A Genealogy Happy Dance

Video by Cyndi Ingle.

I spent the past two weeks in Salt Lake City on my annual research trip in search of my ever-elusive ancestors. This year’s target was my mom’s Finlay line. My mother was born Phyllis Adele Finlay on 10 January 1928 in Long Branch, NJ. Here’s a snippet from her pedigree:

I have previously written about my great-grandfather Richard Finlay. On this trip, I was looking for more information about Richard’s father Richard Finlay. I had previously found his probate record in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where he died in 1854. But before this trip little else had come to light. And I’ve been searching for these people since the 1980s. Early on in my search, I found the biography of Richard, the son, in the Memorial and Biographical Record of Turner, Union, Lincoln, and Clay Counties, South Dakota.

Memorial and Biographical Record of Turner, Union, Lincoln, and Clay Counties, South Dakota (Chicago: Geo. A. Ogle & Co, 1897).


The bio was most likely provided by Richard, himself, as there are too many details for someone else in South Dakota to have provided. It says his father died in Toronto in 1854, while his mother (Mary Stewart Finlay) died in 1880 (but I have yet to discover any more about her than what is included in the probate file).

So on this trip, I focused on trying to find the burial place of Richard Finlay (Sr.). After unsuccessfully checking myriad cemetery transcription books from Markham Township, York County, Ontario, I decided to try Toronto burial locations. I had searched first in Markham because Richard and his family had lived there for at least a decade before they moved into Toronto. Searching on FamilySearch.org, I found a number of references to Toronto burial grounds, which were searchable and available to view online. What a magnificent service the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is providing to family historians by posting indexed online images on its website! I’ve had many wonderful discoveries because of these online images.

Searching for Richard Finlay, I quickly found what I was looking for in the burial records of Toronto Necropolis Cemetery:

Ontario, Toronto Trust Cemeteries, 1826-1989, Necropolis Cemetery, Volume 1, 1849-1857, FamilySearch.org.


This is the point where the Genealogy Happy Dance above (see video) occurred. I was sitting in the Family History Library across from my friend Cyndi Ingle and she captured my glee at this discovery. It was exciting because the record gives his age, 60 (born ca. 1794), and birthplace as Ireland! Certainly not proof, but more than I had before. He is buried in the plot of his son-in-law Andrew Robinson.

A little further digging in the search engine for the Toronto Trust Cemeteries revealed that Richard’s daughter Sarah was buried in Toronto Necropolis Cemetery in May 1854, only 3 months before her father died. She was the wife of Andrew Robinson; the couple had only been married 14 months.

Ontario, Toronto Trust Cemeteries, 1826-1989, Necropolis Cemetery, Volume 1, 1849-1857, FamilySearch.org.


In addition, one of Richard’s sons-in-law, John Stuart (husband of Susanna Finlay), is buried in the same plot.

Ontario, Toronto Trust Cemeteries, 1826-1989, Necropolis Cemetery, Volume 1, 1849-1857, FamilySearch.org.


One more enlightening discovery was found in the Toronto Trust Cemeteries search engine, but at the Potter’s Field Burial Ground (also called York General Burying Ground) in Toronto. This discovery is possibly Richard’s other son (in the bio above, it is stated that Richard Jr. was the youngest of two sons and four daughters). I am hopeful that William is the other son because if that’s the case, then Richard Jr. most likely named his only son (my grandfather) for his brother who died at age 12.

Ontario, Toronto Trust Cemeteries, 1826-1989, Potter’s Field Cemetery 1826-1855, FamilySearch.org.


These discoveries allowed me to flush out the Finlay family tree, bringing collateral lines forward well into the twentieth century. Where I had previously only known the possible names of three of Richard Finlay’s six children, I am now hopeful I know five of the six. I’m still missing the name of one daughter, but she may yet be found.

My next step is to try to figure out where in Ireland Richard Finlay came from.  At least two of his children were born in Ireland, so most likely Richard and Mary were married there, probably in Northern Ireland.

The moral of this story is to check and recheck and then check again all possible sources–online, print, and manuscript–when your ancestors continue to stump you. As more and more records are digitized and indexed in online databases, you may be able to break down that brick wall.
















I Know This Face…

While viewing some cartes-de-visite (CDV) photo images that I have, I came across the image below. This woman is a relative of some sort, but I don’t know who she is or how she is related. And she haunts me because she has the facial features of women on my mother’s side of the family.

CDV 31CDV 31a

I did a little research on the photographer listed on the back, G. W. Pach, and narrowed down the time frame to 1877-1881 in Long Branch, New Jersey, as that is where my family lived. The New York Historical Society Museum & Library has a finding aid on its website: Guide to the Pach Brothers Portrait Photograph Collection 1867-1947, undated (bulk 1880s-1940s). Since the address listed is 841 Broadway in New York, the date range for this image can only be 1877-1881 because only G. W. Pach is listed.

If this is a woman in my direct line, the only person it could have been is my great grandmother Hannah Mariah Cook Presley. There is only one known photo of Hannah, as an older woman, and it is below.

Hannah Mariah Cook Presley

Hannah was born 15 October 1854 in Atlanticville, Monmouth, New Jersey, the daughter of Jesse V. Cook and Deborah Mahala Tallman. She was the fourth child of 11; she had six sisters. Hannah would have been 23-27 years old at the time the first photo was taken. So, I was wondering if the first photo could possibly be Hannah as a young lady, just married to her husband William Presley (they were married 23 November 1876 in Long Branch, Monmouth, NJ). I put together a composite and asked some of my genealogy friends their opinions.

Hannah Mariah Cook Presley in her later years, on the left. Is that Hannah in her 20s on the right?


Friends thought there was a possibility, but that I should look for some facial recognition software. What I found was a very cool website by Microsoft called “Are you twins?” On the website, you upload two different photos and it calculates the odds that one person is related to the other, with a fun quip underneath. So I subjected the two women above to this test and here are the results:

comparison of two images maybe hannah cook

According to the website, there’s a 78 percent chance that these two women are related. Granted, this is not proof, but it’s fun to test. Just to see how it reacted to two people that are not at all related, I put in a male and a female, unrelated, and it said the chance was only 8 percent. I also tested it with a known distant cousin of mine, Cyndi Ingle of CyndisList.com, and the results were interesting:

liz and cyndi

I don’t know if the CDV above is really Hannah Mariah Cook Presley in her 20’s, but there’s a pretty good chance that it is. That lead me to another photo mystery that I wanted to solve. Hannah’s husband, William Presley, was a member of the New Jersey National Guard from Elizabeth, NJ, during the 1870s. I have one positively identified photo of him in his uniform:

William Presley in the uniform of the New Jersey National Guard.

But while strolling through my photo collection one day, I found a tintype of three men; the one standing resembled William:

Photo 297

So I ran the two images through “Are you twins?” and my guess was correct:

william presley comparison images

While that one is pretty obvious, I still wondered who the other two gents in the image were. So I did more testing and here are the results:

comparison of william and james presley

William Presley on the left; I think this is his father James Presley on the right.

I believe that the gentleman on the right is William Presley’s older brother James Presley.


Now that I’ve seen these men compared this way, I’m beginning to wonder if this might be a photo taken on William and Hannah’s wedding day, 23 November 1876 in Long Branch, Monmouth, NJ. I wonder that because on close inspection it appears that William is wearing a tux of some sort and the other two men are dressed very nicely as well. This may have been the last photo of the three of them taken together, as James the father died 29 August 1877 in Elizabeth, Union, NJ, where he lived–only nine months after his younger son was married.

So I’ve had some fun playing with “Are you twins?” Look through your collection to see if you have some mystery photos that might benefit from this fun website. Just for grins I added a picture of myself and my real sister Sue. I leave you with this image of real siblings:

liz and sue

You can read more about William Presley in my blog post “Funeral Card Friday: William Presley the Deceiver.”

Finding an Unexpected Sister

It has been nearly five years since I have added to this blog. Lots of excuses. Life gets in the way. I didn’t want to write. I was uninspired. Bla bla bla. Anyway, I want to write again so let’s get to it.

I recently submitted my renewal application for Certified Genealogist® to the Board for Certification of Genealogists. This was the first time I had to prepare a work sample using the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS), as the requirement was added since the last time I renewed. In anticipation of this requirement, I began in-depth research to prove the parents of my great-great grandmother Deborah Mahala Tallman Cook. I have been extraordinarily interested in Deborah since I realized that she is in my direct line for mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). If I can’t get past Deborah, my mtDNA line ends with a brick wall. [An explanation of mtDNA can be found on Judy Russell, CG’s blog The Legal Genealogist.]

Deborah (aka Mahala) died 31 January 1908 in Monmouth Beach, Monmouth, NJ.

Deborah (aka Mahala) Cook died 31 January 1908 in Monmouth Beach, Monmouth, NJ. State of New Jersey, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Trenton, NJ.


Deborah Mahala Tallman was born approximately 17 December 1826 near Long Branch, Monmouth, NJ, according to her death certificate, above. She married Jesse V. Cook on 21 May 1848 in Monmouth County, NJ. As you can see, her parents are listed as Elias Tallman and Elizabeth Tallman. Elizabeth’s maiden name was most likely NOT Tallman. It was initially my plan to write the GPS proving the maiden name of Deborah’s mother. Other researchers over the years have said that her maiden name was either Ruth or Root. I have been unable, so far, to prove either name conclusively, but I’m still working on it.

Instead, I wrote the GPS proving the father of Elias Tallman was Christopher Tallman–a whole different discussion for a different day. While I was gathering all the sources I could on a recent trip to Salt Lake City, a colleague gave me a fruitful suggestion. She said that sometimes it’s worth searching the genealogies on FamilySearch.org, just to see what might pop up, realizing that the documentation is not always readily apparent in the genealogies found on that website.

While I’ve used the searches on FamilySearch.org website many, many times, I had not used the Genealogies search option before. The entries are based on the old LDS Ancestral File, Pedigree Resource File, International Genealogical Index, and Community Trees. I decided to give the search a try, using Deborah Tallman as the ancestor, putting in Elias Tallman as her father and Elizabeth as her mother. There were four hits, two submitted by one person and two submitted by another person. I checked the first two hits and came across a big surprise.

This footnote appears on page 25 of "Historical and Genealogical Miscellany of New York and New Jersey," Vol. 5, by John E. Stillwell.

This footnote appears on page 25 of Historical and Genealogical Miscellany of New York and New Jersey, Vol. 5, by John E. Stillwell.


For many years I had been operating under the assumption that Elias and Elizabeth Tallman had four children, based on the footnote above. The Genealogies search on FamilySearch.org revealed that Elias and Elizabeth possibly had five children. The new sibling contender? Minerva Tallman.


Minerva? Where did she come from and how had I missed her all these years? The only place I had ever come across Minerva, in relation to Elias and Elizabeth, was on FamilySearch.org. Lesson learned–check the Genealogies search for additional clues, whether you need to or not.

I proceeded to try to track down Minerva using searches on FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, Mocavo.com, and Google.com. The most useful discovery was Minerva’s obituary. She married Wilbur Squires before 1841 and had nine children. Minerva died 30 January 1906 in Coons, Saratoga, NY. I am awaiting her death certificate from Albany, NY. But I found her obituary on “Old Fulton NY Postcards,” listing her sole surviving sister, Mrs. Deborah Cook of Long Branch, NJ. My great-great grandmother.

From The Mechanicville Mercury, 3 February 1906, no page. Found on Old Fulton NY Postcards.


I’m not done with this quest, but I am thrilled to have discovered another sister for Deborah. I’m hoping that Minerva’s death certificate will list the maiden name of their mother, Elizabeth. The other siblings have been difficult to trace, or died before death certificates. Keep your fingers crossed that the informant for Minerva’s death certificate knew who her parents were. Until next time…

Walter’s War

Reenacting took center stage for me this past weekend, so I didn’t take the time to reflect on my father’s military service. Walter Albert Kelley Jr. (12 December 1924-6 October 2003) served in the Army Air Corps from April 1943 to May 1946, spending the last year of his enlistment near Calcutta, India. He did not see any combat duty but rather spent the first two years in Signal Corps training.

Walt Kelley at Camp Crowder in 1945

In his own words, “After basic training, I was promoted to corporal and the Army Air Corps shipped me to Camp Crowder, Missouri, for Signal Corps training. I went to several radio schools there. We used to get a pass once in a while and we would visit Neosho, Joplin, or Springfield, Missouri, or Pittsburg, Kansas.”

During his first visit to Camp Crowder, Dad sent a series of six postcards to his parents in Chicago, all postmarked 13 June 1943. I don’t know if my grandparents received all six postcards at the same time or if they were received piecemeal, which would have made reading them interesting as he wrote them in a continuous fashion. I have included the front and back of the six postcards below, with the text of the postcard transcribed below the respective postcard.

Camp Crowder, Missouri

“Dear Folks,
Hawaii, huh? Got the cookies (cheese) today. They sure taste swell. Thank you.

I got my watch fixed Saturday night and it fits and looks swell. That adjustable slide really works nice. I had one link removed and it is just right now. I bought a set of suntans [the Army summer uniform was nicknamed “suntans” because of its tan or beige color] Saturday because it is impossible to have…”

2] “a clean pair every Saturday with only 2 pair and such poor laundry service.

I sorry if you don’t like my letters because I don’t say anything. I’ve told you everything that I know about the A.S.T.P. [Army Specialized Training Program] which is nothing. Our life here is so routine that I don’t have something new to say every day. I thought that…”

3] “you wanted to here [sic] from me as much as I could write things. If you will think of all the questions you can and put them in one letter I’ll answer them all at once but you’ll have to wait long enough for the mail to get here and back to you.

I took some pictures today and it will take 10 days to get…”

4] “them printed and developed so I hope you will wait.

I’ve had an awful time trying to write the last few days. I wrote you a letter Sunday but I tore it up.

I’ve been trying to get to see the Co. [Company] commander to find out about my chances for A.S.T.P. but I haven’t been able to see him yet. I don’t know or have any idea where…”

5] “my training here will ever be used.

I’m sending a $10.00 money order home for you to put away for me until I need it. I’m going to try to send more every month. I wish…”

6] “Thanks for the cute card–Jane.

Dad would write and advise me what to do with any money I could save (war bonds, bank or what). It should be cashed so that it won’t become invalid. Well, I hope to write tomorrow. What is Florence’s [Walt’s sister] address so I can write her?

Love, Walt”

My father sent other series of postcards during his tenure in the Army Air Corps. I may share more at a later date. For now, I’d like to thank my father posthumously for his service in World War II. He gave me many strengths, one of which was a love of my country that led to my 20-year career in the Marine Corps. Thanks Dad!

Funeral Card Friday: William Presley the Deceiver

William Presley’s Funeral Card

William Presley is my great-grandfather, my mother’s maternal grandfather. He has been a research challenge from start to [not yet] finished. Thankfully, I absconded with the funeral card above early in my genealogy research career.

William died 10 December 1893 possibly in Long Branch, Monmouth County, New Jersey. He was actually 48 when he died, not 47 as the funeral card indicates. I know this because, despite all of William’s attempts to deceive me, I have proven that he was born 28 May 1845 in Belfast, Ireland. I wrote in-depth about William the Deceiver in an Ancestry magazine article in 2004, What If Your Ancestor Lied?

As discussed in the article above, finding additional proof of William’s death has been problematic. I have been unable to find a death certificate on the state or local level in New Jersey. On a visit to Long Branch some years ago, I spent time in the Long Branch Public Library looking for an obituary or even a death notice. Again, I was thwarted because the particular issues of the Long Branch newspapers where such a notice would have appeared have apparently not survived.

So I extended the search outward from Long Branch and have found some death notices. I was hoping to find amplification of the family lore that he died because of a fall from a horse. Here’s what I have found:

New York Herald, 12 December 1893 (through GenealogyBank.com):

Red Bank Daily Register, 20 December 1893:

The Shore Press, 22 December 1893:

None of the above notices give any clue about his death cause. However, today, through a search on WorldVitalRecords.com, I found William listed on Findagrave.com, with a typed death notice from the Red Bank Register of 20 December 1893 that says:

“Death Notice:
William Presley, a carpenter of North Long Branch, died on Sunday of last week after a long illness. He had been confined to his bed for over a year, having injured his spine by falling from a wagon. He leaves a widow and six children.”

Aha! There’s some illumination on his death cause, but where did the transcriber get a copy of this newspaper item? A search for the Red Bank Register uncovered the digitized Register achives for 1878-1991. In the spirit of remaining hidden, the 20 December 1893 issue of the Red Bank Register is not included in this digitization project, although the other three issues from December are.

Not to be thwarted, I searched for “Presley” in the 1878-1923 portion of the archives and found the notice below in the 17 May 1893 issue:

So, I’ve found some confirmation of a family story, albeit a little different as he was thrown from a wagon instead of being thrown from a horse. I now have new information to pursue in this never-ending quest to find information about William Presley’s death. My first step is going to be to look for a death certificate for William in New York instead of New Jersey, since he was being treated in “a New York hospital.” That may be why I’ve been unable to find his death certificate in New Jersey!

I’m finding that writing this blog is cathartic, as well as moving my family research along with questions and answers that were previously too hard to decipher without the use of the wonderful resources on the Web.

Be sure to check out the Memorial Day special below from FamilyLink.com; the offer is good only through 4 June 2011.

How Many Women, Richard?

Richard Finlay

Richard Finlay has been a challenge throughout my genealogical research career. He is my great-grandfather, my mother’s grandfather. Richard was born 14 January 1845 in Markham Township, York County, Ontario, Canada, to Richard Finlay and Mary Stewart, both allegedly from Scotland and/or Ireland. I’ve been pretty unsuccessful at finding Richard or his family in the 1851 or 1861 Ontario censuses, but do have a will for his father.

Richard (Jr.) claims to have come to the U.S. in 1863 in both the 1900 and 1910 censuses in Centerville, Turner, South Dakota. Until today, I was unable to find solid proof of his whereabouts between 1863 and 1880 in the U.S. Previously, the first document I know belonged to my Richard is a copy of his graduation program from the Ohio Medical College in 1880.

Graduation Program Medical College of Ohio Cincinnati 1880

Richard Finlay's Medical College Graduation

Amazingly, after years of looking for him in censuses, both manually and online, I just today finally found additional records for him, using a combination of search strategies including FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, and WorldVitalRecords.com. FamilySearch pointed me to his 1880 census entry in Cincinnati (I hadn’t found it before because Finlay is spelled “Findley” and his first name is recorded “Richd.”):

He is listed here as a physician in June, after he had graduated in March that year. He’s single and boarding.

Then I hopped over to WorldVitalRecords.com to see if I could find anything new on Richard. Searching on “Richard Finlay” in Cincinnati in 1880 produced no results in the WVR database, but showed Google Book results that I had never looked at before. According to The Cincinnati Lancet and Clinic, Volume 4, the graduation was a culmination of three years of study, so Richard was in Cincinnati at least since early 1877. But the most illuminating link is to History of Western Iowa: It’s Settlement and Growth:

So he went to Sanborn, Iowa in July 1881! Now I have a new lead to look for his possible first wife, as the 1885 Dakota Territorial Census shows him as widowed or divorced:

The census above was recorded on 1 June 1885. Richard married my great-grandmother, Grace Mabel Hatch, on 30 June 1885, according to the Centerville Chronicle of 2 July 1885. So Grace was apparently Richard’s second wife.

Grace and Richard had two children, Mabel and William (my grandfather). Sadly, Grace died on 30 May 1890 of a brain tumor, when William was only 5 months old. Mabel Louise, William’s sister, died in 1891 at age 5. So Richard was left a widower with an infant.

In the 1900 census, Richard is living alone and says he’s a widower, but by 1910 he says he is divorced. I have found divorce papers between Richard Finlay and Luella Davis Finlay dated 15 February 1902, from Turner County, South Dakota.

So who were these women, Richard? Who was your first wife? And who was Luella Davis? I haven’t been able to find more information on Luella through Ancestry.com searches, but I’m not done yet. Anyone have any ideas?

Treasure Chest Thursday: Antique Store Find

The popular TV show American Pickers capitalizes on one of my favorite pastimes…treasure hunting. So, it’s Thursday and in the spring, summer, and fall, that usually means I am out in search of yard sales. But, alas, we have had a deluge so far today (and miserable weather in general so far this spring) and I’m not sure too many people will be setting up their treasures for me to pick through. So what’s a picker to do?

Go to an antique store, you say? Well that’s just what I did on Tuesday. I was in search of vintage sewing treasures and a large basket to help with my interpretation of Mary Davis, my alter ego that I portray as a Civil War reenactor. I recently discovered that she was an early milliner in Plymouth where I live, and I’m adding that skill to my repertoire. But I digress…

As I was scouring the treasures, I found a booklet called “The Family.”

The Family

I often feel the need to rescue documents such as these from antique stores, estate sales, yard sales, etc. That’s why I have a lot of organizing to do in my office. In this case, I bought the pamphlet because as an archivist I feel that it needs to either be in the hands of descendants or in an appropriate archives being preserved.

There is not a ton of information in this pamphlet, but it would still be a gold mine for any descendants who don’t have the information that was handwritten in here, probably by the mother, Essie Brooks Tower. The date of publication of the booklet is 1905, so much of what was written was entered after the fact and is subject to Essie’s memory and information passed on to her. So it is a secondary source that would need to be corroborated with primary documents.

Husband page

Wife page

Wife’s Family page

Children page

I checked on Ancestry.com to see if there were any family trees already created on this family and I did find some. There was one listing a child, Lillian Irene Tower, born after Essie stopped filling in data in this family booklet. That listing has the best possibilities as the information is somewhat sourced and looks like it might have been added by a descendant who had personal knowledge of the family.

I am still undecided whether I should send this to an archives, perhaps in Charleston, Illinois, where Essie and her first child, Harold A. Tower, were born, or whether I should make it available to a descendant (possibly the one who created the tree on Ancestry). I’m torn because apparently someone in the descendant chain gave up the document at some point, as it did end up in an antique store in Livonia, Michigan. How it came to be there, I will never know. But, readers, should this wonderful, handwritten document go to a worthy descendant or to an appropriate archives? I’d like your opinions, so I am creating a survey.

I’m interested to hear what others have done when they’ve found treasures that don’t necessarily relate to their own family. Please comment here.

Madness Monday: The Peter Burger Enigma

One cold, winter evening in late April(!) this year, I was bopping around on the Internet and decided to see what I could find on one of my Kelley collateral relatives. I was preparing for a talk that I gave last Friday at the National Genealogical Society Conference in Charleston, SC, called “Effective Internet Searching.”

My Kelley ancestors arrived in the U.S. from England in 1872-73. William Joseph Kelley and Julia Matthis Kelley had 10 children, nine of whom made the journey. William apparently emigrated first–probably in 1872–taking two of his older sons with him (John Henry and Frederick William Kelley). I have not yet found them on a passenger list. Julia, however, appears with seven of her children on the Ship Nyanza passenger list; the ship landed in Quebec, Canada, on 8 June 1873.

My 2nd great-grandmother, Julia Kelly, traveled from England to Quebec with seven of her ten children.

My 2nd great-grandmother, Julia Kelly, traveled from England to Quebec with seven of her ten children. (Ancestry.com. Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935)

Over the years I have done extensive research on the rest of my great-grandfather Frederick’s siblings (with the exception of his oldest brother Joseph Richard–who stayed in England and whom I have just recently had success with, but that’s another blog). I’ve been able to fully document eight of the nine kids that came to Detroit with their parents. The life of Sophia Kelley and her spouse, Peter Burger, were the holdouts.

I knew that Sophia and Peter are buried in Woodmere Cemetery in Detroit, because they’re in the same plot as Sophia’s parents, so I started there. A quick Google search for “Woodmere Cemetery” uncovered the website  Detroit’s Woodmere Cemetery Research. Gail Hershenzon has created a fabulous searchable database of the cemetery cards, containing all of the juicy information that family historians crave. I was like a kid in a candy store searching on this site, finding many more relatives than I realized were buried there. Since I knew Peter was there, I searched for his entry and found the following:

Peter Burger’s cemetery card from Woodmere Cemetery, Detroit. (Woodmere Cemetery Research. http://www.woodmerecemeteryresearch.com/)

The item that naturally caught my eye was “pistol shot” under the disease heading. Since it doesn’t say whether the shot was self-inflicted or whether Peter was murdered, the next step was to try to find an official death record. Thankfully, FamilySearch.org has been indexing Michigan death records and posting the entries along with digital images. I quickly found Peter’s death record on the FamilySearch Record Search pilot search (I didn’t find it on FamilySearch’s new search) and discovered the pistol shot was suicide:

Peter Burger death record. (FamilySearch.org. Michigan Deaths, 1867-1897, Wayne County, p. 384)

Suicides often prompt other possible records to be created, including newspaper articles and coroner’s reports. I wasn’t able to quickly find any coroner’s reports on the Web, but I was able to find a couple articles about Peter’s suicide through my local library. The Plymouth District Library in Plymouth, Michigan, offers library card holders remote access to the Detroit Free Press from 1831 on, which is a great boon to Detroit research. I logged on and found, among others, the following from the 3 March 1893 edition:

Detroit Free Press, 3 March 1893, p. 5.

So the mystery of Peter’s death was solved within a matter of minutes by using a combination of websites and records. The remaining question about Peter and his wife Sophia was when and where were they married? I had previously searched for their marriage in Detroit records and had come up empty handed.

So I hopped over to Ancestry.com and uploaded a very small GEDCOM as a family tree. That crazy little leaf that Ancestry incessantly advertises quickly popped up with a hint for Peter. It was a possible marriage record! And the marriage took place somewhere unexpected: Windsor, Ontario–across the river from Detroit. I had never thought to look there. But the record clearly shows that it is the marriage of my Peter Burger and Sophia Kelley:

Marriage record of Peter “Barger” and Sophia Kelley. (Ancestry.com.Registrations of Marriages, 1869-1928. MS932, Reel 67. Archives of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.)

Near the bottom of the record is the clue for why the couple crossed the river to say their vows–Peter was Catholic and Sophia was Protestant. In 1890 Detroit, mixed marriages were still problematic and it was evidently a quick process to get married in Windsor, no questions asked.

The moral of my story here is that while not everything is on the Internet (I hear that thought repeatedly!), it is possible to find fabulous clues and maybe even digitized original records if you use creativity in your search. Now I know more of the story of Peter Burger and Sophia Kelley.

Happy Monday!

Gilligan’s Epitaph

I grew up watching Gilligan’s Island on TV. It aired from 1964 to 1967 and was one of my favorite shows. The theme song still resonates, “Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip…” It was a fun show that helped exotic travel ideas grow in my mind. So when I had to write an epitaph of someone for an English assignment when I was in my junior year of high school, I naturally chose Gilligan. Picture this on Gilligan’s tombstone:


I led the normal life of any


Human being

Until the seven of us



After that my self



And I got kicked around by my



I usually got the brunt of the

Criticism, work

And mistakes.

But I have them to thank for letting me keep




Plant Lady (In Honor of My Mother)

[I wrote this article about my mother when I was in a photojournalism class as a sergeant in the Marine Corps in 1981. I post it today to honor my mother on Mother’s Day as she mends from a traumatic injury.]

She’s called the Plant Lady.

To earn this title, Phyllis Kelley has spent many dedicated years bringing ailing plants back to life. Children, customers and neighbors bring plants to Phyllis knowing she will return them healthy.

Phyllis, a 25-year resident of Glenview, Ill., divides her time between two jobs, three greenhouses, a garden, and her husband. At her daytime job, she is a secretary for Ducks Unlimited, a non-profit organization that develops breeding sites for ducks.

It’s at night that she really blossoms. That’s when she makes herself known to the public as the Plant Lady. About 15 hours a week, Phyllis can be found pruning plants, watering them, and in general, giving them all the love they need to flourish. She works at Amlings Flower Shop. Customers ask for the Plant Lady when they have a particular growing problem.

At home, she rarely sits down. What little time she has left after her jobs must be divided between 500 plants in two window greenhouses and a walk-in greenhouse. And then there’s her vegetable garden.

The garden has helped reduce the cost of food. Every year she plants tomatoes, green peppers, broccoli, pole beans, radishes, and cantaloupe. Some of the fruit and vegetables are eaten after picking, but the bulk are frozen for winter use.

Most of the plants in the greenhouse are there for her pleasure. She thrives on anything unusual. “Anybody can grow a geranium and get it to bloom,” said the lively brunette. “But getting a Bird of Paradise to bloom takes a lot more effort.”

The exotic plants she enjoys most are orchids. A few years ago she took a night school course in Orchid Culture. Since then she has acquired more than 200 varieties. She is a member of the Indoor Light Gardener’s Association and the Illinois Orchid Society.

Her responsibilities don’t stop there. Every year, she supplies plants for the bazaar at her grandchildren’s school. In September, she transplants baby plants into new pots so they will be well adjusted by Christmas time. Then she donates the plants to the bazaar so children can buy their parents inexpensive gifts.

Phyllis said she has been growing anything with roots since she was old enough to walk. Her father was a gardener and she was his shadow. She remembered the first plant she rooted. It was a rosebush called Paul Scarlet. She took one of its climbers and bent it to the ground. She said she didn’t know what she was doing, but a few days later the new plant took root. And her plant story has grown from there.

Her children tell friends they were raised in a jungle. Her husband cringes every time she comes home, wondering where she’ll put the new plant. Phyllis said he drew the line at the bedroom. He said he needs one room in the house where he doesn’t have to worry about being strangled in his sleep.

What’s in store for the Plant Lady? More courses in plant culture, more organizations, and more donations for her grandkids. Does she ever want to own a greenhouse as a business? “Tomorrow would be swell,” said the Plant Lady.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I know you can’t read this, and I know you’re in some pain, but know you are loved and appreciated.