Great Sources

Photographed by Ledges Photographic Studio, 2010

We were gearing up for a family picnic this weekend and as Mom and I were discussing the menu (beyond hot dogs and hamburgers) it occurred to me that another big way I’ve gotten people talking about customs, history and such is over food. We each have our memorable or comfort meals. Gran would make Schnitzel for my uncle’s birthday, Mom would make her Seven Layer Salad or Cannonballs for various get-togethers, and, as I’ve mentioned before, I remember my paternal grandfather best manning the grill for superb barbeque. We have our major disagreements—my cousin and I each prefer a different family version of lasagna, there is a deep split on the subject of lumps in potatoes, and I’m probably the only one left in the family that must have Deviled Eggs made with Miracle Whip versus Mayonnaise. Regardless, we gather and associate important family moments with food.

One of the ways we’ve tried to preserve some of that information is through a cookbook my Aunt created specifically for immediate family members—though I think versions have spread out farther. It has most of our favorite recipes, stories associated with the foods, and some general family history and pictures. It’s a project I would highly suggest for a food-oriented family. It can be a pain to compile but it’s a keepsake we all treasure!

I leave you with one of my contributions for the picnic. It’s a variation on Raspberry Tiramisu that I love to make… but only if I have somewhere to take it! It’s much too lovely (and tempting) to have in my home.

And thanks to Ledges Photographic Studio for the magazine-quality pic!

Happy hunting,


My second day away was split between the Local History Collection at the Krause Memorial Branch of the Kent District Library and the Rockford Historical Museum. Both are places I used to all but live, but it’s been years since I’ve spent much time at either.

At the library I worked exclusively with Microfilm of the Rockford Register which, though a substantial amount is indexed through the Western Michigan Genealogical Newspaper Society’s Index, is housed solely at the Rockford Library. It’s been forever since I’ve been able to even visit the branch so I was thrilled to see the improvements that have been made. My old shared office is now a wireless lounge on one side and the local history collection and microfilm reader/printer on the other. And even though this is a long narrow room in the middle of one wing of the building, it was more comfortable than it’s ever been—at least for me. The other occupants of the lounge might not have approved of the sound of the microfilm reader.

It was a very successful trip though, further cementing a series of family connections through obits. I had been on the fence about Sarah Deer Helsel being related to Hannah Deer Reinshagen. But I was able to find their obituaries–right in a row (they died 24 hours apart). Hannah’s plainly names her sister, Sarah Helsel and mentioned her death the day before. With the remainder of my time I worked through a few different family names in the index and filled in gaps.

I only had a brief time at the Museum—I really want to go back soon—and so I spent it entirely looking for updates in the Surname Files. As I’ve mentioned before, Rockford is a community that has been home for my family for almost 170 years. And while not all my family has made it into the files—most have. The Laphams, Gilberts, Porters, and Holden’s have a tremendous amount of coverage in the archives but the Helsels, Morningstars, Groves, and Baileys have interesting files as well. And it’s totally worth going back and checking for updates. In this case, someone had reproduces the vital record pages from Dr. Charles Holden’s Family Bible. Someone had tucked a tintype of Seth Porter’s daughters Melissa Emeline and Minnie Isabel in the Porter file. And in the Bailey file I found a handwritten letter from Lizzie Bailey to her younger sister, Bertha Groner.

The Rockford Historical Museum is a goldmine of information. It’s also in the process of raising money to fund a renovation and move into the old city courthouse. If you have any family in the area consider looking into ways to help support the new museum!

Progress made!

Happy hunting, all!


I managed to slip away for a couple of days of fun and research in and around Kent County, MI. On the first day of my trip my mother and I spent a good portion of the day with my Grandmother and Great Aunt. Hanging out with this feisty pair and sharing my progress is truly rewarding. They are so appreciative of the research I’ve done and their very interested in how I’ve organized it.

We spent a couple of hours going through their old family pictures and telling stories—many that I have heard before and love to hear them repeat—and often with an added tidbit, or a possible puzzle piece, that I might be able to use on another day.  And as I talked about some of the characters I had found in my research it is definite that my grandmother in particular has an affinity for the black sheep of the families.

We, of course, talked about good old Henry R. Massy, but we also talked about. Cornelius Shea who may or may not have been dismissed from working for a Catholic church in Grand Rapids over a problem with disappearing wine. And this was the same man who laughed too hard to help his pregnant daughter-in-law out of a well. Poor Grandma Cora! Aunt June still fumes a little telling that story.

But more than anything for me these visits are a time of gathering memories from and of these lovely women who are so neat! Families are so interesting to observe. I see these two ladies and their mannerisms echoed in my mom and aunt (who I watched at breakfast the next morning), or even between myself and my cousin. And it’s those echoes that keep me interested in what’s passed down from generation to generation.

Talk to your elders, talk to your contemporaries and pass it down!

Happy hunting,


I was able to take a day last week to do a daytrip to Kent County, Michigan to visit another one of my favorite collections—Grand Rapids Public Library’s History and Special Collections Department at the Main Library. It’s been years since I’ve been there to research and took me a little while to get oriented but I was able to answer some of the questions I’d hoped to. For example—and this is for Denise and Gran… Aunt Pearl (Packer) McComb was buried at Rest Lawn Memorial Park according to her Grand Rapids Press obituary—which for some reason I’d missed looking up before. I was also able to work with the Grand Rapids Directories and a few other resources.

I spent the afternoon at the Kent County Probate Court to look at family probate records. As I had used this courthouse before I had gotten a fair explanation of how things worked form their website. And I was pretty well prepared when I arrived. I didn’t know what they might have so I used their indexes to look up a few family names and picked one to work on for the afternoon.

I spent the remainder of my time looking at the very detailed and long probate packet for my 3rd Great-Grandfather George E. Porter, who died without a will. What followed was a very detailed process in which George’s heirs nominated my 2nd Great-Grandfather Charles E. Porter to act as agent in settling his father’s estate. There were pages of material—I couldn’t afford to print it all at $2 per page. But Idid get a great sampling with lists of surviving heirs, property information and value, and lists of debts—from a line by line of the costs of treatment for George’s illness to the burial. I worked with bits of probate packets before but this was my first experience seeing a large detailed packet without someone choosing bits to show me. It was fascinating!

Happy hunting,


I’m finding that one of my major uses of ACPL collection is tracking down published articles on my allied lines using the Periodical Source Index (PERSI) in HeritageQuest.

I have taken huge steps forward in my research starting with clues found in articles I never would have tracked down if not for working with the database. And it’s not because I have famous family the someone has written about—though I’ve been occasionally lucky to find articles featuring relatives—but PERSI has been great for tracking down transcribed records and articles relating to places important to my ancestors. My most notable find were records leading to my Irish Cop in Detroit.

But this trip, I was focusing on family names—doing general searchers on a number of surnames. I located articles on the Lapham family included a multi-issues article on the descendants on John Lapham, my Smith’s 4th great grandfather. I located a number of articles on Rev. George Burroughs who may be an ancestor through our Holden line. Then in I tried a couple of different searches looking for clues to verify some researchers’ claims that his 2nd great granddaughter, Elizabeth Parmenter, by way of his daughter, Hannah Burroughs Fox married into the Holden family.

I didn’t find anything relevant on the Parmenter line—though in hindsight I didn’t try a variety of spellings. I found citations for a number of interesting articles on the Lawrence family—not all of which I had time to track down—as well as a few on the Whitney/Shattuck line that connect to all of the allied Holden families from Martha’s Vineyard.  But what I thought would be the most useful search, turned out to be impossible.

I had hoped that the Fox line would be well-documented enough that I would be able to track down more solid sources for the suggested connection. Hannah Burroughs had married Jabez Fox the son of an early Harvard Grad and the 2nd minister at Woburn, Massachusetts. And the family is intertwined in the histories of Cambridge, Groton, and Woburn in Massachusetts. So I first went to PERSI and typed in Fox in a Surname Search. I got the very annoying response, “No results were found that matched your request.” I couldn’t believe that no one had ever written about the family. So I tried again, same answer. And on a hunch I tried a couple of other 3-letter surnames, all with the same answer.

It would seem that you cannot do a PERSI surname search on 3-letter names—at least through HeritageQuest. I played with it for a while before approaching one of the ACPL librarians who came up with the same results. Now, on the plus side, she did come to me later to let me know that you can search PERSI through Ancestry fairly successfully. I was able to work with that for the remainder of my trip. But I have the ulterior motive of being a co-database trainer at my home library—and all library editions of Ancestry are not equal. PERSI isn’t available at all in my library’s version.

All that said HeritageQuest is a resource I use a great deal. What I couldn’t find in PERSI was almost made up for with what I found in the Books section of the website including genealogies on the Fox, Lawrence and Whitney families that give me a little more faith in the Burroughs claims. But the issue with 3-letter surnames seems to be a glaring error.

Happy hunting,


It never hurts to be reminded… you have to keep an open mind. For years I have been aware of two Bailey families coming in the Rockford, Kent Co, MI area around about the same time, those of Smith Bailey (the family of my Step-Great-Grandfather) and Ethan Allen Bailey. To the best of my knowledge they aren’t closely related, though I’ve often wondered about Ethan’s line. On the other hand Bailey is a common enough name, right.

But, in the process of filling in blanks with death records from this past week it occurred to me that, Ethan’s daughter-in-law, Rachel (Deer) Bailey, and my 5th great aunt Sarah J. (Deer) Helsel, share a maiden name.  So, out of idle curiosity, I went searching for their Deer families and I think that I found them together in Allegheny Co, PA.

Listed here: Sarah Deer and her children: Hannah, George, Rachel, Sarah, and Washington.

Further investigation places everyone but Washington in Kent County by 1870. Hannah married, John Jacob Reinshagen, George a woman named Catherine, Rachel married Harvey Bailey, and Sarah married Henry L. Helsel. And their mother, Sarah, was living with George in 1870. The death certificates for the first three children all list the same parents. Sarah’s certificate does not, so for me this is not definitive… but my gut is pushing me to find more information—especially after I found, a marriage between Sarah’s daughter Zoa and Hannah’s nephew, Henry Reinhagen.

This one’s still an ongoing hunt but, whether or not anyone else needs to be reminded, I need to remember not to focus too hard on a particular possible relationship… often others will present themselves—especially when you’re following a cluster of families.

Happy hunting,


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,


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