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.