Saturday, March 31, 2012

1940 Census Shirker

I admit it. Though I have been looking forward to the release of the 1940 census, like most genealogists, I have done nothing to prepare for it's release just days from now. While I have downloaded a blank 1940 census form to see the questions posed, I have looked up nary an enumeration district. I was already registered as an indexer for Family Search so I did not have to fight the crowds who, according to the Ancestry Insider, have been swamping their site.

I know where many of my close family lived in 1940 so I am not really expecting any surprises there, though I imagine I will still get a little thrill from finding people I know or knew in these long-awaited records. Beyond my own edification, I want the information from 1940 so I can attempt to track down some as yet unknown distant cousins. You never know who may have family stories or photos they are willing to share. For example, I know some of my Hartman relatives still live in Kalamazoo. They can expect to receive a cold call from me later this year.

I hope the release of the 1940 census will answer a couple of my burning questions. The big one for me is where was my grandmother's sister living? I haven't blogged about Mildred yet, but I plan to at some point. What I want to know is if Mildred was living with her boyfriend, Joseph Salpatrick in 1940 and if her kids were with her. Poor Mildred was mercilessly shot through the window in the wee hours of Christmas morning 1941 while she was preparing gifts for her children. Yes, you read that right. She was shot by none other than her apparently abusive, recently EX-boyfriend, Salpatrick. But enough of that for now.

For those of you who, like me, don't have their 1940 look-up cheat sheet prepared, here is a taste of what we can hope to find. In addition to the usual questions we have come to expect, we may also learn the highest grade of school a person completed. The census also provides us perhaps, with a two-for-one deal. People were asked if they lived in the same house in 1935 (and if not, where they lived, at least the town name). Then, in an attempt to gauge the effects of the Great Depression the enumerators asked a panel of questions about employment status, and specifically if they worked for one of the public emergency work programs (WPA, CCC, etc.).

Five percent of the population was also asked a series of supplementary questions about parents' origins, veteran status and social security questions. Unfortunately, questions beloved by many family historians were now only asked of this small segment of society. These would be (for women only): age at first marriage, if the woman had married more than once and number of children born. As disappointed as I am that these questions weren't asked of all my people, I feel worse for future genealogists when they see how few questions were asked of us in the 2010 enumeration.

For those of you with your list all ready, I congratulate you on your preparedness! If you have that task done you probably don't need me to tell you, but for everyone else, it can't hurt to put the address out there again.
On April 2nd, the only place you will be able to search (by enumeration district) is:

Happy hunting and may all of your people be in the 5%!

For more information on how the census switched from using enumerators to a by-mail system see me post:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Records at Seeking Michigan

I have seen the Seeking Michigan website on a couple of lists of the best state genealogy websites and with good reason. I have mentioned using the Seeking Michigan website to find death certificates (1897-1920), but there is much more to explore.  The Seeking Michigan website has recently been revised and it appears that they are still adding functionality.  To jump right in, you will find the search box at the upper right of the screen.  Select a category by checking the appropriate box.

When you go to the home page you will see several categories: Seek, Discover and Look, Teach and Buy. If you want to learn a little more about the collections hover over each category.  Seek allows you to select from guides (a list of links to holdings in various categories of the Archives of Michigan), indexes (for a few records) and contact information.  Look contains recent articles on various topics and a search box to locate more (e.g. the Kalamazoo Corset Co. or Malcolm X in Michigan).  Teach has information for K-12 teachers to help them introduce children to the past (e.g. using a pioneer child's account).  The Buy page is pretty self-explanatory.  Near the top of the page you can hover over and select from collections, prints and records.  Discover is where the bulk of the records on this site lie.

Hover over Discover and you can choose from civic history (death records, civil war service records, films and plat maps), family history (civil war manuscripts, civil war photographs, civil war battle flags, early photography, oral histories, music of Michigan, main streets and architecture), death records and civil war.  If you hover over the civil war option you can further select events, the reveille blog original material (the same ones you will find under civic and family history) and resources.  If you have ancestors who served in a Michigan unit during the Civil War a number of collections worth looking at, particularly. Most of these documents have not been indexed, meaning that if you are looking for references to a particular soldier you can't simply type his name into the search box and expect pages of hits. The philosophy was that researchers would rather have access to all of the documents right away rather than have only a few indexed ones. While it is a bit tedious to hunt page by page for your people, it is certainly better than having nothing to hunt through at all.

Some details of the different collections are as follows.  Civil War manuscripts (letters and diaries of soldiers), Civil War service records (monthly returns, muster rolls, etc sent to the Adjutant General), Civil War photographs, government land office plat maps (largely from the 1820s and 1830s), other varieties of maps (1841 to circa 1900), Main streets (old photographs and postcards from throughout Michigan), lighthouses, early Michigan documents and several other categories.

I am happy to report that thanks to the revision of the website, navigating and downloading documents is now straight-forward.  The quirks that made things difficult to find and save in their entirety are no longer issues.  To quickly show you how the new page is set up I'll look at the Civil War service record collection. In the search box, type in the unit you are interested in (I chose the “Lancers”). Click on a particular set of records from the results list.  Near the top of the screen you will see the document identifier (Box 132, Folder 3, Document 1, for example).  Immediately above the document is a slider you can use to increase the size of the image on your screen. You also have the option to "fit to window" or "fit to width."  You can also simply drag the edges of the box (right middle and/or bottom middle) to increase the size of the document window.  You can easily print or save (in one of three sizes) with a click of a button just above the document screen.  On the right hand side of the screen is a scroll down box containing thumbnails of all of the documents within that folder.  Clicking on “Next” will take you to the next document in the folder or you can simply click on the thumbnail.  When you have finished perusing all of the documents in the folder and wish to go to the next hit from the search results page, click the right arrow near the upper right of the screen where it indicates "Results, 1 of 3," for example. 

The Seeking Michigan website is now more user-friendly.  The records are now easy to navigate and save.  I wish to thank them for all of the time and effort it took to digitize the images so that those of us who can't visit in person can still access these records. I know how time consuming it is to scan in family photos and documents, having just finished a bunch in early March.  I hope they continue to receive funding to carry on this valuable work!

Note:  As of September 2012, Seeking Michigan has added 1894 Michigan state census records for nine counties to their website.  To learn more see:  Seeking Michigan's Census Secret.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Life in the Second Michigan Infantry

I recently finished reading the book “For Country, Cause, and Leader: The Civil War Journal of Charles B. Haydon,” by Stephen W. Sears. This book consists of the journal entries made by a young man (Charles B. Haydon) working his way up the ranks of the 2nd Michigan Infantry during the Civil War. I picked up this book to better understand what my gg-grandfather, Edward Flynn, endured while he served in this regiment. In fact, my gg-grandfather served in the same company (Company I) with Haydon, until Haydon was transferred to Company E in the fall of 1862.

Company I of the 2nd Michigan began as the Kalamazoo Light Guard. Haydon and Flynn were not in the Light Guard, but both enlisted on April 22, 1861, a week after Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers. The Kalamazoo Light Guard, with additional recruits, was accepted into the regiment as Company I.

Haydon worked as a law clerk in Kalamazoo before his enlistment, making him much more educated than the average soldier. He began the war as a third sergeant and diligently worked his way up to the rank of Lt. Colonel before his death from illness in the spring of 1864. In the early days of the conflict he wrote in his journal virtually every day. Toward the end, his entries were more infrequent, but still provide the reader with a picture of his life.

Haydon described the daily living conditions that he and his fellow soldiers endured. In steamy summers they slogged through the Virginia mud. The mud was probably one reason that no fence was safe from the soldiers. Fences were quickly dismantled and the boards used to avoid sleeping on the bare ground. They purchased supplemental food from locals and picked wild blackberries whenever they were in season for miles around camp. During the icy winter of 1863-1864 in Tennessee they marched with no socks and only a handful of boots between them. Their battered tents didn't do much to keep out the elements at night. It didn't help that rations were scarce and some days they had only coffee and a little hard tack all day.

Through Hayden's eyes we can picture the countryside they marched through. On some occasions, Haydon's descriptions were almost poetic.

Haydon also shared his opinions of his fellow soldiers as well as the higher commanders. I didn't find any mention of my gg-grandfather for good or ill. Being in the same company, Haydon certainly would have known who he was. While finding a reference to him would have been exciting I would rather have found nothing than find he was one of the men who tried to desert or was put in the guard house for some other infraction.

It was interesting to watch Haydon settle into a soldier's life rather easily. Despite the discomforts and even hardship they experienced, Haydon at least, grew to enjoy the life and when away from the regiment (and not at home) would rather have been with his comrades than elsewhere.

Naturally, Haydon described the engagements his regiment was involved in. There are no maps included in the book so if you are like me you will want to have a book of state maps, or even better, Civil War battlefield maps handy so you can “see” what Haydon was talking about. One thing I found interesting was that despite the number of battles the Second Michigan was engaged in, in many cases the regiment as a whole (or sometimes company I in particular) was held in reserve, covered the retreat or was in an area of the battlefield that did not see much action. So, at least during the period covered by Haydon's journal, not including when he was recuperating from being wounded, Company I did not see the worst of the fighting. This certainly may have changed after Haydon's death, but as of this writing I haven't had a chance to look into it.

If you have an ancestor who served in the Second Michigan I would highly recommend reading this book. Even if you didn't have a relative who served in this regiment this book will provide a true sense of what daily life was like for many Union troops. The Kalamazoo Public Library has two copies, one in the circulating library and one in the local history room.

Really doing genealogy, at least for me, is so much more than simply plugging another name into my family tree software.  I want to learn about the lives of my relatives.  Reading this book has allowed me to better understand at least a little of what life was like for all of the Civil War soldiers in my family. If you don't want to buy or borrow this book you can read some Civil War era letters online through the WMU archives  website.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sources for Kalamazoo Death Records

If you are searching for death records there are a number of places that you can look for them in Michigan and Kalamazoo in particular. If you have many ancestors who died in Michigan you can count yourself lucky that civil registration began in 1867, unlike many states in which birth, marriage and death records were not required until after the turn of the century. Before you anticipate finding every death record occurring during the early years after 1867, you may want to curb your expectations. In my experience, birth and death records appear to be spotty for a decade or so.

A good place to begin is Family Search. You can start with the name and county and/or state and see how many results your search generates. On the left margin of the screen you can narrow your results by adding more information. Just remember, less is more. If you add too many search criteria you may miss what you are looking for. Parents or birthplace, for instance, may be listed as “unknown” and if you fill those in, the result may not show up or be so low on the list you won't find it. Also keep in mind that the records here have been transcribed and I'm sure we've all seen incorrect transcriptions.

If you believe your people died in Kalamazoo county you may also want to check I often peruse the entire section of the index where my surname of interest appears to see if I can find any other family members. Remember that the death index (though not the records) goes through 1975 so you will probably have more luck finding mid-century deaths than at FamilySearch (at least in my experience).

You will find death records at Family Search and, but if your people died in 1897 or later there should also be a death certificate. Why look for both? Because some information may appear on one and not on the other. For instance, death certificates often list place of burial (something that Kalamazoo death records don't include). Another reason to seek both death records and death certificates is that a piece of information may be legible on one record, but not on the other. Seeking Michigan has digitized death certificates from 1897 to 1920. I always use the advanced search as anything else leaves me hopelessly buried in data. It is useful to remember that the search algorithm here does not search for name variants. If you search for “John” it will not pull out “Jon” or “Jonathon.” I often search on the last name and county to start. Just keep trying variations of your search until you find what you are looking for. One technique I have found useful both at Family Search and Seeking Michigan is to search on parents' names. If the names are uncommon try searching with one or both first names only. Or to identify potential sisters of a male relative try searching on the father's surname. This allowed me to locate two sisters (whose first names I didn't know) for one of my people. A look at the informant (as well as subsequent information found) helped to confirm the connection.

For more recent deaths, has a database of Michigan deaths from 1971-1996. If you don't have a subscription, ask if your local library does.

Unfortunately, online death records for Michigan are pretty spotty during a good part of the 20th century. You may have to get creative or be patient. If your ancestors died in Kalamazoo county you can use the index at to at least determine the year of death. You can also search through the Kalamazoo County Clerk's office online. Click on “search for vital records” and follow the prompts. The results here are limited in scope, but you will usually get a specific date of death. Armed with this information you can search for an obituary at the Kalamazoo Public Library in their Local Newspaper Database.  Even if an obituary has not yet been indexed they can be ordered through the KPL for just $2 if you aren't able to go in and look it up yourself.

Just a couple more notes on death records. Sometimes you really have to dig to find what you are looking for. From the KPL index I found an obituary for one of my people, but I hadn't found a death record under her surname. As the obit indicated she died in Kalamazoo I felt there simply had to be a death record. Since I now knew when she died, I went through the death records page by page until I found it. Whoever had recorded the information wrote her name as Harrington instead of Harrigan (her maiden name confirmed her identity).

One other instance highlights the importance of thinking about your findings. Before I found the newspaper article describing how poor John Flynn bled out after he fell from a scaffold and his hod pierced his side (see my post Casting a Wide Net in Newspaper Searches), I had two, yes two, death records for him. I'm still not sure how this happened, but at first I was unsure which was the correct record. The first record was entered into the ledger on 4-30-1888 with the following details: John Flynn, death date 6-22-1887, age 64, married, died in Ann Arbor “in fall from 6th floor of building,” born in Ireland, parents John/Mary Flynn, mason. The second record was entered on 6-1-1889 and had the exact same information except it listed the death date as 6-18-1888. In my opinion it was just too much of a coincidence that two men with all of the same identifiers would die in the same manner a year apart. My working hypothesis was that it was the same man and the death had inadvertently been entered twice. But which date was correct? When I stopped to think about it, it became clear that the first date had to be the right one. Unless the clerk's office employed a psychic, there could be no death record on the books before the death actually occurred.  As with everything else, it pays to think about the information you are finding.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Patrick's Day in 1892 Kalamazoo

On the evening of March 17, 1892, about 200 guests gathered at the Kalamazoo House for the annual celebration in honor of St. Patrick, who is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. An account of the banquet was in the Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph. I'll quote some of the highlights.

“Sons and daughters of Erin's isle, who although they have removed their household goods from the green island and have transferred them to this broader and freer home of humanity, America, have never lost their affection for their 'land of sorrows' nor swerved in their allegiance to their patron, Saint Patrick.”

“Before the doors of the banquetting hall were thrown open 200 ladies and gentlemen spent a pleasant hour in the parlors meeting the honored guest of the evening, ex-Governor Cyrus G. Luce, and in social conversation the interval was agreeably relieved of possible monotony by the rendition” of several pieces of music performed by the Academy of Music orchestra.

“About 9 o'clock the doors of the banquetting hall were thrown open and the guests entered to the strains of a grand march. The entrance was adorned with a portrait of the good patron saint and the hall presented a very pretty scene. At either end were draped American flags, while chandeliers bore the green emblem of Ireland. The tables were profusely decorated with roses and other flowers.”

The menu for the evening included: “oysters, celery, cold meats, loin beef, sugar cured ham, roast turkey, beef tongue, boned turkey with jelly, sardines, spiced salmon, chicken salad, lobster salad, sliced green tomatoes, girkins, pickled pears, horseradish, chow chow, tea biscuit, Vienna bread, chocolate cake, hickory nut cake, jelly cage, angel food, vanilla ice cream, pineapple sherbet, oranges, bananas, grapes, nuts, mixed candy, raisins, tea, coffee and sweet cider.”

The program consisted of remarks by several speakers interspersed with songs sung by locals. James Kinnane began by saying “that although the people of Ireland for countless generations have passed through all the vicissitudes of fortune, and although they have been scattered through all the countries of the globe, yet the true and loyal Irish Catholic, wherever he may be found, is still true to the shamrock and to the memory of Ireland's patron saint.” He then spoke for a bit about Saint Patrick and how he first visited Ireland at fifteen and returned at the age of forty-five as a missionary. Kinnane also spoke about the present movements “looking toward the freedom of Ireland.” He finished saying “Reforms never go backward and the emancipation of Ireland will come in its own good time.”

The mayor of Kalamazoo spoke about “Our City.” “Through a picturesque valley, he said, winds a beautiful river, on whose banks is situated our noble city. From the hills can be seen a beautiful expanse of landscape. Travelers admit that our city is one of the most beautiful in the land. Its fine homes, its schools and colleges and its churches make it a desirable place of residence. There is a proverb 'If you can't live in Kalamazoo you can live near it.' [I've never heard that one before] Kalamazoo has many beautiful and cultured women, God bless them. Her business men, with their push and 'get there' qualities have advertised the city far and wide through a wide range of articles manufactured here. The town is known everywhere as Celeryville and the fame of the succulent article is everywhere. Kalamazoo has never been known to take a backward step. She has only paused at times to rest for a while before advancing on the road to development. Such is the due tribute of praise to our beautiful city of Kalamazoo, our home.”

One last note. I don't know when the tradition of wearing green on St. Patrick's Day arose, but it was prior to 1898. The Telegraph reported: “If anyone wanted to know what day this is he wouldn't have to look at a calendar, for everywhere the bits of green ribbon tell the story – it's the day set apart in honor of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Poisonous Cheese

Yes, you read that right, poisonous cheese. When I was perusing the Michigan Department of Public Health Report for 1885 for my article about diphtheria, I stopped short. Poisonous cheese? Really, I thought? OK, I'll bite, well, actually read. I certainly didn't expect to spend nearly an hour scouring Google for references to poisonous cheese and Victor Vaughan who did the original experiments.

Let me back up. Within thirteen months in 1883-1884, eight outbreaks of illness (in several localities throughout Michigan) were linked to consumption of tainted cheese. Those afflicted ate the cheese and within hours were overcome by nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Over two hundred people had been sickened and while a few were considered close to death, all apparently recovered within a matter of days. [1] The State Department of Health decided to look into the issue. Samples of tainted cheeses were sent to two doctors, George Sternberg (U.S. Army) and Victor Vaughan (University of Michigan). Sternberg fed portions of the cheeses or extracts thereof to a number of types of animals, all without any effect, though when Sternberg's assistant consumed a small portion of the cheese he experienced nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Sternberg also examined liquid from cavities within the cheeses under the microscope and found micrococci. In his letter to the the Board of Health he regretted that as he had found no toxic effect in the animals and was swamped with work that he could not devote additional efforts to the investigation. [2]

Victor Vaughan, however, kept at his work and was rewarded for his diligence. Vaughan began trying to extract the toxin from the cheese. Eventually, he settled on an ether extraction method and produced crystals of what he called tyrotoxicon (from the Greek for “cheese poison”). When one of these crystals was placed upon the tongue, “a very sharp, burning sensation” and nausea immediately resulted. “A drop of the fluid in which the crystals formed, placed on the tongue, produced, in addition to the symptoms mentioned above, gripping pains in the bowels, followed by one or more diarrheal discharges.” He determined that tyrotoxicon belonged to the chemical class of poisons known as ptomaines. Ptomaines “originate in organic substances which are undergoing putrefactive changes.” [2] Dr. Vaughan believed that tyrotoxicon was likely the product of bacterial action. Vaughan's accomplishment may not sound like much to us, but it seems to have been ground-breaking. I found references to his findings in newpapers as far distant as Australia.

All of the poisonous cheeses instantly reddened blue litmus paper (indicating the presence of a strong acid), while good cheese did not. Vaughan advised grocers to apply the litmus test to all cheeses upon cutting a new cake to avoid selling a poisonous one. Vaughan also advised additional precautions to avoid the contamination of milk. Besides providing the cows with clean forage and fresh water he recommended washing the udders prior to milking and importantly, stressed that milk should be immediately cooled thoroughly. He further suggested that vessels in which milk were kept should be regularly cleaned, scalded and dried before being reused. [3]

Vaughan later came to believe that cholera infantum, which exhibits symptoms nearly identical to those of cheese poisoning could be caused by the same agent and found in contaminated milk or on contaminated and improperly cleaned baby bottles. The reason that the infants often died was because milk was their primary or sole food source and because infants are by nature more susceptible to disease. Later, Vaughan was to conclude that several different microorganisms could be the cause of cholera infantum. [4]

Vaughan's interest in “sanitary matters” had led him to the forefront of bacteriology. He actually spent the summer of 1888 training in Robert Koch's laboratory in Berlin. [5] Vaughan truly had an illustrious career, working with Walter Reed to examine typhoid fever during the Spanish-American war and eventually serving as president of the American Medical Association. It is amazing what the study of a few hundred cases of poisonous cheese can lead to.

  1. Twelfth Annual Report of the Secretary of the State Board of Health, of the State of Michigan for the Fiscal Year Ending Sept. 30, 1884. 1885. W.S. George & Co., State Printers and Binders. Lansing, Michigan.
  2. Thirteenth Annual Report of the Secretary of the State Board of Health, of the State of Michigan for the Fiscal Year Ending Sept. 30, 1885. 1886. Thorp & Godfrey, State Printers and Binders. Lansing, Michigan.
  3. First Annual Report of the State Dairy and Food Commissioner of Wisconsin. 1890. Democrat Printing Company, State Printer. Madison, Wisconsin.
  4. Vaughan, V.C. and Novy, F.G. Cellular Toxins or the Chemical Factors in the Causation of Disease. 1902. Lea Brothers & Co. Philadelphia and New York. P93
  5. Victor Clarence Vaughan. American Journal of Public Health and the Nations Health: January 1930, Vol. 20(1), pp. 53-55.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Early Kalamazoo Photographers

After acquiring the photo album that I believe belonged to my great-great-grandmother, I naturally wanted to identify the individuals pictured or at least narrow down the time period. Several of the photographs bore the stamp of the photographer and sometimes the location or even the year. Most of them appeared to be from the late 1800s or very early 1900s. So began my quest to determine when the photographers practiced their trade. Some asking around by my mother in the Kalamazoo Public Library and at the Western Michigan University Archives didn't yield much information.

Perhaps you can benefit from my efforts. Below is a list of early Kalamazoo photographers based on information I found in city directories, census records and death records. There may be other Kalamazoo area photographers that I am not aware of.  Below the basic information about the photographer I have listed the address of the photographer's place of business as listed in city directories. Note that as I don't live in town, I only have access to a limited number of city directories.

Abbey, Lewis Clark: Lived 1838-1904. In business at least 1876-1900. Photographer in 1900 census in kazoo.
1876:  58 Main
1883: 301 E. Main
1887-1899: 303 E. Main

Austin, George W.: Lived 1864-1950. In business at least 1905-1920.
1905-1915: 134 S. Burdick

Beebe, Harry: Lived 1866-1900. In business 1896-1899/1900. He reportedly came to Kalamazoo toward the end of 1896 at which time he purchased the Wood photograph gallery.
1899: 134 S. Burdick

Billington, George E.: Lived ? In business at least 1905-1906. (one in 1930 in kazoo, born about 1873) (1872-1950, died at State Hosp, was farmer)
1905: 101 W. Main
1906: 102 N. Burdick

Bingham, Harry L.: Lived abt 1835 to ? (also listed as Henry) In business 1865 until at least 1873.
1867-1873: 112 Main

Brown, Henry A.: Lived 1851-?, In business at least 1880-1895
1883: residence corner Main and Battle Creek. Galesburg Village
1887-1889: 102 W Main
1891:  120 E. Main
1895: 128 W. Main, 3d floor,
1899: not in directory

Chamberlain, I.H.: Lived ? In business ?
1906: 112 E. Main

Chandler, Charles W.: Lived about 1873 to ? In business at least 1899-1906.
1899-1906: 128 W. Main

Dornbush, Henry G.: Lived 1878-1962. In business at least 1899-1915. Not a photographer in 1920 census.
1899-1915:  120 E. Main

Ford, Frank P.: Lived 1845-?, In business at least 1887-1900 (moved to Lenawee county by 1900)
1887-1895: 119 S Burdick
1899: not in directory

Gillis, Edwin:  Lived 1859-1912.  In business at least 1887-1889.
1887-1889:  101 W. Main (successor to Palmiter & Warrant) 

Packard, Cullen C.: Lived 1842-1898 (suicide). In business 1866 until at least 1888, in 1895 listed as photo shutter manufacturer. Kal. Telegraph indicates he was in photo business until his death.
1867: 137 Main
1873-1881: 103 Main
1883-1887: 120 E. Main

Packard, Mary H.: Lived 1846-1916. In business at least circa 1899. Wife of C.C. Packard. Not listed as photographer in 1900 census.
1899: 120 E. Main

Philley, Silas (Jr.): Lived 1846-1926. In business at least 1895-1900. Shoemaker in 1887 and again in 1920.
1895: 303 E. Main
1899: 305 E. Main
1900: in census as photographer

Reidsema, John M.: Lived 1864-1913. In business at least 1895-1905. He died in Detroit and was listed as retired.
1889:  103 E. Main
1895: 101 W. Main
1899-1905: 119 S. Burdick

Siewert, Herman: Lived about 1873-? In business at least 1899-1914
1899-1906: 101 W. Main
1907-1914: 414 W. Main

Stark, William L.: Lived 1830-1918 In business at least 1867-1880 (living in Calhoun Co, in 1880)
1867: 142 Main
1869: 29 N. Burdick

Stork, J.M.: Lived ? In business at least circa 1906.
1906: 103 E. Ransom

Van Sickle, Adolphus: Lived 1835- after 1900.  In business at least 1870-1900 (lived in Chicago in 1900)
1876: 108 Main
1881:  17 S. Burdick
1883: gallery 119 S. Burdick
1899: not in directory

Wood, Frank: Lived abt 1877-?  In business (he is not in 1887 or 1899 directories) Possibly child of Thomas E. Wood, 227 W. Vine was Thomas E. Wood's residence in 1895.
1895: 227 W. Vine.

Wood, Thomas E.: Lived abt 1840-?  In business at least 1887 to 1895. He is not in 1899 city directory.
1887-88:  316 E. Main
1889-1895: 134 S. Burdick St.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Suicide or Murder? What Do You Think?

I have been just dying (well, that may be a poor choice of words) to tell you about what was at first merely a footnote, but rapidly turned into a mystery. According to the official accounts, in the wee hours of October 1, 1875, John Harrigan (brother-in-law of my gg-grandfather) committed suicide by slitting his throat. His fifteen-year-old son found him at about six in the morning lying in a pool of blood, face down on the floor. The razor was on a bureau. John's three-year-old son, splattered with blood, was peacefully sleeping in the bed a few feet away from his lifeless father.

Within hours, a coroner's jury was assembled, statements given and the verdict rendered: suicide by cause of temporary insanity. John's wife was left alone to support five children ranging from eighteen down to three years of age.

This was the story. I had no occasion to doubt it until my mother recited the tale to a friend of hers who had worked as a social worker for decades. She didn't buy it. And thus began a quest, for that is indeed what it has become, to try to determine if poor John Harrigan truly did take his life or if someone else helped him to a premature end.

What was it my mom's social worker friend found so unbelievable? Her major objection was that it is difficult to commit suicide by slitting one's throat. It takes both a strong arm as well as a strong will. In John's case, both carotid arteries, one of the jugular veins and the trachea were completely sliced through. With three major blood vessels severed, along with the windpipe, he likely bled out or suffocated within minutes.

It turns out that suicide by cutting (all forms, including slitting throat and slitting wrists) is uncommon today, accounting for about 1-2% of suicides between 1985-2004 [1]. While it is difficult to obtain statistics from the mid to late 1800s, it appears that slitting one's throat was more common then, but still trailed the more popular methods such as hanging, poison, shooting and drowning. Of the 899 suicides in Michigan between 1875-1886, only 20 (2.2%) were from slitting the throat. [2] For the entire US 1882-1886, suicides as reported in local newspapers were analyzed. Of 6283 suicides recorded, 534 (8.5%) had cut their throats. [3]

Another tidbit that I found indicates that if a firearm is in the house or readily available the risk of suicide increases almost six-fold, nine-fold if the gun is kept loaded. [4] Given the choice of using a gun or slitting one's throat (which is often unsuccessful, and requires minutes to bleed out) I can't imagine choosing the option that requires more time (and hence pain) and has an uncertain outcome. Not only did John possess a gun, but he kept it in a trunk in the room where he died. I know that suicide is a selfish act, but I'm puzzled that John would have chosen to use his razor over going outside where he would be unlikely to be readily observed due to the darkness and lack of street lighting (not introduced until the 1880s).

From the various accounts of him it seems that John Harrigan was known around Kalamazoo from driving his dray. He kept his affairs to himself and appears to have been an introspective person and probably was difficult to get-to-know. If we believe a statement in John's obituary he was “unfortunately dispositioned,” but as we don't know whose opinion that was (we don't know who wrote the obit or who provided information -- John's son, Henry, perhaps?) I don't want to put too much store in it. I think to understand John's disposition better it would be useful to take a brief look at his background.

Of the four Harrigan children I have found, John was the oldest. We know that John came to the US during or very shortly after the great Irish potato famine (1845-1850). He worked in Ann Arbor for several years, probably sending money home, eventually bringing over his younger brother, Daniel. By the time Daniel arrived their parents were dead, likely from consequences of the famine. Presumably, the Harrigans were farmers in Ireland, but were very unlikely to have actually owned land (most Catholics had not been allowed to own land for several generations due to the restrictive anti-Catholic laws). While John was approaching manhood he would have seen the potato crop fail repeatedly and watched his loved ones and neighbors starve (at least one third of the Irish population was completely dependent upon the potato for sustenance), die of disease and maybe even be thrown out of their cottages or huts to live in ditches. I could go on, but there isn't room here. Suffice it to say that I think these scenes would have deeply impressed John Harrigan with the importance of working hard to take care of his family. Land was literally the life's blood of the Irish people, without which they had no means of feeding themselves. I believe that John Harrigan would have felt it imperative to purchase land in America (something I think it is safe to say he never could have done in Ireland) to secure a future for himself and his family. If his life before he reached American shores didn't sober him I don't know what further misfortunes could have done so.

The information we have as to John's state of mind before his death comes primarily from the statements in the coroner's inquest. For those who wish to read all of these statements, they were published in the Kalamazoo Telegraph (10-1-1875, page 4, column 3, accessible through the Kalamazoo Public Library website). These indicated that he had been troubled or at least preoccupied for at least a week or perhaps a month or two prior to his death. We can only speculate as to the cause as there were no obvious traumatic events in his life at the time (no deaths in his immediate or extended family, though his only surviving daughter was apparently ill). Also from the inquest statements we are told that John had no money problems. He owned “considerable property” [5] as well as his dray and horses. Though he was a native Irishman, several people said they had never seen John intoxicated. The notice that appeared in the Kalamazoo Gazette a week after John's death presents an interesting picture. It states: “The deceased was an unfortunately dispositioned man and had more or less difficulty with all whom he dealt and was a person given to despondency at times.” [6] John's son Henry stated before the coroner's jury that John had actually said at the dinner table they would all have to take care of themselves soon. Again, we don't know who told the Gazette John was “unfortunately dispositioned” and John's statement about taking care of “themselves” could have been directed solely at Henry. John was probably tired of working hard so that Henry could remain idle. John had no will drawn up at the time of his death.

So, what could have been troubling John? While I will never know for certain, I will speculate that John and his seventeen-year-old son, Henry, did not see eye-to-eye. While John was apparently industrious, Henry appears to have been the opposite. I haven't found anything to indicate that Henry ever did an honest days work in his life. A few months before John's death Henry began (as far as I can tell) playing base ball for the Kalamazoo Monitors team, and continued playing the game at least into the very early 1880s when he took up gambling schemes for his “occupation.” Baseball was a different kind of game then. While it may have been regaining popularity, I don't think most parents would have been exactly thrilled to have a son involved in the game. At least some base ball players cheated and it also appears that gambling and whoring (and presumably drinking) were not exactly unknown in base ball circles.

For a man like John, having a son who played base ball and apparently had no interest in working hard and becoming a productive member of society was probably quite a blow. John had survived the famine, watched who knows how many people die before his eyes, had come to the US and worked hard to make a better life for himself and his family. Had he worked so hard to watch his eldest son grow into a cocky baseball player who probably thought himself above the dreary life of a laborer? I think this could have contributed to whatever was troubling John, though I would be surprised if John would have taken his life because of it.

So, now we come to the question. Did John commit suicide or not? Considering that this event occurred nearly 150 years ago we will never know the truth and no amount of speculating can change that. Is there a case for suicide? Sure: troubled man, pacing in the yard, having his son drive the dray the day before his death because he was too preoccupied, behaving a bit out of character, but I just wonder if a man like John would have worked so hard only to give up without an obvious trigger. While John certainly would have been physically strong enough to slit his own throat (he was a drayman after all), I just wonder if he would have chosen to kill himself where he couldn't help but watch his young son sleeping. If he did want to end his life, why not take his gun, go outside and end it quickly and relatively painlessly.

With a wound like he had, John Harrigan's death was no accident. I am not convinced that John killed himself. I will never know for certain, but if John didn't commit suicide then he must have been murdered.

For the next installment of this story see: John Harrigan, Who Done It?
You can also see John Harrigan's gravestone and attempt to decipher it.
Or you can learn more about Henry Harrigan and his run-ins with the law.

  1. Harvard Injury Control Research Center and Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC). Trends in rates and methods of suicide: United States, 1985-2004. Published 2007 by Suicide Prevention Resource Center.
  2. Twentieth Annual report relating to the Registry and Return of Births, Marriages & deaths in Michigan for the year 1886 by the Secretary of State of the State of Michigan. 1888. Thorp & Godfrey, State Printers and Binders. Lansing.
  3. The Chronicle February 11, 1886. Vol. 37 (6):246-250. New York.
  4. Kellerman AL, Rivara FP, Somes G et al. Suicide in the home in relation to gun ownership. New England Journal of Medicine. 1992. Vol. 327:467-72.
  5. Kalamazoo Telegraph, 10-1-1875. P4, Column 3.
  6. Kalamazoo Gazette, 10-8-1875.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Casting a Wide Net in Newspaper Searches

As you are searching for information about your family it is easy to forget to search beyond your hometown paper. Once you have exhausted every reference in your local paper, if there are particular people who wandered around or did something particularly noteworthy or notorious, I encourage you to cast a wider net. Occasionally, you will get lucky. Even if you think all of the details of a story were in the hometown paper, it is worth looking further afield. You may find tidbits of information that weren't published locally. While we can never be certain that all of the details in any newspaper account are completely accurate, each new kernel may lead you to another source to examine. Another thing to consider is that some details may not have made the morning local paper. A neighboring paper may not possess any scruples about publishing all of the dirty laundry.

Another instance in which searching broadly pays off is exemplified by the case of John Flynn. I had previously found a death record for him in Ann Arbor, Michigan. At that time, a few years ago, I contacted the Ann Arbor District Library to ask them to search for a death notice for him. They were unable to find anything. When I subscribed to Genealogy Bank for a month, I decided to search for him throughout Michigan. I knew from the death record that he died after falling from a tall building so I believed I might find something. The nearby Jackson paper had what I was looking for. Poor Mr. Flynn was a mason and fell off a ladder while carrying a hod (a pointy trowel used for placing mortar). The hod pierced his side and he bled to death hours later. Armed with this information, I again contacted the Ann Arbor Library and they were quickly able to procure the notice in the paper.

In several other instances, a Kalamazoo story made other Michigan papers and even out-of-state papers. One example was the Harrigan girl whose fiance was practically dragged from her home by the other young woman vying for his affections. Marriage license in hand, she took him across town and married him that day. Why this story made the Chicago papers, I'll never know, but it did. Murder stories tend to make it further afield. When Henry Harrigan whacked a man over the head with his cane in 1889 I found the story in numerous papers, including in Salt Lake City. The Christmas morning murder of my grandmother's sister appeared in newspapers as far away as New Orleans.

To read about what else you can find in newspapers see:  Digging For Dirt in NewspapersBeyond Obituaries, Searching For Context, and Search Tips & Tricks.