Friday, April 27, 2012

Curb Stoning the Census

While talking with my mom about the 1940 census she asked me if the forms for that year were mailed in. As it turns out, mailing in census forms is only a recent phenomenon. That means the 1940 census enumerators had a lot of walking to do to account for the approximately 132 million people living in the US. Transitioning from an all enumerator system to a mail-in/mail-back system occurred in increments as follows.

1960: The first mail-out census forms were used in 1960. Census questionnaires were mailed to every household and residents were asked to complete the forms and hold them for collection by an enumerator. When the enumerators collected the initial forms they left a second form with additional questions at 25% of the households. These forms were to be mailed back and checked for accuracy. Phone or in-person interviews were conducted to complete any unanswered questions. [1]

1970: Census forms were again mailed out to all households (20% receiving a long form). “In larger metropolitan areas and some adjacent counties (approximately 60 percent of the United States’ population), households were asked to complete and return the questionnaire by mail on April 1, 1970 (resulting in an 87 percent mail back response rate).” As in the 1960 mail-back sample, these forms were reviewed for consistency and completeness. Follow-ups were done when necessary. Census enumerators picked up the questionnaires from the remaining 40% of the population. [1]

1980: The mail-out/mail-back process in 1970 met with such success that the 1980 census was conducted almost entirely by mail, covering greater than 95% of the population. [1]

For genealogists, the census provides invaluable information amid two persistent problems: missing families (the undercount) and misspelled names. Fortunately, both of those issues should become less problematic for future family historians. Misspellings don't matter for federal apportionment of funds, but luckily, with the advent of self-enumeration forms this problem will disappear on its own. The government does, however, care about the problem of the undercount and worked hard to address it in advance of the 1970 census. I haven't found statistics for how many households were thought to be undercounted and hence missing from the census. That makes it difficult to say how effective their measures were.

So what was curb stoning? Since the inception of the census “ a small percentage of enumerators completed questionnaires. . . for an individual or multiple households from the curb, without actually conducting an interview or checking the accuracy of their 'guesses.' This practice was motivated, in part, by the requirement to meet quotas or payment for work done on a 'piece-of-work' basis.” [1] Tighter controls on the enumeration process helped deal with the problem of “curb stoning” during the transition to the current census-by-mail system. Could this be why I haven't succeeded in locating a few of my people in the census? It's possible, but statistically unlikely. I guess I'll just keep hunting.

Fun fact: Michigan ranked 7th in population in 1940 with about 5.2 million inhabitants.  For those of you who want to know, the top six were: New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, California and Texas.

As of April 27th, the indexing of Michigan at Family Search was 7% complete (last night I did a batch from Cass County). If we all do a little indexing we can knock out the 149,720 images for Michigan in . . . well. . . every little bit helps.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Understanding Ancestors Using Timelines

Like many genealogists, I love the thrill of finding a new piece of information to aid me in my family history research, but what I find really interesting are the stories of our ancestors' lives. Family stories, letters and newspaper accounts can be incredibly informative, but what can be done when these resources are unavailable? Timelines can be a powerful tool to get a good feeling for the forces that shaped someone's life and affected their decisions. Even if you don't do this type of analysis for all of the people in your family tree I suspect you'll start paying closer attention to dates in the rest of your family history research.

In putting together a timeline, I start with the basics: deaths, marriages, divorces and births in the immediate family. Then I add in other things like moves, wars, natural disasters and frankly anything I can think of that would have impacted the person in question. Some family tree programs now offer a timeline feature (Family Tree Maker and RootsMagic do) which can make this process easier. This is a good place to start, but can be limited by what you have typed into the appropriate spot in your genealogy software.

Once I have my timeline I try to imagine how I would feel if that series of events happened to me. A parent may have died within a few years of a grandparent or sibling. Maybe there was a divorce, re-marriage or the family moved. Put it all together and it can change how you perceive that person and their life choices. As an example I'll use my grandmother's sister, Mildred. Perhaps the most notable feature of her short life was her dramatic death. Mildred was shot through the window in the wee hours of Christmas morning while preparing gifts for her children. This is what I was thinking about when I began to write about her, but I realized that there was much more to her life than her tragic end.

Mildred's life started out pretty well. Unfortunately, everything changed with her father's death when she was only ten. Her mother then moved from Ohio to Kalamazoo taking Mildred and her four siblings away from the only family they had really known. Now they watched their grandmother die six months after their father had. Meanwhile their mother struggled to put food on the table. Mildred became sick with tuberculosis and was treated in the Kalamazoo tuberculosis sanitorium. She recovered, married, had children and separated during the same time her mother remarried (twice) and the rest of her siblings went their separate ways. As if that weren't enough, this all transpired during the height of the Depression. This fateful period was apparently when Mildred met her new boyfriend, a boxer and petty criminal who ultimately murdered her in cold blood on Christmas. In the end, Joseph Salpatrick freely walked the streets of Kalamazoo for close to thirty years after Mildred's death (but that's another story).  Read Christmas Morning Murderer Gets Off Easy for more and Christmas Morning Murderer Pt. 2 Pt. 2 to read how Salpatrick got off.

From the moment Mildred's father died until her own untimely demise not twenty years later Mildred's life was unsettled at best. The remainder of Mildred's childhood would have been difficult. Her early twenties would have been no better. While in the sanitorium she would have been physically separated from her family. Once she got out, life in her mother's household was likely chaotic between her marriage and children, her mother's love life and her siblings marrying and moving out. Considering the many changes in her immediate family I would not be surprised if her support network was at least a bit tattered (and no one had cell phones to easily keep in touch). Given her dead father and failed marriage Mildred may have been a little desperate for male attention. All of this likely made her more vulnerable to the apparently charismatic Salpatrick.

Until I laid out all of the pieces and put them together I never really understood how difficult Mildred's life was, even before the events that led to her murder on Christmas. Keep in mind that I had no journals or family stories to put this together. My synopsis comes from census and vital records, city directories and just a few tidbits from a couple of other sources. I hope this provides you with a good example of why I believe building timelines can be very beneficial for gaining a better understanding of our ancestors. I encourage you to start with a person you have always wondered about. This relatively simple task may teach you something new.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Clues in City Directories

I'm sure all genealogists have used city directories to trace families from year to year. While the federal census comes around but once a decade, directories were often published every year or two, depending on the city and time period. The information provided in the directory is therefore potentially very valuable. For those ancestors who only briefly lived somewhere in between census years, the city directory may be your only opportunity to tie them to a particular location. I have also used them to help confirm family relationships and even to confirm a suspected death.

One of my people is census-shy, at least after marrying into my family. The only place I have found him after marriage is in the St. Louis city directory. While I found a man of the appropriate age in the 1880 census I couldn't be sure it was my John H. Hubler. By following John backward through city directories I tied him to the suspected father from the 1880 census when I found them living at the same address just before John appeared on his own. While that was a happy moment I would rather have found John in the 1900 census (my only chance to find the family together before John's wife died in 1903).

The city directory has been helpful in tracing the Hubler family in another instance. I had managed to find a birth record for one of John and Emma's children, Mildred (Emma's obituary in the Kalamazoo Gazette stated there were three children). Mildred Hubler turned up in the St. Louis city directory in 1913 (at about age 17), but not alone. An Alice and Donald Hubler were in the same household and they stayed together through 1916. I suspect they may be Mildred's siblings, but as they seem to be just as census-shy as their father, I may never know for certain.

I have also used city directories to confirm a death. I had a possible death record for a Charles McGinnis, but I wasn't sure he was my Bridget's husband, Charles. By looking in city directories, I was able to find Charles up until the year of suspected death at which point Bridget appeared, listed as the widow of Charles. I later confirmed this with information from Charles' Civil War pension application file.

One final example involves the 1883 Kalamazoo census. I found a William Flynn (a blacksmith) living with my relative Lawrence Flynn. I had always wondered who he was as I never found him in any other Kalamazoo records. I later determined through newspapers, death and census records that William and Lawrence were cousins.

I hope you have similar luck in tracking down some of your elusive ancestors using clues from city directories.
To begin looking for your family in Kalamazoo city directories start at

For more ideas on what else you can find about your ancestors (and community in general in city directories) read my post More Than Just Names.  I also list repositories for Kalamazoo city directories and some from neighboring counties.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mark Twain in Kalamazoo

In December 1871, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) came to town to give a talk before the Young Men's Library Association as well as an assemblage of the public from Kalamazoo and the surrounding area. His proposed subject was Artemas Ward, the assumed name of a humorist by the name of Charles Farrar Browne. However, Clemens decided to change the program and spoke a little about his experiences as recounted in his recently released book, “Roughing It.” He had been on the lecture circuit and was probably tired of the old Artemas Ward schtick by then.

This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cwpbh.04761.  It was taken by Matthew Brady in Feb 1871.
Opinions differed as to whether the audience got their money's worth or should have had their admission remitted. The Kalamazoo Gazette [Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-22-1871, P3] described the spectators as being rapt, on the edge of their seats one moment and rolling with laughter the next. The Kalamazoo Telegraph [Kalamazoo Telegraph, 12-18-1871, p4, col.1] correspondent, on the other hand, felt that the audience had been imposed upon for having such a disjointed collection of stories fed to them as a “lecture.” Ironically, a Google search for the Artemas Ward speech of Mark Twain came up with one newspaper article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle [11-22-1871] that described it as follows: “On the whole, the lecture. . . was actually nothing but a discursive and pleasant bundle of stories, bound together by a cord of quaint fancy.”

Union Hall, where the lecture was held, was packed, even including the aisles. As there was no reserved seating, many arrived early to secure a seat and according to the Gazette, “it became a grab game.” Both news outlets stated that no lecturer visiting Kalamazoo had drawn a larger crowd except for John B. Gough, a noted temperance orator.

The Gazette described the mix of stories adding “these, interspersed with a description of the country, so minute, so picturesque, and yet no doubt so true, that one could almost imagine himself standing where the narrator had stood, and gazing across the sandy and forsaken plain, or with him peering into the clear and placid waters of Lake Tahoe. One moment he would be dealing with a description of scenery that would rise to the loftiest heights of grandeur, the next, his humor would break out as it seemed, involuntarily, and instead of the listening, wrapt, [sic] enchanted audience of the moment before, would be one swayed in the convulsions of laughter.”

The Telegraph railed that “the substitute for a lecture which Mr. Clemens foisted upon his audience was an insult to their intelligence and capacity” and that “no lecturer we regret to say, ever more completely disappointed his hearers.” The Telegraph continued that “Mr. Clemens had no right to impose upon his hearers any such desultory trash as they were subjected to.” The Telegraph correspondent must have known that his sentiments were not shared by the Gazette reporter and ended his diatribe saying Mr. Clemens “should have given the lecture he contracted to deliver, or something equally good, in its stead, and not put us off with a rambling, disconnected talk about a hackneyed subject, sans wit, sans information, sans sense. It is the duty of the press to expose such impositions, and if other journals remain silent, we shall not.”

Mark Twain's visit certainly drew a large crowd, but whether his lecture left his audience wishing to obtain a copy of his latest book or wanting a refund seems open to debate. One thing is clear of the opinions of the Telegraph and the Gazette, never the twain shall meet. It is possible that the Telegraph reporter was expecting an informative lecture. Though he stated he had read and enjoyed Twain's books I doubt he would have appreciated the Artemas Ward “lecture” any more than the one he heard. I suspect those that merely wanted an entertaining evening, without a preconceived notion of what a “lecture” should be, were rewarded.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Kalamazoo Valley Museum

There is a little something for everyone at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. It is part children's museum, part Kalamazoo history museum, part repository of historical artifacts. And with both permanent and temporary exhibits as well as a planetarium, it is difficult to know where to begin. If you live in the area and have a free afternoon, I recommend that you take a look. Best of all, admission is free, though the planetarium show costs $3 per person.

You may first want to visit their re-vamped website to get an overview of their offerings and to see what temporary exhibits are currently there. As of February 2012, a new exhibit just opened entitled Disease Detectives that will stay at the KVM through May 28th. There are usually four to six temporary exhibits per year between their two galleries on the 1st and 3rd floors.

If you remember the mummy that used to be located in the little museum above the library, you can visit it again at the KVM and see the X-rays done on it in recent years.

Behind the public face of the KVM are scholars who are working hard to collect and make available photographs (through a collaboration with the Kalamazoo Public Library) and documents from our city's past. Through blog posts, segments of letters (from a Civil War soldier) and diary entries (from a young woman starting in 1909) are being shared with the public.

Free monthly lectures (the Sunday History Series), from September through May, are also held here on various topics, some of definite interest to those conducting research into family history, and thus Kalamazoo history.

For those of us who don't live in the area, there is still one thing that the KVM can offer us: their online magazine. Formerly entitled Museography, but just renamed museON, it is more than just an advertisement for the current exhibits in the museum. The magazine is published three times per year. In every issue there are articles relating to Kalamazoo history from prominent citizens to neighborhoods to industries in the area (like automobiles, and I mean before there was ever a GM plant in town). Better yet, all past issues are available for download through the KVM website.

The Kalamazoo Valley Museum has a lot to offer and I encourage you to take a look.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

John Harrigan: Who Done It?

For those of you who read my blog post about the death of John Harrigan (found with his throat slit), you may have noticed that I mentioned John's son, Henry Harrigan, a couple of times. While I didn't exactly point the finger at him, I would be lying if I told you that I didn't consider him the primary suspect.

Before I go further, let's take a step back. The household at the time of John's death consisted of: John, age 45, his wife Mary (41), and their children, Mary (18), Henry (17), Charles (15), Frank (7) and George (3). I think we can safely eliminate the two youngest children from suspicion. As far as I can tell from newspaper accounts (and the Ross Coller file), all of the family led unremarkable lives with the exception of Henry and possibly Charles (who cheated his elderly mother out of some money, or tried to until she sued him, but that's a story for another blog post).

So why have I focused on Henry, you may ask? Well, for one thing, most murders are committed by a family member. And in cases in which a child kills a parent it is most often a teenage son. [1] In the U.S. from 1976-2005, 4950 cases were reported in which a father was killed by his son. Of those, 53% were killed by a son aged 15-25. Seventeen-year-old sons topped the list with 353 patricides (7%). Henry Harrigan just happened to be seventeen when his father died, though this hardly proves his guilt.

One thing I would like to submit into evidence are the signatures of Henry, Charles and Daniel (John's brother) Harrigan from the coroner's inquest. Keep in mind that the inquest was held at the Harrigan home mere hours after John's body was found by Charles in a blood-spattered room. While thankfully I have no personal experience here, I can only imagine that I would be quite shaken if I were asked to give testimony under these circumstances, especially after seeing the room and body. Before I go any further, take a look at the signatures.  Click on the image to see a larger version.

Did you notice anything interesting about Henry's signature? Unlike Daniel's which appears shaky (especially for a man of 36), Henry's looks almost like calligraphy to me. Ask yourself this: is this the signature of someone at all disturbed by the bloody death of his father just a couple of hours previously? Even if they didn't get along I find it difficult to believe that Henry's signature could look so, well. . . perfect.

As I am hardly a handwriting expert, I decided to consult Paula Sassi (a certified graphologist) to get an informed opinion. For those of you who listen to Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems Podcast, you may recognize the name from episode 116. If not, you can watch Paula analyze a handwriting sample for Lisa here.

I sent Paula a copy of the coroner's inquest statements which included the signatures of those questioned. Beyond this, I did not provide her with any other information about Henry or John.

Paula's analysis is as follows: “The signature represents the public self-image of the writer and does not provide a full representation of the personality as seen in the handwriting.
Henry's signature, considering the circumstances and timing of this signing, appears to be very controlled with little emotional upset. His writing shows intelligence and an ability to maintain secrets as seen in his retraced “e.” The first capital “H” also has a beginning hook at the bottom which can be an indication of someone who has acquisitive tendencies. He wanted to acquire wealth for himself and this is further evidenced by the full lower loop of his “y.” This can be seen as a money bag, and along with the full “g” loop, shows that he had strong material and physical desires. Becoming wealthy and well connected was probably important to him. He had a good intelligence for a young man and could be logical and analytical in his thinking along with having some intuitive ability. His i-dot indicates that he had a good eye on the future and was moving forward in a steady and controlled fashion. The flourishes at the top of the H's may just be an affectation of the writing style of the time period, but also indicates some cover and self protection.”

The personality traits Paula discerned from Henry's signature actually fit quite well with what I know about him. There is too much to include here so I'll present it in a future post. As for Henry's signature, it is obviously not sufficient to say whether or not he killed his father (or was even capable of cold-blooded murder), but once I actually looked at his signature in context, it certainly made me think twice about the possibility of his guilt. Stay tuned for the rest of the story.  You can view John's gravestone and see if you can decipher the inscription.

To learn a little more about Henry Harrigan and his brushes with the law read my post here

1. Homicide Trends in the U.S. FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports, 1976-2005. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Released Jan. 2007

Saturday, April 7, 2012

On The Right Track: Street Name Changes

I don't know about you but I just hate it when I'm driving down a street in an unfamiliar place and the street name changes every five blocks. OK, perhaps every five blocks is an exaggeration, but the point is that it can be difficult to determine if you are still on the right track, unless you have a GPS.

Unfortunately, this phenomenon can also affect genealogists. I can think of three examples off the top of my head in which a street name change could put you on a wild goose chase after your ancestors. Two examples from Kalamazoo are Oakland Drive (formerly Asylum Avenue) and Riverview Drive (formerly Seminary Road). While I imagine that most people with roots in Kalamazoo know about Oakland/Asylum, there are probably other street name changes that we are not aware of. Even if it has not caused you problems in Kalamazoo, it could affect your research in other cities.

Another related issue is if the street numbers changed. According to the Kalamazoo Public Library site this happened twice in Kalamazoo, first in 1883 and later in 1925. In 1883 street numbers were changed so that they began from a central point (the intersection of Burdick and Michigan Avenue (formerly Main St). Prior to this change the numbers were based on proximity to the Kalamazoo river.

While numbering buildings from a central point makes sense, I have no idea why the numbering was altered in 1925. Again, I take my information from the KPL (see above link). This time “street numbering changed city-wide. Some house numbers didn't change at all. Others changed a few numbers, usually a little higher than the old one.” Keep this in mind if it appears that your family moved a couple of doors down the street. They probably didn't. A look at old maps may clarify this. Even a careful examination of census records, in some cases, may be helpful. By looking for when an enumerator turned down a cross street you may be able to determine that your relative lived on Village two houses up from Oak St, for example.

Once more I will borrow information from the KPL to provide you with their list of street name changes in Kalamazoo. There may be others, but this is a good starting place.
  • Cork used to be St. James. (The tradition is that so many Irish paper mill workers lived there that it was nicknamed after County Cork in Ireland. In some directories it is listed both ways. Eventually St. James fell out of use altogether.)
  • Main Street east of the river used to be East Avenue.
  • Michigan Avenue used to be Main Street.
  • Oakland Drive used to be Asylum Avenue.
  • Riverview used to be Seminary.
  • South Street east of the jog at Henrietta, was Cherry.
  • Vine used to be Rice.
  • Westnedge was West Street north of Lovell, and College south of it.
Some street name changes that I have uncovered in my research include:

Gibson St. used to be Grace.
South St (at least a short stretch of it east of Henrietta) used to be Cherry.
Village Ave was for a few brief years after it was built called Potts Ave. (the houses built in this area were in Potts Addition).
East Walnut (east of Portage) used to be First Street.
East Crosstown Parkway (east of Portage) used to be Third Street.
Fourth Street used to have a short branch just east of Portage (but not connected to Portage or the rest of 4th Street.  This can be seen on the 1890 Kalamazoo city map available here). 

I encourage you to visit the Kalamazoo Public Library website to see the other useful local history information they have available online.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Kalamazoo's Riverside Cemetery

I suspect that everyone with Kalamazoo roots has at least one person in their family who was laid to rest in Riverside cemetery. Some of the newer sections are devoid of much character, in my opinion, but I find the older sections on the slopes of the hill to be very peaceful. I got the opportunity to spend a little bit of time there last fall. While visiting family in town we spent an afternoon in section B (see map below) trying to decipher the inscription on John Harrigan's grave stone (I'll write about this endeavor later). Perhaps some people would find the spot lonely, but I enjoyed spending time beneath the crown of oak trees listening to the leaves rustling in the breeze.

Apparently, Riverside was not always such an idyllic spot. Anyone who has neglected their landscaping for one reason or another likely understands how quickly a flower bed can transform into a tangled den of bermuda grass. It seems that this happened to Riverside. Kalamazoo township purchased twenty-six acres in 1861, and had it laid out and ready for use by 1862 (The KPL website describes it here). Within seven years the cemetery was overrun by weeds and the citizens were having second thoughts.

Despite promises from the township to improve the cemetery, by 1869, the situation was so bad that some residents who had purchased lots were actually planning to give them up and bury their dead elsewhere. In the fall of that year, the township board appointed Dennis Coogan, “the well known gardener, to be sexton.” The article in the Kalamazoo Telegraph (10-19-1869, P4, col2) continued “that beautiful spot set apart as a resting place for the dead, has been neglected, and suffered to run back to a wilderness condition.”

In just over a year, Coogan had effected a change. The Telegraph (12-30-1870, P4 Col3) stated:

“This beautiful retreat for those who, after life's fitful fever, sleep well, has been greatly improved and beautified during the past season. Mr. Dennis Coogan, the well known gardener and florist, having been in charge of it, and devoting his best efforts to making it what it should be is encouraged by liberal appropriations by the people of the township. Heretofore it has been looked upon as a wilderness place, too wild and lonely for the purposes it was dedicated to, because it had been suffered to grow up weeds and underbrush, and the roads and pathways, to be almost lost. Now the change is great, and hereafter it will continue to grow in grace and beauty. A large number of lots have been purchased this season, and the place has come to be looked upon with great favor by those who a year or two ago believed it would never be made a pleasant looking burying ground. It is naturally the prettiest cemetery in the county, and in a few years will be all that we could wish it to be.”

Thanks to the ministrations of the grounds keepers, Riverside cemetery remains a well-tended and peaceful resting place for our ancestors.

To find your ancestors buried in Riverside I suggest checking the indexes at Find A Grave or downloading a PDF of transcribed burials from the Kalamazoo Valley Genealogical Society website (the records go up to 2006).