Roadtrips


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.

As I mentioned yesterday, part of this trip was inspired by the detailed footnotes in Eleanor Neilsen’s The Egremont Road which has a lovely section on the Alisons and their allied families. And one of the main sources she pointed to was a memoir created by Peter John Alison, Harry’s youngest child, which is held at the Western Archives at Western University in London, Ontario. So, another one of our stops was in London so that I could look at the manuscript as well as an Alison photo album that I found in their catalogue when I was searching for the memoir.

The Archives is located in the D. B. Weldon Library on campus and getting to it was a little trickier that I thought it would be. But when you reach the building it’s huge and, at least for the day I was there, it was consistently packed. Luckily, the Archives are tucked into the back corner of a large Main Floor and you feel miles away from anyone when you’re tucked into the cozy reading room and working.

It’s suggested that you contact the Archives ahead of time for materials that they need to pull from storage (as pulls are only done three times a day) so I had struck up a conversation with one of their staff by email and both boxes were pretty much waiting for me on arrival. I settled in and spent most of the day on Peter’s memoir which, according to the top page was created to satisfy a persistent cousin to whom he remarks:

You have asked me so often to write you an account of my early days in the back woods of Ontario, Canada, that I think I will have to do as the Unjust Judge did with the widow – Grant your request to get rid of you.

The document gives a rough background to the family but it is full of interesting tidbits about his parents and siblings through the eyes of the baby of the family (he was six at the time of their move to Canada). He didn’t display a lot of respect for his elder brothers whom he felt were no help to their father in the initial establishment of their households in Warwick commenting:

My eldest brother had been in the Army with my father’s regiment, and my next brother had been in the Navy, they were not fitted for the bush life at all. It was pitiful to see them using an axe, the one most useful tool of those early days. They would chop around a tree like a beaver, then of course, they would not know which way the tree was going to fall, except it had decided leaning in one direction.

But he did admire his sisters (at least in retrospect) and their accomplishments:

My sisters were all highly accomplished for my mother had them taught by the best French and English masters, it was delightful to hear them play and sing to the piano, harp and guitar, and they spoke Greek and Italian as well as they could English.

In the memoir he shares his memories of his sisters Frances and Julia’s courtships (with Thomas Rothwell and Robert Hill respectively) in detail and humorously.

The manuscript by itself was worth the trip but the other item I had pulled turned out to be a photo album given to Frances (Travers) Alison, Peter John’s wife, in February of 1880. Very few of the pictures are labeled but among the ones that are is a picture of Peter’s brother, Brisbain. I would love to be able to identify more of the images through my research but we’ll see how that works out.

The staff at the archives were very helpful and a pleasure to work with!

Happy hunting,

Jess

Updated: 9:26 am with a better image. jt

I spent the past week road-tripping across Western Ontario in search of my maternal grandmother’s roots and this is the first of a series of related posts talking about that trip.

So my intrepid crew (Mom & and Gran) and I started our journey on a sunny Sunday morning with the a plan to drive into Canada via the Blue Water Bridge and take the 402 into North West Lambton County swinging North around Warwick and driving down the Egremont Road, one of the earliest in the area built by and for the Irish and British emigrants in the 1830s.

Gran’s family, led by my 5th Great Grandfather Captain Harry Alison, came to Canada in 1832 after Harry and his eldest son Rowland Hill Alison each sold out of the British Army. Both served with the 90th Regiment Light Infantry (the Perthshire Volunteers) along with Lieutenant Hugh Massy who married Harry’s eldest daughter Jane Alison (my 4th Great Grandparents).  Harry parked his family in Ancaster, near Hamilton, Ontario, while he, Rowland, and his next son, Brisbane, scouted out a lot in Warwick Township. They settled on the highest lots along the Main Road just inside the Middlesex County border exactly midway between Sarnia and London. The settlement that sprang up around them became unofficially known as Captain Alison’s settlement.

The one site that I knew still existed is St. Paul’s Anglican Church on the Southeast corner of Egremont and Wisbeach Road where Harry, his wife, Francis Sinclair, and my 3rd Great Aunt Frederica (Massy) Rothwell were laid to rest. So that was where we made our first stop.

The little lot is picturesque. The plaque on the church reads 1856 to 1906. Harry’s grave stone is lying on the ground near the front door of the church. In the picture to the left (taken from the entrance) it is just in front and slightly to the right of the prominent tree in the background on the left.

For more information about the history of the Egremont Road and my inspiration for this leg of our journey, check out The Egremont Road: Historic Route From Lobo to Lake Huron by Eleanor Nielsen, published by the Lambton County Historical Society. It’s a fabulous read and meticulously footnoted with great primary materials that I otherwise would never have known existed.

More to come from Canada soon!

Happy hunting,

Jess

At the beginning of the month I took a peaceful road trip up to Leelanau and Grand Traverse Counties with my parents and my maternal grandmother and whenever we make the trip—usually to sight see and taste wine —I try to hijack a little bit of the trip for genealogical research.

In the past I’ve always been focused on the Shea’s who were involved in the lumber industry in the 1880s and 1890s in Leelanau. But this year I decided to step back and do a basic search in my database for other family members with ties to either of the two counties—because I know I get very focused sometimes and don’t recognize other connections to an area when it isn’t obvious. The search reminded me that my 2nd Great Grandfather also had ties to the area. I always think of the Johnson family as a solidly Kent County bunch, but at the time of the 1920 Census William Amos Johnson’s family lived in Traverse City where he worked as a plumber.

So, as part of our trip I stole an hour at Traverse Area District Library to look in their city directories in hopes of narrowing down the period in which the Johnson’s lived there, identifying where they lived, and also where he worked.

TADL has a nice collection of local Polk’s directories and William was listed in the 1919-1920 and the 1921-1922 books—first as a tinner and then as a plumber working for Arms & Cole Plumbers, Steam Fitters and Sheet Iron Workers on Cass St. The family lived at 859 Webster. The next day we drove through the neighborhood past the house and then on past his workplace. It was cool to add that snippet of their life to my collection of stories.

As an added bonus we also took a scenic drive from Glen Arbor to Muskegon before coming home which took us past roads traveled by the Shea’s and their allied families—Including Stormer Road  (named for a family two of the Shea brothers married into) and the village of Empire where my great grandfather was born.

Someday I’ll make it up solely for research, but my family has been great about letting me steal a little time out of their vacation for research.

Happy hunting,

Jess

I had the chance to head back to Rockford, MI on Saturday to meet up with some of the ladies I used to volunteer with at the Rockford Historical Museum as well as do a little research. I’ve mentioned it before but I have got to repeat… It is absolutely amazing what you can find in small local museum collections.

One of my goals on Saturday was to look at some of the society related holdings—like the membership ledger of Rockford’s Odd Fellows or the Rockford Garden Club—and a few of the old farm and mill ledgers. Both types of ledgers offer a snapshot of something important to the men and women involved.

With societies and fraternal  orders it shows you something they believed in the importance of—for humanitarian or social status reasons—enough to pay dues. And each comes with its own elements of bureaucracy, for example, in the case of the I. O. O. F. ledger, entries gave the occupation, age, and dates of advancements within the society for its members along with the credits and debits associated with tracking dues. The page below is for my 5th Great Uncle Embree Lapham.

The farm and mill ledgers give an interesting—if hard to read—look at the day-to-day commitments of this hardworking lot. The shot below is a random page that just happened to include a payment to Dr. Charles Holden (my 4th Great Grandfather) for medical attendance. As you flip through the pages there are a number of people mentioned but in 1867 alone there are a number of mentions of Dr Holden as well as his sons Horatio and Chapin (my 3rd Great Grandfather ).

What else might you find in those out-of-the-way and under promoted museums? Pictures, surname files, genealogies, cemetery records, artifacts, bibles, etc. Sometimes families want to pare down their collections, share their history, or promote their towns. All of that fabulous treasure has the potential to end up in community collections. So, it is totally worth checking them out, asking questions, and (dare I add) helping out at your local museum.

Happy hunting,

Jess

My second day away was split between the Local History Collection at the Krause Memorial Branch of the Kent District Library and the Rockford Historical Museum. Both are places I used to all but live, but it’s been years since I’ve spent much time at either.

At the library I worked exclusively with Microfilm of the Rockford Register which, though a substantial amount is indexed through the Western Michigan Genealogical Newspaper Society’s Index, is housed solely at the Rockford Library. It’s been forever since I’ve been able to even visit the branch so I was thrilled to see the improvements that have been made. My old shared office is now a wireless lounge on one side and the local history collection and microfilm reader/printer on the other. And even though this is a long narrow room in the middle of one wing of the building, it was more comfortable than it’s ever been—at least for me. The other occupants of the lounge might not have approved of the sound of the microfilm reader.

It was a very successful trip though, further cementing a series of family connections through obits. I had been on the fence about Sarah Deer Helsel being related to Hannah Deer Reinshagen. But I was able to find their obituaries–right in a row (they died 24 hours apart). Hannah’s plainly names her sister, Sarah Helsel and mentioned her death the day before. With the remainder of my time I worked through a few different family names in the index and filled in gaps.

I only had a brief time at the Museum—I really want to go back soon—and so I spent it entirely looking for updates in the Surname Files. As I’ve mentioned before, Rockford is a community that has been home for my family for almost 170 years. And while not all my family has made it into the files—most have. The Laphams, Gilberts, Porters, and Holden’s have a tremendous amount of coverage in the archives but the Helsels, Morningstars, Groves, and Baileys have interesting files as well. And it’s totally worth going back and checking for updates. In this case, someone had reproduces the vital record pages from Dr. Charles Holden’s Family Bible. Someone had tucked a tintype of Seth Porter’s daughters Melissa Emeline and Minnie Isabel in the Porter file. And in the Bailey file I found a handwritten letter from Lizzie Bailey to her younger sister, Bertha Groner.

The Rockford Historical Museum is a goldmine of information. It’s also in the process of raising money to fund a renovation and move into the old city courthouse. If you have any family in the area consider looking into ways to help support the new museum!

Progress made!

Happy hunting, all!

Jess

I managed to slip away for a couple of days of fun and research in and around Kent County, MI. On the first day of my trip my mother and I spent a good portion of the day with my Grandmother and Great Aunt. Hanging out with this feisty pair and sharing my progress is truly rewarding. They are so appreciative of the research I’ve done and their very interested in how I’ve organized it.

We spent a couple of hours going through their old family pictures and telling stories—many that I have heard before and love to hear them repeat—and often with an added tidbit, or a possible puzzle piece, that I might be able to use on another day.  And as I talked about some of the characters I had found in my research it is definite that my grandmother in particular has an affinity for the black sheep of the families.

We, of course, talked about good old Henry R. Massy, but we also talked about. Cornelius Shea who may or may not have been dismissed from working for a Catholic church in Grand Rapids over a problem with disappearing wine. And this was the same man who laughed too hard to help his pregnant daughter-in-law out of a well. Poor Grandma Cora! Aunt June still fumes a little telling that story.

But more than anything for me these visits are a time of gathering memories from and of these lovely women who are so neat! Families are so interesting to observe. I see these two ladies and their mannerisms echoed in my mom and aunt (who I watched at breakfast the next morning), or even between myself and my cousin. And it’s those echoes that keep me interested in what’s passed down from generation to generation.

Talk to your elders, talk to your contemporaries and pass it down!

Happy hunting,

Jess

I was able to take a day last week to do a daytrip to Kent County, Michigan to visit another one of my favorite collections—Grand Rapids Public Library’s History and Special Collections Department at the Main Library. It’s been years since I’ve been there to research and took me a little while to get oriented but I was able to answer some of the questions I’d hoped to. For example—and this is for Denise and Gran… Aunt Pearl (Packer) McComb was buried at Rest Lawn Memorial Park according to her Grand Rapids Press obituary—which for some reason I’d missed looking up before. I was also able to work with the Grand Rapids Directories and a few other resources.

I spent the afternoon at the Kent County Probate Court to look at family probate records. As I had used this courthouse before I had gotten a fair explanation of how things worked form their website. And I was pretty well prepared when I arrived. I didn’t know what they might have so I used their indexes to look up a few family names and picked one to work on for the afternoon.

I spent the remainder of my time looking at the very detailed and long probate packet for my 3rd Great-Grandfather George E. Porter, who died without a will. What followed was a very detailed process in which George’s heirs nominated my 2nd Great-Grandfather Charles E. Porter to act as agent in settling his father’s estate. There were pages of material—I couldn’t afford to print it all at $2 per page. But Idid get a great sampling with lists of surviving heirs, property information and value, and lists of debts—from a line by line of the costs of treatment for George’s illness to the burial. I worked with bits of probate packets before but this was my first experience seeing a large detailed packet without someone choosing bits to show me. It was fascinating!

Happy hunting,

Jess

I’m finding that one of my major uses of ACPL collection is tracking down published articles on my allied lines using the Periodical Source Index (PERSI) in HeritageQuest.

I have taken huge steps forward in my research starting with clues found in articles I never would have tracked down if not for working with the database. And it’s not because I have famous family the someone has written about—though I’ve been occasionally lucky to find articles featuring relatives—but PERSI has been great for tracking down transcribed records and articles relating to places important to my ancestors. My most notable find were records leading to my Irish Cop in Detroit.

But this trip, I was focusing on family names—doing general searchers on a number of surnames. I located articles on the Lapham family included a multi-issues article on the descendants on John Lapham, my Smith’s 4th great grandfather. I located a number of articles on Rev. George Burroughs who may be an ancestor through our Holden line. Then in I tried a couple of different searches looking for clues to verify some researchers’ claims that his 2nd great granddaughter, Elizabeth Parmenter, by way of his daughter, Hannah Burroughs Fox married into the Holden family.

I didn’t find anything relevant on the Parmenter line—though in hindsight I didn’t try a variety of spellings. I found citations for a number of interesting articles on the Lawrence family—not all of which I had time to track down—as well as a few on the Whitney/Shattuck line that connect to all of the allied Holden families from Martha’s Vineyard.  But what I thought would be the most useful search, turned out to be impossible.

I had hoped that the Fox line would be well-documented enough that I would be able to track down more solid sources for the suggested connection. Hannah Burroughs had married Jabez Fox the son of an early Harvard Grad and the 2nd minister at Woburn, Massachusetts. And the family is intertwined in the histories of Cambridge, Groton, and Woburn in Massachusetts. So I first went to PERSI and typed in Fox in a Surname Search. I got the very annoying response, “No results were found that matched your request.” I couldn’t believe that no one had ever written about the family. So I tried again, same answer. And on a hunch I tried a couple of other 3-letter surnames, all with the same answer.

It would seem that you cannot do a PERSI surname search on 3-letter names—at least through HeritageQuest. I played with it for a while before approaching one of the ACPL librarians who came up with the same results. Now, on the plus side, she did come to me later to let me know that you can search PERSI through Ancestry fairly successfully. I was able to work with that for the remainder of my trip. But I have the ulterior motive of being a co-database trainer at my home library—and all library editions of Ancestry are not equal. PERSI isn’t available at all in my library’s version.

All that said HeritageQuest is a resource I use a great deal. What I couldn’t find in PERSI was almost made up for with what I found in the Books section of the website including genealogies on the Fox, Lawrence and Whitney families that give me a little more faith in the Burroughs claims. But the issue with 3-letter surnames seems to be a glaring error.

Happy hunting,

Jess

I finally managed to scrounge time and get down to the Allen County Public Library for a couple of days of research last week and I again loaded up my intrepid traveling companions—my mother and my Gran—and headed off for a couple of days in Fort Wayne, IN. This time the non-genie portion of our party had mixed results with their plans but I think we all came out successful.

This time we opted to try a B&B for the novelty value. We stayed at the LaSalle Bed & Breakfast on West Washington (all of a block and a half from the library). It is a lovely historic building now divided into rooms and suites, and run by Rose-Aimée and Clark Butler and their family. We stayed in the beautiful Africa Suite, slept very comfortably, and enjoyed a lovely, filling breakfast with Rose-Aimée. I’d highly recommend it and encourage people to look into their sister site the Sion Bass House Spa.

As for other interesting finds for Non-Genies or when you need down time from the library, this turned into a bit of a foodie trip for Mom and Gran. We had breakfast the first day at Cindy’s Diner on South Harrison Street a 15-seat 50’s diner with fabulous food and a fun family dynamic. They couldn’t pass up a return to trip to DeBrand Fine Chocolates so we had an assortment of fine chocolates. But they also bought a lovely assortment of goods from Pembroke Bakery & Café located on Main St. inside the Auer Center for Arts and Culture. Their baked goods are delicious and all vegan and they have a gluten free selection as well. I will personally vouch for their plain bagels and chocolate chip cookies. And as a group we had dinner at Mad Anthony Brewing Company.  We had a lovely meal and split a flight of beer—my favorite was easily their Amber Lager.

Unfortunately, the Peony Tea House and, more importantly to Mom and Gran, Pfeiffer House & Wayne Street Soda Shop, have both closed though they still show up in the Visitor’s Bureau’s Restaurant listings. It sound like it was a bit disappointing but again I think the trip was still successful for all.

For more information on things to do in Fort Wayne, Indiana check out VisitFortWayne.

Cheers,

Jess

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