This is the final resting place of my 5th Great Aunt (by marriage) and 1st cousin six times removed Julia Ann Helsel and her husband Henry L. Helsel. She was the daughter of my 6th Great Uncle Jacob Helsel and Elizabeth Shanks. She married her first cousin on May 15, 1845 in Portage, Ohio and the couple moved to Algoma Township, Kent County, Michigan to build their home. Julia had four children before her early death in October of 1854, 158 years ago this week. She is buried in Algoma Cemetery.

Happy hunting,

Jess

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!

Jess

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 SeekingMichigan.org 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,

Jess

It seems I either read (for work or pleasure) or do genealogy in a lot of my off time. This past week has been spent reading but the two weeks before that I wandered far off my path following a distant line by marriage after realizing a friend and co-worker’s family showed up a page after my own in a Kent County, Michigan.  I doubt we’re actually related but it is always fascinating to me how small the world is.

But in my “wandering”—and it truly is wandering because this is not the family living near my friend but another offshoot from the neighborhood—I found more information about the Botruff families of Kent County who are tied tightly to my Helsel and Morningstar families.

Jacob and Mary Helsel Morningstar (my 3rd Great Grandparents) had a daughter, Lavinia, also known as “Viney,” who married William Henry Botruff. William was the eldest of nine children born to Adam and Barbara (Hammer) Botruff who had come to Michigan from West Sparta, Livingston, New York in the 1850s. His next sibling, Isaac J., married Mary’s cousin (and Jacob’s sister-in-law) Melissa Helsel Morningstar.  Also, William and Viney’s daughter Alice married her first cousin once removed (and Mary’s nephew), Darius Helsel. Additionally, Mary and Jacob’s son, William, lived with Adam and Barbara Botruff at the time of the 1870 Census and that same year Norman Morningstar (I have no idea who he belongs to) lived in the next farm with Isaac’s family. The Botruffs also tie into the Magoon and Hoyt families in Kent County.

An additional fun find… I knew Isaac was a veteran of the 3rd Michigan Infantry but I found a fabulous biography of him on Steve Soper’s blog here.

Happy Hunting,

Jess

One interesting character I found through cluster research is Rockford Area Poet, Julia Ann Davis Moore—and incidentally, it’s her birthday. Julia and my 4th great aunt Louisa Morningstar married brothers Frederick and John Moore. And Louisa’s brother, William H. Morningstar, married Julia’s sister Viola. And her niece married into my Holden family. Julia was a quaint country poet who chronicled the precarious ups and downs of life in the 1870’s through lyrical verse. For decades she was scorned, even inspiring a poetry contest for awesomely bad verse, but in the last twenty years there has been a renewed interest in her work for its historic value. Regardless of your taste in poetry—though I have found far worse—her work spotlighted the concerns of the citizens of Algoma Township, Kent County, Michigan. She’s particularly noted for her poetic obituaries which include verses on members of my family.  The following was is about a 3rd cousin (4 times removed).

Hiram Helsel

Air — “Three Grains of Corn”

Once was a boy, age fifteen years,
Hiram Helsel was his name,
And he was sick two years or so;
He has left this world of pain;
His friends they miss this lovely boy,
That was patient, kind and brave.
He left them all for him to mourn –
He is sleeping in his grave.

He was a small boy of his age,
When he was five years or so
Was shocked by lightning while to play
And it caused him not to grow,
He was called little Hi. Helsel
By all friends that knew him well –
His life was sad, as you shall hear,
And the truth to you I’ll tell.

His parents parted when he was small,
And both are married again.
How sad it was for them to meet
And view his last remains.
He was living with his father then,
As many a friend can tell;
‘Tis said his father’s second wife
That she did not use him well.

Just before little Hiram died –
His uncle and aunt were there –
He kissed them both — bid them farewell,
They left him with a prayer.
Now he is gone, Oh! let him rest;
His soul has found a haven,
For grief and woe ne’er enters there,
In that place called heaven.

For more of Julia A. Moore’s work check out Mortal Refrains: The Complete Collected Poetry, Prose, and Songs of Julia A. Moore, Sweet Singer of Michigan edited by Thomas J. Riedlinger.

Happy Hunting,

Jess

On my last trip to Ft. Wayne I was researching back from my 3rd great grandmother Amelia Grove and discovered I was a little more German than I thought. But what progress I made on the Grove, Dice, Besore and Koppenhaver families really came from my experiences researching my Morningstar and Helsel lines—also from Ohio and Pennsylvania.

I am a huge advocate for cluster genealogy. You learn so many fascinating details about your ancestors by learning about the people who travelled with them and lived in their vicinity. And I have found a ton of relatives and great stories by following those, at first glance, unrelated families. My Morningstar line is a great example of this.

The first Morningstar I came across was also a 3rd great grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth Morningstar, who married George Erwin Porter. Now the Porters of Rockford, Michigan have been well researched over the years and when I first started doing research at the Rockford Historical Museum (which has an excellent collection of genealogical and historical material) a Porter relative was working as a volunteer. So, when he knew what I was researching he gave me pictures, a detailed article and some ideas of where he thought it might be wrong. The article included the names of Sarah’s parents, Jacob and Mary Morningstar.

Now, Jacob and Mary weren’t terribly hard to track. The family had settled in Algoma Township in Kent County, Michigan in the 1840s having come to the state with a large cluster of families including the Helsels, Hull, Christy, and McFall families. At the time I truly didn’t get the significance of the group moving together or the concept of cluster genealogy but when I started to try and figure out who Mary Morningstar’s parents things got complicated. Jacob had died relatively young and by going through the census from 1850 to 1900, I was able to figure out that Mary had remarried a German-born immigrant by the name of Lewis Whitebread. Also at about the same time I was able to get Sarah’s death certificate which listed her mother’s maiden name as Helsel, so I had Mary Helsel Morningstar Whitebread. And in the 1870 Census her widowed mother, Elizabeth Helsel, was living with the Whitebread family.

Unfortunately, there were two widowed Elizabeth Helsels in the township and, since Mary was married already in 1850, I didn’t know which family she belonged to. I ended up following all the Helsel children to try and find the connection—and while I was at it I worked on all the Morningstars as well—and slowly but surely I was able to chart a web of interconnected families. We were related, at least by marriage, to all the Ohio families listed above plus a few I hadn’t realized had also moved with the crowd. And by being forced to track families through the Census, County Histories, and any other source I was able to find, I was able to figure out which Helsel I descend from—John as opposed to his brother, Jacob, I found fun and bizarre connections in Kent County I never would have noticed, and having all those connections helped me in moving back to Ohio and Pennsylvania to the Morgenstern and Holtzel families.

Lesson learned… Follow out all siblings lines as well as your direct ancestors and definitely look into the families they travel with… there’s often a solid connection and your research will be the richer for it.

Happy Hunting,

Jess

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