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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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, 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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.