Character Studies


In my pleasure reading I’ve recently picked up a number of books** that explore the idea that one decision or act can change the course of a life or lives and as a genealogist it sparks my imagination… what choices and decisions lead to my existence? I’ll never know most of them but every time I can find a little more information it’s a little victory.

Martha Ward Garbutt had some hand in raising my 2nd Great Grandmother Flora Jane Massy. I would dearly love to know how Flora ended up in Canada. As I’ve mentioned before, the gap in my research on her life spans from the 1870 Census when she lived in Detroit, Michigan with her mother, Augusta (Cory) Massy, and 1881 when she was enumerated as the youngest Garbutt child. Whatever the story, the Garbutt family made a home for Flora. And it’s through this connection that she met and married into the Packer family—Martha’s 5th child, Mary, married Cornelius’s older brother, Thomas, in 1875. And there’s more than enough photographic evidence that the families all remained in touch long after my 2nd Great Grandparents came to Grand Rapids in 1891.

Martha Ward Garbutt, c. late 1912So, on this 195th anniversary of the birth of Martha (Ward) Garbutt, I’d like to say thank you for whatever role she had in my existence. Martha was born in England to John and Jane (Spenceley) Ward in 1818 and married William Garbutt on 30 Nov 1839. They started their family in Pickering, in North Yorkshire (per the 1851 England Census) but the family immigrated to Woodstock, Ontario, Canada prior to 1855 when Mary was born. They were the parents of eight children. Martha outlived her husband by about 18 years and lived out her last years with Mary and Thomas Packer. She died at home, just over a month shy of her 95th birthday, on 12 Mar 1913.

This photo-postcard was sent to my 2nd Great Grandparents at Christmas in 1911 or 1912. One of my cousins shared it with me and it was one of those great finds that makes the rest of the pieces fall into place. It’s inscribed to “Curly and Flo” (Cornelius and Flora Packer) from Mary with the note, “don’t you think Grandma looks real nice for one nearly 94 years.”

Happy hunting,

Jess

** Ex. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, Strange Attractors by Charles Soule

Gravestone of Captain Harry Alison and Frances SInclair Alison, St. Paul's Cemetery, Warwick Township, Lambton County, Ontario, CanadaSince I omitted it from my post on the first day of our roadtrip, this is the tombstone of Captain Harry Alison, patriarch of the Alison family and the unofficially named Captain’s Alison’s Settlement which sprung up around his lots in Warwick Township of Lambton Co, Ontario in the 183os.

Harry was born in Perth in 1775 and when his father died young he was sponsored by an uncle who sent him to St. Andrews with plans for him to become a solicitor. But, unhappy with the profession, he left service at the end of his requisite period and relocated to London with plans to join the Army. With the aid of a well-placed relative he was given and ensigncy in the 93rd Highlanders. When the 90th Highlanders were reformed under, Major Rowland Hill, Harry came on as Paymaster and served for near 30 years.

In that time he married Francis Sinclair and had a family of nine born all over the world, including Ireland, the West Indies, France, and the Ionian Islands.

He bought out around 1830 and petitioned the Crown for land in Upper Canada (Ontario), and eventually established the family in Warwick Township.

His children were:

  • Jane Alison who married Lieutenant Hugh Massy of the 90th and 33rd Regiments (my 4th Great Grandparents)
  • Rowland Hill Alison who moved his family to Detroit and then ultimately settled in Chicago
  • Charles Alison who served as “Her Majesty’s Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Shah of Persia”
  • Brisbain—who became a sailor in Ontario despite likely deserting the British Navy
  • Frances Mary who married Thomas Wade Rothwell, the son of Brevet Major Wade Rothwell.
  • Jullia Dixon who married Robert Armon Hill retired from the 5th Regiment
  • Ann McNair who married William W. Nichols
  • Mary H. who married William R. MacDonald
  • Peter John Alison who married Frances Delia Travers

Harry served as a Justice of the Peace for nearly 25 years. He died in North Duoro where he spent the last few years of his life as part of the household of his son-in-law William W. Nichols. He was buried in St. Paul’s Cemetery.

The marker reads:

In Memory of Captain Harry Alison, late of H. M. 90th Light infantry. Died January 11, 1866 ae 92 years. Also his wife Francis Sinclair died December 16, 1867 ae 80 years.

Happy hunting!

Jess

A long obituary on Harry posted in The Volunteer Review and Military and Naval Gazette (Ottawa, Canada, Monday, 11 Feb 1867) and in the The Peterborough Review around the same time. Also, the Crown Land Petitions and British Regimental Histories add more information on Harry’s military career.

I now feel like I have just enough of a backlog of digital images to participate in the meme “Tombstone Tuesday”… so, the first up is one of a set of sinking stones from the “New” Rockford Cemetery.

This is the headstone of my 3rd Great Aunt Katherine Baker Sears who died 162 years ago today. She is buried in the Sears Lot just south of the Hessler Mausoleum.

Katie Baker was the eldest child of Eugene and Amelia (Grove) Baker and the oldest sibling of my 3rd Great grandmother Lena Grove Baker Johnson. She was born 05 December 1874 probably in Joliet, Illinois where her parents married and lived for a short time before Eugene brought them back to Kent County, Michigan.

In 1895 she married Clifton F. Sears. They had at least two children before he died in 1899—Dorothy and Charles F. After Clifton’s passing she kept house for her brother Frank Baker for a time and and from 1909 to 1943 she worked for C. F. Sears Co, her father-in-law’s dry goods store.

Katie was involved in the community with the Methodist Church, the Garden Club, Tuesday Club, Dorcas circle and more.

Rest well, Aunt Katie!

Happy hunting,

Jess

I am thrilled to say someone in my family had enough money to make the pages of several county histories—including pictures—giving me a bunch of good (if occasionally confusing) leads to track the family back and I am extremely thankful considering we’re talking about a man with the highly original name of William Johnson. He was my 3rd Great Grandfather and today is his 182 birthday.

William Johnson is a great example of the inconsistencies in family stories as their shared over the years. From Chapman’s History of Kent County (1881) I learned that he was born May 8, 1930 in Norfolk, England and he came to America with his brother Matthew when he was eighteen(p. 685). From A. W. Bowen’s 1900 City of Grand Rapids and Kent County I learned he was sixteen when he crossed the Atlantic alone and settled in the Empire State until he came to Kent County in 1854 (p. 793-794). And according to Grand Rapids and Kent County, Michigan (1918) William lived in Orleans County, New York until 1852 when he came to Solon Township (p. 261). All a little contradictory… but certainly worth looking into.

Here’s what I think I know… William was born on May 8, 1830 in Horsey-Next-the-Sea, Norfolk, England to Richard and Sarah (Suffling) Johnson. He did cross from England and neither he nor his brother Matthew was listed in their father’s household as of the 1851 Census for Horsey, Norfolk, England. I haven’t been able to isolate either on a passenger list but by 1855 the family was reunited and enumerated in the stats census for Orleans County, New York, though the household had added their cousin Elizabeth (Gibbs), who married Matthew in 1854. In October of 1855 William married Mary Gordon of Kent County, Michigan and the pair started their family on a farm in Solon Township. In the 18 years they lived there they had 10 children (5 died young) the youngest surviving child was my 2nd Great Grandfather William Amos Johnson.

William was a successful farmer and served his community as one of the organizers of Solon Township and Township Treasurer. The family removed to 160 acres in Section 30 of Cannon Township in 1873 and there William continued to be involved with his community serving again as Township Treasurer and giving generously to support and advance the congregation of West Cannon Baptist Church. William died December 24, 1908 and was laid to rest at Cannon Cemetery.

Everything in the histories gave me new source material to look into and a rough time frame to work with—and I needed it. As it happens not only is William Johnson one of the most common names in my family but there was a second highly successful William Johnson family in the Rockford area during the same period as my own.

So, don’t forget to check out local histories. You never know what you might find. Seriously, check out the picture of William and Mary from a 1907 county atlas  (p. 129). It was a fabulous surprise when I found it.

Happy hunting,

Jess

So, in the process of trying to track down a set of pictures this past Sunday I went through a lot of papers. Blessedly, I got rid of a lot in the process but then again I don’t really feel like I made a dent. However, I did come across material I hope to share on the blog as time permits and first up is this timely find.

I have no idea about the whereabouts of the original of this picture. This is a scan of a scan—almost certainly printed on my old inkjet printer and thus losing even more definition. But regardless, this is my Great Grandfather Harrison Trotter who was born in Johnsville, Bradley County, Arkansas, 122 years ago today. To the best of my knowledge he was the youngest child of Sam and Josie (Johnson) Trotter but was raised largely in the household of his Uncle and Aunt, Levi and Janie (Johnson) Hampton. He had at least 5 full siblings: Henry, Susan, Pearlie, Matt, and Belle plus 3 more half siblings: Sarah and Richard (Mother, Maggie Goodlock) and Cora (Mother, Etta Stanfield). He married Rhoda Rogers in 1911 and they had 15 children included my Grandpa (Levie) Trotter. He was a farmer and lived out his life in Bradley County. He died April 9, 1975 at Pine Lodge Nursing Home, in Warren, Arkansas.

Note to any Trotters and Allied family out there: If any of you have seen the original of this picture could you let me know? I think it may be cropped from a larger shot. And, while I’m throwing questions out there, does anyone know why he was called “Papa Monk”?

Happy hunting,

Jess

102 years ago today the Census takers were passing through Palestine Township, Bradley County, Arkansas. This is the entry for the family of Moses Wheeler, my 2nd Great Grandfather. His wife Josie Avery was his 2nd wife.

Moses was a farmer all of his life. He was born in 1862, the son of Isaac and Sicie Wheeler. In the 1870 Census he was listed with his parents and four siblings. In 1880 he is still at home with his parents but in 1882 he married Candes Thompson. By 1900 he is on his second marriage and the first six of at least 12 children were born. With Candes he had at least four children: Sallie, Louis, Joseph, and Amzi. The eldest child, Sallie, is my great grandmother who became the third wife of Philip Henry York in 1913. Candes died sometime between 1892 and 1894. Moses married Josie in December of 1894. They had at least six children including: Isaiah, Moses, Lizzie, William, Mary, and Simon. He also had two children out of wedlock: Wilson “Buddy” Wheeler and my uncle, John W. Newton (with Miss Becky Newton).

Moses and Josie both died in February of 1948. Josie had “worked herself ill” caring for Moses (who possibly had Alzheimer’s or some kind of dementia) and he died 4 days later. They had a double funeral service and were buried at Palestine Cemetery. It’s something that my Grandmother remembered clearly. She wasn’t able to attend the service because she’d just had her first child.

I was also able to locate the couple in the 1940 Census living with a son–I’m guessing Isaiah? It looks like “Iz” to me.

Happy Hunting,

Jess

Today is the 165th Anniversary of my 3rd Great Grandparents wedding. On 25 April 1847 Joseph Packer married Harriet Vaughan at St. Margaret’s Church in Rainham, Kent, England witnessed by Joseph’s brother, Charles and sister, Mercy. The couple lived to celebrate 59 years of marriage. They were the parents of at least seven children: William James, Thomas William Horton, Joseph Malcolm Ross, Sara Maria, Charles, Cornelius, and Albert A. The family lived in Kent; Ontario, Canada; and finally in the United States.  The couple completed their lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Happy Hunting,

Jess

Another miss in my sequin haze… Saturday marked the 185 Anniversary of my 3rd Great Grandfather Joseph Packer’s birth. I introduced a bit of his story on the occasion of his wife, Harriett Vaughan’s birthday back in January. To give you a little more on Joseph, he was born on April 7, 1827 in Rainham, Kent, England. He was the son of Thomas Swissenton Packer and Hannah Ross. He and Harriett married 1847. In the 1851 Census he was listed as a brickmaker in the Village of Gillingham at Kent. The family lived at Malcomb Place in Sittingbourne during the 1861 Census. By 1871 they were settled in Ontario, Canada. Around 1891 the family came to Michigan. Joseph died February 19, 1911 in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the United States.

Happy hunting!

Jess

P.s. Denise, If you see this before I get my act together! I fully intend on writing back. But until then: Yes, I’m still happily tracking our Packers and Masseys!

My only excuse is that sequins are taking a toll on my blog. But I’ve largely finished my sewing project and I’m only a day late in celebrating the 208th birthday of my 5th Great Grandfather.

Smith Lapham was born in Rhode Island, April 8, 1804 the son of Job and Ada (Smith) Lapham. As I’ve mentioned before, Squire Lapham was one of the settlers of Rockford (originally called Laphamville) in Kent County, Michigan, in 1845. He built a mill on the Rogue River in 1844 and ran it for 20 years, served as Village Council President, Township Supervisor, Postmaster, and Justice of the Peace. His son Embree, noted that he met with the gathering “Under the Oaks” at which the Michigan Republican Party was formed in 1854, and he went on to serve Kent County as a State Representative (1855-56) and State Senator (1857-58). Smith lived to celebrate 58 years of marriage to Katherine Gilbert and the couple raised 9 children. He was an entrepreneur, a leader, and a poet.

This image is scanned from From Sawmill to City: The Long Years Passing – a Story of Rockford, Michigan by Homer L. Burch. I am not sure of the location of the original. It may be at the Rockford Branch. I am more aware of a copy on display at Rockford Historical Museum.

Happy belated birthday, Grandfather!

And happy hunting to you all!

Jess

Rhoda (Rogers) Trotter & ChildrenThis is my Great Grandmother Rhoda (Rogers) Trotter who would have turned 118 today (or tomorrow—there appears to be some disagreement between the documents and between family members) along with three of her children. Love the glasses! In back is my Grandpa Levie, in the middle is Aunt Lee Ellen (Trotter) Hampton, and on the end is Uncle Graham. Rhoda was the daughter of Pete and Mattie (Martin) Rogers. She married Harrison Trotter in 1911 and was the mother of 14 children. What few pictures I have seen and the stories I have heard make me wish I had met my Grandma (and Papa Monk).She died in 1981.

The digital files are from my father’s collection but the originals were turned in during a call for photos before our last Trotter-Rogers Reunion.

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