Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Memorial Day 1871

No burgers, brats or beer were enjoyed in backyards to mark the Memorial Day holiday in 1871 in Kalamazoo. Memorial Day had recently been recommended by a resolution of Congress as a day to honor the “dead who fell in our great civil war.” Michigan was possibly the first to declare it a state holiday in 1871. The Civil War had been over for a mere five years. Everyone had sacrificed and been touched in some way by the war between the states, so far from a day to welcome summer, Decoration Day was a more somber occasion. Another difference from what we see today is that Memorial Day was truly a community affair.

In Kalamazoo, the day began in the early morning as “the good people of the village began to bring to Corporation Hall their floral offerings. . . And especially attractive was the sight of little girls coming in from almost every street, carrying in their hands, fresh and fragrant bouquets or upon their arms beautiful floral wreaths. During the forenoon the ladies of the Decoration Committee and other patriotic ladies were actively engaged in arranging the flowers – culling the choicest and collecting them tastefully into bouquets and chaplets.
At one o'clock the business houses were closed, and the citizens began to assemble at the places appointed for the forming of the procession.”

Those in the procession lined up and consisted of the: “Silver Cornet Band, Knights Templar, Odd Fellows, Typographical Union, German Harmonia Society, German Workingmen's Society, Holland Workingmen's Society, German Band, school children in the band wagon and on foot, citizens and soldiers, officers of the day (in carriages), Decoration Committee and young ladies to decorate the graves (in carriages), and President and trustees” of Kalamazoo (in carriages).

“The line moved down Main Street. The walks on either side were crowded with people; many of whom, in spite of the oppressive heat, accompanied the procession on foot to Riverside, where the principle exercises of the day were held. The procession was nearly a mile in length.”

Many people had already assembled at the cemetery for the solemn occasion. The band played, a prayer was offered and the names of the honored dead buried in both Riverside and Mountain Home cemeteries were read. There were fifty in all. The band played “the exceedingly appropriate and touching piece entitled 'Sleeping for the Flag,' which was followed by an address by the Honorable Charles S. May. In his speech, May stated “We feel this service to be a public duty. These men and their memory now belong to us; they form hereafter a part, the most glorious part, indeed, of our local history.” “To be remembered after death – this is one of the dearest wishes of the human heart. These men were as humble as patriotic. They did not expect great rewards of honors or riches for the service they so freely gave. But they did expect that we would remember them. This thought was everywhere with them to sustain and uphold them. On the weary march, in the hospital or prison pen, in the day of battle, their minds turned back to their far-off Northern homes, and they said, 'Do they think of us? Will they remember us if we fall.'” May continued, discussing the reasons we must not forget the fallen and their sacrifices for our country. I won't elaborate as the same reasons are given today.

Following the oration, the young ladies in white, escorted by the Odd Fellows and the Knights Templar prepared to decorate the graves of the fallen. Those fulfilling this duty at Mountain Home Cemetery left in carriages, while those engaged at Riverside passed “from grave to grave, strewing flowers, fresh and fragrant, over the resting places of our patriotic dead.”

I hope we all took a moment to really remember those in our families who served their country, and not just by eating a hot dog.

Kalamazoo Telegraph, 5-31-1871, p4.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mystery Inscription

Can anyone make out this inscription? Several people from my family have tried without success. At first glance it appears that the inscription on John Harrigan's grave stone should be easy to read. Then after kneeling down and taking a closer look you realize that enough of the stone has eroded away to make reading it quite difficult. I'll send a jar of homemade jam to anyone who comes up with a good rendition.

If it were any other stone, I would not feel so compelled to decipher the engraving. This, however, is the grave stone of John Harrigan who committed suicide by slitting his throat (officially). Or did he? That is the question I have written about in previous posts (Suicide or Murder? What Do You Think? and Who Done It?). Because of this uncertainty I would dearly love to know what is engraved in the stone. Was his wife trying to tell him something posthumously?

The stone itself is quite large (almost 2 x 3 ft.), especially considering that John's widow now had five children, ages three to eighteen, to provide for. To me, this says that Mary didn't want John to be forgotten. An oak leaf and acorn are carved into the stone. These may represent endurance or longevity. Another message, perhaps?

My mother has made many attempts to read the inscription, but we only have part of it. Unfortunately, the stone has fallen over and lies facing downhill. It is not very steep, but it makes leaning over the stone a bit awkward. She tried foiling, but didn't have much success. She also tried sprinkling sugar in the inscription, but that only helped with a few words. Damp napkins fit into the crevices well, but then there is the problem of making the dried negative image readable. It doesn't help that the script is small and fancy. Pouring water on the stone definitely seems to help as I discovered when I was in town last October. I probably have nearly fifty photos of the inscription from various angles with different lighting, but I just can't make it out. Here is an example showing the entire inscription.

Here is what we think we have so far:
God is good. ___ ___ trust him
Turn your ___ ___ ___ alone/about?
And? think through ___ a? trial
One thing  ___ God is Lord?

A few of the above words may be incorrect, but this is our working version.

At first we thought that the inscription might be a Bible verse, but I have been unable to find anything that seems to fit the words we have. My cousin suggested that perhaps it was a family prayer, but pursuing this angle didn't yield results either.

At least John's resting place is in a beautiful part of Kalamazoo's Riverside cemetery, section B.  Looking at the stone you can gaze west, shaded by the many tall oak trees while listening to the wind rustling through the leaves.  It is a peaceful place even if John's end was far from it.  It is a good place to ponder whether he came to his end by his own hand or was helped to it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Genealogy Roller Coaster

During the decade or so that I have been tracing my family history I have experienced the gamut of emotions. Sometimes I discover things that bring tears to my eyes. In other instances I want to scream, as throttling people is not acceptable behavior, though when the person is dead that would be moot. Here are a few of the feelings you may experience in your genealogical journey.

Frustration. Brick walls will rear their ugly heads. And finding the maiden names of those elusive female ancestors can also result in much hair loss.

Outrage. My outrage story is the murder of my grandma's sister, but even more, the fact that her murderer spent a few years in the hospital for the criminally insane at Ionia before being released and pursuing his life in Kalamazoo. By the way, three state psychiatrists stated that Salpatrick was completely sane, but the judge unanimously decided to commit him.  To read about how that happened see Christmas Morning Murderer Gets Off Easy.

Joy. Finally finding a great record or a new photo of your ancestor is a wonderful feeling. I only wish it happened more often.

Disgust. I uncovered the story of a bigamist in my tree. Solon Lane even abandoned two of his four wives leaving them with children to raise alone.

Excitement. It doesn't take much to elicit this feeling for me. My poor husband must think I'm addled when I turn to him with sparkling eyes and say “Eureka, I found three potential death records for a family which explains why I couldn't find them in the census.” Well, I don't usually say Eureka.

Disappointment. I found out, much to my dismay, that my great-grandmother's brother was convicted and imprisoned for rape when he was just seventeen. See also Disgust. I can't help but think about the embarrassment and shame his parents must have felt about this.

Sorrow. Obviously there are many opportunities for this. The three deaths from diphtheria within a month in the Harrigan family (The Dreaded Diptheria) was one instance. Another was the mysterious death of my great aunt's only son while on an air mission in WWII. Lulu never found out how he died. Thanks to the Missing Air Crews records at Fold3 I found the answer.

Shock. I really was not expecting to discover that my great-grandmother's sister, Nettie, was a thief. I also didn't expect to read that she ran off, taking her youngest daughter with her. Nettie's mother put a notice in the paper stating that if Nettie didn't give up the girl she would publish the name of the man Nettie was involved with (he was NOT her husband). The young girl was apparently returned.

Exasperation. Where, oh where is the Civil War pension application file for Philo Brown of the 1st MI Cavalry?? Of the fourteen men I have found in my tree who filed for Civil War pensions there is only one that cannot be found by NARA. Naturally, it is the one for Philo, the only one of my people who suffered a gunshot wound. I would love to read his account of what happened. NARA has searched for the file two or three times over the years and I have been referred to the Michigan VA, to no avail. The file must be somewhere, but I'm not sure where to look next. Grrr!

Surprise. I received a pleasant surprise when a woman contacted me after finding my tree on Ancestry.com. She had a photo of one of my people to send to me. This was a wonderful find as I didn't have an identified photo of this woman and it allowed me to identify her in at least one other photo.

Confusion. This can easily happen when records disagree and you have to find a way to reconcile the differences. I'm still trying to determine the truth in a couple of cases.

Suspicion. Did John Harrigan really commit suicide or did his son, Henry, slit his throat? For more on this story see my previous posts: Suicide or Murder and John Harrigan, Who Done It? 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Little Clues, Big Insights

Like any other genealogist, I would like to see how far back I can trace my lineage, but a name on a page only holds so much interest for me. It doesn't tell me anything about the person or what their life was like. That is when things begin to get truly interesting and family history comes alive.

Naturally, we would all love to find a journal, a trove of letters or a biography in a book about every single person in our tree to tell us what was important to them or why they made certain choices in their lives. Unfortunately, the chance of winning millions in the lottery is higher.

In the meantime, we are forced to make due with what we have. The good news is that sometimes the smallest of clues can help you make a break-through or at least give you insight into your ancestor's character. This is why it is important to look at your documents multiple times over the years or read every newspaper account of a particular incident. Understanding the time period also helps to put your relatives' lives in context.

One example that I recently found in the Kalamazoo Telegraph relates to Henry Harrigan's little brother, George Harrigan. Nearly two years before he was committed to the Kalamazoo Insane Asylum (more on that in the future), at the tender age of seventeen, George umpired a baseball game for the high school team. At first, this entry didn't mean much to me. It was only a few hours later that the possible significance of this hit me. I should explain that George was only three when he was found asleep in bed covered in his father's blood. John Harrigan's death was ruled a suicide (by slitting his throat). For more about this, see my blog post (Suicide or Murder?). Without a father around it would be understandable for little George to look up to his elder brother, Henry (nearly 14 years his senior). George being an umpire for a baseball game may seem unimportant, but Henry was a very good catcher for the Kalamazoo Monitors for a number of years. This note indicates to me that George probably watched his brother play ball at the least. If I really want to speculate it could mean that George looked up to Henry, possibly even as a father figure, and was likely influenced by his older brother's bad example. Whether I am correct or not, this notice in the paper made me think about George and what it must have been like for him without a father around, in a way that I hadn't before.

Another example, again from the Telegraph, told me another little thing about Henry Harrigan. I found yet another article about Henry's run-in in New York City when he struck a fatal blow to a man's head with his silver-headed cane (for more on this story see Digging for Dirt in Newspapers ). The Telegraph said that when Kalamazooans first heard of the incident they wondered if it was their hometown boy. The Telegraph reported that information coming in “stated that the arrested man was a San Francisco sport and Hank always passed as a high roller from California on his eastern trips.” The light bulb went off for me at this. Here, I had been looking for references to Henry in San Francisco newspapers and city directories. Silly me, he was probably never there at all. In Henry's mind he probably felt that no one would take him seriously if he came from a little one-horse town like Kalamazoo. So Henry tried to pass himself off as a sporting man (a gambler who makes his money wagering on sporting events) from the west. San Francisco was probably still a little exotic in 1889 and the added bonus was that there probably weren't many people who could call Henry's bluff. This should have occurred to me, knowing what I do about Henry, but now I know.

I've presented two small examples of how new information can affect how you think about your ancestors. I believe that it's these things all added together that make people come alive. The good news is that you don't really need articles from the newspaper or diaries to make this happen, though it certainly helps. Simply draw up a timeline with family events (deaths of parents or siblings, marriages, divorces, moves, etc.) and historical events (wars, natural disasters, etc.) and see what you can learn. To see how little things can add up see my post on the power of timelines.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

City Directories: More Than Just Names

I'm sure that we have all used city directories at some point in our genealogical research to find out where an ancestor lived, but have you ever looked beyond the list of names? You can learn a lot about the community by looking through the rest of the directory and you may just find your relatives mentioned in an unexpected place. Here are some of the things you might learn.

History: Many city directories, particularly earlier ones may describe the settling of the town in addition to features of the land and soil. The 1869 Kalamazoo directory, for example has a history of Kalamazoo as well as histories and descriptions of the various townships in the county. If you have ancestors who were early settlers in Kalamazoo county (I don't, but surely someone does) then you might find them mentioned here.

County Officials and Institutions: In addition to local government officials, you may find a list and/or brief description of libraries, churches, cemeteries, schools, societies and unions. These entries also often include the address and sometimes their officers and the days they meet. The 1906 Kalamazoo directory even lists “secret and benevolent societies.” This always amuses me because I can't help but think they are not “secret” anymore. We have all heard of the Masons and the Knights Templar, but have you heard of the Prudent Patricians of Pompeii or the Tribe of Ben Hur? If your ancestors were listed as officers you now have a new place to search for records.

Businesses: A business directory can be quite interesting as well. If nothing else it provides a basic look at the local economy. The 1869 directory includes 23 lawyers, 11 washerwomen, whip and glove manufacturers, a hoop skirt manufacturer and a soap and candle maker. In 1899 there were nearly 3 pages of carpenters, over six pages of celery growers and shippers, 3 carpet weavers and more than a dozen cigar manufacturers.

Miscellaneous: The 1869 directory also has a section entitled “Notices of Enterprising Business Men” with a brief description of each. Here is yet another place you might find something to aid your family history research. Also included in this directory was the number of children in the school district (between ages 5 and 20) for Aug. 1868: 2646. It also names teachers for 1869 by school. The 1906 Kalamazoo directory even lists parks and “places of amusement.”

I have found three Kalamazoo city directories free on the internet: 1869, 1899 and 1906. All three are available from Google books. The 1869 directory can also be downloaded from www.archive.org. Both the Kalamazoo Public Library and the WMU Archives have complete runs of Kalamazoo city directories (some of these also include a county directory). Keep in mind that directories were not published every year. The WMU Archives also has a run of directories for the “Kalamazoo suburban” area from 1966-1976.

In addition to Kalamazoo area directories, the WMU Archives also possesses extensive holdings (hard copy and microfilm) for Battle Creek, Cold Water, Benton Harbor, and Greenville. They also have many years on microfilm for Grand Rapids. Many of these are now available on Ancestry Library Edition to which both the KPL and the WMU Archives subscribe.

The Van Buren District Library also has some city directories for Allegan, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties, most of them from the 1900s.  For a listing of these sources click here.

The Kalamazoo Public Library also has several city directories for Three Rivers (mostly from the 1940s and 1950s).  The Three Rivers Library also has a complete run of directories for that city.  To learn more read my post here.

To see which city directories are available online for other cities where your ancestors lived a good place to start is the Online Historical Directories Website.

 To see how city directories can help you answer some ancestor mysteries read my post Clues in City Directories.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Killers: 1880s Mortality

While reading about diphtheria for my past blog post The Dreaded Diphtheria I read with interest the top fifteen causes of mortality in Michigan in 1886. [1]

An unidentified infant's adorned casket.  Taylor family album in the author's collection.

They were as follows:
  1. tuberculosis (consumption), 2051
  2. diphtheria, 1117
  3. stillbirth, 909
  4. old age, 865
  5. pneumonia, 783
  6. heart disease, 668
  7. cholera infantum, 653
  8. apoplexy (stroke) & paralysis, 628
  9. typhoid fever, 498
  10. convulsions, 431
  11. cancer, 391
  12. casualty, 350
  13. dropsy (edema, excess fluid in the tissues), 333
  14. inflammation of brain, 332
  15. inflammation of bowels, 327
One thing that jumped out at me was that the third leading cause of death was stillbirth. I suppose this highlights the importance of prenatal care. It is also possible that part of the problem was women having very closely spaced pregnancies, which could compromise the health of the mother and hence her unborn child. According to the Mayo Clinic, closely spaced pregnancies may not allow the mother to recover sufficiently from a previous pregnancy or replace stores of essential nutrients. In addition, when a woman becomes pregnant within twelve months of giving birth it is even possible that the placenta partially or even completely separates from the uterus, which would obviously have dire consequences. Becoming pregnant within eighteen months of giving birth can also result in low birth weight or pre-term birth. [2]

The other interesting (and depressing) thing I found when I read a little more was the number of infants who died under one year of age. Of the roughly 40,000 births in the state in the 1886-1887 time period about 11% died before their first birthday. Even worse, about 42% of newborns who died in their first year of life actually died within a month of their birth. [3] This could also have something to do with closely spaced pregnancies for the reasons mentioned above. Obviously, there are many other possible reasons for these sad statistics, but it is beyond the scope of this little article to go into them here. Just as a comparison, in 1900 the infant mortality (children dying before their first birthday) was approximately 100 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. [4] By 2000, that rate had dropped to 6.89 deaths per 1,000 live births.

One final note belongs in the “the more things change the more they stay the same” category. If deaths from diseases preventable with antibiotics or vaccinations (excepting pneumonia) are removed from the 1886 list, the causes of death in the 1880s aren't that different from what is seen today.

1880s (in Michigan): stillbirth, old age, pneumonia, heart disease, stroke, convulsions, cancer, edema.
2009 (in the US): heart disease, cancer, lower respiratory diseases, stroke, casualty, Alzheimer's, diabetes, influenza/pneumonia, nephritis. [5]

Heart disease, stroke, cancer and pneumonia were killers then and unfortunately, remain so today. I wonder where things will stand in another 120 years or so.

  1. Twentieth Annual Report Relating to the Registry and Return of Births, Marriages and 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.
  2. Mayo Clinic Staff. Family Planning: Get the facts about pregnancy spacing. May 2011. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/family-planning/MY01691.
  3. Twenty-First Annual Report Relating to the Registry and Return of Births, Marriages and Deaths in Michigan for the Year 1887 by the Secretary of State of the State of Michigan. 1889. Darius D. Thorp, State Printer and Binder. Lansing.
  4. MacDorman, M.F. and T.J. Mathews. Recent Trends in Infant Mortality in the United States. 2008. National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) Brief Data Number 9. Hyattsville, MD
  5. Deaths: Final Data for 2009. January 2012. National Vital Statistics Report (NVSR) Volume 60, Number 3. National Center for Health Statistics. Hyattsville, MD.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Newspaper Search Tips & Tricks

Digitized newspapers are great. You can find so many more things in a digitized newspaper than in one merely indexed because the computer can search every line of the newspaper for your search terms.

The only problem is that your results will only be as good as the quality of the original print. If the text is faint or too much ink makes the letters unclear, you will likely not find what you are looking for. This is why it is important to search in multiple ways to increase your chances of pulling out as many references to your people as possible.

Of course, you will probably want to start by searching for a particular person. If you are searching for someone in the Kalamazoo Gazette through GenealogyBank go ahead and fill in the first and last name fields and the keyword “Kalamazoo.” You may also want to narrow the search to results just from the state of Michigan if you find too many hits from outside the state (which may happen if the name is common). Another way to search is to put the person's name in quotation marks in the keyword field, though if there are middle initials the hit won't show up.

As I previously mentioned, your results are only as good as the original news print. Even if you searched by first and last name you will find results that did not appear there when you search by last name alone. I know this can be tedious (I did it for nearly all of my surnames that lived in the area), but if you find more results it can be worth the effort to do the extra searches.

To make this task more manageable you have several options. If your people only lived in the area during a certain time period you can include a year range in the appropriate box. Or, if your ancestors lived in the area for all or most of the years covered you can sort the results from oldest to newest (or vice versa). This is what I did and in a few cases it took me several sittings to work my way through them all. When I searched for “Flynn” in “Kalamazoo” and sorted with oldest results first, I looked through results to the end of a particular year and made note of that. When I had time to continue, I simply picked it up in the following year by filling in the “year” field (1897-1922, for example).

Unfortunately, this strategy sometimes won't work or yields so many results that it really isn't worth the effort to wade through them all. If you, like me, have surnames that are common surnames or even common words like Lane, Lemon or Brown you know what I'm talking about. I can't tell you how many references there are in the average paper to lemons. In these cases you may have to stick with simple first/last name searches.

If you have someone with an unusual or rare first name you can try searching for that without the surname. This worked to find a few additional articles about Solon Lane, the bigamist in my tree. Keep in mind that first names aren't always included. Sometimes people were only listed with their first initial (e.g. Mr. S. Lane).

In some cases you can search for things your ancestor did in order to find references not pulled out through name searching. For example, I knew that my distant cousin, Henry Harrigan, listed his profession as a base ball player in the 1880 census. By searching for “base ball” and putting in a year range I found him mentioned by name in notices that simply weren't picked up when I looked for his name (even searching by surname alone). I also found a few additional references when my search terms were ball, nine, kalamazoo. Back in the late 19th century, a baseball team was often called a “nine” for the number of players on a team. Another possibility is to search for a term related to your ancestor's occupation. While I didn't find any additional references to my relative who was a drayman, you may get lucky.

Just remember to be flexible and try as many combinations or names and other terms as possible to extract every possible reference to your people. As with searching other databases too many search terms will limit your results. It can be time consuming to search by surname alone, but it is certainly easier to sort through results in this way than to scroll through page after page of microfilm until you are woozy.

If your ancestors lived in Kalamazoo between 1868 and 1899 take a look at the newly digitized KalamazooTelegraph, available for free on the Kalamazoo Public Library website.

For some ideas on what you can find with diligent searching in digitized newspapers see my posts Digging for Dirt, Beyond Obituaries, Casting a Wide Net and Adding Context.