Robert Shea at the MichiganState Sanatorium for Tuberculosis, Howell, Michigan c.1919It’s the 95th Anniversary of the day my Great Grandfather Robert James Shea entered the Michigan State Sanatorium for Tuberculosis upon the completion of quarters by the War Preparedness Board of Michigan for rejected or discharged tuberculosis soldiers. In the picture he is the second from the left with a smile.

For people seeking more information about the Michigan State Sanatorium —the Archives of Michigan and Howell Carnegie Library are two fabulous resources. Additionally, many of the Biennial Reports of the Board of Trustees of the Michigan State Sanatorium are available full text in Google Books.

Happy hunting!

Jess

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,

Jess

8 Miles to Coons Clothing Store, HowellSo, assuming I can breathe comfortably without coughing fits, I will be heading over to the Howell Carnegie District Library this week for a little more research on the Michigan State Sanatorium for Tuberculosis. As noted in previous posts, both of my Grandmother’s parents did a stint there, and though their patient dates don’t actually match up—the family story is that they met there.

I’ve been doing a bit of research up front to try and figure out what I’d like to look at. I’ve spent a little time making a list of items that show up on MeLCat, the Michigan eLibrary shared catalog that can be used for interlibrary loan or to just figure out who has what in state. It includes some archival collections including the Michigan State Sanatorium Hillcrest Center collection, 1907-1990 and the Michigan State Sanatorium photograph collection 1917-1957—both of which cover the period when my great-grandparents were patients.

In addition to the material listed on MeL, the Howell Carnegie District Library has a nice newly updated website that includes a set of searchable collection indexes on their archives page. Somewhat idly, I decided to look at the scrapbook indexes and happened to zero in on a relative’s name—it wasn’t either of the grandparents I was hoping to research there. Instead, there is a listing for my 3rd Great Grandfather, Henry R. Massey, who was a replacement soldier for a Hartland resident… You never know where you’ll find things.

So I have a plan… now I just need to get rid of the cold.

Happy hunting,

Jess

Photo: 8 Miles to Coons in Howell, MI: I can’t identify the women but the men are both Sheas. The younger one on the left is probably Dick Shea and the gentleman on the right is my Great-grandfather Robert Shea. I have numerous shots around this sign so my guess based on people subbing in and out of them is that my grandmother actually took the picture. It is from the collection of my Great Aunt.

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 SeekingMichigan.org I would heartily suggest you follow them—if you have any interest in Michigan history or genealogy.

Happy Hunting,

Jess

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,

Jess

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.

I still have Robert Shea on my mind…

My great grandfather, Robert James Shea, was a tuberculosis patient at  the Michigan State Sanatorium, in Howell, Michigan, around 1920. It’s there that he met my great grandmother, Cora Helena Packer who was also a patient. This shot is from one of the men’s dorms. Robert is the second gentleman from the right. None of the other men are identified. Within the family we have a number of group shots from the Sanatorium. The originals reside with my great aunt.

Happy Hunting,

Jess

I’ve been thinking a great deal about my great grandfather, Robert James Shea, and his family lately. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been going through my files and photos—I probably have more from the Packers and Sheas than any other branch of my family—or because I decided to inventory my postcard collection which includes a stack related to the Michigan State Sanatorium in Howell, Michigan where he was treated for Tuberculosis and met my great grandmother as a fellow patient. Or maybe it’s because I’ll have a chance to pass through that part of Michigan where he was born in the Leelanau Peninsula next week. Regardless of the reason, Robert Shea is on my mind.

He was born 25 Jan 1888 in Empire Township to Cornelius and Ellen (Cunningham) Shea, the first of their nine children. He was listed as a farm laborer in the 1910 Census but by 1920 he had been admitted to the State Sanatorium. He met my great grandmother, Cora Helena Packer, there and they were married in Grand Rapids in 1922. Their first two children were born there—my Grandmother, Ethel, and her younger sister, June. In the 1930 Census Robert was working in an upholstery shop and the family lived in Tallmadge, Ottawa County. In 1931 their last child Robert Arthur was born. In April of 1933 Robert finally succumbed to complications from his Tuberculosis at Kalamazoo State Hospital.

He’s a character I really only know from pictures and the stories my Grandmother and Great Aunt share—and Gran was only 8 when he died. In every picture is a dark, thick head of hair that seems often unruly. The more unruly shots make me think of Lyle Lovett (I’m a big fan). And he had a darker complexion—an olive undertone—that he passed on to Gran and likely her three children. It’s a running joke that they all tan darker than me.

He didn’t have an easy life. The idea that he likely had a lung removed as part of his TB treatment but was still working as a lumberjack before he died has always struck me as sad. But the photo evidence suggests he was able to have fun and find joy in the times that he had.

As with all my other lines, I am always searching to add more depth to that disjointed list of facts, so I plan to continue my research on Robert (and Cora) by looking into the history and records held by the State Archives on the Michigan State Sanatorium at Howell and the Howell Carnegie District Library. I’m quite curious about what their routine would have been like especially since they were patients when the “fresh air cure” was a popular approach to TB treatment.

For more information on The Michigan State Sanatoria check out this great 2009 article from SeekingMichigan.org: A Healing Place.

All photos are from the collection of my Grandmother and Great Aunt.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 348 other followers