Great Sources

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,


I’ve had lots of long conversations with my Gran and Great Aunt about our families but I have this growing list of questions inspired by research done for these posts and new finds. As an example, I spent hours this week flipping through census pages for Grand Rapids, MI trying to track them down in 1940. I had started with my latest directory locations for the family—which placed them living with my 2nd Great Aunt Pearl in 1937. When I couldn’t find any relatives there I called Gran and she told me they lived on Quimby.  I used Morse and Weintraub’s One Step Enumeration District finder from ( which narrowed the list down to 3 EDs. Then Gran called back and said… maybe it was Union St. Either way she wasn’t sure of the number. So, I entered Union in the finder and it narrowed it down to 30 districts. Needless to say, I found them at 306 Union Street… eventually.

In 1940 Great Grandma Cora was the head of household including my Gran and her siblings and Cora’s youngest sibling Grace (Packer) Elliott and her family—including her husband, Harold, and six of their children. Cora was working at a paper box factory and Harold at an auto plant. I was so thrilled that I posted to Twitter as soon as I found Gran, and almost immediately got a phone call from my mother and Gran because Gran wanted to know what I’d found. It all just leads to more interesting questions: about Cora’s job (which I can’t quite decipher), the moving, all the family they lived with at different times, and really just how Cora managed as a widow with 3 young children.

I think it’s past time for a lunch date with Mom, Gran, and my Aunts!

Happy hunting!


So I haven’t had nearly enough time to work through the Census but I’ve found a few fun bits. I started off searching Bradley County, Arkansas from my Trotter and related families. Palestine township is E. D. 6-7 and 9 pages in I found Papa Monk (Harrison Trotter) and his family and was thrilled to find not only Grandma Rodie on one of the extra question lines confirming she had born 15 children but her daughter, my aunt Irene, on the other one. Harrison and Rhoda are actually listed as what looks like “Hysom” and “Rose” but from then on it’s my Grandpa and his siblings—definitely the right family.  I have so much family in Bradley Co. That I’ve barely begun, but I wanted to find them first. I suspect without indexing finding Gran will take longer—I believe she was living with family in town by 1940. But I’m hoping to have time to go searching for her soon.

On the other side of the family, I’ve now gone through a good chunk of the 4 townships surrounding Rockford for and I’m now working on Rockford proper (I also have to do Plainfield still). I have located my (Great) Grandpa Bailey as the head of my grandpa’s household in Rockford. But I haven’t yet found my biological Great Grandfather Robert or his family. I don’t know where to start from Gran yet but I think I can get a street address and narrow down the search in Grand Rapids. I just haven’t put any time into it yet.

But I’ve got so much to do still… just need to grab more time for research!

Happy Hunting,


In the process of looking for information to fill out a future blog entry, I happened upon the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections. It is a collection that I had heard of and I’d seen things transcribed from, but I’d never had the opportunity to use it. And with a portion of my family solidly planted in the Michigan Territory prior to the 1830s, this is a source I had planned to check out. So I was thrilled to find an MSU Libraries Research Guide that linked to the Hathi Trust Digital Library’s catalog entry for the digitized volumes.

The collection takes some searching. It consists of three distinct series of varying quality from reminiscences to solid historical research largely covering a span from 1650-1850. Also digitized are two indexes covering about 30 of the 40 volumes; but the rest are individually searchable. I spent way too much time just searching various family names. I hit solidly on my Lapham and Gilbert connections and their allied lines, finding a mix of anecdotal and more trustworthy notes. If you’ve got Michigan pioneer ancestors this is worth checking out and infinitely easier now that it’s digitized.

Happy hunting,


I’ve managed to sneak over to the Library of Michigan a few times in the last couple weeks with the hopes of checking my oldest research and sources. I actually did a bit of a double take when I realized how long I’ve been working on some of my families and how haphazardly I cited when I started. Please believe I have improved dramatically!

That said, I forget sometimes—as it’s in my own backyard—just how fabulous the Genealogy Collection is at LOM. The microform, book, and newspaper collections kept me going for years before I ever travelled to another institution. This past week I worked with a 2 volume, fabulously footnoted, genealogy of the Holden family and a couple of county histories from New York. Next week will probably be a couple of different New York Counties and looking for Kent County obituaries. And I know that there are hundreds of relatives still tucked away in the collection for me to find.

All politics aside—and there has been a lot surrounding the Library in the last 3 or 4 years as the State tried to decide what it would fund—it’s still a notable collection for researchers in general, and Michigan families in particular. If you haven’t already, check it out.

Happy Hunting,


Letters have been on my mind lately. My Gran recently loaned me a packet of letters to go through. They were a mix—a couple from her to my late Grandfather, a few from Grandpa to her, and a number of letters from her children—including one from my Mother to Gran that was so remarkably close to one I wrote Mom when I was away for a summer (and recently read from Mom’s Archive). Letters can offer such interesting insight into a person’s character, the times, and the trials of those discussed. Some of my favorite lines in this stack include:

From Grandpa stationed in San Francisco, CA in to my Gran back in the Michigan: “I hope you are not being bothered too much by my going away present.” (i. e. my Mother)

From Gran visiting my Uncle’s family while he was stationed in Germany to my Grandpa in Michigan: “Sandy hasn’t had a letter from her mother yet and we would really like some mail—Tell Lorraine to get on the ball!” And in close, “P.S. Did you water my plants?”

From my Mom to Gran: In a list of reminders… 2) Put my doll up, out of Vicky’s friend’s reach… please!! Not that I don’t trust them or anything… but!

Letters are also on my mind because I started following Letters of Note after Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing made my day by linking to a really interesting letter from a former Slave to his former Master. Check it out and be sure to read to the end!

Happy Hunting,


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