War Injuries

The following [WARNING] anatomically explicit and graphic document resulted in the money that my 3rd great-grandfather, Thomas Wilson, would use to move his family from Canandaiga, New York, to a farm he purchased in central Michigan. He built a farm that supported his son, his grandson, and his great-granddaughter who was also my grandmother. The farm was sold, and his descendants moved to the largest town east.

ACT JULY 14, 1862
Brief in case of Thomas Wilson, A Priv[ate] of Company L, 24 Regiment, N[ew] Y[ork] Cav[alr]y
Post Office Address of Applicant:
Gypsum, Ontario Co, NY
Enlisted Jany 18, 1864, Discharged July 14, 1865
Declaration and Identification in Due Form
1 Rolls say wounded July 9/[18]64
2 Capt while in service certifies to gen of right thigh, received in the trenches before Petersburg from a shot by the enemy July 9/64

3 Dr Chapin, July 19/67 finds gsn of right thigh splintering the bone, passing across pubis of right side and out through cellular tissue and substance of penis at the root. Urine passed through the opening. The consists of injury of muscles inserted at the pubis rotating the leg and inability to retain urine more than one or two hours. Too much lameness to allow work of more than half a day.

Admitted M[ar]ch 11, 1867 to a Pension of 4.00 per month, commencing July 14th, 1865.

[Thomas Wilson’s Civil War military records, author’s personal files, received from NARA, Oct 2011.]

Honestly, I could have lived without knowing that about my forefather’s reproductive parts, but the description certainly demonstrates the terrible wounds Civil War soldiers had to endure if they were lucky enough not to die on the battlefield. Imagine the number of soldier’s that came through hospitals with similar injuries.

Life Goes On

I ventured into the 1950 census for the first time today. I jumped around different states before I decided that the most fruitful search I could start at this early point in the process was to look at records from my hometown.

While looking for family, I found Myron Bueche, the owner of my local grocery store chain; Esther Way, the former high school music teacher whose portrait was stolen my senior year; Marion Crouse, the board of education president and person for whom an elementary school was named; Earl Partridge, the man for which the street I grew up on was named; Jennie Bump, my grandaunt and the local florist; and many familiar last names such as Scharrer, Gillam, and Breiler, whose descendants would become my neighbors, fellow class members, and friends.

I also found close family members, and learned how their lives had carried on after the last census. The first close family record I found struck me.

Accessed through Ancestry.com. Record details at the top of the photo.

In 1950, my great-grandparents Fred and Minnie Porterfield Wilson were taking care of their grandchildren, Don and Ralph Keller. I had known that their parents and sisters had been killed in a horrific car accident just three years before, but I hadn’t considered where the sons had landed after they recovered physically.

I’m not surprised that Fred and Minnie took them in, of course. But having not known them personally, this information tells me more about the kind of people they were. At retirement age, they took on the task of raising their daughter’s boys, helping them through tragedy and rehabilitation. Giving the boys hope and stability after terrible losses so early in life.

This census record is just a reminder that I come from good people. And that these words on paper cannot possibly contain the fragile emotions in that household at the time.

Staying In Touch

For the longest time, the name Ann Lemunyon was the only clue I had to find the parents of my 2nd great-grandmother, Lucy Thompson Wilson.

Ann appears as a widowed mother-in-law on the 1900 census in Lucy’s household, but no Lemunyons live near them in the 1900 or 1880 censuses.

It’s nice that their relationship was strong enough for Lucy to house her mother after her mother lost her husband, but why was she nowhere to be found on other censuses?

1900 Federal Census; Hazelton Twp, Shiawassee County, Michigan; House #304, Family 306. Sourced from Ancestry.

Lucy passed away in 1907, her husband lived alone after, and in the 1910 census there were no listings of Lemunyons in the area. So looking in records after Lucy died was no help. So I decided to review Lucy’s facts to figure out who her parents were.

It’s no surprise that Lucy lived with her husband Ambrose Wilson after her marriage in Flushing, Michigan, in 1873. In the 1870 census, I found her as a 15 year old working as a domestic servant for a wealthy family in Flint. Many other Thompsons are listed near her in the city, of course, but I had no way of telling which were Lucy’s people. All of these censuses listed New York as Lucy’s state of birth. More specifically, Lucy’s wedding record states she was born in Washington County, New York, a rural area along the Vermont border. That sent me to scour the 1860 census there for Thompsons.

I didn’t find any Lucy or Ann Thompson, unfortunately, but I did find this family halfway across the state.

1860 Federal Census; Union, Monroe County, New York; House #148, Family 145. Sourced from Ancestry.

Demmon? Lucy’s father’s name is Demon? That must be the census taker mishearing his name. At least I hope so. Still, this record was promising, and their presence near Rochester gets them closer to the Flint area where I know Lucy ended up. But know that I have an idea of Lucy’s father’s first name I could dig deeper into the Washington County records.

1855 New York State Census; Union County, New York; House #41. Sourced from Ancestry.

Dinsmore? Well, it’s better than Demon, I guess.

Okay, so the children’s names were the same as the Thompsons in Monroe County, NY. It really looked like I found Lucy’s people. But how did we get from Ann Thompson in Union, New York, to Ann Lemunyon in Flint, Michigan?

Years passed with that question unanswered. But then I found Lucy’s obituary.

Flint Journal, 14 Nov 1907, p.6, col. 1. Accessed at Flint Public Library.

Finding out that Lucy’s family lived to Decatur, Michigan, about 150 miles southwest of Flint, was the key in following Ann’s journey. In the 1880 census, she lives with James Beardsley in that county. I cannot find a marriage record for them. Then I found she married Myron Lemunyon in that county in 1892. She died just a few months after Lucy’s passing, but it seems they kept close contact despite the many miles that separated them. Here are just two of many newspaper reports.

Flint Journal, 1 Nov 1905, p4, col 7. Accessed on genealogybank.com
Flint Journal, 29 Apr 1907, p5, col3. Accessed on genealogybank.com

Gretna Green marriages

Many of my Harburn relatives got married in Angola, Indiana, in the early 1900s. As life-long residents of Flint, Michigan, I always wondered why my grandparents and their siblings drove the two hours through southern Michigan, crossed the border, and got hitched in the furthest northeastern corner of Indiana.

It was especially bewildering because my grandparents, according to all sources, were not travelers. They moved exactly twice while they were married: from a farm into town, then down the street. They liked their town, church, neighbors, and home just fine. Thank you very much.

I’m sure I’m behind the times here, but I just learned about Gretna Green marriages, also known as marriage mills. Named after a town just over the English border in Scotland, Gretna Green became a haven for young English couples who did not want to jump through the hoops the English parliament made young couples jump through, including waiting x amount of time and spending x amount of money at the church for the ceremony. Scotland, on the other hand, allowed simple ceremonies with little political bureaucracy to hinder young lovers.

After I learned the term, I looked up “Gretna Green locations in the United States” and discovered that Angola was a common marriage location for people in southern Michigan. In fact, by the 1950s, Steuben County, where Angola is located, was issuing 1,000 more marriage licenses a year than Marion County, where Indianapolis is located.

Now my grandfather was 33-years-old when he married it 1934, working in his parents’ florist shops. My grandmother was a school teacher. I don’t think they were hurting for cash so much as wanting a quiet and simple ceremony. They had a huge family. Having known them personally, I can’t imagine they’d have wanted a big fuss.

1. HistoricUK.com. [https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofScotland/Gretna-Green/: Accessed on 15 Jul 2020.
2. Indiana Genealogy Society, Publications. [http://www.indgensoc.org/publications/email_alerts/2018/2018_02.pdf: Accessed on 15 Jul 2020]
3. Nelson Harburn and Bernice Wilson marriage certificate. Indiana, Marriages, 1811-1959, Steuben: 1934-1934, Volume23, Image 78 of 324. Accessed on FamilySearch.org 19 Jul 2020.

The Known and the Unknown

When I started my family research in 2009, it was all lopsided. My mother’s family had annual reunions and shared churches and a huge piece of paper with all of our names on it in trim little boxes. I remember one year at the family reunion someone had tacked up the family tree on a wall of the church’s banquet room. Photos of most of the family were taped up next to their entry on the tree. I watched as my relatives would bring their son or granddaughter to the chart and show them the box in which their name was written and then trace their branch up the chart. Inevitably, they would turn to the room, and the older person would point at various people the child knew and tell them their relationship.

“That’s your great-aunt Margaret, Nicky. She’s your papa’s sister. See her over in the flowered dress talking to daddy?”

It was nice. If anyone felt insecure about their place in the family, they could look to the large tree drawn on the wall and know that they belong. It felt as if the ties between us were tangled beneath the grid of tables filling the room.

Wilma and Bernice Wilson, date and location unknown
The author’s maternal grandmother (right) with her sister, 1930s

My favorite photos of them are of when they were young. Seeing my grandparents, my aunt and uncle, my parents before kids and divorces and funerals. All of the lifetimes they had before I knew them.

That was my mother’s side. The known side. My father’s side was hazier.

Dad grew up in foster care from age 8. He knew his brother, sister, half-sisters and half-brother, parents, aunts, and uncles lived in town, but he also knew he barely spoke to any of them, let alone lived with them. He knew his mother’s last name because it was written on his birth certificate. (We would later discover that last name was incorrect.) There were no photographs of these people, no stories. Occasionally Dad would mention something about his childhood—how his mom made the best blackberry cobbler or how the horses at the job he held in high school always seemed to buck when it was his turn to clean their stables, but he never lingered long in those memories.

Mary Lou
The author’s paternal grandmother, c. 1940s

I started researching his family with very little to go on. The first names of his mother and siblings. Found out dad had close family members living all around where he grew up. Found out I had deep roots in two unfamiliar states: Iowa and Missouri. I was lucky there was a huge network of researchers on that side of my family who posted to Ancestry. It didn’t take long for me to discover photos of my grandparents.

That first glimpse was a lightning strike. There was no doubt they were family. Seeing their familiar faces was like meeting ghosts who had haunted my childhood home. I even found a photograph of my dad as a boy. In all the shuffling around of his childhood, he hadn’t held onto his keepsakes.

These are my favorite photos of my dad’s side. The unknown side. That light I’d felt when I’d seen my grandparents’ faces and recognized my dad, my brothers, myself in them is what keeps me researching my family tree.

(The featured photo of this post is my maternal grandfather (in the hat) with his younger brothers, c. 1918.)

Writing for Amy Johnson Crow’s #52Ancestors.

Henry Ford’s Brain

It seems like at the end of every episode of Finding Your Roots or Who Do You Think You Are? each guest tells the host or the person holding the camera that they have a different sense of themselves after finding out they are Arcadian or they are related to William the Conqueror. It’s my favorite part of the show because I came to those same conclusions, although there were no cameras to capture it. I felt that same inner light when I learned who my people were and how I got here. A certain kind of relief comes with the knowledge that who you are isn’t entirely your responsibility, that the chapter you are writing of your life isn’t the first in the book.

I definitely started my own research looking for my place, trying to find out where I belonged, and I quickly learned that I owe my entire existence to Henry Ford. Before the auto industry, my foreparents were scattered in Upstate New York, Ontario, the boot-heel of Missouri, and Council Bluffs, Iowa.

My New York relatives, the Wilsons, were the first to settle near Flint. They were farmers who were pushed out of the Rochester, New York, area due to a population boom and a land shortage. Thomas Wilson moved his family to New Lothrop, Michigan, using the money he received fighting and being injured in the Civil War. By 1920, all of his grandsons were employed in the factories or in auto-related businesses in Flint.

The Harburns, my Canadian family, immigrated to Flint in 1919. Having been farmers of flowers in Hensall, Ontario, they moved to Flint to become the official florists of the Ford Motor Company. It was just after Teddy Roosevelt and his conservationist movement took hold in the United States. The auto industry was getting flak from residents of the city for polluting the Flint River. Ford Motor Company hired my family to refute the conservationists’ claims. The Harburns were given a deal on a small white house just a little downriver from a car plant and grew the flowers for the company’s corporate events. The company hoped to prove the purity of the river with my family’s success. Unfortunately, it worked. Growing up, I only associate that river with stink. Swimming there was always considered a feat of daring; eating fish from there was downright nuts.

My Missouri folks, the Romines, had been struggling for decades to make a living by farming near Parma and Malden. It was the Depression when my 2nd great-grandfather moved up to Flint because of Ford’s promise of jobs. Once my 2nd great-grandfather was established, my great-grandfather followed, leaving behind his young family and marrying his second wife. Abandoned by her father, my grandmother left her own family in Missouri to find her dad. This abandonment was the end (thankfully!) of a long pattern in the Romine line.

The Jameses had been living in Council Bluffs, Iowa, since the 1870s. All but two of the eight siblings stayed there. My grandfather followed his older sister to Flint in 1941 after going through a bitter divorce and being fired from his job as county engineer in FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). His sister owned several bars in Flint, and he was made a bartender in one of them. That’s how he met my grandmother, who worked as a cook in a restaurant that catered mostly to factory workers.

Henry Ford. As far as I know, I have no relation to him, but he was absolutely responsible for putting my grandparents in the same place at the same time. Before learning this, I’d never thought twice about cars or the role the grubby factories we passed along the highway played in the history of my family and virtually every other family near me.

Writing this for Amy Johnson Crow’s #52Ancestors.

Photo is of my grandmother, Bernice Wilson, posing in front of the family car c. 1932.

The Younger Versions of Our Grandparents

One of my first memories took place at my Grandma’s funeral. I remember passing a tissue to my mother because she was crying. Her open display of grief was confusing and scary to me. I was 8.

Mom, Grandma Harburn and Aunt Marily - aug 78.jpg
my mother, my grandma, my aunt in 1980 or so

We mourned the woman in the center of this picture that day. This 70-year-old version is the only Bernice Harburn I knew. You can’t see it in the way she slouches on our kitchen cabinet or in the right tilt of head, but she was a schoolteacher before she married. A strict one, apparently. With ruler in hand ready to crack the knuckles of misbehaving students. At that time, Grandma Harburn looked like this:


This is my favorite picture of her, of her 19-year-old version, before Bernice Harburn existed—when people knew her as Bernice Wilson. I see my mom in her face, but mostly I see my niece, which surprises me because I’ve always thought my niece looked exactly like her mother, my sister-in-law.

Grandma’s poise is so youthful, her cheeks so plump, her hair so dark. Her head tilts that same way to the right; it makes me smile. I doubt she knew that was something she did, had done since she was young. Knowing that makes me feel closer to her.

I imagine this picture was taken just before she got into that car and carried her to a significant day in her life. Maybe she was on her way to her teaching school in Indiana. Maybe she was going to teach Sunday school. Maybe she was about to meet my grandfather for the first time. To look at her face and be reminded of my 19-year-old niece is a little shocking. I only bore witness to the last 4 years of Grandma’s life. There were so many revisions between the time this picture was taken and the person I knew. It reminds me that my grandmother had been very much like my niece is now–still figuring things out, still wide to possibilities.

These two pictures of Bernice taken 50 years apart are so similar. It reassures me that we carry who we are from year to year. We have a little at the end that we started with, you know? Our voices, our poise, our head tilts. Aging can only add to our presence, never erase. So I am still that scared little boy handing my mother a tissue at my grandmother’s funeral, even as I shave off the gray whiskers of my beard every morning.

Another reason that memory of the tissue stays with me is that it was the first time I remember making someone laugh. My mother saw a tissue float into her blurred line of vision. She looked over and saw my very concerned and eager-to-help face, and she let out the tiniest of laughs. With that reaction I knew my mother was still beside me; mourning did not cause any quick version-changing as we sat in the church pew. I knew my mother was all right, the loss of her mother would not erase her.

(The featured photo is yet another version of Bernice (top left). Her 11-year-old self. Those glasses: like if Harry Potter lent Hermione his specs.)

Christiana Chamberlain Court Affidavit and transcript

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Reproduced at the National Archives

(writing here is the original researcher’s notes, Doris Wilson Gibbs)

State of Kansas

Sumner County

On this 17th day of December AD 1888 personally appears before me a County Clerk in and for said County of Sumner Christianna Chamberlin aged . . . years who is a respectable person and entitled to Credit. Who being duly sworn deposes and says that she is well acquainted with Emily C. Wilson wife of Thomas Wilson a pensioner on the Pension Rolls at Washington D.C. No. of claim No. 78617 Deposer further deposes and says that she was present on the 17th day of June AD 1843 at Mascedonia, Ontario Co. State of N.Y. and saw Mr. Thomas Wilson and Emily C. Wilson and heard the marriage ceremony performed as they were then and there pronounced man and wife by a Justice of the Peace. She further deposes and says that she has no interest direct of indirect to any Pension Claim to which this affidavit may refer and is not concerned in the prosecution of any such Claim And that her Post Office address is Wellington, Sumner County, Kansas.

Sworn and subscribed to before me this 17th day of December 1888

Wm. Berry Co. Clk.                                                C Chamberlain