Tomorrow marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of my 2nd Great Grandfather Cornelius Packer. He was born 19 March 1864 in Milton, Kent, England to Joseph and Harriet (Vaughn) Packer, the sixth of seven children. At the age of six his family immigrated to Canada and stories persist of his parents’ fear of his energy onboard ship and his ability to climb the railings.
By the time of the 1871 Canadian Census the family had settled in Hamilton, Ontario where Joseph worked as a laborer. By 1881 they had relocated to Woodstock, Oxford, Ontario. The family was deeply involved in the Salvation Army—even playing in their Brass Band.
On 6 May 1885 he married Flora Jane Massey (a ward of his sister-in-law’s, Mary (Garbutt) Packer’s, family). The couple began their family quickly with the birth of Evelyn Maud in April 1896 but tragedy struck early with Eva dying at 9 months. Ethel Augusta was born the following November. December of 1889 saw the birth of Pearl Elizabeth. The family remained in Woodstock through their enumeration in the 1891 Census then immigrated to Grand Rapids shortly after where Cornelius took up work as a machine hand in the booming furniture industry.
Based on directory listings the family moved regularly in their early years in town living on 5th, Marietta, Myrtle, Ashland, Hickory, and Palmer between 1891 and 1899 until they finally settled in a rental on Shirley Street around 1900. They also met with both fortune and tragedy with the births of Cora Helena (my Great Grandmother) in 1892 and James Arthur in 1897, followed too quickly by a stillbirth in 1899 and the untimely death of 12-year-old Ethel in 1900.
Cornelius was always listed as a turner, machine hand or machinist. Employers were not listed consistently in the directories but in 1895 Cornelius was listed as a Machine hand for the V. C. Rattan Company. From 1902 to as late as 1915 he worked as a Turner and Machine Hand for the Phoenix Furniture Company. And in 1927 he worked as a machinest for Stowe and Davis Furniture Co.
In 1896 Cornelius was naturalized at the Superior Court of Grand Rapids. In the 1900 Census he was enumerated right before his next older brother, Charles and his family in houses on Shirley. At the time of the 1910 Census, Cornelius’s widowed father had moved into the household and brother, Charles, and family had relocated to Detroit, Michigan. In 1912 the family had bought a home on Hovey. And in 1916 the family settled into Cornelius’s last home on Burton. His younger brother, Albert and his family were initially part of the household as well. But by 1920 the household was down to Cornelius, Flora, and their daughters.
Cornelius died at his home 11 June 1929 at the age of 65. His obituary noted that he was survived by his widow and four children, Arthur Packer, Mrs. R. E. Jones [Pearl], Mrs. Robert Shea [Grandma Cora], Mrs. Harold Elliott [Grace]; seven grandchildren, all of Grand Rapids; four brothers Albert of Belmont, Joseph of Hamilton, Ontario, Thomas of Woodstock, Ontario, and Charles of Detroit; and one sister, Mrs. Sarah Chesney of Kinde, Michigan. He was buried 14 June at Fair Plains Cemetery in Grand Rapids.
Grand Rapids city directories were an incomparable source in pulling together Cornelius’s story and the detail about his employers, however inconsistent, is sparking the idea for a road trip to Grand Rapids Public Library to research some of the furniture companies my family worked for.
The photograph of Cornelius is one we found tucked into a tiny scrapbook probably belonging to my Great Grandmother, Cora. It’s not a great shot given his movement—but he sure is happy!