I’ve always viewed February as Gran’s month. I‘m sure you’re thrilled but… Love you, Grandma!

This is Gran and her cousin Flora. Gran’s the taller one… I rarely get to say that.

Happy Hunting,


Ethel (Shea) and William Johnson61 years ago, tomorrow, my grandparents married in the 1st Congregational Church in Rockford, Michigan, surrounded by family and friends. From Gran’s photo collection.

Happy Hunting,


June Shea, Kay Ammerman and Ethel Shea.The family found out about the death of my cousin (twice removed) Kay (Ammerman) Miller at our holiday party on Saturday. I did not know her well but she has come up in conversation a great deal lately as my mother and I have talked to my grandmother about how she met my grandfather. If I have the short version of the story kind of straight (because it gets confusing), Kay went to Creston High School in Grand Rapids with my Great Aunt June and Grandmother Ethel and somewhere along the way she introduced Gran to her cousin, Gene Johnson. My impression was that he was younger by almost four years, a bit hot-headed, and handsome. It took him a long time to convince Gran to marry him and then it had to be before her birthday so it didn’t look like that much of an age gap.

Thank you, Kay, for whatever role you played in my being here today and my deepest sympathies go out to all of her loved ones!



The Family of Cornelius and Ellen Shea.

This is the family of Cornelius and Ellen (Cunningham) Shea. From left to right: George, my Great Grandfather Robert James (in back), Cornelius holding his youngest daughter Donna, Loretta, Ellen, Earl (in back), Glen and Richard. At the time of this photograph (based on Dick and Donna’s size) the family probably still lived in Leelanau County, Michigan.

We tend to refer in our family to a Shea sense of humor. One of the stories most often told about Cornelius is that when my Great-Grandmother Cora was pregnant with my Uncle Bob she somehow fell in a well. Cornelius couldn’t help her… he was laughing too hard. My Aunt June still sounds outraged when she tells the story… but Grandma can’t tell it or listen to it without laughing.

Happy Hunting!


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,


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,


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.

This is just a quick post between packing and prep before I head out for FGS2011.

Tomorrow is Labor Day and that along with a lot of discussion on the GeneaBloggers sites (including GeneaBloggers Radio Episode 33) inspired me to look back through my family research at the jobs various family members have held. And while there have been many unique ones (such as saxophone maker, reflexologist, and tailor) I decided to focus on how my family has played their own role in the building of Michigan.

My maternal 5th great grandfather, Smith Lapham, was a pioneer, moving into the state after working on the Erie Canal, and eventuallyheading up the Grand and Rogue River until he settled in Kent County, there becoming a farmer and entrepreneur in a little town originally known as Laphamville, as well as serving as a State Senator in 1858.

My maternal great grandfather, Cornelius Shea, I believe moved in the 1880s from Upstate New York to Michigan with a few of his brothers to work in and around the lumber camps in Leelanau County, Michigan, then later moved down to Grand Rapids to work in the Furniture industry.

And finally, my paternal grandfather, Levie Trotter, was part of the Motor City, moving his young family from Arkansas to Detroit in 1951, and working for Chrysler Corporation for 32 years.

This is a small sampling of the generations of hard workers that I can claim as family—each very different but each part of an important time in Michigan’s economic development. And likely you’ll hear more details about all of them in blogs to come.

Happy Labor Day!



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