Context

“What’s that mean?”–Far Field Productions end credit (“Bones”)

Halloween is creeping up, again. While I like skeletons as much as the next person, I don’t like the people in my family tree to be skeletons. They can have skeletons to their heart’s content, but I prefer to put some meat on their bones, when I can. I put on my “Joe Friday” hat (“All we want are the facts, ma’am.“), tracking down name, birth and death dates, possible marriage date(s) and spouse(s). If I stop at the basic facts, though, I’m shortchanging them. As I discover more details, I round out their lives, personalities, and relationships within the families. I learn the context surrounding the events in that person’s life. It starts to make more sense.

CONTEXT: noun: the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.

“Definition Of Context | Lexico.Com”. www.lexico.com, 2019, https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/context. Accessed 10 Oct 2019.

So do I really need to find

  • each census?
  • each city directory?
  • their work history?
  • all their kids (even the ones I don’t descend from)?
  • all their siblings?
  • what land they owned? Or didn’t own?

Not necessarily, but the more I know, the better I can assess new records I may come across. Does that record really belong to my person, or is it just a similar name? The more details I can match to existing information, makes being the right record/person more likely. I can also better understand their life. Did they move around a lot? Why? Was it due to job changes? Changes in fortune? Did they move in with children as they aged? Without that context, ancestors remain 2-dimensional, rather than moving toward 3-dimensional.

How does that play out in real life?

Finding the lawyer’s bill in Patrick Nolan’s probate documents at the courthouse in the early 2000s (Naughty) left me with more questions (Did he and Alice actually divorce? Who filed?) than answers, until I was able to locate them in the divorce register.¹ Their entry had been lined out, but the newspaper article detailing his death provided better context (Alice moved back home, it wasn’t due to Patrick’s death). An earlier article³ (at the time she filed for divorce) provided additional context to the situation and their relationship.

For me, newspapers seem more helpful than many other resources. Most of the time, my ancestors and relatives don’t make the front pages (thankfully!). The local news columns (AKA gossip columns!) gave insight to the minutia of their lives. Who visited them? Who did they visit? What clubs did they join? Were they an officer? These “inconsequential” details move them from the “caricature” end of the spectrum more towards the “portrait” end.

Lots of mundane events prove more interesting with the passage of time. My mom, at age 97, doesn’t recall her 2nd birthday party, but I learned she invited her cousins over:

Little Ardyth Meintzer, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Chris Meintzer, celebrate and [sic] delicious hot chicken dinner with Florence and Howard Moeller, Edlyn Mueller as guests. A big birthday cake was enjoyed and the little hostess was congratulated.

“Northbrook Section,” 11 April 1924, Newspapers.com: accessed 4 June 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 20, col. 5, The Daily Herald, Chicago, Illinois, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

An earlier paragraph that same paper mentioned her cousin, Howard, started school. April seems an odd time to start, maybe he was out sick and finally able to return to school? I might need to look up an earlier issue to shed further light on that. Mom also never told me that just before her 2nd birthday

While playing and running, little Ardath [sic], daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Chris Meintzer, bumped into the kitchen cabinet, and cut her head quite badly.

“Northbrook Section,” 4 April 1924, Newspapers.com: accessed 4 June 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 4, col. 1, DuPage County Register, Bensenville, Illinois, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

Thankfully, the party still went on without a hitch!

Mom had also talked about vacationing with Florence & Howard and their parents (Uncle Frank had a car!) when she was a kid. She didn’t remember the details, but thanks to The Daily Herald 29 March 1929 (p. 8, column 3), I learned that, “The Meintzer and Frank Moeller families are on their way home from Virginia and Washington, after several days motor trip.” While I didn’t think Mom was making up that story, it’s nice to be able to pin it down better. And I’ll be able to assign more a more accurate date to some photos I think are from that trip.

Health (or lack thereof) featured predominently in the columns. When Mom’s cousins experienced complications from a vaccine (not sure which one!), the whole town (as well as neighboring towns) knew . . .

Helen Meintzer and her sister, Bernice, have missed several days from school on account of being vaccinated. Little Jeanne was also vaccinated. We are glad to report that they are improving daily and will be back to school real soon.

“Northbrook Section,” 1 April 1927, Newspapers.com: accessed 4 June 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 2, col. 5, Arlington Heights Herald, Arlington Heights, Illinois, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

Their brothers weren’t mentioned. Were they not vaccinated? Or did they simply not miss school?

Of course, we already knew my grandfather (Christoph Meintzer) liked fishing, but putting it in newsprint made it official!

Mr. Christ Meinzer and Jack Mayer of Deerfield had a pleasant time catching fish at Lake Elizabeth, Wisc., and brought 60 fish home with them.

“Northbrook Section,” 13 Augutst 1926, Newspapers.com: accessed 4 June 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 17, col. 5, Palatine Enterprise, Palatine, Illinois, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

Will I ever find everything? No. But it pays to slow down from hurried harvesting, and look for the juicier strawberries hiding under the leaves, instead of just picking the ones easiest to find.

#52Ancestors


¹”Michigan, Divorce Records, 1897-1952″, database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com), accessed 5 March 2018, citing Michigan, Divorce Records. Michigan Department of Community Health, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics, Lansing, Michigan. St. Clair, state file # 348-9. Patrick Nolan and Alice Nolan.

²”Paddy Nolan was Drowned,” 14 November 1904, Last Edition, Newspapers.com: accessed 24 August 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 1, col. 4-5, The Port Huron Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

³”Mean Man,” 24 August 1904, Last Edition, Newspapers.com: accessed 24 August 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 1, col. 4, The Port Huron Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

Nice

If you ask many writers or actors, frequently they say they prefer writing about or playing the part of a “bad guy.” Those characters tend to be more complicated and interesting, compared to “nice” ones. Think Scarlett O’Hara vs. Miss Melanie, or Rhett Butler vs. Ashley Wilkes.

Family history isn’t much different, in that respect. It is much easier for me to find someone who did something “naughty” somewhere in their life, than to declare someone “nice.” To begin with, I don’t know personally the earlier ancestors, to know what they were like. While I may find newspaper articles or court documents about the transgressions of an ancestor in the mid-1800s (documenting “naughty”), “nice” really doesn’t show up with proof.

Back in Strong Woman you met my husband’s maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Nolan Kukler. She was the sixth child (of ten) of Patrick Nolan and Alice Needham, who you’ve been reading about the last couple weeks. In that earlier post, I described Elizabeth as

  • strong
  • feisty
  • resourceful
  • ready to have a good time

Another major characteristic, though, was that she was nice. Even with the little amount of time I was able to spend with her, I could see that. It wasn’t a superficial, sugar-coated “nice.” She was just a good person, plain and simple. What evidence do I have of that?

  • she named her oldest son William–the same name as the older brother who had died at age two. She never met that brother, yet she did something to remember him.
  • if she saw a stray dog, she’d put out some scraps for it. She was not an animal hoarder by any stretch of the imagination, but she did what she could, when she could.
  • similarly, if a stranger was walking by the house, in need of a meal, she would find something for him. With seven children to feed, it probably wasn’t much, but she would help out a little.

I never got the impression she did any of this with a lot of fanfare or attention. That wasn’t her style. But, yes, she was nice, and I am honored to have known her.

#52Ancestors

Naughty

Before Jerry Springer, there was the newspaper . . .

celebration christmas cup dogs Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Last week you heard about Patrick Nolan’s (Mike’s great grandfather) death from falling into the Black River in Port Huron, Michigan. The initial article¹ had many other details, not necessarily connected to his death. Let’s back up a bit, first.

Patrick married Alice Needham 4 November 1879, in Kenockee, St. Clair, Michigan. When we saw his 1880 Agricultural Schedule (On the Farm), they were newlyweds. Twenty five years later, they are the parents of ten children (“ages 10 to 25” according to the article—though the youngest was actually only 4, and the oldest born 18 October 1880, so only 24), one already having died (William, age 2). Some time in the 1990s, while interviewing my mother-in-law and her sisters, they mentioned their mother (Elizabeth) said her mother (Alice) “was a saint” as far as what she put up with from her husband. They didn’t elaborate, and I don’t know if it was a case of them not knowing details, or being reluctant to share them with me.

In Where There’s a Will I briefly mentioned looking at Patrick’s probate record. Among the bills submitted to settle up the estate was one from a lawyer, for the paperwork for a divorce filing. Oops. There was trouble in paradise. Or at least Smiths Creek. Ancestry has a “Michigan, Divorce Records, 1897-1952” database, which has images from the county registers. I found an entry dated 17 August 1904 for the two of them, but lined out. Alice had filed, charging cruelty, but apparently changed her mind.

So, back to the article¹ about Patrick’s unfortunate untimely death. We discover that my in-laws probably weren’t exaggerating about him. The subtitle of the article was “Made Round of Saloons Sunday Night and Fell Into Black River While Drunk.” Oh, my! We are also told he’d been in the city for 2 or 3 days, and had been busy on Sunday:

  • he’d been at Dan Conway’s Atlantic house at Quay and Michigan for most of the day, leaving there Sunday night
  • he’s somewhere after that, finally ending up at Pat Cahill’s saloon at 405 Quay Street around 11 pm.
  • he leaves Cahill’s alone (time unspecified), intoxicated, looking for a man named Woods
  • the presumption is he “became muddled and walked off the dock.”¹

I love how the saloons get free advertising, with the address and all! The next paragraph adds other juicy details:

There had been trouble for some time between Nolan and his wife, and not long ago it culminated in their separation. Mrs. Nolan went to live with her mother and it was at that time she would ask the courts for a divorce. About a week ago their differences were patched up and the two started living together again. It is thought that this attempt at reconciliation was not successful, however, as Nolan has been spending most of his time in Port Huron.

That corroborates the probate packet and the register. We get a general description of him that becomes not very flattering:

The place [his farm] was run down, however, as Nolan, in his love for drink, neglected everything.

This whole thing is going from bad to worse! The former justice of the peace (Mr. Frink) was apparently interviewed and painted the following picture:

Nolan’s love for drink, which was his worst fault, and which caused his death, often resulted in his being brought before Mr. Frink. After every drunk Nolan would take a solemn oath not to touch a drop of liquor for six months. At the expiration of that time Nolan would become intoxicated again and then go through the same pledge procedure. Mr. Frink says that Nolan kept this up for several years, always steadfast in his oath, but unable, nevertheless, to break himself altogether of the habit.

I then found a newspaper article (“The Mean Man”²) printed when Alice filed for divorce, containing even more details:

Whenever she left home to purchase supplies, Mrs. Nolan alleges, she would be accused by her husband of having left for the purpose of meeting other men. His insane and jealous disposition, she avers, has deprived her of society and has required her to confine her visits to her mother and brother. Unable to put up with this alleged domestic torture Mrs. Nolan left home on August 7 last. She charges her husband with

  • having lighted a fire in the kitchen stove and removing the lids, causing the smoke therefrom to be carried to the room occupied by herself and children.
  • It is also claimed that he removed articles from the various room in the house and piled them in a heap on the floor.
  • He also removed eatables from the house,
  • dismantled the stove so it could not be used to procure meals,
  • and to cap the climax he overturned a churn she was working at, allowing its contents to spill all over the floor.

I don’t know about you, but I think I’d put attempted asphyxiation above the spilled churn! Hopefully the children went with her when she left—neither article mentions anything about that. While the 3 oldest were out of the house by the 1900 census, 6 were still home in 1904.

Nor do I know if the details above list all of her charges against him. But with the divorce suit withdrawn, would the original paperwork have been destroyed? Maybe I need to check on that. I’m also struggling to figure out why Alice decided to move back home.

Obviously I don’t know exactly what was going on with him or between him and Alice—or how long it had been a problem. Presumably they had good years together, too. It’s all rather sad, though.

Lest you think Patrick and Alice were particularly unusual, not so. I noticed other couples with similar laundry being aired in public. With no TV or social media, the newspaper was the best source of local gossip.

But yeah, based on the descriptions found in the newspaper, it seems Patrick qualifies as naughty.

#52Ancestors

__________________________________________

¹”Paddy Nolan was Drowned,” 14 November 1904, Last Edition, Newspapers.com: accessed 24 August 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 1, col. 4-5, The Port Huron Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

²”The Mean Man,” 24 August 1904, Last Edition, Newspapers.com: accessed 24 August 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 1, col. 4, The Port Huron Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

Winter

“Now is the winter of our discontent.” —William Shakespeare

 

Black River, Port Huron, Michigan, 1905. Image posted by u/michaelconfoy on the Reddit site in 2015. Likely not a winter image, but gives a sense of the area.

My husband’s great-grandfather, Patrick Nolan (you met him in On the Farm), died in the winter. Well, not technically winter, but almost. He died 13 November 1904, in Port Huron, St. Clair, Michigan. Born on or before 4 May 1851, he was 53 years old at his death.

Winter doesn’t arrive until 21 December. Even if you go with “meteorological winter,” that doesn’t start until 1 December. However, Port Huron is an hour north of Detroit, so by mid-November, it can start to feel pretty wintry! I’m giving myself little leeway.

Patrick’s death record¹ states his cause of death is “shock by falling in river.” Specifically, it was the Black River, which was listed at the top of the certificate as the place of death. The article in the Port Huron Daily Herald the next day (14 November 1904)² provided more details:

The body . . . was found shortly after seven o’clock this morning floating in Black River in the rear of the Port Huron Light & Power Co’s plant . . . The coroner believes that Nolan’s death by drowning was accidental and the facts of the case all point that way.

The end of the article notes other details from the coroner:

Coroner Falk and Dr. Patrick held a Postmortem over the remains . . . Serious heart trouble was found and Dr. Patrick gave it as his opinion that the man died from the shock of falling into the water as he was dead before the drowning took place. There were no signs whatever of foul play.

The family, however, wasn’t satisfied with that conclusion. In his dealings selling cattle, Patrick frequently carried large amounts of cash with him. His wife, Alice, thought perhaps he’d had cash on him at the time, and had been attacked, robbed, and pushed into the river. According to the 19 November 1904³ paper:

. . . the family has demanded an inquest. This morning Sheriff Davidson, Coroner Falk and Dr. O. H. Patrick went to Smith’s Creek to exhume the body and make an examination.

The results were reported two days later, on 21 November 1904.4 No change to the verdict was made. The three officials mentioned above were

met by Dr. Brock, two sons of the deceased and about 25 friends and neighbors . . . The body was placed on top of the box . . .

Dr. Brock, the local doctor, didn’t want to examine the body, but told them his charges would be $20. The coroner couldn’t authorize an additional expense for the county, so the two sons covered the cost.

Dr. Brock then cut into the scalp and rolled back the flesh, but was unable to find that the bruise on the side of head amounted to anything. He announced himself satisfied without further examination.

WOW! I can’t imagine doing this, in the cemetery, with over two dozen gawkers (not to mention two children of the deceased) watching. The newspaper then gives a detailed description of the entire proceeding! It was a pretty exciting Saturday.

I’m not really sure why the family was so concerned about the cause of death. Was there an insurance policy that would be impacted by those findings? Did they believe law enforcement should investigate and try to recover the cash they felt was stolen? The initial article² reporting his death mentioned he’d been in

. . . Pat Cahill’s saloon at 405 Quay Street. The bartender gave him 30 cents worth of drinks. Nolan had no money but as he was a good customer of the place nothing was said about pay.

When Nolan left Cahill’s he was intoxicated. He went away alone and said that he was looking for a man named Woods.

While he had no money at the bar, if he was transacting business with “Woods,” perhaps money was exchanged then? There are many question that probably will never have satisfactory answers. The person who knew best what happened was the unfortunate victim. 

There is more to Patrick’s story, but that will have to wait until next week . . .

#52Ancestors


¹http://seekingmichigan.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p129401coll7/id/554434/rec/95; accessed 8 December 2018.

²”Paddy Nolan was Drowned,” 14 November 1904, Last Edition, Newspapers.com: accessed 24 August 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 1, col. 4-5, The Port Huron Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

³”Exhume Body,” 19 November 1904, Newspapers.com: accessed 24 August 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 5, The Port Huron Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

4“Only a Farce,” 21 November 1904, Monday Edition, Newspapers.com: accessed 24 August 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 1, col. 6, The Port Huron Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

On the Farm

After over 100 years, part of the farm is still there!

1985 11 29 NOLAN farm in Smiths Creek_0001
Farmhouse of Patrick Nolan and Alice Needham, in Smiths Creek, St. Clair, Michigan. It is on the north side of Smiths Creek Road, just east of Palms Road. Photo taken 29 November 1985 by Christine Bauman.

Mike’s grandmother, Elizabeth Gertrude Nolan Kukler, grew up in this farmhouse in Smiths Creek, Michigan. And no, there’s no apostrophe! Mike’s mother and her siblings would spend part of their summers with their Aunt Mary when they were young, so this was a familiar place for them.

It’s not the best photo, but by 1985, my mother-in-law had no idea who lived there, so pulling into the driveway for a better one was not possible. The 2-lane road also had no place to pull over and stop. Drive by! But the Google Street View of the Patrick Nolan House shows it was still there in August 2013 at 7890 Smiths Creek Road, looking better than than it did thirty years earlier. The V-shaped tree remains, along with the utility pole. An addition has been built on the side.

It’s now surrounded by the Leaning Tree Golf Club, so I’m not sure if it’s owned by the golf club, or if it’s still in the extended family, as an internet search seems to indicate. This property was not, however, part of the original land acquired by Patrick’s father, John Nolan. That parcel is on Yager Road, between Wales Center Road and Fitz Road:

1855 NOLAN John b 1807 land patent.JPG
“South West quarter of the South East quarter of Section Thirty three in Township Six North of Range Fifteen East in the District of Lands subject to sale at Detroit Michigan containing Forty acres.” https://glorecords.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?accession=0887-256&docClass=MW&sid=i2atso2w.uuw#patentDetailsTabIndex=1 

The 1897 plat map¹ for Wales Township shows the relative locations of various Nolan properties. Patrick’s are outlined in red, (an arrow for the house location) others are outlined in blue. The John Nolan listed on this map is Patrick’s younger brother. Their father passed away in 1886, but his youngest son took over that farm.

1897-mi-st-clair-county-wales-plat-map-e1538345230509.jpg
Nolan properties, southern Wales Township, St. Clair, Michigan. John Nolan’s original property is in blue along lower boundary. Son Michael is east of him, Patrick has 2 properties north and east. Red arrow identifies location of Patrick’s house (above).

John Nolan was born in Ireland (possibly Clonegal, County Carlow, like his children) around 1807². He married Elizabeth Mary Halpin[e]/Alpin[e] (her spelling is very flexible!) and had their first three children: Mary, Ann, and Patrick; before moving everyone to Michigan in 1855. Michael & John were born in Wales Township in 1856 and 1860.

In 1870, Patrick² was 19 and still in his father’s house. By 1880, he was married³ and living on his own—sort of. His father, John, was still on the original property. Newlyweds Patrick and Alice are living in a house with a slightly older couple. Both men are “farmer,” rather than one being “farm laborer.” The other wife is “House Keeper” instead of the more typical “Keeping House.” The agricultural census4 that year tells us about Patrick’s farm (I don’t see the other man on that schedule):

  • Patrick owned (not rented) it
  • 25 acres were tilled
  • 0 acres were in permanent meadows, pastures, orchards & vineyards
  • 28 acres woodland and forest
  • 0 acres otherwise unimproved
  • The farm land and building were worth $1000
  • His farming implements and machinery were worth $25
  • The livestock was worth $250
  • He spent $0 building and repairing fences in 1879
  • He had no hired labor the previous year
  • The estimated value for his total farm production was $240
  • There were 3 acres mown, and 0 acres not mown grasslands and 3 tons of hay, 0 bushels clover seed, 0 bushels grass seed
  • On 1 June 1880, he had 2 horses, and 0 mules, 0 working oxen, 2 milch cows, and 1 other cattle. Two calves were born.
  • Regarding cattle, in 1879, he purchased 0, sold 0 living, slaughtered 0, and 0 died, strayed, or were stolen and not recovered.
  • Zero gallons of milk or butter were sold or sent to butter or cheese factories in 1879, and 200 lbs butter, 0 lbs cheese, were made on the farm in 1879, with 0 on hand 1 June 1880.
  • In 1879, he had 0 lambs, purchased 0, sold 0 live, slaughtered 0, with 0 killed by dogs, 0 dying of disease, and 0 dying for stress of weather.
  • In spring 1880, he had 0 shorn fleeces weighing 0 lbs.
  • There were 1 swine on hand 1 June 1880, as well as 9 barnyard poultry and 0 others.
  • 40 dozen eggs were produced in 1879.
  • His 1879 crop production was:
Crop Area in Acres Bushels
Barley
Buckwheat
Indian Corn
Oats 6 214
Rye
Wheat 4 60
Canadian Peas
Beans
Flax seed Tons of straw Lbs. of fiber
Hemp
Sorghum Lbs. of sugar Gal. of Molasses
Maple Sugar Lbs. of sugar Gal. of Molasses
Broom corn
Hops Lbs.
Potatoes (Irish)
Potatoes (sweet)
Tobacco
Apples 1 No. of trees Val. Of orchard products sold $0
Peaches No. of trees
Nurseries
Vineyards Lbs. grapes sold Wine made
Value of Market Garden Produce sold
Bees Lbs. honey Lbs. wax
Wood Cords cut Value of products Sold or consumed

That’s a lot of detail for one page! Only 10 farms were reported per page, with it broken into 4 sections to hold the information. Obviously the form was created for farms all over the country, so not everything applied to Michigan. Patrick also had a lot of blank sections. Either he

  • didn’t have anything to report in those areas
  • didn’t have records to know how much to report for those items
  • didn’t trust the government, so played dumb, anyway.

He was a fairly young farmer at the time, just getting started, so any of them are possible. I know from his 1904 obituary that he was considered a livestock dealer. We get a slight foreshadowing of that from this snapshot. While his livestock holdings aren’t huge, this farm is definitely not concentrating on grains or other crops! I think most of what he grew was used for the livestock he did have, with some for their own use.

Some time between 1880 and 1897 Patrick expanded his holdings around the house and acquired the 70 acres farther west. I’d need a road trip to go camp out with the land deeds to figure out when those pieces came together. In the meantime, we get this little glimpse into the early workings of his farm. It’s also nice to see the house still there all these years later.

#52Ancestors


¹”U.S., Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860-1918″, database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com), citing Standard Atlas of St. Clair County, Michigan (Chicago; Geo. A. Ogle and Co., 1897), plate 49, “Wales Township”. Entry for John NOLAN, accessed 5 March 2018.

²1870 U.S. census, population schedule, Michigan, St. Clair, Wales Township; Page 33; dwelling number 266; family number 272; line 25; John NOWLAND [NOLAN] household; accessed 30 September 2018. Patrick NOWLAND, age 19; NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 699; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

³1880 U.S. census, population schedule, Michigan, St. Clair, Wales Township, e.d. 393; Page 32 (written); dwelling number 309; family number 315; line 31; William MATTHEWS household; accessed 22 August 2018. Patrick NOLAN, age 28; NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 605; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

41880 U.S. census, “Agriculture schedule”, Michigan, St. Clair, Wales, e.d. 393; Page 25 (written); line 10, Patrick NOLAN; accessed 24 August 2018. Population schedule page [ ], line [ ]; NARA publication; T1164, roll 55.

Non-Population

Unexpected glimpses of our ancestors’ private lives.

Most people are familiar with the U.S. Census. It rolls around every 10 years counting us all. Genealogists love the Population Schedule because it gives us a snapshot (hopefully!) of our ancestors’ families. Few realize other census documents also get created. Those are the Non-Population schedules.

They aren’t talked about as much, and in the past weren’t easy to access. While a State Library may own the entire Population Schedule on microfilm, they may not spend additional funds to acquire Non-Population reels. The internet—and genealogy databases—has changed that, making them readily available. Non-Population schedules rarely solve “who belongs to whom” problems, though they can help sort out same-named people in an area. Mostly they provide interesting details about our family members.

I looked in Michigan for Mike’s Nolans, expecting to find an Agricultural Schedule. I did, but I also found his 2nd great-grandmother, Elizabeth Mary Alpin Nolan (Betty) on the “Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes Schedule.” Oh! . . . Deep breath . . . Not a very friendly—much less politically correct—title, is it?

The 1880 census had a Health section, asking in column 15, “Is the person [on the day of the Enumerator’s visit] sick or temporarily disabled, so as to be unable to attend to ordinary business or duties? If so, what is the sickness or disability?” Most answer “No.” Five check boxes follow, in case the answer is “Yes”:

  • blind
  • deaf and dumb
  • idiotic
  • insane
  • maimed, crippled, bedridden, or otherwise disabled

Not politically correct, remember? So Betty had “yes” and a slash in “insane.”¹

1880 MI census merged 2
1880 Michigan census, John Nolan, wife Betty, sons Michael & John, and Michael’s wife, Theresa.

That created an entry in the other schedule. I found that record image:²

1880 MI census insane
1880 Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes Schedule. Betty Nolan, line 12.

The form has a top (“insane”) and bottom (“idiots”) section. It’s interesting that they wanted the two categories separated. The form also advised the enumerators to talk to the physicians within their district boundaries to obtain names for those individuals, to make sure they were included. Furthermore, the category of “idiot” had instructions to limit it to persons “whose mental faculties were arrested in infancy or childhood before coming to maturity.” Those with dementia, mania, melancholia, epilepsy, etc., needed to be on the other list.

Why am I explaining all that? The instructions are quite specific about who to include or not. It’s important to know the rules that applied in order to understand what we see in the record. I couldn’t just tell the enumerator my husband’s insane—he would have to meet the criteria in the eyes of the enumerator.

So back to Betty.  How do I know this is her? The Non-Population schedule ties her back to the Population Schedule: page 35, line 25. Betty is living “at home” and suffers from melancholia. That doesn’t sound “insane” to me. We have to be careful, though, not to impose our modern interpretation of a word on an older document. So I searched and found:

Melancholia: noun–³

  • deep sadness or gloom; melancholy.
  • dated: a mental condition marked by persistent depression and ill-founded fears.

For an 1880 document, the “dated” definition would seem appropriate. Continuing on, we find the duration of her melancholia has been 20 years, she’s had only one attack, and it occurred at age 40. To me that implies it’s been continuous. It also correlates to her age 60 on the population schedule.

Reading that leaves me a little melancholy! On the other hand, the last three columns end on a somewhat positive note: she does not need to be locked up or restrained (for her own or others’ protection), and she has not been hospitalized or institutionalized. All good news!

Again, you have to consider that era. None of the treatments available now to someone experiencing mental health issues were available then. Problems of the mind were not understood, and people outside the “norm” (particularly women) frequently were locked up, away from their families and the world. It was certainly worth looking for this extra document to clarify what the “insane” mark signified in the Population Schedule.

I will probably never know more about the difficulties Betty experienced, or what might have caused her depression, but I can draw some tentative conclusions:

  • this was a long-term issue for her
  • she didn’t pose a danger to herself or others
  • she was stable enough to remain at home
  • her husband, John, must have loved her—shipping off to an institution was a convenient way to deal with an unpleasant wife/bad marriage—but he didn’t

So, what became of Elizabeth? Well, her husband, John, died 11 January 1886. Elizabeth died 29 January 1900, before the 1900 census was taken. While her death certificate4 doesn’t specifically state where she was living, her youngest son, John, provided the information. It’s likely she was living with him. If she was institutionalized, I’m pretty sure its name would have been on the certificate.

Also, her cause of death was “burnt to entire surface.” I hope no one living in a hospital or institution would have access to open flames! Death by burning (from clothes catching on fire) was not uncommon in earlier times, since fire was used for cooking and heating. There’s no indication this was anything but accidental, so I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt.

Finding a notation in the health section of the census is a bit awkward. It’s easy to gloss over it, think “crazy lady/guy,” and move on. But if we ignore the follow-up records, we do our family members a disservice. This is their story, not ours, so we owe it to them to delve a little deeper into the facts, doing it with care and respect. We come away with a much clearer picture of them than we get from a generic pigeon hole label.

Even if misunderstood in life, we can try to do better for them after death. Looks like I need to go back through my census records and see who else I need to follow up on!

#52Ancestors


¹ 1880 U.S. census, population schedule, Michigan, Saint Clair, Wales, e.d. 393; Page 34B; dwelling number 324; family number 330; line 25; John NOLAN household; accessed 22 August 2018. Betty Nolan, age 60; NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 609; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

² 1880 U.S. census, “Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes schedule”, Michigan, Saint Clair, Wales, Insane Inhabitants, e.d. 393; Page 313742-A (written), line 12, Betty NOLAN; accessed 22 August 2018. Population schedule page 34, line 25; NARA publication; T1164 digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

³ Google Dictionary (using the Oxford Pocket English Dictionary, supposedly, but you know how Google likes to change things up!)

“Michigan Death Records, 1897-1920”, database, Michigan Historical Society, Seeking Michigan (seekingmichigan.org), accessed 24 August 2018, entry for Elizabeth NOLAN, 80, 29 January 1900, citing Wales Township, St. Clair, Michigan, registered no. 15.

Strong Woman

Small, but mighty!

You already met Elizabeth Gertrude Nolan briefly in Valentine. She was born 10 June, 1891, in Smiths Creek, Michigan (west of Port Huron). She was one of 10 children born to Patrick Nolan and Alice Needham–sandwiched right in the middle. I met her at age 88, and knew her only 8 short years. She was the only “grandma” I could lay claim to, since mine died before or just after I was born.

Elizabeth was an itty-bitty thing, Irish through and through, and from what I could tell from the little bit of time I spent with her, pretty feisty. At that time she was living alone in the house at 809 Pingree, in Detroit (it’s still there–Google Map it!), until the dementia that developed in the last few years of her life required her moving to a nursing home, where she could reside safely.

Elizabeth finished the 10th grade. Her father died in 1904, and her mother in 1907. That may have been the event to end her education and propel her to Detroit, working as a governess from 1907-1919. The 1910 census shows her oldest sister, Mary, as the head of household¹ back at the farm, with five of the younger siblings residing with her. I don’t know if Elizabeth sent money back to help with farm expenses, but it’s possible. Living in Detroit no doubt provided the opportunity for her to meet her husband-to-be, Frank, but I don’t know how or where.

He was NOT Irish–rather, Bohemian (a nice catch-all that could include Hungary, Czechoslovakia, that whole region) and some iteration of Germanic (his mother’s maiden name was Schmitt–definitely not Irish!). According to Mike’s mom and aunts, Frank’s parents (Frank and Magdalena) were not particularly happy he was marrying an Irish girl. Consequently their kids did not see much of that side of the family. But when his parents celebrated their 50th anniversary with a big party, the family attended, and Elizabeth made sure the kids all had new outfits (a rarity) for the event. Sue the youngest) had a pink, lacy dress. The occurrence was unusual enough to still be a vivid memory for the girls 60 years later!

Elizabeth had seven children in eleven years; 5 girls and 2 boys. Feeding and clothing that many, especially through the Depression, can’t have been easy. Nevertheless, she managed the children and household, doing the best she could. All the stories I’ve heard of her painted a portrait of a very resourceful woman.

While 1967 may have been “the summer of love” in San Francisco, it wasn’t quite like that in Detroit. Riots were taking place about a mile from the house on Pingree. Elizabeth’s concerned adult children encouraged their parents to pack a couple of bags and come out to one of their houses until the situation settled down. They refused, making for very unhappy children! But they, and their house, survived the unrest.

For all the hard work in her life, she nevertheless knew how to have a good time. Her living room and basement were the site of numerous family gatherings, as evidenced below. I don’t know what holiday this was, in the 1940s or 1950s, but she was certainly living it up! That didn’t really diminish as she aged. The colorful blur in the lower photo (not taken by me!) is her at age 88, dancing the night away with two of her grandsons-in-law–barely keeping up with her.

1950 KUKLER Elizabeth party

Undetermined party–maybe on a New Year’s Eve?1979 08 Denise wedding

August 1979, Elizabeth Gertrude Nolan Kukler (age 88),  dancing at a granddaughter’s wedding with grandsons-in-law!Living 6 1/2 hours away, my opportunities to get to know her very well were limited. But never was there any question in my mind of her strength–not necessarily physical (especially in her late 80s and 90s)–but certainly of spirit. Hopefully some of that has passed down to my daughter and granddaughter (her great- and great-great-granddaughters)!

#52Ancestors


¹1910 U.S. census, population schedule, Michigan, St. Clair, Wales Township, e.d. 125; sheet 10B; dwelling number 226; family number 229; line 74; Mary NOLAN household; accessed 5 March 2018. Mary NOLAN, age 25; NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 673; digital image, Ancestry.com.