Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Finding Gold In Probate Records

Over the holidays I spent some time looking for Michigan probate records in the updated collection at Family Search. While I have not always been so lucky, I found for the first time a document that confirms both the death date and names of children for my third great-grandfather, Frederick Goff, jr. Before this all I had was an unsourced death date from others. To make matters worse, other trees had an earlier death date that pre-dated by a couple of years the birth of my gg-grandmother. While her death certificate lists Frederick as her father, that is hardly proof.

For these reasons, Frederick's case was the first I wanted to locate. Fortunately, the records for Cass county include a number of types of probate records, many with indices. I first found Frederick in a probate journal before digging into the probate packet files.

In the probate journal I found a document that stated Frederick's date of death in 1856 and listed the names and approximate ages of his two children. I was doing the genealogy happy dance that night. Once I riffled through the probate packets I found one more thing that answered a nagging question. I knew that Frederick's widow had remarried in 1863, but I had never succeeded in finding Mary in the 1860 census. It turns out that she remarried several months after his death to a man appointed as the administrator of Frederick's estate. Mystery solved.

I understand how beginning to look for probate records can seem daunting. There are lots of files and you may not know where to start. Let me assure you that you are not alone. I haven't used these records much either and certainly don't feel as comfortable using them as, say, census records. The beauty of these online records is that you can search to your heart's content and no one has to know that you aren't confident using them. Just pick a county to start looking for indexes. They may not be in separate files so just check the beginning of each record type. Keep in mind that there may be several volumes included in each link so you'll need to skip ahead through the images to check each index before you cross that file off your list. Just keep at it so you can do your own happy dance.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Michigan Probate Records

Family Search now has probate records (various years) for 67 of Michigan's counties.  Kalamazoo and several of the surrounding counties are included. 

For Kalamazoo you'll find:
 probate calendar index, 1833-1940
 probate calendar, 1875-1907
 probate of wills, 1856-1916
 probates index, 1833-1889
 settlement of accounts, 1887-1907

While you won't find probate packets here, there are several indexes so this is a great starting point.  


Monday, December 8, 2014

The Burdick Burns And Deja Vu

On the night of March 7, 1907, smoke began to fill the Star Bargain House next to the Burdick Hotel. Once noticed by a chef at the Empire restaurant next door, the alarm was raised and every fire company in the city was eventually on site to battle the blaze. [1] For a long time the thick, black smoke prevented the firemen getting more than two feet into the building which greatly hampered efforts to douse the fire at its source. [1] Fears were great that the fire would spread to the Burdick. This was more than a passing concern as many walls had been torn down for renovating the hotel and the nearly completed Arcade (a stretch of interior shops), which separated the Burdick from the Star Bargain House. [1] If the fire managed to reach the Arcade it would create a tremendous draft that would span the entire block. In that case, the whole block could be consumed.


The staff and about 25 guests of the Burdick were asked to vacate their rooms as the inky smoke quickly filled the halls and billowed out of windows. [1] On the street, the guests joined thousands of onlookers who had gathered to watch the excitement. [1] Apparently, the smoke that blanketed the area wasn't enough to keep them far away. In fact, the fire was actually a boon to nearby businesses that sold refreshments to the throng. [1]

Fortunately in 1907, local firefighters succeeded in controlling the fire in about 2.5 worry-filled hours without the assistance of Battle Creek crews (who were on notice). [1] In another couple of hours the fire was out, though a hose was kept on the smoldering remains until morning. [1] Though the Star Bargain House was nearly a total loss and the Burdick Hotel suffered much smoke damage, no lives were lost and hotel guests were soon able to retrieve their belongings. [1] In total, losses were estimated at about $55,000. [1]

Both businesses made comebacks. The Star Bargain re-filled with goods. The Burdick renovated (again) and the Arcade was redone in grand style. Now, in December 1909, the Arcade was nearly completed with its businesses planning their grand openings. It would be a great addition to the hotel and the city. Things looked bright for this block of Main Street.

Then about ten o'clock at night on December 8, 1909 it seemed like deja vu. Just as in 1907, smoke filled the Star Bargain House, and again the cause was believed to be faulty wiring. [1,2] This time, a night watchman discovered clouds of smoke in the basement and had difficulty finding his way back out through the blackness to sound the alarm. [3] Again, all Kalamazoo's fire crews sped to the site and both Grand Rapids and Battle Creek fire departments were put on notice. [2]

Considering that in 1907 everything had turned out alright (no lives lost and most damage being cosmetic) it wouldn't be terribly surprising if everyone had the thought in their heads that this time would turn out the same as before. Last time they extinguished the fire without assistance from other cities. [1] No buildings had actually been destroyed, though goods had been lost and damaged. [1] But surely, if they could save the Burdick once, they could do so again.

Only this time was different. The firefighters suffered from low water pressure. [2] The largest fire engine was in the shop being repaired. [2] The wind was blowing in just the wrong way. [2] The temperature was below zero. [2] And then, this time, the fire reached the Arcade. [2] With the perfect source of oxygen to fuel the flames, the result was almost a foregone conclusion. This time there was no hope of saving the Burdick Hotel.

Stay tuned to read about how one of my relatives played a role in evacuating the Burdick.
To see a photograph of the Arcade and learn more about the hotel read the article on the Kalamazoo Public Library website.

  1. “Firemen Control Fire; Avert A Conflagration,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 8 March 1907, page 3, column 1-5, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 7 December 2014), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  2. “Loss Near $500,000; Hotel May Rebuild: Burdick Destroyed; Whole Block Is Gutted By Flames,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 9 December 1909, page 1, column 1-5, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 15 January 2013), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  3. “Night Watchman Owens Risks His Life For Duty,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 9 December 1909, page 6, column 1, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 15 January 2013), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A WWI Bravery Citation

In honor of Veteran's Day, I thought I would write about my great-grandmother's brother, Wilbur Flynn, who received a citation for bravery and devotion to duty. I wouldn't know anything about it except for a clipping from the Kalamazoo Gazette. The article said that risking his own life, Wilbur Flynn pulled Colonel Bertram Tracy Clayton from a wrecked building during a German air raid in World War I. [1] I was curious to learn more.

I began my search with Colonel Clayton. He served in the military for many years and when the United States entered World War I in 1917, Clayton was transferred to New York to be the second in command of the transport service. Dissatisfied, he requested to be sent to France to serve his country alongside the troops. [2] Clayton left for Europe in the fall of 1917 and served as the quartermaster of the U.S. First Division in France. [3]

American troops were sent to Europe in mid-1917, but no one was sure if the Doughboys could hold their own. It wasn't until the spring of 1918 that the Americans had a chance to really prove themselves. On May 27, 1918, the Germans began another offensive, thrusting through the Allied lines by about a dozen miles in the Somme region north of Paris. In the process the Germans demolished four French divisions. The following day, the Americans achieved a victory by retaking the town of Cantigny.

Now that the Americans were in front line trenches, it became problematic to keep them supplied. Colonel Clayton and three colleagues were in a brick villa just south of Cantigny discussing ways to transport drinking water to the troops when a German air raid began. [4] The bomb destroyed the portion of the villa where Clayton was meeting. [4] It was then that Flynn “displayed great coolness and good judgment in rescuing at the risk of his own life, Colonel Bertram Clayton. . . about May 28, 1918.” [1] I was grieved to learn that despite Flynn's efforts, Clayton died. According to the Arlington National Cemetery website, he was killed in action on May 30, 1918. [5]

In all of my searching I found nothing to tell me more about Wilbur Flynn in connection with Col. Clayton. Even though Flynn was unable to save Clayton's life, I'm proud that he tried. I'm also glad that I can publicize Flynn's effort, even though Clayton's family will probably never know.



  1. “Former Kazoo County Veteran Soldier Honored For Brave Act In France,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Gazette, 27 July 1921, page unknown. Clipping pasted into Clark, Mrs. O.H. An Honor Roll: Containing a Pictorial Record of the War Service of the Men and Women of Kalamazoo County, 1917-1918-1919. (Kalamazoo, Michigan, about 1920), p. 1031.
  2. “Col. B.T. Clayton Killed Tuesday In France By An Enemy Air Bomb,” The Montgomery [Montgomery, Alabama] Advertiser, 5 June 1918, Page 1, column 2, digital images, The University of Alabama Libraries (http://purl.lib.ua.edu/90748: accessed 10 Nov 2014).
  1. Biographical Directory of the United States Congress http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=C000492
  2. Fiftieth Annual Report of the Association of Graduates of the United States Military Academy. Seemann & Peters, Inc. Saginaw, Michigan, 1919, p. 51.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Lessons Along The Source Road

All this year I've been working to source my family tree. Progress is slow due to insufficient time, but I'm happy to report that adding source citations is now second nature so I'm no longer intimidated by the process. However, I'll admit I am still intimidated by the size of the remaining task. I'll just take it in baby steps and not worry about how long it takes.

At this point I have added source citations for all of the easy sources (vitals, census and a few others depending on the person) for my direct ancestors. Whenever there was a record I hadn't tracked down, I looked again at Family Search to see if I might get lucky. In three cases, I did find old Ohio marriages that must have been added recently, because I know I've looked for them before. That made my day and just goes to show that sometimes it does pay to look again. I still have sources to add, such as plat maps, city directories (which will be a big project in itself) and less common items, but I want to continue with the low hanging fruit for some of the extended family members. Now I am branching out to the siblings of my ancestors. I know it will take a while, but I suspect I'll find something I hadn't notice before.

Another good thing about systematically going through my records is that I am actually using the “To Do” function in Roots Magic to add things I want to look for. This has already proved useful. A few months ago I had to make an unexpected trip to Kalamazoo and had the presence of mind to print my Kazoo list before I left, “just in case.” As it turned out, I had most of a day free and was able to look for some obituaries at the new WMU Archives. If I hadn't been using the To Do function there is no way I could have come up with so much on such short notice.

Although I know it will take me a really long time to finish (if I actually ever will finish, because there is always some obscure source to add for somebody) I feel better about the whole process. I have learned 1) adding sources is not so hard after all, 2) it gives me the opportunity to look for missing records again (and with Family Search adding more records all the time, you never know when you'll get lucky), 3) I can work on the To Do list so I can hunt for more things to source and 4) I no longer feel guilty that I don't have proper sources.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Photo Of Great-Great Granny?

We are very lucky to have quite a few photos from my Flynn family. Some were in the bible that belonged to my gg-grandfather, Edward Flynn and some belonged to his daughter. Having scanned them all into my computer, I sometimes go through the files, studying them. The first thing I noticed was that most of Edward's daughters have round faces, as you can see in the labeled and dated photos of Cora and Elsie.



I also noticed that a photo from an earlier generation, a carte de visite (CDV), also featured a woman with a round face.



This photo is labeled “lissie.” I now think that this could be a photo of Edward's wife and Cora's and Elsie's mother. Her name was Sarah Elizabeth (Clemens) Flynn. I know that she went by Lizzie from newspaper accounts of her. [1-4] Looking through my newspaper accounts to find sources for “Lizzie” I actually one that refers to her as “Lissie.” [5]

I had noticed “lissie's” round face before, but I suppose I was prejudiced against this being my Lizzie because the pulled back hair and the large dress made me assume this was an older woman. While it is difficult to accurately judge the age of the woman in the photo, I can at least narrow down when the photo was taken. CDVs were popular during the 1860s and as far as I can tell, and admitting I'm no expert, the hairstyle, dress and sleeve style are appropriate to the time period of the photo and the album (1860s). [6] Lizzie and Edward married in 1866 after he returned from serving in the Civil War and we think the bible may have been a wedding present.

I now feel pretty confident in supposing that “lissie” is, in fact, my Lizzie. Thinking about the round face, I remembered another photo also in the bible along with the “lissie” photo of another woman with a round face.


This photo was labeled “aunt sarah.” It just so happened that Lizzie had an Aunt Sarah, her father's sister, Sarah (Clemens) Imhoff. This woman looks older than Lizzie and the photo seems to be from the same period as the “lissie” photo, and actually all of the photos in the album (all CDVs and no photos clearly from a later period). If that is correct then it would seem that the round face seen in Edward and Lizzie's daughters could have come from the Clemens side of the family.

  1. “Oshtemo,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 27 February 1902, page 4, column 6, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 26 June 2012), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  2. “Oshtemo,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 6 March 1902, page 4, column 7, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 26 June 2012), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  3. “To Mrs. Schmidt and Family, In Memory of Freda,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 5 October 1905, page 11, column 4, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 26 June 2012), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  4. “Wedding At Oshtemo,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 8 July 1907, page 7, column 5, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 26 June 2012), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  5. “Oshtemo,” Kalamazoo [Kalamazoo, Michigan] Evening Telegraph, 17 October 1901, page 4, column 5, digital images, Kalamazoo Public Library (http://www.kpl.gov: accessed 26 June 2012), Kalamazoo Telegraph Collection.
  6. Joan Severa, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans & Fashion, 1840-1900, (Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press,1995), p. 194-197, 259.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Would You Like Eggs With That?

I think I now understand why eggs became a part of the traditional American breakfast. Now that we have chickens and they have matured enough to begin laying, not a day has gone by that there hasn't been at least one egg in the nesting boxes. We've been getting eggs for about a month now and “the girls” have been producing 4-5 eggs per day for the last week. I expect it won't be long before we'll be getting a half dozen each day, one from each hen.

One of our first eggs.

The eggs are beginning to pile up, despite making my own spƤtzle (a type of eggy German pasta), fried egg sandwiches, omelets, quiche, fried eggs on potato pancakes (I had to use up the potatoes from the garden) and even grilled cheese sandwiches with an egg on the side. What I'm trying to say is that if you have chickens, even just a few, you will quickly be overwhelmed by eggs. The only solution is to eat them, sell them or both.


A couple of double-yolkers.  Not pictured, the green beans from the garden.

I don't know about you, but most of my ancestors were farmers. Those that had enough land to appear in the agricultural census left us records of how many chickens they had and how many dozen eggs they produced in the year. Those that had less land probably still had chickens because they are easy to raise (after the initial setup) and eat garden scraps. Now when I have watermelon rinds, grapes with a couple of bug holes or split tomatoes that I don't have time to do anything with I give them to the girls and they are happy to convert them into fresh eggs. Because of this, I would be surprised if any of my ancestors not living in the city didn't have at least a few chickens. And did I mention that when you have chickens you get eggs? And when you have eggs, you have breakfast. . . and lunch. . . and dinner.