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

Updated: 9:26 am with a better image. jt

I spent the past week road-tripping across Western Ontario in search of my maternal grandmother’s roots and this is the first of a series of related posts talking about that trip.

So my intrepid crew (Mom & and Gran) and I started our journey on a sunny Sunday morning with the a plan to drive into Canada via the Blue Water Bridge and take the 402 into North West Lambton County swinging North around Warwick and driving down the Egremont Road, one of the earliest in the area built by and for the Irish and British emigrants in the 1830s.

Gran’s family, led by my 5th Great Grandfather Captain Harry Alison, came to Canada in 1832 after Harry and his eldest son Rowland Hill Alison each sold out of the British Army. Both served with the 90th Regiment Light Infantry (the Perthshire Volunteers) along with Lieutenant Hugh Massy who married Harry’s eldest daughter Jane Alison (my 4th Great Grandparents).  Harry parked his family in Ancaster, near Hamilton, Ontario, while he, Rowland, and his next son, Brisbane, scouted out a lot in Warwick Township. They settled on the highest lots along the Main Road just inside the Middlesex County border exactly midway between Sarnia and London. The settlement that sprang up around them became unofficially known as Captain Alison’s settlement.

The one site that I knew still existed is St. Paul’s Anglican Church on the Southeast corner of Egremont and Wisbeach Road where Harry, his wife, Francis Sinclair, and my 3rd Great Aunt Frederica (Massy) Rothwell were laid to rest. So that was where we made our first stop.

The little lot is picturesque. The plaque on the church reads 1856 to 1906. Harry’s grave stone is lying on the ground near the front door of the church. In the picture to the left (taken from the entrance) it is just in front and slightly to the right of the prominent tree in the background on the left.

For more information about the history of the Egremont Road and my inspiration for this leg of our journey, check out The Egremont Road: Historic Route From Lobo to Lake Huron by Eleanor Nielsen, published by the Lambton County Historical Society. It’s a fabulous read and meticulously footnoted with great primary materials that I otherwise would never have known existed.

More to come from Canada soon!

Happy hunting,

Jess

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,

Jess

In honor of St. Pat’s, here is a view of the resort town and Galway suburb of Salthill in Co. Galway and the edge of Galway Bay taken during a study abroad trip in 1997. It was a beautiful day and an all around lovely trip… but I have no family from there that I’m aware of.

Salthill and Galway Bay from a Ferris Wheel, Summer 1997.

My known Irish ancestors include the Massy family from Rathronan in County Limerick, and the Byrne, Cunningham and Dowdall families who reported themselves from Armagh, in what is now Northern Ireland. I haven’t yet figured out where my Shea line originally hailed from in Ireland.

Ideally, I’d love to take a trip to research these lines.

Happy hunting & Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Jess

These are my 2nd Great Grandparents Flora Jane (daughter of Henry R. Massy) and Cornelius Packer and three of their children: My great grandmother Cora, her older sister Pearl, and their younger brother James Arthur. The photo was likely taken at their home 160 Shirley Street, Grand Rapids, Michigan after the death of their oldest child, Ethel, in September of 1900 and prior to 1905 when their last child, Grace, was born. The original resides with my great aunt.

So Henry R. Massy dropped off the radar in 1869-70, as far as I could tell. But I was slowly able to expand what I knew about him before then–including finding out he was a replacement soldier in the Civil War. My only thought to move forward was to try following that lead. I found Henry Massy who served for the Michigan Infantry Civil War in a pension index now living at the time in Latham, Logan Co, Illinois and requested his pension record.

I was blown away when the packet arrived. True to form everything was complicated for Henry. There was an extensive back and forth in the file because he was forced to prove his identity. He had changed his name to Harry or Henry (he used both) R. Allison and remarried a widow named Nancy Stinnett in 1876. In the pension he describes his police service, but claims he was never previously married and had no heirs. His pension request was approved with a special note about the way he signed his middle initial “R.” And that’s exactly what helped me to solidify the connections. He signed his oath to the police force, and he signed his enlistment and pension paperwork with the same funny “R.”

As an additional note, I was playing around on Ancestry on a day after they started picking up more scanned newspapers and looked for obituaries in the Logan Co. area for H. R. or Nancy and I came across a number of articles. One featured a Harry Allison and friend who went into Decatur and were charged with drunkenness, fined and asked to leave town. I don’t know if it’s really him. There was one other Harry in the county. But given other things I’ve seen… It’s certainly possible.

Decatur Herald, 3 January 1908

So, now I hope to find some time to slip away from FGS and swing back up to the Logan County Genealogical & Historical Society’s research room to see if I can round out any more of Henry’s story, as well as over to Lake Bank Cemetery to photograph Harry and Nancy’s headstones.

Happy Hunting,

Jess

I’m attending my first FGS Conference this year in Springfield, IL. I chickened out on the one in Arkansas a couple of years ago when it would have given me the impetus I needed to get down to Bradley County and do research—and I regret it. So this year, when I’ll be 45 minutes tops from Logan County, IL—the later stomping grounds of my most untrustworthy and probably most fascinating ancestor—I couldn’t pass it up. So, now I’m making lists—stuff to pack, finding directions, and trying to decide the best way to sneak off and experience a little bit of Harry R. Alison’s Logan County.

But you need to know a little about Harry … back when he was Henry.

He was an Irish cop in DetroitThat’s the only lead my grandmother, Ethel, and her sister, June, could give me in my quest to find their great-grandfather. Their grandmother, Flora Jane (Massey) Packer, shared very little about her parents—and possibly knew very little. They said an aunt and uncle had raised Flora when her mother died and passed on little information—about her father in particular. She knew he was an Irish policeman in Detroit for a time but beyond that her questions weren’t answered. Aunt June suspected that there was more to the story and I had been trying to figure out what that was for 10 years.

To begin with, Flora’s death certificate lists her as the daughter of  Henry Massey and Augusta Cory… and for the longest time searching for the pair through census indexes the closest I could find was John O. Massey, a policeman in Detroit. Eventually—as online indexes improved—I  found Augusta and Flora living in Detroit with Augusta’s parents John B. and Nancy Cory in 1870… but no Henry.

However from there I was able to gather a great deal of information. I started looking at Detroit Directories and found Henry and John O. Massy listed as policeman and as I worked backwards I could place them in the same residence. I also found a transcription of Henry and Augusta’s marriage license from 14 Aug 1866 and while I have been unable to locate an existent copy of Flora’s birth certificate, she lists her birth date as 14 Jan 1867. Given the state of healthcare at the time, I would argue that Augusta was about 4 months pregnant at the time of their wedding.

Patrolman H. R. MasseyIn addition I pulled up HeritageQuest and searched Persi for anything on the Police in Wayne County, Michigan. I was thrilled to find a Detroit Society for Genealogical Research Magazine transcription from the Applications to Detroit Police Department, 1865-1871. I found John O. Massy’s application. It included when he applied and how he was honorably discharged much like every other applicant. And then there was Henry’s. It was unlike any other… his had notes:

  • Patrolman Henry R. Massey was arraigned before the Board on the twelfth day of December A. D. 1866, charged with “sleeping while on duty and with remaining in Skating Rink for two or three hours. He was found guilty of violating the Rules and was fined five day’s loss of pay. [no endquote in original]
  • Patrolman H. R. Massey was charged with leaving his beat on the night of October 28th 1868 and going into a building corner of Hastings and Atwater Sts and while there with going to sleep. The charge was investigated by the Board Oct 28th 1868. He was found “Guilty” and fined five dollars.
  • Patrolman H. R. Massey was arraigned before the Board on the 31st day of March 1869 charged with leaving his beat and going into Burn’s bakery corner of Woodward Ave. and Grand River St. and upon another charge of visiting a house of prostitution on Franklin St. He admitted both of the charges as specified and gave as a reason of going to the house of prostitution that he was looking for a prisoner. Upon the latter charge the judgment of the Board was that he be dismissed from the Police Force. J. S. Booth, Secretary.

Dismissed in 1869 and gone in 1870.

The original book of applications is housed at The Burton Historical Collection at the Main Library of Detroit Public Library.

More later,

Jess

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