Monday, December 31, 2012

An Asylum Christmas

An Asylum Christmas

At the best of times, life at the Kalamazoo Insane Asylum was probably monotonous. At Christmas, however, the staff tried to provide the inmates with a taste of happier times. The process began in early December when letters went out to relatives (or the contact person) of each patient requesting that a gift be sent for Christmas. [1,2]

For more mildly afflicted patients, Christmas morning began with an excursion to the chapel, “as much ablaze as the many lights could make it.” [3] Inside, patients were greeted by a huge Christmas tree adorned with candles and presents. Even Santa made an appearance every year to distribute the gifts. [2,3,4] One year, the inmates were told that “Santa Claus had been seen and that the men had got hocks and poles and had helped him down the chimney.” [2] In 1898, the celebration was amped up. “The asylum orchestra rendered the march from Tanhäuser and the revolution of a magnificent Ferris wheel began. The wheel nearly filled the large stage and was a perfect reproduction of the Ferris wheel seen at the World's Fair. Every portion of the woodwork was covered with puffed bright materials and the entire affair was lighted with electric lights, red, white and blue, which appeared alternately and altogether. The asylum choir sang an anthem.”

In 1894 about half of the 1162 patients were deemed able to attend the festivities. All manner of gifts were received and after being opened and admired, the inmates ate breakfast before returning to their wards until it was time for Christmas dinner. [3] In 1894 the menu consisted of: Fricasseed chicken, mashed potatoes, squash, celery, mince pie, cheese, crackers, coffee, milk and tea. [3] After dinner was over and everyone was comfortable “popcorn, candy, peanuts and raisins were passed around.” [3] It took a lot of food to feed so many. In 1896 the Kalamazoo Telegraph reported the amounts of provisions used for the occasion: 1,350 pounds of chicken, 20 barrels of popped corn, 200 pounds of peanuts, 225 pounds of candy, 300 apple pies, 20 bushels of potatoes, 100 gallons of rice pudding besides vegetables, tea and coffee. [5]

Sadly, only some of the patients grasped the significance of the day. Others only appeared to show interest because the festivities were a welcome digression from the usual routine. “Most of the patients enjoyed the diversion, some were totally indifferent and others grieved over the good time and things that had been prepared for their enjoyment.” [3] Still other residents of the asylum could not even attend the Christmas celebration because their condition was too severe. I'm not sure which is worse, to be so far gone that you don't know the difference or to realize what you have lost. At least the staff seemed to make an effort to raise the spirits of those in their care.

1.  Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph 12-22-1897, P3, col1
2.  Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph 12-26-1898, P4, col3
3.  Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph 12-26-1894, P4, col3
4.  Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph 12-28-1886, P6, col2
5.  Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph 12-24-1896, P8, col3

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

May-December Romance

I wish that the little elves that helped the shoemaker would make a nocturnal visit to my house to label all of the old, unidentified photos I have accumulated. I would dearly love to put faces to some of the names in my family tree. While most of these photographs will remain a mystery we can occasionally hypothesize about who might be posing.

I suspect this photograph is from the wedding of my gg-grandmother's sister. Maria Therese Lane married Peter W. Rose in 1869, according to her widow's pension application (Peter served during the Civil War). There are a few clues that lead me to believe this may be Maria and Peter.
  1. The photograph was in an album we (my mom and I) believe belonged to my gg-grandmother, Arletta.
  2. The apparent age discrepancy between the sitters is a big clue. Peter was thirty years older than Maria who was a mere fifteen when she married.
  3. The Carte de visite format was popular when Peter and Maria married (1869). Though I make no claims to know much about fashion, the dress the woman wears could come from this time period.
  4. As sisters who kept in touch it makes sense that Arletta would have a photograph of Maria.  I know they kept in touch because Arletta wrote an affidavit for Maria's widow's pension application.  They could even have visited as they both lived in Kalamazoo for a number of years.
  5. Maria resembles identified photos of Arletta from the album.

A tin type photograph identified as Maria's sister, Arletta.

One amusing anecdote about when Peter came to the Lane house to seek a bride comes from Maria's widow's pension application. Maria's sister, Arletta, wrote an affidavit describing how Maria came to marry Peter (and to state that she knew Peter's first wife was dead and Maria had never been married before her wedding to Peter).  Arletta stated that their family lived 2-3 miles from Peter.  After his first wife died "he came to [Arletta] to keep house for him, but [she] refused to go."  Evidently, Maria was prevailed upon to accept his proposal.

Maybe someday I'll uncover new information that will help me to positively identify the people in the photograph.  Until then, this is my best guess, with the emphasis on "guess."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas Gifts From The 1800s

I have been busy lately trying to pick out Christmas gifts for everyone on my list. It made me curious about what some of our ancestors gave each other for Christmas. I went to the Kalamazoo Public Library website and looked in the Kalamazoo Telegraph every five years from 1870 until 1890. Some items haven't changed, like hats, scarves, gloves and alphabet blocks. Another kind of gift that has stood the test of time? Books. As William Shakespeare (the purveyor of books in Kalamazoo, not the bard) advertised in 1870 “literature suits itself alike to the tastes of each, and a book can be selected that will give to each more satisfaction, and carry with it a more pleasing and more lasting rememberance [sic] of the giver than silks or silver, toys, dolls or diamonds.” [Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 12-12-1870, P4, col3] 

One thing that may or may not surprise pet owners is that giving gifts to man's best friend was being practiced in Kalamazoo as early as 1890. One advertiser suggested that “mothers” should buy a “suit or a cape overcoat” for their pets. [Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 12-9-1890, P4, col1]

Some things, though, are definitely not on a typical wish list these days:

  1. Worsted embroidery and beaded landscapes at d'Arcambal's Millinery Rooms [Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 12-12-1870, P4, col2]
  2. “Fine furs in seal, otter & mink” from M. Israel & Co. [Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 12-22-1875 P4, col7]
  3. Elegant hair brushes, cloth brushes and hand brushes as well as “beautiful cut-glass toilet bottles” for cologne, bay rum, camphor, &c.” from Colman's Drug Store [Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 12-18-1875, P2, col7]
  4. Alabaster fancy articles, doll handkerchiefs, linen collars and cuffs as well as sleeve buttons and shirt studs from Miller's. They also advertised two-button kid gloves for 85 cents, fine quality kid gauntlets for $1 and hip gore corsets for 40 cents. [Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 12-18-1875, P2, col4]
  5. Odor cases and whisk broom holders at McDonald's Drug Store [Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 12-23-1885, P7, Col1]
  6. And what woman wouldn't be thrilled to come home to “any one of the numerous styles of handsome coal stoves” from DeVisser & Co. [Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 12-23-1885, P6, Col4]

Friday, December 7, 2012

Death Certificates as Stocking Stuffers

This is the time of year when I'm often asked what is on my wish list for the holidays. While I can usually come up with some ideas, the things I would like the most (at least genealogically) might be harder to come by than the items in the 12 days of Christmas. So, here's what I would like to find under the tree (someday).

Dear Santa, (it can't hurt)
I have tried to be a good little genealogist this year. I know I have room for improvement, but I do plan to work on labeling my scanned photos and more thoroughly citing my sources in the coming year. If you happen to find any of these lying around on your travels this year (or any year) you will be sure to find some homemade cookies at my home in appreciation of your efforts.

  1. Death certificates make great stocking stuffers. How about one for Justus Whitcomb Gary (aka James or J.W.), who lived 1820ish - after 1900.
  2. While we're on the subject of J.W., did he materialize out of the ether or did he actually have parents? If you could throw me a bone, I would appreciate it.
  3. Juicy newspaper accounts are also welcome. How about some describing what Henry “Gentleman Hank” Harrigan did for the last 20 years of his life?
  4. Where in Tipperary did the Harrigans and possibly the Flynns come from? All of the death certificates and obits I have for any of them born there are frustratingly unhelpful in locating a hometown.
  5. Is our Clemens family really related to Mark Twain like Grandma said? So far, I've failed to find a connection.
  6. Is our John Brown, born in RI and early settler in Cohocton, NY, really a brother of Thurston Brown (they say the kids or grandkids who married were cousins)? If so, I could extend the lineage back a few more generations.
  7. Any photos of any of my people would be a wonderful present. No wrapping necessary.
  8. Any information, significant or trifling, about Joseph Salpatrick, the Christmas morning murderer.
  9. Any birth/death/marriage/divorce/parent/sibling/children/other information for anyone not singled out above.
  10. And would it be too much to ask for your elves to label all of my unidentified photos.

And here's one for the “if you're going to dream, dream big” category: a diary or a trove of letters from any one of my ancestors or their kin, particularly one of those elusive types.

I think I can say with certainty that I will never find all of the items on my wish list. However, I'm sure that I will eventually be able to cross some of them off. After all, there are still a lot of resources I have not been able to search due to time and distance constraints. I have come a long way in the nearly dozen years I have been researching my family history and I can't wait to see what else I learn about “my people's” lives over the next dozen.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

WMU Archives Update!

Because construction of the Charles and Lynn Zhang Legacy Collections Center hadn't progressed past the dirt and diggers phase when I was in Kalamazoo last month I won't bother showing you a photograph of the site. I can, however give you a peek at the artist's projections for the new home of the Western Michigan University Archives and Local History Collections.

The new building will be named after Charles and Lynn Zhang who made a substantial donation. [1] The two WMU alumni are also local business people (Zhang Financial). [1] Other donors toward the project include the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation and the late Frederick J. Rogers. [1]

A diagram of the floor plan of the new space is shown below.

As you would imagine most of the space in the Legacy Collections Center (LCC) will be devoted to storage. After “several go-rounds with the building design,” Sharon Carlson, Director of the Archives was happy to inform me that all of the archives materials, including items currently off-site, will be housed in the LCC. In addition, there will be room to expand on-site holdings into the future. The reason that so many resources can be housed in a relatively small space is the result of using collapsible shelving.

Dr. Carlson said that she is most looking forward to having “all of our collections together in a temperature and humidity controlled space which will be accessible to all patrons.” No more storing boxes in an old swimming pool! Although I imagine she won't miss capturing critters that managed to make their way into East Hall over the years she will miss “the atmosphere and the historical nature of the building.” Dr. Carlson continued “East Hall is also situated on what I think is the most beautiful part of Western's campus. We are all eagerly anticipating the new building but we are starting to feel a bit nostalgic about East Hall.”

Asked about some of the collections housed in the Archives, Dr. Carlson stated she thinks “the University side of the office is sometimes overlooked.” As for other unique resources, Dr. Carlson cites “the records of the Kalamazoo Ladies' Library Association, including the architectural drawings for the building. The Kalamazoo Ladies' Library Association building was the first to be constructed by and for a women's organization in the United States.” For a nice (and brief, for those with limited time) description of the Kalamazoo Ladies' Library Association please see this article at Seeking Michigan. It was written by Dr. Carlson, who earned a Ph.D. in history for her work on the subject.

Work to catalog the items in the recently donated Kalamazoo Gazette archive (for more see: WMU Archives' Big News) continues. While the photograph files will eventually be available, the Gazette clippings file is slated to be open for research “early next year,” according to Dr. Carlson. These random clippings primarily span the years from the 1930s to the 1990s. Though hit or miss, if you find something you didn't know then it was worth the effort to look. Dr. Carlson and Lynn Houghton, author of Kalamazoo Lost & Found, plan to give a talk for the Kalamazoo County Historical Society on Monday night and go into greater detail.

1. Ursula Zerilli. Future Western Michigan University archives center named for Charles and Lynn Zhang. Published Sep. 21, 2012 at

Friday, November 23, 2012

90 Years Late

The Civil War soldier died on November 24, 1916, but his gravestone was set in place ninety years later, almost to the day. Lawrence Flynn was no longer forgotten. But why had his grave lain unmarked for so long? The simple answer was likely an absence of money, but I wanted to know why.

When Lawrence mustered out of the 1st Michigan Engineers & Mechanics in September 1865, he was still a young man, having just turned twenty-one. Unfortunately, he suffered a spinal injury while in service that pushed his last lumbar vertebra forward so that it apparently impinged on his spinal nerve. This resulted, according to one doctor who examined him, in “extreme neuralgia pains in both legs on standing or walking.” [1] Lawrence, himself, stated he experienced pain except when lying prone. [2]

Despite his injury Lawrence pursued a career. Apparently wishing to be more than a farmer, like his father, Lawrence wasted no time after the war in learning a trade. He moved in with his brother Michael, a successful Three Rivers carriage maker and lived with him for at least a couple of years learning the carriage business, particularly wordworking. [2] According to the 1870 census Lawrence was employed in a carriage-making shop in Constantine. By 1877 he had moved to Kalamazoo to join the burgeoning carriage industry there.

For most of his working life, Lawrence worked as a carpenter in one of a number of carriage-making shops. He even opened his own shop (twice), with a friend and blacksmith, Frank Whaling. Their business failed the second time after he and his partner quarreled. The case went to court, but despite examining the microfilmed records I am still in ignorance of the result. The court papers end with the appointment of a receiver to examine the books. After his business failed Lawrence continued working as a carriage maker and by 1901 was an employee of the Michigan Buggy Company. He would have been put out of work for many months when the entire plant burned to the ground in 1902. [See before and after photos and read the story] After the company rebuilt, Lawrence again worked for Michigan Buggy (at least in 1903 and 1908), but whether there or elsewhere he continued to work as a carriage maker (according to Kalamazoo city directories) until after 1910 when age (he was then 66) and ill-health presumably forced him to quit.

Another stressor for Lawrence, as well as a drain on his finances, was a lawsuit over the ownership of his home. This suit dragged out for five years, eventually concluding in 1908 when Lawrence was forced to move. This case may have originated in a breach of contract lawsuit from 1893 (the same parties were in both cases). Unfortunately, I have been unable to find the court records for the 1893 case, though I've searched the Kalamazoo chancery index more than once. The only references I have came from notices in the Kalamazoo Telegraph.

By 1911, and again in 1912, Lawrence was listed as a laborer in the Kalamazoo city directory. The next published directory in 1915 lists no occupation for him at all. How much Lawrence was physically able to work during these years is questionable. Even in his 30s, 40s and early 50s Lawrence was sometimes laid up for weeks at a time as a result of pain from his back injury. [2,3,4] This also seems to have played a role in the demise of his business, according to statements made by his partner. Lawrence did receive a military pension of $24/month in the last years of his life, but in the absence of additional income it was probably difficult for Lawrence, his wife and daughter to make ends meet.

The salary brought home by Lawrence's schoolteacher daughter, Mabel, was likely important in supporting the family. Upon Lawrence's death at the age of seventy-two, Lawrence's family apparently could not even afford a grave stone. And so, his burial plot lay unmarked for nearly ninety years until I provided information to the Michigan Sons of Civil War Veterans who applied for a government marker. Now, whenever I'm home and pass by Riverside Cemetery (specifically where Gordon Pl. meets Riverview Dr.) I say hello to one of my soldiers.

  1. Deposition of H.B. Osborn, M.D., Lawence H. Flynn, invalid pension application no. 279,062, certificate no. 382,696 (Cpl., Co M, 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics, Civil War); Case Files of Approved Pension Applications, 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files, Department of Veterans Affairs, National Archives Record Group 15; National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.
  2. Deposition of Lawrence Flynn. Lawence H. Flynn, invalid pension application no. 279,062, certificate no. 382,696 (Cpl., Co M, 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics, Civil War); Case Files of Approved Pension Applications, 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files, Department of Veterans Affairs, National Archives Record Group 15; National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.
  3. Deposition of Edward Flynn. Lawence H. Flynn, invalid pension application no. 279,062, certificate no. 382,696 (Cpl., Co M, 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics, Civil War); Case Files of Approved Pension Applications, 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files, Department of Veterans Affairs, National Archives Record Group 15; National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.
  4. Deposition of Frank Whaling. Lawence H. Flynn, invalid pension application no. 279,062, certificate no. 382,696 (Cpl., Co M, 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics, Civil War); Case Files of Approved Pension Applications, 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files, Department of Veterans Affairs, National Archives Record Group 15; National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Premarital Divorce? What?

Well, now I'm confused. While at the WMU Archives in Kalamazoo, I went hunting for more divorce records, this time for Cass county, Michigan.

Before I entered the archives I had information from a Civil War pension application file that told the following fragmentary tale. Once upon a time Gaylord Brown married Lydia Whitcomb. Then Gaylord's brother, Fernando, caught Lydia's fancy. She jilted Gaylord and married Fernando. In an attempt to corroborate this information I searched databases at Family Search. I found a marriage return for Gaylord and Lydia stating the date of marriage was 24 July 1881. A marriage return for Lydia and Fernando provided a date of marriage of 11 Jun 1893.

When I went to the WMU archives I wanted to find divorce records, particularly the bills of complaint for Gaylord's divorce from Lydia as well as Fernando's divorce from his first wife. I hoped these records might shed light on the circumstances of Lydia's defection. The first thing I discovered was that only the divorce decrees were available for Cass county on the microfilm at the archives. I need to find out if the bills of complaint still exist and are locked away somewhere where I can someday access them.

Although I didn't discover all I hoped for I did gain some information, but as usual, I was left with more questions than answers. Instead of finding a single divorce decree for Gaylord and Lydia I found two. That was a surprise, but that wasn't all. As I added the information to my family tree software I discovered that, Gaylord and Lydia divorced (12 Jul 1881) before they even married (24 Jul 1881). Clearly this is wrong.

So what is going on here? I still need to figure it out, but I have a few ideas. First of all, I'll believe the divorce date of 13 Jul 1881. It comes from the microfilm of the original court record signed by the judge (a primary source of the information). Now the question is, is the marriage return correct? Unfortunately, I don't have sufficient information to make that determination. The marriage return is a derivative record, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it is wrong. The return was filed 16 Feb 1882 and it is certainly possible that whoever recorded the information here transcribed it incorrectly. However, as there are two divorce records (the later one provides a divorce date of 27 Feb 1893), it is theoretically possible that within days of their divorce becoming final that Gaylord and Lydia remarried. Hey, I didn't say that makes much sense, but stranger things have happened.

So, if we accept the first divorce date of 13 Jul 1881 then it must mean that Gaylord and Lydia were married prior to that date, and at least as early as 13 June 1881 when Lydia filed the bill of complaint. Unfortunately, I have failed to find an earlier record of marriage for this pair of lovebirds. While vexing, the lack of a record isn't a complete surprise to me. Although civil registration began in Michigan in 1867, I have found that for the first couple of decades afterward some records didn't seem to make it onto the official rolls.

The 1880 census is likewise unenlightening. Gaylord Brown does not appear in the census in Cass county, but a Joseph Brown born in 1843 in NY (the right information for Gaylord) is living in the appropriate area of the county with his wife, Lydia. Census enumerations being what they are, I can't conclude anything from an entry like that.

So, where does this leave me? Well, it leaves me in Tennessee, nine to ten hours away from any records that might settle this, assuming the records still exist. I suppose it will supply me with ample time (in theory) to compose some hypotheses and plan my attack for the next time I'm in the area. That's genealogy for you.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Three Rivers Library

This will be a really short post because I only had fifteen minutes to spare in the Michigan Room of the Three Rivers, Michigan library. While I couldn't accomplish much in an unfamiliar repository in so short a time I was able to find a few things in city directories.

If you have relatives who lived in Three Rivers you may be interested in searching for them in the library's collection of city directories. A member of the library staff told me she believed the library possessed a full run of city directories, but I cannot confirm that. The earliest directory I found was for 1871. A large gap followed before the next city directory in 1905. 1908-9 was the next one. From 1922 (the next one) up to the 1950s Three Rivers city directories were published about every two years. In my haste, I forgot to take note of the city directories later than this. After all, I was trying to make the most of my visit.

One nice thing about the Three Rivers city directories I examined (those in the 1930s and 1940s) was that all household members were listed. In addition, household members serving in the military during WWII were noted. I only wish I had had more time to examine the directories more closely. I took non-flash photographs of the pages relevant to me, along with the title page, of course and moved on.

On the other side of the room I also found a single St. Joseph county directory for 1880 next to a binder with an every name index compiled by volunteers. While I knew in what township I would find my family, for those with kin scattered throughout the county this index will prove valuable in expediting the search.

One last resource I took a very brief look at, because I had to leave, was an index card file with information on local individuals. The card on the one person I looked up had death information and not much more. Those with ancestors who lived in the area for a long time may find more in the many drawers in this collection.

The Michigan room with its large table for research definitely has local resources for those with Three Rivers roots. For general information about the resources available here I refer you to the Michigan Room page on the library website.

Friday, November 9, 2012

MI Census Good News, Bad News

The good news is that Seeking Michigan has completed it's project to post images of the Michigan 1894 census on the website. In addition, they have included images for the 1884 Michigan census. The bad news is that not all counties are represented (insert sigh of disappointment here). The story goes that the missing records were either donated during a WWII paper drive or perished in a 1951 fire.

The counties and years covered by these records are as follows:

Baraga (1884), Barry (1884, 1894), Bay (1884, 1894), Benzie (1884), Gratiot (1894),

Hillsdale (1884, 1894), Ingham (1884, 1894), Iosco (1894), Jackson (1884, 1894), 

Kalamazoo (1884, Pavilion-Wakeshma twps only; 1894), Kent (1884, 1894), Keweenaw (1884), 

Lake (1884), Lapeer (1884, 1894), Lenawee (1884, 1894), Livingston (1894), Menominee (1884, 1894), 

Midland (1894), Montcalm (1884, 1894), Muskegon (1884, 1894), Newaygo (1884, 1894), 

Ottawa (1884, 1894), Roscommon (1884), Sanilac (1884, 1894), St. Clair (1884, 1894), 

St. Joseph (1884, 1894), Washtenaw (1884, 1894), Wayne (1884, 1894).

To start searching go to the Seeking Michigan website and choose “Advanced Search” at the upper right of the screen. Be sure to de-select “Death Records.” Keep in mind that the search algorithm only finds exact matches. To work around this you can type in multiple spellings and select “or” from the drop-down menu. The download feature now works nicely. Good luck finding ancestors and answers. And don't forget to check in Jackson county if you have any lawbreakers in your past.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Michael Flynn is Drunk All the Time

Looking through Compiled Military Service Records (CMSR) is not a particularly thrilling endeavor, but in one case, I was in for a treat. Upon opening one set of records I discovered a letter. On the outside it read “Michael Flynn is drunk all the time. What shall be done with him?” Two thoughts immediately flashed in my mind, “this ought to be interesting” and “I hope this isn't my Michael Flynn.” Allow me to back up and explain.

When I first began ferreting out my family history I didn't have much to go on. My mom's aunt told me that “all of the Flynn boys served in the Civil War.” I think this is like the story we've all heard about how our ancestor was one of three brothers who came to the US and then lost track of each other. Anyway, I was trying to determine if “my” Michael Flynn had, in fact, fought in the war. To that end, I requested the CMSR of every Michael Flynn who served with a Michigan unit that I could track down. I collected the files in the reading room at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. and sat down to peruse them.

I was quietly going about my self-imposed task when I came upon the letter. I nearly burst out laughing. Intrigued, I unfolded the letter to read the rest of the story.

Here is the letter, verbatim:

Camp Stockton, June 2, 1863
Lt. Col. J. R. Smith, Military Commander


I have a man By the name of Michael Flynn
Inlisted in the Battery and I am
Sorry to Say he is a most ineberet
Drunkard and I do not know
What to do with him I have tried
Almost Everything I could think off
I have talked to him until I am tiered
of talking I have Put him in jail three
times Since I have been in Mt Clemens
I released him last night and this
morning he was in a beastley state of
Intoxication. Sir will you Please
Inform me what Steps to tak to get
rid of him or to mak a Soldier of
him waiting a reply

I am Sir
Your [can't decipher word] Servt
E G Hillier
Capt 12th Battery

This find was so unexpected and funny, especially because it wasn't “my” guy that I clapped my hand to my mouth in an attempt to stifle my mirth. I can't help thinking that whoever put that letter in the CMSR must have had a sense of humor. Even though he wasn't one of “my” people I simply had to make a copy of the file because who knew if anyone else would ever look at it. This was too good to simply leave, moldering away, in the archives.

Let me reiterate, the drunk Michael Flynn in this letter is definitely not “my” Michael Flynn, the age, birthplace and occupation were all wrong. As it turns out, “my” Michael Flynn does not seem to have participated in the war. He was a notable carriage maker in Three Rivers in the 1860s and 1870s, until his untimely death in 1880. I found his Civil War draft registration and tax records for his business during most of the war years and no mention of service was given in his obituary or on his grave stone.

Here is the information about the drunk Michael Flynn, as provided in his Compiled Military Service Record, in case anyone else has a Michael Flynn in their tree.   He was born about 1831 in Ireland and was by occupation a tailor.  He enlisted on 8 May 1863 in Detroit into Company F of the 1st Michigan Light Artillery regiment.  Private Flynn mustered out 1 August 1865 at Jackson.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

No More Tricks for Halloween!

This was the goal of the Marshal of Kalamazoo, L.M. Gates, when he posted a notice in the Kalamazoo Telegraph on Oct. 29, 1888. In years past, numerous local youths had been “disarranging property” on Halloween night. [1] In a few of the preceding years “hundreds of young men and even some young women had joined the ranks doing great damage by actually destroying things.” [1] Gates called upon all citizens to be vigilant, even offering $20 to the first person to provide evidence to convict one of these hooligans. [1]

In 1882, serious injury from a Halloween “prank” was narrowly averted. Mr. Wm. Nye stepped out of his hack onto the horse block. It precipitately gave way throwing him underneath the hack and resulting in a few minor injuries as well as a sprained ankle. Had Mr. Nye stepped directly to the ground the lady he went to fetch, along with her baby, would undoubtedly have been hurt as soon as she stepped onto the horse block. An investigation determined that the supports had been sawed off, leaving the block apparently sound, but unable to support a person's weight. [2] It may have been a prank, but it certainly wasn't harmless.

Perhaps Marshall Gates' warning paid off because All Hallows' Eve 1888 was apparently quieter than in years past. [3] The Telegraph summed up the night saying “Halloween sports were extensively carried on although no damage was done to property.” There was still some minor mischief: “at the college, an ice-wagon was ejected into the lower building by peacemeal [sic]” and one man's wagons and carriages were drawn several blocks away from his house. [3] The high school also received a nocturnal visit. Prof. Richards entered his school room to discover tables topsy-turvy and books and ink bottles “piled unceremoniously” throughout the room. [3] “Ink was made to affiliate with mucilage” and the human skeleton used in physiology class dangled from the chandelier. [3] “The boys evidently had a good time.” [3]

One “prank” seemed more serious to me, but apparently not to the Telegraph staff. They described how the boys set the “college woods” ablaze. [3] The Telegraph blandly stated that “the west end was beautifully illuminated.” [3] Although attempts were made to chase those responsible, no one was apprehended. [3]

Although nothing serious occurred in Kalamazoo, South Haven was not so lucky. There, hoodlums ripped up sidewalks, “misplaced numerous articles of personal property” and also burned a small, unoccupied building. [3] It's no wonder that someone came up with the idea to give away candy on Halloween. If threats don't work entice the tricksters to a tamer pastime with sugar.

  1. Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 10-29-1888, P7, col4
  2. Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 11-2-1882, P3, col2
  3. Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph, 11-1-1888, P7, col3

Friday, October 26, 2012

Kalamazoo County Circuit Court Records

My recent trip to Kalamazoo was fun, productive and tiring. With so much to do I had very little down time, but that's the way it usually is when I go home. Genealogically speaking, I was able to cross a number of things off my list. One big thing was to look at the court records relating to the Christmas morning murder of my grandma's sister (Christmas Morning Murderer Gets Off Easy). I'll describe what I found later because I still haven't had time to read everything over and process it. For now I'll share a few tips for finding old circuit court records in Kalamazoo based on my recent experience.

The circuit court records I was looking for were criminal cases or chancery cases (divorces and other cases in which a judge had to determine what was fair in a dispute between two parties). If you want to examine records for either of these types of cases the first thing you will need to do is to find the docket and case number. Depending on the year in which the case was filed you will need to look in the clerk's office at the court house on Kalamazoo avenue or in the index at the WMU Archives. Here are the lessons I learned while tracking down records.

Always look in the index yourself. While at the court house I asked to examine the chancery index book to search for a few divorce cases. The clerk brought out one book, but not ones covering other years I was interested in. Instead, she asked me for the specific names I was looking for and came back to inform me she couldn't find them. I thought that was strange, but didn't press the issue as I was out of time. The following day at the WMU Archives, I was searching the chancery index on microfilm looking for any cases involving my people. I wanted to jump out of my chair when found two of the divorce cases the court clerk said she couldn't find. Though the microfilmed chancery records at WMU only go into 1934, and therefore I couldn't immediately satisfy my curiosity, the index goes through at least May 1941. The names I was looking for were clearly written so I can only conclude that the court clerk was in a hurry and overlooked them. As we genealogists are more used to searching for certain names (and can pick one out even when we aren't looking for it) always ask to look in the index yourself, rather than relying on someone who has nothing invested in the project.

Circuit court records are not always on site. Old records (prior to 1980) still in possession of the Kalamazoo county circuit court are located “six hours north” of Kalamazoo. So, if you want to look at them you need to plan ahead. Armed with the docket and case number from the index you can request that the records be retrieved from wherever in the upper peninsula they are stored. I guess in the case of a nuclear holocaust they will be safe. You should request the documents about a week in advance and keep in mind that deliveries are received on Tuesdays. Even at the WMU archives, old court records that have not been microfilmed are located off site so you should ask that records be pulled in advance of your visit.

Not all chancery cases were microfilmed by the LDS. A year ago I found out the hard way that the LDS church did not microfilm all chancery cases. You can imagine my surprise when I scrolled through the microfilmed records at the WMU Archives only to discover that the case number I was seeking was notably absent. It seems that the LDS selected divorce cases or those in which the names of the parties involved were different for microfilming. I had two cases in which a mother sued her kids (it turns out they were mooching or stealing from her). The records were available, but had to be retrieved from storage. Unfortunately, I was at the end of my visit. I waited in suspense for my mother to return to the Archives to peruse the documents and call me to tell me what the cases were about.

Be prepared to take a lot of notes or bring a lot of cash. The court house does not allow cameras. I don't know if mobile scanners are permitted. This is unfortunate as copy charges at the court house are pretty steep at $1 per page. After quickly flipping through the files I requested I carefully flagged items for copying and handed the stack of records to one of the clerks. Much to my dismay she informed me that copying of the court stenographer's record was all or nothing. I could not cherry pick pages for copying. As I was pressed for time, had found many things I wanted to examine more closely and I had already waited a whole year to see the records and could not come to the courthouse whenever I had a spare moment, I pulled some more money from my wallet.  I would also recommend that you count the number of pages you wish to have copied so you know exactly how much it should cost.  And be sure to inform the clerk that you do NOT want certified copies because that costs more.

Now that I'm back home I hope to find the time, eventually, to thoroughly read over everything. I hope to find some useful information in the pages of the stenographer's record that I had not initially intended to copy. At least now I can pore over it at my leisure.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Searchable Civil War Letters

I was taking a look at the new and improved website of the WMU Archives (which I'll describe in a later post) when I came upon their Civil War Letters collection ( For anyone who wants to better understand the everyday life of the Civil War soldiers in their tree and even to read first-hand accounts of battles this is a great resource. There are eight diaries and twenty-nine letters in the collection, all held by the WMU Archives. Five of the men served in Michigan units, two in Ohio, one in Illinois and one worked for the U.S. Quartermaster Department. One was a musician and two were POWs.

Even better than merely having online access to these records, all of these diaries and letters have been transcribed and are searchable. The entries have also been categorized by topic as follows: battles, military units and maritime vessels, people, places, african americans, clothing, death and casualties, desertion, food, health and medicine, leisure, money, music, religion and transportation.

A brief biography of each man is also included. Briefly, they are:
Alonzo C. Ide (diary): 2nd MI Inf, Co C, also briefly served in 17th MI Inf, Co D
Augustas L. Yenner: 121st OH Inf, Co B, diary
Cyrus Thomas (diary): 49th OH Inf, Co E
Eli H. Page (diary): worked for the Quartermaster Department during the war (responsible for supplying the army)
Eugene R. Sly (diary): 100th IL Inf, Co C
George Harrington (diary): 6th MI Cavalry, Co L
Isaac S. Knapp (diary): 28th MI Inf, Co I
Milton Sawyer (diary): 27th MI Inf, Co G, musician
Samuel Hodgman (letters): 7th MI Inf, Co I

If anyone out there has a relative who served in company I of the 7th Michigan, you may want to do a search on the appropriate surname. In November of 1862 Hodgman provided an account (usually a sentence) describing where each soldier was according to his information.

I examined items in the collection using WMU's system, though it is also available through the University of Michigan. The document viewer is very similar to that now in use at Seeking Michigan. When viewing a particular page scroll down under the “description” heading to read the transcription of the page. At the top of the page is the page number. Use the slider to the right of the image to navigate to a different page in the diary/letter. The current page is highlighted.

This collection is a great asset for anyone wishing to better understand the lives of the Civil War soldiers in their tree. Journals and letters home, even if they aren't your ancestors' words can still provide context whether or not your soldier is mentioned by name.

For those who want to read more, I would recommend the book “For Country, Cause and Leader: The Civil War Journal of Charles B. Haydon,” by Stephen W. Sears. Haydon served in Company I of the 2nd Michigan Infantry and wrote in his journal almost daily for the first year of the war. He was also an officer so his experience was likely a little different in some respects from that of the typical enlisted man. To see my review of “For Country, Cause and Leader” go to:  Life in the Second Michigan Infantry.

Another place to find Civil War era letters is at Seeking Michigan in their Civil War Manuscripts collection.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

No Stranger to the Law: Henry Harrigan

You may recall in an early post about using newspapers I described how Henry Harrigan was arrested in New York City in 1889 for fatally injuring a man. To refresh your memory, Henry had been touring New York on the horse racing circuit. One night, after leaving a bar, Henry scuffled with a man he claimed he didn't know, despite rumors to the contrary. [1,2,3,4] Henry whacked Patrick Reedy over the head with his silver-headed cane, fracturing his skull. [2,5] Days later after refusing a trepanning procedure to relieve the swelling of his brain, Reedy died. [5] Meanwhile, Henry, after being released on bail for the assault, lost the then huge sum of $6000 on a single horse race. [2,4,5] According to the rumors, Harrigan and Reedy were acquainted and “the fatal blow was struck during a quarrel,” contrary to Henry's testimony that he was the victim of a robbery attempt. If I had to guess I would speculate their argument had to do with money and horse racing. [3] Apparently, Reedy's father worked as a hostler (a man who tended the horses) at the Saratoga race track, a place Henry certainly would have been to bet on the races. [2] Coincidence? Luckily for Henry, the coroner's jury quickly exonerated “the tall, muscular, well dressed young man” with the “blonde mustache and keen blue eyes.” [2,6]

You may also remember reading about Henry in connection with the violent death of his father, John Harrigan, ostensibly of suicide. I posted a photograph of Henry's flowing signature written just hours after John's death. Even if Henry had nothing to do with his father's death, his perfect signature at the inquest indicates to me that he didn't appeared at all bothered by his father's death (Who Done It?).

What I now refer to as “the Reedy incident,” however, was not Henry's first brush with the law. In May of 1876, less than a year after his father's death, Henry (then eighteen) was in serious trouble. The Kalamazoo Telegraph reported “Henry Harrigan was arraigned before Justice Davis today for assault and battery, he having been a prominent actor in forcibly entering a woman's house, to get a ball that had been knocked through the window. The woman was treated with violence, during the act of recovering the ball. Harrigan was sent up to Detroit for ninety days.” [7] Henry was presumably honing his baseball skills, a pastime he took up shortly before his father's death, when the above assault occurred.

Also in 1876, Henry was involved in a criminal case that I can find no record of other than a single line in the Kalamazoo Gazette. The committee on claims of witnesses in criminal cases submitted their report. In the case of Roland C. Maley, People vs. H.D. Harrigan, claims were made in the amount of $217 and were recommended to be allowed. [8] A search of criminal court cases in Kalamazoo county during this period turned up nothing and I can find no other newspaper references to Roland Maley so I am left to wonder if it related to the May 1876 assault or something entirely different.

A couple of years later, Henry actually hopped a train in a vain attempt to evade arrest. When he heard he was to be arrested for larceny, Henry caught a train leaving Kalamazoo. The pursuing officer, Travis, discovered him in the baggage car. “Harrigan jumped off and Travis after him, the train all the time flying south. As the hind car came along Harrigan again got on and Travis after him. Finally Travis caught hold of H. just as the latter's coat was pretty well shattered; he surrendered. By this time the train was over the Portage, but it stopped, and Travis came back with his prisoner.” [9]

In 1883, Henry discovered what it was like to be on the other end of things when Henry Giddings attempted to shoot him after the two “had some words.” [10] Giddings was sent to Ionia for ninety days. [11] I have found nothing to indicate what this argument was about and as in the 1876 case, no court records were found. I wouldn't be shocked to learn it involved money.

Three years later, another incident came before the courts and again Henry was in the middle of it. A prominent physician, Eugene Southard, charged Henry and three others with “winning money of him at a game of chance in violation of” the gambling acts. [12] Southard claimed that he had lost about $400 “and that faro is the seductive game of chance by which he lost it.” [12] The case was eventually discontinued. [13] According to Henry's account it was only a coincidence that he was closing up his gambling house in Kalamazoo in search of “green pastures and longer grass” mere days after the Southard case was over. [14] The actual reason he was moving on, he claimed, was that he felt bad for the families of the “poor devils” who earned but $1-2 per day and gambled away $12-15 at a time, leaving their wives and children without sufficient food for the week. [14] “Gentleman Hank” alleged “it's many a dollar I have given back after having fairly won it – when I knew the loser to be a worthless, improvident cuss.” [14]

Henry asserted that he had been in the gambling business for about fifteen years and been “tolerably successful.” [14] He said “probably if I had devoted as much attention and study to some other profession as I have to gambling I would be respected a good deal more and be just as well off. I was drawn into it, however, and will probably always stay at it.” [14] He ended his little speech by saying “There is no one who holds his word more sacred than a gambler and no one in whose promise one can put more implicit trust.” [14] I suspect that “gentleman Hank” could have had a successful career in politics.

  1. New York Times, 8-31-1889
  2. New York Herald, 9-6-1889
  3. New York Times, 9-6-1889
  4. Kalamazoo Gazette, 9-7-1889
  5. New York World, 9-6-1889, P2, col7
  6. Kalamazoo Gazette, 9-10-1889
  7. Kalamazoo Telegraph, 5-4-1876, P4, col3
  8. Kalamazoo Gazette, 10-28-1876
  9. Kalamazoo Telegraph, 6-10-1878, P4, col3
  10. Kalamazoo Gazette, 4-20-1883
  11. Kalamazoo Gazette, 4-27-1883
  12. Kalamazoo Gazette, 5-15-1886
  13. Kalamazoo Gazette, 5-21-1886, P4
  14. Kalamazoo Gazette, 5-23-1886

Thursday, October 11, 2012

More 1894 MI Census Online

For those of you who saw my post about Seeking Michigan uploading images of the Michigan 1894 census, I have good news.  There are now images for at least 22 counties available.  They are as follows:  Barry, Bay, Hillsdale, Ingham, Iosco, Jackson, Lapeer, Lenawee, Kalamazoo, Kent, Keweenaw, Menomenee, Midland, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Ottawa, Roscommon, Sanilac, St. Clair, St. Joseph and Wayne.

It is possible that other counties are also searchable.  To determine which county's images had been uploaded I searched for the surnames Smith and Brown, hoping that there was at least one person in each county with one of these all too common names.  If you are searching for someone in a sparsely populated Upper Peninsula county, for example, it may be worth checking in case no one there bears the Smith or Brown moniker.

Images for Washtenaw county were briefly available, but were hopelessly blurred such that they were completely unreadable.  Washtenaw county no longer appears in the search results so I hope that means the problem was detected and is being addressed. 

You can start your search on the 1884-1894 Census page to see the images that are available.

Update:  April 2013.  Seeking Michigan is currently adding census images between 1827 and 1874.  To see what records we can look forward to see my post.  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Kalamazoo Census Facts

Several months ago I was introduced to the Historical Census Browser while reading the May/June issue of Family Tree Magazine. Provided by the University of Virginia, this is a source of all sorts of information gleaned from census records from 1790 through 1960. What you find runs the gamut from total population to ethnicity, agriculture, literacy and manufacturing. Results can be narrowed down to the state and the county level.

To give you an idea of what you can learn at this site I played around with it to obtain some statistics for Kalamazoo county.

Year    Total # of Farms      Cash Value of Farm      Improved Farm Land (acres)      Value Farm Machin.
1850        1,098                        $2,056,860                        73,200                                  $141,614
1860        2,159                        $8,137,368                      153,923                                  $265,160
1870        2,938                      $17,255,839                      204,689                                  $665,800
1880        3,226                       not included                       263,249                                  $612,640

I thought it was interesting to see the number of farms in the county double from 1850 to 1860. This makes sense as the total population in the county also nearly doubled during this time (see below). Actually, the number of farms increased at about the same rate as the population from 1850 through 1880 with an average of 1 farm per eleven persons during the entire period. In 1880 the average size of a farm in Kalamazoo county was 106 acres. The estimated value of all farm products produced in the county in 1879 was a staggering $3,392,037.

I also looked at the ethnic composition of Kalamazoo county.

Year      Tot. Pop.      Foreign born      Born Ireland      Born Germany       Born Netherlands
1850      13,179             1,025                N/A                      N/A                        N/A
1860      24,626             3,374                N/A                      N/A                        N/A
1870      32,054             4,648                927                       663                         993
1880      34,342             4,910                812                       817                      1,301
1890      39,273             6,629                723                    1,059                      2,742
1900      44,310             6,536                553                       962                      3,123

To round out the major places of foreign birth in 1870 here are the numbers: British America, 859; England & Wales, 893; Scotland, 168; Sweden & Norway, 9; Switzerland, 34. There were no people included who listed their place of birth as Africa, Austria, Belgium, China, Denmark, Italy, Poland, Russia or Spain. I'm not sure of the birthplace of the remaining 102 foreign-born people. “Colored” persons made up only a tiny fraction of the population in 1870, numbering only 525 (1.6%).

Literacy was quite high among those in Kalamazoo county in 1870. Among whites over age 21, only 313 could not read (0.1% of the white population) and among colored persons over age 21, only 33 could not read (6% of the colored population).

These statistics just scratch the surface of what you can discover at this very informative site. To see what more you can find go to their website.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Reserving Judgement in Genealogy

When I write up the information I have about my ancestors or other relatives I try to reserve judgement of their actions. After all, I don't know these people. I don't even know that much about the world they lived in. I am always trying to learn more to help put them in context, but that only helps so much. After finding out how often some women in my family tree divorced it is easy to snicker. But, then I stop and remind myself that I have no idea what was really going on in their lives and what their options were.

Here's a case in point. I wrote about Ada (Wallace) Hoard Alger Miner Nelson Carr (1885-1972) in my post Husband, Schmusband. After Ada's first marriage dissolved she married again about a month after her divorce was finalized. I concluded that she truly married her second husband in good faith. Why do I believe that? In the divorce record (and yes, I understand that everything in these records is not necessarily the absolute truth) Ada described how she used $150 she had saved to buy her husband-to-be a new suit to get married in and a cheap team of horses to use on the farm. These don't seem like the actions of someone who was entering into marriage for frivolous reasons. If you also consider that it was more difficult to obtain a divorce in the early part of the 20th century, something Ada certainly knew by then, I wonder if anyone entered marriage lightly.

Of course, there are times when I find it impossible to reserve judgement. Here are three instances. 1) I can't excuse the behavior of a distant uncle, Solon Lane (1841-1915) who married four women without obtaining a divorce from any of them. It is even worse that he left two of them with children to raise alone. 2) I also can think of no mitigating factors in the case of my great-grandmother's brother who at seventeen raped a teenage girl. 3) I must admit that I haven't even tried to reserve judgement of Joseph Salpatrick who murdered my grandma's sister in cold blood while she was wrapping Christmas presents for her children. To find out how he wiggled his way out of a jury trial read Christmas Morning Murderer Gets Off Easy.

OK, I've admitted my three cases in which I simply can't remain impartial. That said, I do try not to judge people when doing genealogy. There is another case in which while I can't condone her behavior I won't excoriate her since I have not lived her life. Leona “Nettie” (Taylor) Allion Snyder Fabing Schafer (1871-1958) married four times. That, I can withhold judgement on. But, then I read in the Kalamazoo papers that Nettie was arrested for stealing things from department stores on multiple occasions (a half bushel of handkerchiefs, stockings, hair pins and other items). I also read that Nettie ran off and took her pre-schooler with her. Nettie's mother posted an ad in the paper telling Nettie she had better return the girl because she was not competent to care for her. I guess it's no wonder that Nettie moved to Ohio shortly thereafter to obtain a divorce. Maybe Nettie was just flaky and in my opinion, you just can't fix flaky. I will say that a couple of decades later, Nettie let her parents live with her for the last few years of their lives when they had health problems. I admit that I don't know what motivated Nettie, but maybe it just took her a while to grow up.

Sometimes I just don't understand some of my relatives' behavior, which makes it difficult for me to see things from their perspective. Nettie is a case in point. Part of this is a personality thing so I try not to be critical of people who seem very different from myself. While I don't always succeed, and frankly, with people like Joe Salpatrick I will unapologetically judge him, I do try to give my ancestors and other relatives the benefit of the doubt. When I catch myself starting to judge I try to take a step back to the facts to see if they can shed light on the behavior I find puzzling. Sometimes it works and sometimes it makes me glad I don't actually know these person and have to deal with them. But, that's the way it is with family, sometimes.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Civil War Stories. What to Believe?

While researching the Civil War service of my great-grandfather's brother, Lawrence Flynn, I made use of his compiled military service record, pension application file and histories of the units with which he served. I then wrote a brief description of his time in the military to share with my family. It was not the most thrilling read, but was as accurate as I could reasonably make it considering I had no personal stories to include. So, you can imagine my great joy when I found a Kalamazoo Gazette article at containing an interview with Lawrence.

Photo of Lawrence Flynn taken during the 1860s.  From the author's collection.  All rights reserved.

“Camp Fire Tales” it was titled and I eagerly began to read. The article explained that Lawrence, aged seventeen, first attempted to enlist in Kalamazoo where he was reportedly attending school. Turned away, Lawrence traveled to Saginaw where he joined the First Michigan Lancers in October of 1861, though still underage. Lawrence may have believed it would be romantic to wield a lance while riding into battle on a horse, but that never came to pass. The regiment was disbanded within about six months, in part for a lack of horses and in part due to the large number of Canadians enrolled. So far, the article agreed with what I had previously found, though the bits about going to school and attempting to enlist in Kalamazoo were new to me.

By the third paragraph, however, I realized something was amiss. The article's author, Harry W. Bush, stated that soon after the Lancers were disbanded Lawrence enlisted in Company M of the First Michigan Engineers and Mechanics on Sept. 24, 1862. While Lawrence did join Co. M, according to documents in his pension application file he did not sign up until Oct. 22, 1863. Moreover, he could not have joined the company in 1862 because company M was only formed in late 1863. They were quickly put into service, however, because by mid-November Company M was already busily at work securing the railroads in Tennessee and soon after in Alabama. [1]

Bush then stated that “while [Lawrence] may have missed some of the preliminary fighting done by the organization . . . he joined in time to participate in the fight at Lavergne, Tenn., January 1, 1863.” [2] Bush followed this by describing the battle of Stone's River in which the Engineers successfully fended off the Confederates who were attempting to sever the railroad supply lines at Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He ended the passage saying “comrade Flynn was one of the men who helped beat off the rebel cavalrymen.” [2]

The rapid, yet solid construction of the Elk River bridge was also discussed. Again the implication was that Lawrence participated. But this feat too occurred prior to Lawrence's entry into service.

Finally, the article included another incident in which Lawrence reportedly played a key role. The story was that a group of twenty-eight Engineers & Mechanics was camped for the night. Suddenly, a colored man emerged from the darkness to tell them they were surrounded and would surely be attacked by the Confederates at dawn. Lawrence volunteered to pass through the enemy lines to seek aid. “I started out,” Lawrence related “and crawled along the ground for what seemed miles until I was well past the rebels. Then I got up and ran to Tullahoma [Tennessee] and gave the alarm. Just at daylight I guided a force of 700 boys in blue to where the rebels lay.” They drove off the Confederates, capturing some of them and saved their little band of men. [2]

Now I was faced with a question, what, if anything could I believe from this article ? Simply put, not much. Every record I have indicates that Lawrence only served in the Lancers and in company M of the Engineers & Mechanics. That being the case I must discount all suggestions of his involvement in anything prior to October 1863. That leaves only the Tullahoma story. This could be true, but considering the rest of the article I can't lend it credence. Unless I find another account of this incident I won't feel comfortable including it in my account of Lawrence's military service.

So then I wondered about the interview for this article. I can imagine three possibilities to explain the errors in the article. 1) Lawrence described some major exploits of the First Michigan Engineers & Mechanics and the reporter assumed Lawrence was involved. 2) Lawrence insinuated that he participated in these events. Or, 3) Lawrence simply lied. Sadly, I'll never know which is closest to the truth. I certainly don't want to believe that Lawrence lied about his service, but I can't rule it out either. In Lawrence's defense, the investigator for his brother Edward's pension considered Lawrence to have a good reputation in the community and to be a reliable source. And yes, I have seen instances in which people were considered unreliable. Unfortunately, that doesn't help me resolve where the fault lies for this article's errors.

One thing I did obtain from the article was a photo of Lawrence. I have only one identified photograph of Lawrence that was taken in the 1860s so it was like finding buried treasure even though the picture is of poor quality. Lawrence appeared to be bald and sported a very bushy, though well-groomed mustache. Lawrence died only months after the article was published and since money was scarce, this may have been the last photograph taken of him. While overall, the article proved to be a disappointment as it related to enlivening my account of Lawrence's military service, the photo saved it from being a total loss.

  1. Hoffman, Mark. “My Brave Mechanics, The First Michigan Engineers and Their Civil War.” 2007. Wayne State University Press. Detroit, Michigan.
  2. Kalamazoo Gazette, 1-30-1916, p7

Friday, September 21, 2012

Christmas Morning Murderer Gets Off Easy

I'm planning a trip home to Kalamazoo soon and I'm wondering how I'll fit everything in. The truthful answer? I won't. Besides visiting with family and attending my college reunion I have a long list of genealogy tasks I would be thrilled to complete. If I have time I would like to photograph some of my ancestor's homes. I definitely plan to look up some old chancery court cases, among other things, at the WMU Archives. But at the top of my list is a trip to the 9th circuit court clerk's office. I want to understand exactly why a self-confessed murderer got away with only a few years in the Ionia prison for the criminally insane.

Every time I think about this case it makes me furious. Let me provide you with some background so you too can get upset about something that has nothing to do with this year's presidential election. Back in December 1941, my grandmother's sister, Mildred, took her two children and left her boyfriend of many years. [1] I don't know what the last straw was for Mildred, but it may have been when Joseph Salpatrick fractured her ribs. [1] Little did Mildred realize that this step she took to start a new chapter in her life would end in her murder just weeks later on Christmas morning.

To summarize, Joe and Mildred met during the mid 1930s. Mildred was coming out of a failed marriage with two young children to support. Joe was a boxer with a history of causing trouble. At sixteen he was sent to the Industrial School for Boys. [2] In 1928, then eighteen, he stole a car and was placed on probation. [3,4] About a year later he stole a bike and rather than enter the court solemnly, he sauntered in, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. [3,5] The judge summarily revoked his probation and sentenced him to a year at the Michigan Reformatory, a prison for youthful felons. The court submitted a statement to the Reformatory that related Joe smoking a cigarette in the court room and stated that he possessed a “lawless, indifferent, irresponsible disposition and temperament.” [3,5]

Joe and Mildred lived together for an unknown period of time in the early 1940s while Mildred's children lived with some cousins at least for a while. Although I don't have independent verification, it seems Mildred was a victim of domestic violence. Mildred's sister reported that Joe “had beaten [Mildred] and just recently fractured her ribs.” [1] In any case, by December 1941 Mildred left Joe and moved in with her sister. After Pearl Harbor was attacked Joe repeatedly came to the house begging Mildred to marry him so he could receive a coveted dependency deferment. Mildred refused. [1]

Photograph of Mildred, probably taken in the early 1930s.  From the author's collection.  All rights reserved.
Late on Christmas Eve, Joe got drunk, borrowed a shotgun and drove across town to Mildred's sister's home. [1] While Joe was binging on alcohol, Mildred, her sister and their children sang Christmas carols around the piano. [6] After the kids were in bed, the women began decorating the Christmas tree and wrapping presents for their little ones. They may have been discussing their hopes for a happier 1942. Mildred's sister looked up and saw Joe's face peering in the window. Moment's later gunshots exploded into the room. Mildred was struck squarely in the heart. She died almost instantly. She was twenty-nine. The children woke up and called out to ask if Santa had come. Mildred's sister, most certainly spattered with blood, had to collect herself to get the children back into bed. Then she faced the task of cleaning up and finishing preparations for Christmas morning. “I will try to have Christmas for the children, even if there can be no Christmas for my sister and me,” she told the police officers. [1] How she found the strength to tell Mildred's children their mother was never coming back, I'll never know.

After killing his sweetheart, Joe scrambled away in the dark, unable to find his car. He was eventually found cowering under a bed in a relative's home. “I guess you don't know what it is to be in love,” he told police. [1]

Joe's first attorney filed a claim of insanity in his defense. [7,8] Subsequently, three state psychiatrists declared Joe sane at the time of Mildred's murder. [8] Jury selection was slated to begin on March 9, 1942, but a storm kept some prospective jurors away. [9,10] Apparently realizing that their only son was really going on trial Joe's parents hired a new lawyer in a last attempt to save him from a prison sentence. The next morning Bernard Moser entered the courtroom and filed a petition asking Judge Weimer, ironically, the same judge who sentenced Salpatrick to the Reformatory back in 1929, to unilaterally declare Joe sane. The public hearing of the petition was set for that afternoon. [9]

The reason for filing the petition was clear. It was obvious to Moser that a jury would not be convinced Salpatrick was insane. In addition to the statements of three state psychiatrists, the emotional testimony of Mildred's sister would be particularly damning and could easily turn the jury against Salpatrick. At the hearing, Joe's family asserted that he was insane. In addition, the defense presented two doctors and another man (who, shall we say, had a vendetta of sorts against someone in my family) who presumably also testified that Joe had been acting crazily. [9] I wonder if the judge was aware that this man was probably not the best witness as he had only just been released from prison after serving eighteen months.

The judge was evidently swayed by the defense's case and remanded Joe to the sheriff for removal to the Ionia hospital for the criminally insane. [11] By 1948, after serving only six years, Joe reappeared in the Kalamazoo city directory, apparently “restored to sanity.” The rest of his life was unremarkable. As far as I can tell he never married and seems to have worked as a general laborer. My grandmother became livid every time she saw Joe around Kalamazoo, knowing that he was free and her sister was dead. Joe Salpatrick died in 1977 and is buried in the same Catholic cemetery where Mildred lies. [12]

So, that's the story. I don't know what I might find in the court records, but because it never went to trial there probably won't be much. I'm particularly hoping to find the statements of the psychiatrists who examined Salpatrick and any notes from the hearing. I'm sure whatever I find will just make me madder, but I feel compelled to look. I just sent my request to the court clerk's office so they have time to pull the records from storage before I arrive in town. Now I wait.

To read about what I found in the court file see Christmas Morning Murderer, Part 2.

  1. Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-25-1941, p1, col3.
  2. Convict Record for Michigan Reformatory (previous incarceration information). Record Group 64-53. Held at the Archives of Michigan. Lansing, MI.
  3. Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-29-1929.
  4. People v. Joe Salpatrick, Kalamazoo County Circuit Court, Case No. S-10428, records held by the WMU Archives and Regional History Collections, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI.
  5. People v. Joe Salpatrick, Kalamazoo County Circuit Court, Case No. not recorded on copies in my possession, records held by the WMU Archives and Regional History Collections, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI.
  6. Interview with one of the children, name withheld.
  7. Kalamazoo Gazette, 2-28-1942.
  8. Ross Coller file (on Mildred). Held at the WMU Archives and Regional History Collections. Western Michigan University. Kalamazoo, MI.
  9. Kalamazoo Gazette, 3-10-1942.
  10. Criminal Court Docket. 9th Circuit Court clerk's office. Kalamazoo, MI.
  11. Kalamazoo Gazette, 3-18-1942.
  12. Joseph Salpatrick obituary, Kalamazoo, Michigan, Kalamazoo Gazette 09-02-1977 Sect. B, p10, col4.

For more information on what you might find about your relatives see my post on the Ross Coller files.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Online Kalamazoo Photograph Index

Did you know that you can view about 3000 photographs related to Kalamazoo on the Kalamazoo Public Library website? This index is a collaboration between the KPL, the Kalamazoo Valley Museum and the WMU Archives and Regional History Collections. Each institution provided photos: KPL (about 1200), KVM (about 1000) and WMU (800).

Some of the photos are more recent, from the 1980s and 1990s, but you can also find old photographs as well (into the late 1860s). Unsure where to begin? Try searching for a street name, building (e.g. library), or event (e.g. parade). More recent photos appear first in the search results. The results page includes a brief description of each photograph. Select “Take me to it” to view the photograph and click to enlarge. Be sure to make a mental note of where you are in the search results (the number) because when you close the photo window the results revert to the top of the page.

All of these photographs are searchable here.

You can also conduct a photo search anytime you are in the “local indexes and community information” database by scrolling to the bottom of the results page and selecting “photograph” in the “Type” drop-down box.

On an unrelated note, the KPL is hosting another Genealogy Lock-In on Friday October 26, 2012. This event lasts from 6 pm to 10 pm. The description of this event from the KPL website is as follows. “Explore databases and Kalamazoo County vital records, learn how to use the microfilm reader/scanner/printer, save microfilm images to CD or flash drive—or just take advantage of free copying and printing during the event. If you like, bring your own laptop and use the library's WiFi network. Free parking in the library lot.” Registration is required and begins on Oct. 3.