and garden. Here is a sample.

I found notes on my grandma's chickens for years between the mid-1940s and the early 1960s. As you can imagine, prices have increased in the past seventy or so years. In 1949 my grandma bought 50 chicks (presumably unsexed) for $7. We purchased 6 female chicks for about $18. 100 lbs. of starting mash for the chicks cost $4.10 in 1949 versus $8 for a 20 lb. bag of feed now. In 1949, I also found entries for building a chicken coop. For $53.25 my grandmother bought 650 feet of sheeting and 241 2x4s. Eleven pounds of nails cost a mere $0.80. We haven't built a coop yet, but I can guarantee it will cost more than my grandmother paid.

My grandma kept chickens for two reasons: for the eggs and the meat (chicken dinner every Sunday). While I'm willing to try raising chickens for the eggs I'm not quite ready to kill my own chickens. After all, a city girl has to draw the line somewhere.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Extra! Get Your Kazoo Obits Here

You have an ancestor who died in Kalamazoo County and you desperately want to find an obituary. Where should you look? I'm happy to report that there are many options, depending on the time period. Not all of them are free, but depending on how many you are looking for there is probably an option to fit your budget.

Free Options:

KPL Digitized Newspapers. The Kalamazoo Telegraph and several other area newspapers have been digitized by the Kalamazoo Public Library. The years covered vary by newspaper, and sometimes there are holes in the coverage, but in general the years span 1845-1922. In addition to several Kalamazoo papers (not the Kalamazoo Gazette), newspapers for Allegan, Otsego, Fort Custer, Scotts (newly added) and Climax (newly added) can be searched by keyword here

Kalamazoo County Rootsweb Message Board. More recent obituaries (along with a handful of older ones) can be found on the Kalamazoo County Rootsweb message board.  While message boards are waning in popularity, the Kalamazoo County board is going strong thanks to some dedicated contributors. As of March 2014, there are a whopping 30,000 or so posts, many of them obituaries.

Kalamazoo Area Newspapers On Microfilm. Note: this is only free if you can make the trip to the Kalamazoo Public Library in downtown Kalamazoo. You can see the list of the many Kalamazoo area newspapers available on microfilm at the KPL here

Fee-Based Options:

GenealogyBank. The Kalamazoo Gazette (1-23-1837 to 12-31-1922) has been digitized and is keyword searchable. Kalamazoo Gazette obituaries from Jan 1, 2005 to the present are also available. The cost is about $70 for a year or $20 for a month. If you have never subscribed you can get a 30-day trial for about $10. This is the way to go if you have many relatives in the area (or in other areas covered by their newspapers). You can view the complete list of newspapers by state.

Kalamazoo Public Library Look-Ups. Library staff will conduct look-ups in the Kalamazoo Gazette if you can provide a death date or if you have the publication information from their online newspaper index (there is currently a gap that has not yet been indexed from 1890-1938). Copies are $3/look-up. You can find more information about this service here. To look in the newspaper index go to the Local Information Database page.  I recommend you read their tips on searching the database

If you think your person died in Kalamazoo county, but you don't know when, you have several options for finding an exact date of death (to the present day) and even a death record (1867-1933). For more information see Sources for Kalamazoo Death Records

I hope you find some great information in these resources. I sure have!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Missing House

I regularly drive past this location, but only this spring did I notice that something else probably used to be here, namely a house.  I noticed two lines of daffodils.  The simplest explanation to me is that these flowers used to line a walkway.  And what would a walkway be doing in the middle of a field?  Nothing.  There probably used to be a house here.  The rest of the year one would never notice anything amiss.

 I wonder how many other absent houses are only exposed by spring flowers.