Wednesday, January 28, 2015

How Did Their Garden Grow?

In 1886, my great-great-grandfather bought a 20 acre fruit farm in Oshtemo. [1] I knew a little about what was grown on the farm from his widow's pension application, but I wanted to see if I could dig up anything else. Too bad, he bought the place after the 1880 agricultural census, I thought. But wait, even though Edward Flynn wasn't there in 1880, I could still learn something about the land. I knew from newspaper accounts that Edward had bought his farm from Jeremiah Williams. [1] By comparing the 1873 (when Williams also owned the land) and 1890 plat maps (when Flynn was there), I was able to confirm that the plot was the same size and shape in both years. [2,3]

My next step was to find Jeremiah in the 1880 agricultural census. I discovered that in 1879 the land produced five tons of hay as well as 200 bushels of “Indian corn” and 30 of Irish potatoes. [4] Beyond that there were 2-3 acres of apple and peach orchards, producing 30 bushels of apples and 10 of peaches, though the value of the orchard products was only listed as $16. [4] They may have done better with the vineyard which produced 1500 pounds of grapes that year. [4] At first I thought that seemed like a huge amount of grapes, but after thinking about how many grapes we grew last summer on just two vines that we basically ignored, it's no longer so difficult to imagine. The farm also produced 10 pounds of honey, 75 lbs. butter and 75 dozen eggs. [4]

By the time my ancestors lived on the land they also grew strawberries (from the widow's pension). [5] And a note in the Kalamazoo Telegraph stated “We are indebted to E. Flynn for a generous donation of Bartlett pears, which he had the kindness to leave at our office this morning.” [6] While I know that things on the farm were unlikely to be exactly the same in the 1890s as they were as described for 1879, I expect that much was similar. No one with sense would buy a fruit farm and chop down the trees knowing the sandy the soil was unfit for other crops. I do know that as of 1900 when Edward died they grew mostly fruit, though strawberries were the only ones specifically mentioned. [5] I don't know everything I'd like, but I do have a much better idea of my gg-grandparents' life on the farm than I did before.

Now I'd like to do a similar analysis to find out what was grown on a piece of land just doors down from Edward's place where another set of my gg-grandparents lived. That won't be quite as straight forward since I'll first have to determine who owned the land in 1880. But, with a little bit of work, I should be able to find out.

  1. “Jottings,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Daily Telegraph, 20 April 1886, page 6, column 2, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 25 February 2012), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  2. Oshtemo, Jeremiah Williams, Section 27, In: Atlas of Kalamazoo Co. Michigan. From Recent And Actual Surveys And Records. (New York: F.W. Beers & Co., 1873) page 29, digital images, ( accessed 25 January 2015) U.S. Indexed County Land Ownership Maps 1860-1918.
  3. Oshtemo, E. Flynn, Section 27, In: Illustrated Atlas of Kalamazoo County, Michigan. (Detroit, Michigan: Wm. C. Sauer, C.E., 1890) page 25.
  4. 1850-1880 U.S. Federal Census, Michigan, Agricultural schedule, 1880, Oshtemo, Kalamazoo, Michigan, E.D. 186, Pg. 10B, Line 7, Jeremiah Williams; NARA microfilm publication, Record Group 29, T1164, digital images, ( accessed 25 January 2015) Selected U.S. Federal Census Non-Population Schedules, 1850-1880.
  5. Deposition of Sarah Flynn, filed with Sarah Flynn's widow's pension application no. 721091, certificate no. 497116; service of Edward A. Flynn (Cpl.. Co. I, 2nd Michigan Infantry, Civil War); 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.
  6. “Paragraphic,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Daily Telegraph, 4 September 1886, page 7, column 5, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 25 February 2012), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Finding Gold In Probate Records

Over the holidays I spent some time looking for Michigan probate records in the updated collection at Family Search. While I have not always been so lucky, I found for the first time a document that confirms both the death date and names of children for my third great-grandfather, Frederick Goff, jr. Before this all I had was an unsourced death date from others. To make matters worse, other trees had an earlier death date that pre-dated by a couple of years the birth of my gg-grandmother. While her death certificate lists Frederick as her father, that is hardly proof.

For these reasons, Frederick's case was the first I wanted to locate. Fortunately, the records for Cass county include a number of types of probate records, many with indices. I first found Frederick in a probate journal before digging into the probate packet files.

In the probate journal I found a document that stated Frederick's date of death in 1856 and listed the names and approximate ages of his two children. I was doing the genealogy happy dance that night. Once I riffled through the probate packets I found one more thing that answered a nagging question. I knew that Frederick's widow had remarried in 1863, but I had never succeeded in finding Mary in the 1860 census. It turns out that she remarried several months after his death to a man appointed as the administrator of Frederick's estate. Mystery solved.

I understand how beginning to look for probate records can seem daunting. There are lots of files and you may not know where to start. Let me assure you that you are not alone. I haven't used these records much either and certainly don't feel as comfortable using them as, say, census records. The beauty of these online records is that you can search to your heart's content and no one has to know that you aren't confident using them. Just pick a county to start looking for indexes. They may not be in separate files so just check the beginning of each record type. Keep in mind that there may be several volumes included in each link so you'll need to skip ahead through the images to check each index before you cross that file off your list. Just keep at it so you can do your own happy dance.