Sunday, May 31, 2015

Don't Grow Complacent. Remember OCR's Weakness

I love OCR (optical character recognition) technology! Because of OCR, companies can publish a lot of records in a short time because the information doesn't require humans to index the text. However, the fatal flaw of OCR is that it doesn't pick up everything. If the print on the page is not nearly perfect then it is not recognized correctly. While I have known this for a while, sometimes I forget.

Don't get me wrong, I think OCR is great! Without it, a lot of the records I have used (newspapers, city directories, etc.) wouldn't be available on the web. Unfortunately, the fact that so many records can be found by just doing a name search alone tends to make me complacent at times. While searching for my family in city directories at, I was excited to find so many directories for the places my relatives lived. But then, it occurred to me that I wasn't finding my family in as many directories as I would have expected.

“Wait,” I thought to myself, “this is OCR.” I realized that I had to stop relying on the crutch of a search engine. I needed to inspect each directory myself to make sure I wasn't missing anything. As much of a pain in the neck as it would prove, my task was clear. While it would take more time to go to the card catalog and navigate to each directory, if I wanted the records, I had no choice.

Since I have been checking individual city directories I have succeeded in finding my family in more records. When I can, I try to add them to my online tree, but because of OCR the name doesn't always show up as a possibility to attach. Oh well, at least I know they are there. I guess others will have to track them down themselves.

The moral of this story is: Don't grow complacent; remember OCR's weakness and search the old-fashioned way.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Kazoo Directories At Ancestry

In case you haven't noticed, has Kalamazoo area directories.  They've actually had them for a while, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the page listing Kalamazoo records.  Why they choose to hide them, however, is a mystery to me.

In the past, the directories went up through the 1930s.  I recently noticed that these city directories now include years as recent as 1960.  As far as I can tell, the collection available at Ancestry is complete or nearly complete for the years represented.  There are gaps, but directories were not published every year.  They are scarce in the early years and spotty during the Depression and WWII.

Note:  I haven't posted in a while because I've had to give myself a crash course on homeschooling.  Time for me to learn or re-learn some things.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

MI Death Certificate Images, 1921-1939, Are Up!

Even if you're not Irish, you may want to dance a jig anyway to celebrate the posting of death certificate images for 1921-1939 at Seeking Michigan.  We've been waiting a while, but they are finally available.  Deaths for 1940-1952 is currently index-only, and according to the website, it will be "added soon," though you can find it here at Family Search in the meantime.  Images will be added as they become legally accessible.  Death Certificates images for 1940 are anticipated to be posted in January 2016 and so on.

Since I only just found out about this, I'm going to post and run because I have some downloading to do. 

Happy Hunting!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Detroit News Index Cards Online

Seeking Michigan is at it again. They have just posted PDF files containing scanned index cards for the Detroit News clippings file. The Archives of Michigan received over one million of these cards at the end of 2014 and has now made them available online.  Someone has clearly been very busy. Items are indexed by subject so you may need to think creatively to find what you are looking for. You will also find cards for some individuals, but probably only if they were noteworthy in some way.

According to Kris Rzepczynski, an archivist at the Archives of Michigan, researchers can request the clippings for the items noted on the cards from the Archives of Michigan (archives[at] Alternatively, if you can visit an institution that possesses the Detroit News on microfilm you can look up the articles yourself.

On the index cards, entries are listed by year with notations on the cards in the format: D9, 20-1, which I interpret to be December 9, page 20, column 1. Be aware that some cards are not strictly in alphabetical order. While searching for “Salpatrick” I saw several cards for “Sayles” interspersed with ones for “Sales.”

If you find any cards of interest, I recommend taking a screen shot of each card (press Alt and Print Screen [prt sc] and pasting it into a Word document) so you don't have to download the PDF with 500-1000 cards.

In my case, I found a card listing articles about the 1941 Christmas murder of my grandmother's sister by her estranged boyfriend. Most of the entries were from the time of the murder through his entry into the Ionia hospital for the criminally insane. I think I have this period covered in the Kalamazoo Gazette. However, a later entry (1947) was entitled “Recovers Sanity.” I could try to obtain this article in the Detroit News, but now that I have a date I can search around it in the Kalamazoo Gazette the next time I'm in town. Without an index I would have been hard-pressed to find this.

If you are looking for subjects and names closer to home, remember that the WMU Archives holds the Kalamazoo Gazette clippings files.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Burdick Hotel Heroine

When the Burdick Hotel burned to the ground in December 1909 (The Burdick Burns And Deja Vu), the first priority for the hotel staff was to ensure that all of the guests were evacuated. [1] While notifying hotel patrons was a multi-pronged effort, the local press hailed Miss Nina Harrigan as a heroine for her role. Nina was the telephone operator for the Burdick and insisted on remaining at her post amidst the growing crisis until she had contacted every guest by phone.

Photo (from [3]) reprinted with permission of the Kalamazoo Public Library

The Kalamazoo Evening Press reported a very dramatic account of Nina's experience. I have no doubt it is mostly fiction, but it's too amusing not to share. Nina was “enveloped in stifling smoke. . . with flames shooting towards her from all directions. . . Men of courage fled” while Miss Harrigan remained at her post. “Time and again she was on the verge of collapse” but kept her composure to finish her task. “Time and again she was implored to desert. Each command that she leave and save herself was repulsed. With her feet in water several inches deep and drenched to the skin, she staid [sic] until every room had been called and a response received. . . When her task was finished, Miss Harrington [sic] gave a sigh of relief. Then overcome with smoke, fatigue and worry she sank back in her chair in a semi-conscious condition. Quickly grabbing the inert form of the plucky young woman, a stalwart fireman rushed with her to the open air. She was hurriedly taken into the Empire lunch room, where restoratives were applied and as soon as sufficiently recovered, she was sent to her home in a hack.” [2]

A more realistic scenario was presented in the Telegraph. Miss Harrigan related that she “saw only a little smoke at first,” at about 10:30. [3] The night clerk, who also noticed the smoke suggested that Nina call the fire department. [3] A bit later, Mr. Burke, the Burdick proprieter, asked Nina to ring the rooms to notify them to pack up and come downstairs. For nearly an hour, Miss Harrigan kept a cool head and diligently continued phoning each occupied room until she was told it was no longer safe for her to stay at her post. By then, she had managed to reach all of the 160 or so guests. [3]

So impressed was the Burdick's proprietor, Mr. Burke, that a day or two after the fire he presented Nina with a $50 check for her efforts. [4] The hotel clerk, Williams, received $25. [4] Mr. Burke wasn't the only one who noticed Nina's efforts. She was almost immediately offered a position at the switchboard of Kalamazoo's American hotel where they “desired someone who would 'stick to the job,' no matter what happened.” [4] The American hotel wasn't the only interested party, however. Within days of the Burdick fire, businesses from “all parts of the country” sent Nina offers of employment. [5] In addition, many admirers wanted the modest, “frail slip of a girl” to be presented with a Carnegie medal for heroism. [5] At least one admirer had something else in mind for Miss Harrigan. A man from Green's Corners, Indiana wrote to Nina “and after telling how much he esteems her, the love-smitten writer begs her to commence a correspondence with a view to matrimony.” [6] As it turned out, Nina never married and died in Kalamazoo in 1953 at the age of 67.

Four years later, Nina's bravery was recounted in an article in the New York Herald in which it lauded several telephone operators for their quick thinking and on some occasions saving lives. [7]

  1. “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 ( accessed 15 January 2013), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  2. City Gutted by $725,000 Fire; Burdick Is In Ashes,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Press, 9 December 1909, page 1, column 4, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 15 January 2013), Miscellaneous Kalamazoo Publications Collection.
  3. “Telephone Girl Heroine of Fire,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 9 December 1909, page 6, column 3-4, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 15 January 2013), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  4. “25 Men Work On Debris,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 11 December 1909, page 3, column 6, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 15 January 2013), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  5. To Ask Carnegie Medal For Girl,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Press, 11 December 1909, page 1, column 5, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 15 January 2013), Miscellaneous Kalamazoo Publications Collection.
  6. Heroine Operator Gets Love Letters,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Press, 22 December 1909, page 1, column 1, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library ( accessed 15 January 2013), Miscellaneous Kalamazoo Publications Collection.
  7. “Hello! Hello! Here Are 13 Perfect Telephone Girls,” New York Herald, 4 January 1914, page 7, col 1-7, digital images, Old Fulton NY Post Cards ( accessed 24 February 2015).

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.