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

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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