One interesting character I found through cluster research is Rockford Area Poet, Julia Ann Davis Moore—and incidentally, it’s her birthday. Julia and my 4th great aunt Louisa Morningstar married brothers Frederick and John Moore. And Louisa’s brother, William H. Morningstar, married Julia’s sister Viola. And her niece married into my Holden family. Julia was a quaint country poet who chronicled the precarious ups and downs of life in the 1870’s through lyrical verse. For decades she was scorned, even inspiring a poetry contest for awesomely bad verse, but in the last twenty years there has been a renewed interest in her work for its historic value. Regardless of your taste in poetry—though I have found far worse—her work spotlighted the concerns of the citizens of Algoma Township, Kent County, Michigan. She’s particularly noted for her poetic obituaries which include verses on members of my family.  The following was is about a 3rd cousin (4 times removed).

Hiram Helsel

Air — “Three Grains of Corn”

Once was a boy, age fifteen years,
Hiram Helsel was his name,
And he was sick two years or so;
He has left this world of pain;
His friends they miss this lovely boy,
That was patient, kind and brave.
He left them all for him to mourn –
He is sleeping in his grave.

He was a small boy of his age,
When he was five years or so
Was shocked by lightning while to play
And it caused him not to grow,
He was called little Hi. Helsel
By all friends that knew him well –
His life was sad, as you shall hear,
And the truth to you I’ll tell.

His parents parted when he was small,
And both are married again.
How sad it was for them to meet
And view his last remains.
He was living with his father then,
As many a friend can tell;
‘Tis said his father’s second wife
That she did not use him well.

Just before little Hiram died –
His uncle and aunt were there –
He kissed them both — bid them farewell,
They left him with a prayer.
Now he is gone, Oh! let him rest;
His soul has found a haven,
For grief and woe ne’er enters there,
In that place called heaven.

For more of Julia A. Moore’s work check out Mortal Refrains: The Complete Collected Poetry, Prose, and Songs of Julia A. Moore, Sweet Singer of Michigan edited by Thomas J. Riedlinger.

Happy Hunting,

Jess

On my last trip to Ft. Wayne I was researching back from my 3rd great grandmother Amelia Grove and discovered I was a little more German than I thought. But what progress I made on the Grove, Dice, Besore and Koppenhaver families really came from my experiences researching my Morningstar and Helsel lines—also from Ohio and Pennsylvania.

I am a huge advocate for cluster genealogy. You learn so many fascinating details about your ancestors by learning about the people who travelled with them and lived in their vicinity. And I have found a ton of relatives and great stories by following those, at first glance, unrelated families. My Morningstar line is a great example of this.

The first Morningstar I came across was also a 3rd great grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth Morningstar, who married George Erwin Porter. Now the Porters of Rockford, Michigan have been well researched over the years and when I first started doing research at the Rockford Historical Museum (which has an excellent collection of genealogical and historical material) a Porter relative was working as a volunteer. So, when he knew what I was researching he gave me pictures, a detailed article and some ideas of where he thought it might be wrong. The article included the names of Sarah’s parents, Jacob and Mary Morningstar.

Now, Jacob and Mary weren’t terribly hard to track. The family had settled in Algoma Township in Kent County, Michigan in the 1840s having come to the state with a large cluster of families including the Helsels, Hull, Christy, and McFall families. At the time I truly didn’t get the significance of the group moving together or the concept of cluster genealogy but when I started to try and figure out who Mary Morningstar’s parents things got complicated. Jacob had died relatively young and by going through the census from 1850 to 1900, I was able to figure out that Mary had remarried a German-born immigrant by the name of Lewis Whitebread. Also at about the same time I was able to get Sarah’s death certificate which listed her mother’s maiden name as Helsel, so I had Mary Helsel Morningstar Whitebread. And in the 1870 Census her widowed mother, Elizabeth Helsel, was living with the Whitebread family.

Unfortunately, there were two widowed Elizabeth Helsels in the township and, since Mary was married already in 1850, I didn’t know which family she belonged to. I ended up following all the Helsel children to try and find the connection—and while I was at it I worked on all the Morningstars as well—and slowly but surely I was able to chart a web of interconnected families. We were related, at least by marriage, to all the Ohio families listed above plus a few I hadn’t realized had also moved with the crowd. And by being forced to track families through the Census, County Histories, and any other source I was able to find, I was able to figure out which Helsel I descend from—John as opposed to his brother, Jacob, I found fun and bizarre connections in Kent County I never would have noticed, and having all those connections helped me in moving back to Ohio and Pennsylvania to the Morgenstern and Holtzel families.

Lesson learned… Follow out all siblings lines as well as your direct ancestors and definitely look into the families they travel with… there’s often a solid connection and your research will be the richer for it.

Happy Hunting,

Jess

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