Wednesday, July 23, 2014

#52Ancestors (29) Elias Maxson of New York and Michigan

This week's ancestor introduction is a maternal great-great-great-grandfather, Elias C. MAXSON.

Elias was the son of Elias MAXSON (also spelled MAXON) and Hannah COONS or KUHNS. The elder MAXSONs were very early settlers in Genesee County, New York. They had 12 known children: John, Hannah, Edwin, Katherine, Nancy, Lucena, Elias, George, Charles, Fanny, Joseph and Andrew.

Our subject, Elias C., was born 13 February 1820 in Town of Bennington in Genesee County. He married Joannah SMITH about 1843. I have no clues as to Joannah's family. There were SMITH families in the same area, but I have no record of their marriage or her parent's names.

Elias and Joannah were part of a large group of western New York families that moved on to Michigan. They had seven daughters, and they were born in various locations as the family made their way west:

Susannah, born in Bennington in 1845
Hannah, born in Wayne County, Michigan in 1849
Mary Jane, born in Livingston County, Michigan in 1852
Laura, born in Livingston County, Michigan in 1855
Emeline, born in Ingham County, Michigan, in 1858
Alice, born in Ingham County, Michigan, in 1861
Minerva, born in Ingham County, Michigan in 1866

Locke Township in Ingham County was the final settlement for the MAXSON family. They were a typical farm family, owning 40 acres in Section 9. Several of their daughters married young men from neighboring farms.

Joannah died in July of 1885 at only 60 years of age. Elias soon followed her in October. They are buried together in Rowley Cemetery in Locke Township. Their gravestones are a beautiful matched pair. Several of their daughters are buried nearby.





© 2014 Sally Knudsen

Sunday, July 13, 2014

#52Ancestors (28) Wilhelmina Kopkau Dork

I previously introduced the KOPKAU family, who were one of several West Prussian families to settle in Michigan. Friedrich KOPKAU and Wilhelmina STACHEL had nine known children. Their third child and first daughter was Wilhelmina, born 5 February 1871 in Peterkau, Kreis Rosenberg, West Prussia.

The KOPKAU's came to Michigan in 1873, so Wilhelmina probably had no memories of her life in Eastern Europe. They settled in Emmet County in northern lower Michigan surrounded by forests and the beaches of Lake Michigan. Her uncle, aunt, and cousins also lived in the same area, until Wilhelmina's family moved south to Lansing, sometime before 1900.

Minnie, circa 1890

Wilhelmina, known as Minnie, married Otto Carl DORK on 18 May 1893 in Lansing. Otto was born in Charlottenwerder, just a few miles away from Peterkau.


Minnie and Otto had five children:
  1. Carl Frederick (1893-1952)
  2. Louise Wilhelmina (1895-1973) my great-grandmother
  3. Eva Caroline (1897-1950)
  4. Ferdinand Otto (1900-1964)
  5. Edward Rudolf (1905-1965)
Minnie died 3 June 1915 in Lansing, just one year after her own mother. Minnie was only 44 years old. Otto never remarried, and used the help of the many interconnected family and neighbors in their Lansing neighborhood to help raise the children.


© 2014 Sally Knudsen


Saturday, July 12, 2014

#52Ancestors (27) Friedrich Kopkau of West Prussia

Friedrich KOPKAU is one of my maternal great-great-great-grandfathers. He was born 10 December 1838 in the tiny village of Peterkau, Kreis Rosenberg, West Prussia. His parents were Friedrich KOPKAU and Charlotta ROPELIUS.

Friedrich Kopkau and Wilhelmina Stachel, in Michigan c 1890

Friedrich married Wilhelmina STACHEL, daughter of Christoph STACHEL and Gottliebe SCHMIDKE, in Sommerau, Kreis Rosenberg, West Prussia on 29 November 1864. 

In 1873, Fred and Minnie as they came to be known, traveled to America with the first four of their eventual nine children. They settled in Emmet County, Michigan near Fred's brother Augustus and his family. Augustus was married to Gottliebe STACHEL. They also had a sister Henrietta, who married three times including twice to men named STACHEL.

Let's pause a moment. Are you keeping up?

KOPKAU and STACHEL and SCHMIDKE, oh my!

This is precisely why researching this family is equally gratifying and frustrating. If ever I wanted to see a family tree in 3D, this is who I'd vote for! This was a very close-knit group of immigrants from several nearby Prussian villages, and they remained close in Michigan. In fact, it takes to about the third generation until they begin marrying outside this group of families.

Four generations of Fred's

The Fred KOPKAU family eventually moves on to Lansing, Ingham, Michigan. They join the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church which was founded in 1887 by earlier German and Prussian immigrants.

Minnie died in 1914. Fred died 10 years later, on 20 June 1924 in Lansing. They are buried together in Mount Hope Cemetery in Lansing. (photo here at Billion Graves)



© 2014 Sally Knudsen

Saturday, June 28, 2014

#52Ancestors (26) Margaret Kerr McBride, Strength Defined

Mother's Day has passed, but one of the strongest women and mothers in my family tree is my paternal great-grandmother, Margaret 'Maggie' Donaldson KERR McBRIDE.

Maggie was born in Kilwinning, Ayr, Scotland in 1876. As an infant, she traveled to America with her parents, Robert KERR and Sarah DONALDSON for new opportunities in America. Her life was filled with tragedies almost from the moment she set her tiny foot on American soil.

Maggie, c 1945 in Joliet

Barely a year later, in 1877, her mother was run over and killed by a coal train car as she collected extra coal along the railway lines in Braidwood, Will, Illinois. Robert then remarried in 1878 to Catherine ALLEN, and they had 12 children. Maggie was no longer an only child.

So Nice They Counted Her Twice

Maggie lived with her large family in Braidwood until the late 1890's, when coal mining took a downturn. They moved about 20 miles north, to the city of Joliet, Will, Illinois, which offered her father and eventually her stepbrothers other opportunities for employment. Robert, her father, found work as a prison guard in Joliet. Maggie was now also working as a housekeeper to assist the family. She was enumerated with her family in 1900 in Joliet:

1900 US Federal census, Joliet Township, Will, Illinois

She was also enumerated as Maggie Carr with her 'employer,' the McBride family:

1900 US Federal census, Joliet Township, Will, Illinois


All About The Brogue

Notice that the second census snip says 'McBrady.' This was one of my early Genealogy Happy Dance conquests. When I was initially searching for the McBride's, it was still in the days of driving to the library to read microfilm. I know where the family lived because my dad, aunt and cousins had been at that house on Cleveland Avenue. [That's what they all called it: the Cleveland Avenue House!] This entry is the third to last in this enumeration district, possibly because the house was skipped initially. When I finally saw it, I knew it was my family. Now try rolling your R with an Irish accent: McBride can easily be turned into McBrady, can't it?! I remember vividly being at the library, finding and printing this page, then asking random strangers what they thought the names could be. They concurred!

In 1902, Maggie married Joseph McBride. Both of Joe's parents had died by then, and he and Maggie started their life together in the Cleveland Avenue House. I'm sure it was somewhat a marriage of convenience: they already knew each other, they were about the same age, and Joe needed someone to look after the family home. They had their first child, Robert, in 1903, and then two infants that died.


In late 1908, Maggie was pregnant with my grandfather-to-be, John. In March of 1909, Joe walked home on his lunch hour from the iron mill near their home. He was coughing uncontrollably and within a few hours, died of pneumonia. My grandfather was born six weeks later, and was rumored to be premature and fit in a cigar box. I suspect that the stress of losing your husband could bring on premature labor. Maggie persevered.

McBride-Kerr House

Maggie remained in the Cleveland Avenue House for almost the rest of her life. She never remarried and raised her two sons on her own. She was only ever occasionally listed as a housekeeper on the census records. As her father and stepmother aged, they moved into the house, and later her unmarried stepbrother did as well. The house was in the family for nearly 100 years, with various generations of KERR and McBRIDE family members residing there.

For all of the hard times she experienced, Maggie lived a good long life. She died at age 87 at home with her family. She is buried with her parents in Elmhurst Cemetery in Joliet, Will, Illinois.


An interesting footnote to Maggie's life: my newly married parents were at Maggie's funeral when they learned of the death of President John F. Kennedy on 22 November 1963. That is a fact my father always remembers and it is fascinating how history intertwines with our lives.


© 2014 Sally Knudsen

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

#52Ancestors (25) The Next Robert Kerr

Last week's post introduced Robert KERR and Mary WILSON of Ireland and Scotland. Their firstborn son was Robert KERR, born 3 Mar 1853 in Kilbirnie, Ayr, Scotland. Robert worked as a iron miner in Scotland like his father and brothers.

In 1874, Robert married Sarah DONALDSON and shortly thereafter, had a daughter, Margaret (or Maggie) DONALDSON KERR. The young family set off to America, presumably in search of a better life. They arrived in Illinois in 1876. Robert was a widower within the year. You can read his wife Sarah's sad tale here. On New Year's Eve of 1878, Robert married for a second time to Catherine ALLEN, the daughter of Scottish immigrant miners. Robert and Catherine went on to have 12 children.

For several years, Robert continued to work in the coal mines of Braidwood, Will, Illinois. The coal mines eventually ran 'dry' and workers moved away to find other employment. By 1900, the KERR family lived in Joliet, Will, Illinois. Robert worked as a prison guard in the famous/infamous Joliet Correctional Center.


Robert died in Joliet on 18 Oct 1927. He is buried in Elmhurst Cemetery in Joliet with Catherine and many of his family members.




© 2014 Sally Knudsen

Monday, June 16, 2014

#52Ancestors (24) Robert Kerr, An Irish Miner in Scotland

This week we cross the North Atlantic and the Firth of Clyde, en route to Scotland and the home of my great-great-great-grandparents, Robert KERR and his wife Mary WILSON.

Robert and Mary were both born in Ireland, though I have yet to learn where. They first appeared in Scottish records in 1848, at their marriage in Kilbirnie, Ayrshire, Scotland. By 1851, they had adopted a daughter, Mary Jane, as well as boarded Mary's sister and widowed mother. Eventually, they had eight children of their own, all born in Kilbirnie. Robert and all of his sons worked in the local iron foundries.

I first learned about Robert and Mary from a somewhat mysterious 'photocopied page from family records that a cousin of my dad's gave me.' You know the sort.

Anyway, here is the page:


Pretty cool, huh?!

And I have been able to verify all of the records via ScotlandsPeople. Note that it is titled in Joliet, Illinois, and not Kilbirnie, Scotland. Their first son Robert is my ancestor, and to my knowledge, the only family member to come to America.

Mary died in 1890 and Robert in 1908 in Kilbirnie. I do not have burial records for them, but they are likely buried in the Kilbirnie Old Kirkyard.



© 2014 Sally Knudsen

Sunday, June 8, 2014

#52Ancestors (23) Sally Joslin Spencer

This week on 52 Ancestors, we meet Sarah 'Sally' JOSLIN SPENCER, a maternal great-great-great grandmother. That sad face in the corner is me. Me, because I do not have a photograph or a description of Sally and I dearly wish that I did.

Incidentally, I am not named for Sally. However, the story of my learning about Sally and then sharing her name is even better. You can read it here.

Sally was born in Town of Sheldon, Genesee, New York in 1819. Her name at birth and death was Sarah, but all through her life it was Sally. Her parents were Benjamin JOSLIN and Betsey WYMAN. Betsey had a twin sister Sally, so that may be the origin of the name. Sally had an older brother Wyman and a younger brother Daniel.


[FamilySearch.org] 1820 US Federal census: Town of Sheldon, Genesee, New York

Sally married a local Sheldon farmer, Wright SPENCER, in 1841. He was several years older and had his own farm. Sally and Wright had eight children:
  1. Elizabeth Nancy (1842-1919)
  2. Benjamin J. (1847-1881)
  3. Asa Wyman (1850-1911)
  4. Edward J. (1852-1888)
  5. Cordelia L. (1854-1912)
  6. Washington Irving (1858-1925)
  7. Byron P. (1861-1867)
  8. Addie Elmosa (1863-1912)
Byron was their only child to die in New York. He was only six and I don't know the circumstances of his death. He is buried with his grandparents in Varysburg Cemetery. I can't imagine how Sally felt, literally leaving one of your children behind.

The SPENCER's moved west in the 1860's, like many families from this area, into central Michigan. They purchased 40 acres in Locke Township, Ingham, Michigan, which is just east of Lansing. Wright eventually had a farm of over 100 acres and as he aged, his son Asa took over the farm duties.


Sally died at the SPENCER family farm on 9 March 1895 and was buried in the local Rowley Cemetery. 

I still wish I had a picture of her :(



© 2014 Sally Knudsen