Last week I had an incredible day of research productivity in a part of Michigan I had never visited – genealogical research takes you on the most amazing adventures. I was heading to West Branch, the upper lower peninsula (in case you know Michigan geography, which I can’t truly say I do). In West Branch I was scheduled to speak on the Blumenthal family who had established the first dry goods stores in Ogemaw County (in which West Branch is located) and Arenac County.
As in most genealogical quests, I had some unanswered questions and decided to stop in Bay City, on the way to West Branch to check out a tombstone or two. It was raining and the cemetery gates were locked. Being the intrepid sort of researcher I am, I shielded my camera and hoped for a readable photo of the distant stone, which I could see from the road (lucky me, right?).
In West Branch, after a few tech glitches, I laid out the research I had done on the branch of the family that had left West Branch and gone to Standish. The audience included a descendant of the West Branch branch and a descendant of the Standish branch – they had never met before and until just a few weeks earlier, had not heard of each other.
As I was giving my talk, I had a brilliant inspiration – since I was in a part of the state to which I was unlikely to return, why not stop at a library in Arenac County and see what local information could be found about the family in Standish. Finding the library was easy, but the local history section only contained recent local history and I needed to go back over 100 years. The very helpful librarian located a county historical society in Au Gres and off we went to find the volunteer staffing it that day.
I just love people who are passionate about the work they do. The volunteer at the Arenac Historical Society, surrounded by mostly un-indexed and un-digitized original documents worked closely with me to locate a few precious references and promised to hunt down other documents and newspaper articles for me.
She very kindly xeroxed the documents she was able to find easily, and we purchased a booklet about the history of the area that included some references to 2 of the people I was trying to track. After carefully reading the history and looking at some of the material I realized there was a discrepancy in the date of death – it was hand written on an obituary as 1951 and written in the history as 1949.
After a couple of hours on-line I found a death certificate and a copy of the guy’s gravestone – both of which agreed with the handwritten note. Quite a few mysteries remain – right now it looks as if I have 2 branches of a larger family – each branch had 3 brothers. One branch originally settled in West Branch around 1885, the other in Standish around the same year. One of the West Branch brothers, Sam, went to Standish between 1894-1895 and went into business with one of his cousins, Harry, who was already there. Harry may have originally come to Standish to join an older brother, Marcus, who was already established.
Marcus left Standish before 1915 and went to Traverse City, then to Iowa and finally to California. Sam left Standish between 1910-1920 and went to Detroit. Harry remained in Standish. Sam’s 2 brothers stayed in West Branch. Harry and Marcus had another brother who may have gone to Massachusetts. Obviously, I’m still searching for the rest of the story.