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 (http://www.kpl.gov: 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 (http://www.kpl.gov: 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 (http://www.kpl.gov: 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 (http://www.kpl.gov: 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 (http://www.kpl.gov: 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 (http://www.kpl.gov: 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 (http://www.fultonhistory.com: 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 (http://www.kpl.gov: 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, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: 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, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: 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 (http://www.kpl.gov: 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.

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.