Great Sources

Letters have been on my mind lately. My Gran recently loaned me a packet of letters to go through. They were a mix—a couple from her to my late Grandfather, a few from Grandpa to her, and a number of letters from her children—including one from my Mother to Gran that was so remarkably close to one I wrote Mom when I was away for a summer (and recently read from Mom’s Archive). Letters can offer such interesting insight into a person’s character, the times, and the trials of those discussed. Some of my favorite lines in this stack include:

From Grandpa stationed in San Francisco, CA in to my Gran back in the Michigan: “I hope you are not being bothered too much by my going away present.” (i. e. my Mother)

From Gran visiting my Uncle’s family while he was stationed in Germany to my Grandpa in Michigan: “Sandy hasn’t had a letter from her mother yet and we would really like some mail—Tell Lorraine to get on the ball!” And in close, “P.S. Did you water my plants?”

From my Mom to Gran: In a list of reminders… 2) Put my doll up, out of Vicky’s friend’s reach… please!! Not that I don’t trust them or anything… but!

Letters are also on my mind because I started following Letters of Note after Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing made my day by linking to a really interesting letter from a former Slave to his former Master. Check it out and be sure to read to the end!

Happy Hunting,


I did make it out to Howell this past week—despite cough and winter weather advisories—to check out the Howell Carnegie District Library and more specifically visit its Archives. I had a great time going through boxes of materials on the Michigan State Sanatorium which gave me even more insight into that institution. And some wonderfully illustrative material which I think will bring it to life better for my relatives.

I also noted earlier that my 4th Great Grandfather was listed in one of the online indexes for the Archives. He was listed because they have indexed all Livingston County Civil War Veterans and Henry R. Massy was a replacement soldier for a Hartland, Michigan draftee. So I didn’t really find new information there but it gave me the chance to better study the information offered in the regimental histories created by the state of Michigan.

The volunteers were fabulously helpful gentleman with interesting stories about the more recent history of the hospital (before it was demolished) and about fellow researchers. And the collection looks like it could be a gold mine for researchers with Livingston County roots. Also, the building itself is lovely, with an ornate Carnegie façade, and an unobtrusive modern addition off the back including space for the fiction and non-fiction collections on one floor and an enviable children’s and teen area on the lower floor.

It was definitely a worthwhile road trip!

Happy Hunting,


The blog and our conversations inspired my mother to pull out a fabulous stack of mementos and keepsakes that she’s had stashed away and added to over the years (which I almost dumped a glass of wine on—Yes, me and my archival degree). Among the finds were a stack of stories and poetry I wrote as a child, some as loose sheets and others assembled into booklets. My father and I exclaimed over one of the booklets because in the back I had added a photo album to illustrate the personal stories it included four fabulous and well preserved photographs. There was also a booklet of my maternal grandfather’s poetry and poetry he had collected, a TWA certificate from 1956 stating that my mother had completed the flight from Paris to Detroit, and a good size stack of Mother’s Day cards from my brother and I to Mom. It was fun to go through the packets and really interesting to discuss what I found with my parents. The picture is a sample find from my childhood.


Wintertime by Jessica

Winter is a time when you go ice skating and go ski and make snow men. The End.

It made me laugh for a number of reasons including the idea that I associated these things with winter but I didn’t learn to skate or ski until my freshman year of college.

Look for your family stashes!

Happy Hunting,


I’m somewhat winding down on my research on the Michigan State Sanatorium and it’s Follow Friday—both of which bring to mind the Look blog article which I had saved in my email (for almost two years) entitled “A Healing Place.” I don’t think I would have thought to search the archives for information on my great grandparents’ time at MSS if not for this article (even though I let it sit forever). And between Look and the rest of the amazing collections on I would heartily suggest you follow them—if you have any interest in Michigan history or genealogy.

Happy Hunting,


Here’s my first follow-up post from research inspired by sessions from the Michigan Genealogical Council’s 2011 Family History Month Workshop.

As I noted in an earlier post, Pamela J. Cooper’s Homestead Act session encouraged me try requesting a selection of the Federal Land Entry files for my ancestors.  On October 30th I started out by ordering the file of Levi Hampton who was listed in the 1900 Census as my Great Grandfather’s uncle and is one of the few members of my Arkansas family to have a patent listed in the BLM database 

I searched the BLM database for Levi Hampton in Bradley County, Arkansas (one can further limit a search under the “Miscellaneous” section switching the drop down menu beside “Authority” to “Homestead Entry Original”). I took the information in that entry to fill out the NARA order form. The request is currently $40—but it should be noted that this is a flat fee regardless of the size of the file. The deliverables can be photocopies or a digital copy.  I ended up requesting a digital copy to save myself the time scanning.

I was thrilled to receive the disk within 11 days—which is a little funny because it still shows on my NARA account as waiting to be sent. Levi’s file is 44 pages and includes his testimony, as well as that of two distant relatives—Wil Newton and Wilson Terry. I will admit that I really got my hopes up because Levi initially named my 3rd great-grandfather Sam Trotter, his brother, Rial, and their stepfather James Newton all as witnesses. But when the time came for the hearing Newton and Terry were the only witnesses. But regardless, there is a lot of information that I can cull from the file and I’m looking forward to spending more time on it.

Maybe the most interesting moment for me in reading the file was when I got to the presiding Judge, W. J. Hickman’s note on the change of witnesses. He comments, “I think myself that this witness is as good as either one of the others as he has been raised in the neighborhood of the said claimant. They are all Colored and one is as good as the other not withstanding his name does not appear in the publication.” I’m not sure why but it momentarily took my breath away to see that stated so plainly in a federal document. But as my parents noted when I shared it with them… it was a different time.

These files are definitely worth the price and slowly but surely I’ll start ordering Shea, Cunningham, Wilfong, and other family files.

Happy Hunting,


This week’s research included a pair of trips to the State Archives of Michigan to look at the patient records of my Great grandparents, Cora Packer and Robert Shea from the Michigan State Sanatorium (MSS) in Howell, Michigan where, according to family story, they met as Tubercular patients.

Now, this is a set of restricted records accessible by patient or by researcher with death certificate of patient in hand. Additionally, the records are not totally indexed and are in order by case file (roughly admission date). And, going in, I was only certain that my Great-grandfather was a patient during the 1920 Census and that my Great-grandmother was a patient sometime.

The Archives staff, on first pass, was only able to find my Great Grandmother as a patient—for a grand total of nine months in 1916—four years prior to when I knew Robert was there. But they couldn’t find Robert in the index. Luckily, the staff was very helpful. They checked 1916 on the theory that Cora and Robert met during her time at MSS, and then 1919 and 1920 based on what I told them about the 1920 Census and my pictures of Robert at the facility. When none of that worked they graciously consented to check 1917 and 1918 and let me know if they found anything. Within a couple of days they had gotten back to me—they had found Robert. He had been admitted in late 1918 and discharged in 1920.

So, what did I find out? I’m still working through my copies of the files but for all MSS patients there should be a detailed set of forms filled in on entry to the facility which included a family health history section. It asked questions such as occupation, name of a close relative, and it requested information about grandparents, parents, and siblings. For Robert, in particular this was interesting because the facts might not support my theory about the identity of Robert’s grandparents. But with Cora it also noted that one living and one deceased sister were also diagnosed with TB.

This set of forms also has updates on dismissal from MSS. So it corroborated the story that Robert had had some kind of surgery for his TB. Interestingly enough, he had an operation called pneumothorax in which they temporarily collapsed some portion of his lung allowing it to rest and hopefully prevent TB lesions from spreading to healthy lung tissue. If Robert had a lobectomy, as his daughters were told, it wasn’t during his time at MSS.

The files also each had at least one other bit of treasure. For Cora the standout item was a handwritten letter sent to MSS advising them of her arrival when she was accepted into the Sanatorium. For Robert, it was a detailed letter about his movements from the time he was dismissed from military service due to his health to the time he was accepted at the Sanatorium—for insurance purposes. It included a list of jobs he attempted, but was too weak for, such as working in a basket factory in Traverse City, Michigan and cutting wood for the Antrim Iron Company in Mancelona, Michigan.

If you have a tubercular patient from this period it’s worth trying to track down the patient files. The information in them is fascinating.

Happy hunting,


Note: I also just finished, A History of the Michigan State Sanatorium and An Evaluation of It’s Role in the Anti-Tuberculosis Campaign by Marjorie D. Parsall (1991). This is a fascinating Masters of Arts thesis for Oakland University available at the Kresge Library at Oakland. It was very useful to have gone through this ahead of looking at the patient records because it gave me a better idea of what medical practices were for the time in which my Grandparents were at MSS.

Earlier this week I had a lovely conversation with a retired co-worker who has taken on a newspaper indexing project and she expressed how much she has enjoyed reading the detailed and fascinating articles that went into old weekly newspapers—from local gossip, to thoughtful discussions of current events, to poetry. I have had similar experiences over the years pouring over the oldest editions of The Rockford Register, held at the Krause Memorial Library in Rockford, Michigan. And while many of my family members have had important moments covered in The Register, none made such amazing use or were followed so closely as the Lapham family, credited as pioneers of Rockford (once Laphamville).

My co-worker, I think, was surprised by the poetry which is so very different from our modern sense of newspapers but the Lapham’s took time out for poetry and prose. Their contributions included a very long poem from the occasion of my 5th Great Grandparent’s (Smith and Katherine Lapham’s) Golden Wedding Anniversary by Smith, a tear-jerker on the death of one of their grandchildren at the age of 12 by her father (their youngest son, Judge Embree B. Lapham), or this short poem on the occasion of Embree’s 83rd Birthday:

Our Birthdays—My Eighty-third

Our birthdays come and quickly go
Exactly on the date.
We’re on year older—this we know
‘Tis ordered so by fate.

Time lingers not for youth or age
Nor does it favor me.
I turn and scan another page
To find I’m eighty-three.

Life’s river flows with restless face
On toward the unknown sea
Where all must end their earthly race
And make Heaven their plea.

If we can show our record clear
Or nearly free from flaws
There’s nothing then we need to fear.
For Christ will plead our cause.

He’ll say to us you’re welcome here,
You’ve done your very best
So banish every doubt and fear—
You’ve gained eternal rest.

Printed in the Rockford Register 23 March 1933. Judge Embree B. Lapham ran a confectionary, managed hotels, was co-creator and served as editor of The Belding Banner, among other endeavors. He also served as Mayor of Belding and served for more than 25 years consecutively as Justice of the Peace for Rockford, Kalkaska, and Belding—with two of those positions held simultaneously. He was born in 1850 and lived to the ripe old age of 94.

The photograph was printed in the Belding Banner on the occasion of his death in 1944.

I took a very short road trip today with a run out to the Archives of Michigan to do a little research using their Naturalization records. For those of you not familiar with these, the State Archives has made this very easy for many researchers with great online finding aids for many of the counties in Michigan, with one notable exception—and of course the one I have the most relatives in—Wayne County (which is not to say they’re not trying). So, I went with a few names with exact index information that I just wanted to print or copy and a few names that I knew I’d have to work for—if I was lucky enough to find anything.

Interestingly enough, it became a bit of a lesson in being prepared and flexible. When I arrived I was behind another researcher who was fairly certain that the rules about not taking in coats, pens, etc. didn’t apply to him, which was a tad uncomfortable to watch the attendant have to deal with—though she was great. But it made me think about some of the other places I’ve researched lately and some of the encounters I’ve witnessed… and the librarian in me couldn’t help but take over for this post.

I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted (mostly) but as a researcher, a librarian and someone who has more than once worked in situations such as these:

  • It works a lot better for all involved if you know what you’re looking for—go in with a few solid goals or record groups to work with.
  • Know the rules of the place you’re visiting (and follow them)—including be aware of what they allow you to bring in.
  • Be patient—even the best staffed institutions can be overwhelmed with researchers and most places, due to the economy, are not staffed or equipped optimally for demand.

Many places have clearly laid out rules and a lot of collection information on their websites. Most have email and you can request rules and inquire about records ahead of time if you can’t find them online. And, of course, telephones work too.

None of this is new… but it doesn’t hurt to throw this out into the aether as a friendly reminder.

As it happened, there was a pretty large group already working on readers and printers so, I wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped to be. But it was easy enough to make arrangements to leave my list and have the copies mailed to me. Plus, I did hit on one of my Wayne County folk—needless to say it wasn’t H. R. Massy—but it appears my 5th Great Uncle, Captain Rowland Hill Alison, did start his naturalization paperwork in Wayne County.

Happy (and respectful) hunting!


Harrison and Rhoda (Rogers) TrotterThis last week was meant to be spent on my Massy/Alison family in prep for an upcoming road trip (I’ll get to next post) but instead I received an email from a fellow researcher about our shared Trotter/Hampton families from Bradley Co., Arkansas. It gave me a great excuse to make sure I was caught up that portion of my research. It also gave me the impetus I needed to go page-by-page through Afro-Americans of Bradley County, Arkansas compiled by MacArthur and Princella Davis.

This book is an amazing collection of photographs covering what looks like just about every African-American family from the southern Arkansas county my paternal ancestors have called home since before the Civil War. It includes more than 350 pages of identified photographs with sometimes minimal and sometimes extensive family information. The photo quality is all over the place–I’d guess based on what they received in their call for photos. The one of my grandfather, Levie Trotter, is bad because it was taken from his funeral program (black and white photo on brown paper) but the one of my great-grandparents, Harrison and Rhoda (Rogers) Trotter, with my uncle Christopher is great. Regardless, the fact that there are so many photographs and that they are identified, outweighs everything. The book is an absolute treasure! It has been particularly helpful in filling in gaps caused by the missing 1890 Census especially when used in conjunction with’s database Arkansas County Marriages, 1837-1957. Researchers may be thrown by the format of the index (first name), but again the detail and range of information in the book makes up for that.

I’ve now been through it once and it’s cleared up a number of confusing lines. And I believe that, as my research continues, I’ll continue to get more out of it. Anyone with African-American family or ancestors from Bradley County should grab this book. It’s been an amazing resource by itself and a great source of information when I go through it with my relatives.



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