Character Studies


Since I’ve already spent a great deal of time on my Grandmother’s parents (Robert and Cora (Packer) Shea) I’d like to explore some of their close family as the year progresses starting with Gran’s Aunt Retta Shea Brooks.

Loretta SheaLoretta M. Shea was my Great Grandfather’s oldest sibling. She was born 10 months after him on October 13, 1889 in New York State, possibly while the family was visiting her father, Cornelius Shea’s family. She grew up with her siblings in Empire Township, Leelanau County, Michigan. In the 1910 Census she was still living at home but was working as a teacher in the public schools. The family then appears in the 1911 directory for Traverse City where Retta worked as a clerk at Steinberg Brothers, dry goods store.

Four years later she married William Ralph Brooks in Frankfort, Benzie County, Michigan. Ralph was the son of Cook and Martha (Snell) Brooks of Benzie and then Grand Traverse County, Michigan where Cook labored in and later owned his own farm. Interestingly the couple started their family immediately with the birth of Donna Marian Brooks, in Woodson Virginia. I have no idea why they were there but multiple sources say Marian was born in Virginia. By June of 1917, when Ralph filled out his World War I Draft Card, they were settled in Traverse City, Grand Traverse County, Michigan, where Ralph worked as a carpenter.

By the 1920 Census they had moved to Kent County and settled near Loretta’s family in Grand Rapids, Michigan where Ralph worked as a carpenter for one of the many furniture factories and their next two children Ralph Jr. and Jack were born. By the 1930 Census the couple owned their own home and had added Lucille, Wayne, Doris and Mary Kathleen. By 1936 the family had moved out to a rural part of Grattan Township, Kent County and added their last children Glenn in 1931 and Clare Ellen in September of 1936 (who sadly died a scant 18 weeks later). In the city directories I’ve looked at so far, it appears that the couple moved back into Grand Rapids and throughout the 1940s and as late as 1960 they were listed as living at 43 Stewart Street SW.

Ralph Sr. died 30 April 1963 and was laid to rest at Resurrection Cemetery, Wyoming Township, Kent County, Michigan. Aunt Retta died in April 1975 and was laid to rest beside him.

Any Brooks researchers out there? I’d love to know why both Aunt Retta and her daughter were born out of state.

Happy hunting!

Jess

Note:  The photo is cropped from this larger family portrait.

The Johnson’s—I never thought I’d make so much progress but time, careful research, and connecting with fellow researchers and distant cousins have given me great insights into  this family of English immigrants.

Richard & Sarah Johnson

Richard Johnson is my 4th Great Grandfather. He was born 1 September in 1805 in Horsey, Norfolk, England, the son of Richard and Elizabeth (Richmond) Johnson, and baptized in 8 September. He married my 4th Great Grandmother Sarah Suffling (or Surfling) on 23 August 1827 in Lessingham, Norfolk. They had the first of four children in May of 1830—my 3rd Great Grandfather William Suffling Johnson. Then followed Matthew Suffling in 1833, Mary Elizabeth in 1836, and John Suffling in 1838.

At the time of the 1841 Census the couple was settled in Horsey Next the Sea (northwest of Yarmouth) where Richard was listed as a labourer. At the time of William White’s Hstory, Gazetteer, and Directory of Norfolk in 1845 Richard was listed as a local fish dealer. By 1848 William and Matthew had booked passage to the United States. And in 1851 the remaining Johnsons were one of several families in Johnson’s Corner, Horsey, Norfolk. There Richard was listed as a fisherman and his nephew, Richard, and his family were enumerated in the household.

The family left England in late 1851 and by the time of the 1855 New York State Census they had settled into farming in Carlton, Orleans County, New York where Robert and Sarah lived out the reminder of their lives. That year William and Matthew moved to Michigan, William settling first in Solon, Kent County and Matthew moving to Barry County. John followed them later settling in Barry County near Matthew. Mary married Robert Woolsten and remained near her parents in Orleans County, New York. Richard died 24 Jan 1874 and was laid to rest in Otter Creek Cemetery, Gaines Twp, New York.

Much of this information was found with the aid of my distant cousins Dawn and Marcia—one a descendant of Richard’s son Matthew and the other from his daughter Mary Elizabeth.

Happy hunting!

Jess

As I’ve mentioned in passing before, Levi Hampton is not (to my knowledge) a direct line ancestor but he has been at the center of my research on the Trotter and Johnson families.

Levi Hampton was born into slavery around 1835 in Alabama according to most Census records. His direct descendants pass down a story that he was used as a “Stud” by slave owners and possibly belonged to a plantation owner named Graham but I haven’t been able to verify that. By the time of the 1870 Census he was married to a woman named Sally and had 5 children in their household: Homer, Edward, John, Willie, and Lottie. According to the paperwork associated with his Homestead Application he settles a plot of land in or around January of 1873 and formally applied for the land in September 1884 under the Homestead Act of 1862.

Sally died sometime between the birth of daughter Anna (born in 1876 according to the 1880 Census) and his second marriage to the woman I believe to be my 2nd Great Aunt (and sister to Josephine), Jane Johnson, on 05 Nov 1877. The 1880 Census also enumerated a widowed daughter Mary Hampton. But my guess is that she is actually a daughter-in-law by way of Levi’s son Homer.

Levi Hampton PatentIn September of 1890 Levi testified in the process to prove his claim to the Palestine homestead and the land patent was signed in July of 1891. His testimony also stated that he regularly voted, and a 1905 Poll Tax list for Palestine Township show him as paid in full and qualified to vote.

I have been unable to find Levi’s family in the 1900 and 1920 Census, but the 1910 Census, shows a daughter probably with Jane, Lou Hampton, as well as his nephew (and my Great Grandfather) Harrison Trotter.

I also have a transcription of Levi’s will written in 1916 which names five living children: Ed, John, Willie, Lottie Sims and Orrie Nelson (I’m pretty sure this is Annie Hampton who married John Nelson). He also willed to Harrison Trotter “the small old field southwest of my house on the west 80 acres”—the site of the Trotter Homestead I featured last post.

I know there’s more to know about the Hampton/Johnson/Trotter ties but for now I feel I’ve hit a brick wall—at least until I can get out on the road and locate more Arkansas records.

Happy hunting!

Jess

In my pleasure reading I’ve recently picked up a number of books** that explore the idea that one decision or act can change the course of a life or lives and as a genealogist it sparks my imagination… what choices and decisions lead to my existence? I’ll never know most of them but every time I can find a little more information it’s a little victory.

Martha Ward Garbutt had some hand in raising my 2nd Great Grandmother Flora Jane Massy. I would dearly love to know how Flora ended up in Canada. As I’ve mentioned before, the gap in my research on her life spans from the 1870 Census when she lived in Detroit, Michigan with her mother, Augusta (Cory) Massy, and 1881 when she was enumerated as the youngest Garbutt child. Whatever the story, the Garbutt family made a home for Flora. And it’s through this connection that she met and married into the Packer family—Martha’s 5th child, Mary, married Cornelius’s older brother, Thomas, in 1875. And there’s more than enough photographic evidence that the families all remained in touch long after my 2nd Great Grandparents came to Grand Rapids in 1891.

Martha Ward Garbutt, c. late 1912So, on this 195th anniversary of the birth of Martha (Ward) Garbutt, I’d like to say thank you for whatever role she had in my existence. Martha was born in England to John and Jane (Spenceley) Ward in 1818 and married William Garbutt on 30 Nov 1839. They started their family in Pickering, in North Yorkshire (per the 1851 England Census) but the family immigrated to Woodstock, Ontario, Canada prior to 1855 when Mary was born. They were the parents of eight children. Martha outlived her husband by about 18 years and lived out her last years with Mary and Thomas Packer. She died at home, just over a month shy of her 95th birthday, on 12 Mar 1913.

This photo-postcard was sent to my 2nd Great Grandparents at Christmas in 1911 or 1912. One of my cousins shared it with me and it was one of those great finds that makes the rest of the pieces fall into place. It’s inscribed to “Curly and Flo” (Cornelius and Flora Packer) from Mary with the note, “don’t you think Grandma looks real nice for one nearly 94 years.”

Happy hunting,

Jess

** Ex. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, Strange Attractors by Charles Soule

Gravestone of Captain Harry Alison and Frances SInclair Alison, St. Paul's Cemetery, Warwick Township, Lambton County, Ontario, CanadaSince I omitted it from my post on the first day of our roadtrip, this is the tombstone of Captain Harry Alison, patriarch of the Alison family and the unofficially named Captain’s Alison’s Settlement which sprung up around his lots in Warwick Township of Lambton Co, Ontario in the 183os.

Harry was born in Perth in 1775 and when his father died young he was sponsored by an uncle who sent him to St. Andrews with plans for him to become a solicitor. But, unhappy with the profession, he left service at the end of his requisite period and relocated to London with plans to join the Army. With the aid of a well-placed relative he was given and ensigncy in the 93rd Highlanders. When the 90th Highlanders were reformed under, Major Rowland Hill, Harry came on as Paymaster and served for near 30 years.

In that time he married Francis Sinclair and had a family of nine born all over the world, including Ireland, the West Indies, France, and the Ionian Islands.

He bought out around 1830 and petitioned the Crown for land in Upper Canada (Ontario), and eventually established the family in Warwick Township.

His children were:

  • Jane Alison who married Lieutenant Hugh Massy of the 90th and 33rd Regiments (my 4th Great Grandparents)
  • Rowland Hill Alison who moved his family to Detroit and then ultimately settled in Chicago
  • Charles Alison who served as “Her Majesty’s Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Shah of Persia”
  • Brisbain—who became a sailor in Ontario despite likely deserting the British Navy
  • Frances Mary who married Thomas Wade Rothwell, the son of Brevet Major Wade Rothwell.
  • Jullia Dixon who married Robert Armon Hill retired from the 5th Regiment
  • Ann McNair who married William W. Nichols
  • Mary H. who married William R. MacDonald
  • Peter John Alison who married Frances Delia Travers

Harry served as a Justice of the Peace for nearly 25 years. He died in North Duoro where he spent the last few years of his life as part of the household of his son-in-law William W. Nichols. He was buried in St. Paul’s Cemetery.

The marker reads:

In Memory of Captain Harry Alison, late of H. M. 90th Light infantry. Died January 11, 1866 ae 92 years. Also his wife Francis Sinclair died December 16, 1867 ae 80 years.

Happy hunting!

Jess

A long obituary on Harry posted in The Volunteer Review and Military and Naval Gazette (Ottawa, Canada, Monday, 11 Feb 1867) and in the The Peterborough Review around the same time. Also, the Crown Land Petitions and British Regimental Histories add more information on Harry’s military career.

I now feel like I have just enough of a backlog of digital images to participate in the meme “Tombstone Tuesday”… so, the first up is one of a set of sinking stones from the “New” Rockford Cemetery.

This is the headstone of my 3rd Great Aunt Katherine Baker Sears who died 162 years ago today. She is buried in the Sears Lot just south of the Hessler Mausoleum.

Katie Baker was the eldest child of Eugene and Amelia (Grove) Baker and the oldest sibling of my 3rd Great grandmother Lena Grove Baker Johnson. She was born 05 December 1874 probably in Joliet, Illinois where her parents married and lived for a short time before Eugene brought them back to Kent County, Michigan.

In 1895 she married Clifton F. Sears. They had at least two children before he died in 1899—Dorothy and Charles F. After Clifton’s passing she kept house for her brother Frank Baker for a time and and from 1909 to 1943 she worked for C. F. Sears Co, her father-in-law’s dry goods store.

Katie was involved in the community with the Methodist Church, the Garden Club, Tuesday Club, Dorcas circle and more.

Rest well, Aunt Katie!

Happy hunting,

Jess

I am thrilled to say someone in my family had enough money to make the pages of several county histories—including pictures—giving me a bunch of good (if occasionally confusing) leads to track the family back and I am extremely thankful considering we’re talking about a man with the highly original name of William Johnson. He was my 3rd Great Grandfather and today is his 182 birthday.

William Johnson is a great example of the inconsistencies in family stories as their shared over the years. From Chapman’s History of Kent County (1881) I learned that he was born May 8, 1930 in Norfolk, England and he came to America with his brother Matthew when he was eighteen(p. 685). From A. W. Bowen’s 1900 City of Grand Rapids and Kent County I learned he was sixteen when he crossed the Atlantic alone and settled in the Empire State until he came to Kent County in 1854 (p. 793-794). And according to Grand Rapids and Kent County, Michigan (1918) William lived in Orleans County, New York until 1852 when he came to Solon Township (p. 261). All a little contradictory… but certainly worth looking into.

Here’s what I think I know… William was born on May 8, 1830 in Horsey-Next-the-Sea, Norfolk, England to Richard and Sarah (Suffling) Johnson. He did cross from England and neither he nor his brother Matthew was listed in their father’s household as of the 1851 Census for Horsey, Norfolk, England. I haven’t been able to isolate either on a passenger list but by 1855 the family was reunited and enumerated in the stats census for Orleans County, New York, though the household had added their cousin Elizabeth (Gibbs), who married Matthew in 1854. In October of 1855 William married Mary Gordon of Kent County, Michigan and the pair started their family on a farm in Solon Township. In the 18 years they lived there they had 10 children (5 died young) the youngest surviving child was my 2nd Great Grandfather William Amos Johnson.

William was a successful farmer and served his community as one of the organizers of Solon Township and Township Treasurer. The family removed to 160 acres in Section 30 of Cannon Township in 1873 and there William continued to be involved with his community serving again as Township Treasurer and giving generously to support and advance the congregation of West Cannon Baptist Church. William died December 24, 1908 and was laid to rest at Cannon Cemetery.

Everything in the histories gave me new source material to look into and a rough time frame to work with—and I needed it. As it happens not only is William Johnson one of the most common names in my family but there was a second highly successful William Johnson family in the Rockford area during the same period as my own.

So, don’t forget to check out local histories. You never know what you might find. Seriously, check out the picture of William and Mary from a 1907 county atlas  (p. 129). It was a fabulous surprise when I found it.

Happy hunting,

Jess

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