Harriet (Vaughan) Packer This is my 3rd Great Grandmother Harriet (Vaughan) Packer and today is the 186th Anniversary of her birth. Harriet was born in 1826 in England to John and Frances Vaughan. She married Joseph Packer at St. Mary the Virgin at Upchurch, Kent in 1847. The couple had at least seven children: William James, Thomas William Horton, Joseph Malcolm Ross, Sarah Maria, Charles, my 2nd Great Grandfather Cornelius, and their youngest child Albert. In 1871 the whole family immigrated to Canada and my Gran and Aunt June remember being told about Albert being young and active enough that they were afraid he’d go overboard during their journey. They settled first in Hamilton, Ontario near her siblings but moved quickly on to Woodstock, Ontario until the early 1890s when Joseph, Cornelius, Charles, and Albert eventually moved their families to Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Harriet died in Grand Rapids and is buried in Fairplains Cemetery.

This photo is from the collection of my Great Aunt.

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.

So it took years before I realized that the Salvation Army was a religious denomination… and I’d been driving by a church for years in Lansing, Michigan. The above photograph is from a photo postcard taken by William H. Spinks and currently held by my Great Aunt. It’s the Salvation Army Brass Band of Woodstock, Oxford County, Ontario, Canada. My Great Great Grandfather Cornelius Packer is in the front row, third man in from the left with, what I believe is, a euphonium. The photo was taken sometime between 1881—when the Packers previously identified as Primitive Methodists and 1892 when my Great Grandmother was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Just based on his age in this picture and another family shot by the same photographer, I suspect this is mid to late 1880s.

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.

These are my 2nd Great Grandparents Flora Jane (daughter of Henry R. Massy) and Cornelius Packer and three of their children: My great grandmother Cora, her older sister Pearl, and their younger brother James Arthur. The photo was likely taken at their home 160 Shirley Street, Grand Rapids, Michigan after the death of their oldest child, Ethel, in September of 1900 and prior to 1905 when their last child, Grace, was born. The original resides with my great aunt.

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