This little quote replaced the then current earworm in my head the other day:
Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!1
You might want to know that I really don’t think our ancestors were attempting to deceive me. Anyone who ever heated their home with wood, or tried to put food on the table all year from a garden and a little hunting, or shoveled snow out of a mile long drive with a little shovel for 6 months of winter, or even tried to clear enough trees to make room for a garden, knows that the concerns of each day were more than enough to occupy our ancestors. They did not have time to worry about what remnants of their lives I might have to work with as I try to reconstruct their lives and experience.
After I finished profiling the last of my deed transcriptions that mention Papa’s Burdick ancestors, I stopped to consider how to handle the rest of the book.
Since I love to do things in steps, I scanned all the remaining pages; and found there were 227 in Wexford County, Michigan alone. Holy Cow! Talk about boring, I can not imagine profiling all of them consecutively, and I know no one is interested enough in land records to read the entire mess.
Swinging back to the present, the reason for the transcriptions was to find out more about our ancestors lives. Since both Papa’s family, and my family blessed me with a group of closely associated families in single locations in Wexford County, Michigan, the deeds looked like a bonanza. Papa’s Fenton and Burdick ancestors were living in Colfax, Greenwood and Cedar Creek Townships, Wexford County beginning about 1870. My Johnston, Long and Kaiser ancestors arrived in Cadillac, Wexford County between 1885 and 1890.
The next thing that occurred to me is that these transcriptions tell a lot about the relationships between our ancestors. I find that my problem is how to shift focus from actual transcriptions to the information that they contain about our ancestors. Sounds easy, right? Right.
The project person in me just decided to sort the deeds by “family”. That is where the web came in. Are the deeds in Papa’s family Burdick, Fenton, Fellows, Tinker or Longstreet? Are the deeds in my family Kaiser, Johnston, Long, or Yearnd? Many of them represent members of two or three associated families. We have all heard it a million times, our ancestors lived in communities, not in isolation. Their families, including relatives distant, close, far and near; churches; and neighbors formed the framework that supported their difficult lives. Many of these relationships are described by the stories these deed transcriptions tell. I began to think of the web of relationships, activities and actions that these transcriptions describe.
In this vein, I also thought about how easy is is to be fooled by facts. I found a deed in the Burdick group under which John and Susie (Burdick) Fenton were selling their home in Colfax Township to her brother, Fink Burdick. Knowing that John and Susie adventured out to Iowa, I mistakenly assumed that this sale preceded their migration. The sale was on 2 May 1885, perfect for a spring trip west.
Further checking disappointed me, and also pointed out how easy it is to misunderstand any given “fact”. John and Susie’s son Alfred was born in 1887, an old family history says in, “Colfax, Wexford, Michigan”.
I think, OK, maybe John and Susie lived somewhere else in Colfax for two years. Or maybe they sold out to Fink and continued to occupy the place. Or maybe older family members told the cousin all the family but the youngest was born in Colfax. Or maybe older family members recalled that Colfax and Cedar Creek Township were once united and called Colfax. Or maybe no one knew where Alfred was born and just assumed the Fentons lived in Colfax till they headed out to Iowa. Or maybe Susie went to her mother’s house in Colfax to deliver Alfred. I could go on like this all day, really.
So, instead on continuing the speculation, I checked for a birth record for Alfred in Wexford County on the Family Search site. No luck for Alfred, but there was one for Ross, who was born in 1884, in Colfax Township. Hmmmm. My next source for John P. Fenton is a directory listing, and he is in MANTON, about 1883-1884.2 I do have a birth certificate for the John and Susie’s youngest child, Mary Eliza, who was born in Iowa, 3 April 1890. Hmmmm. I still do not know for sure exactly where Alfred Fenton was born, but I do know that it was probably in Michigan, not Iowa. But, my original assumption about the deed in question being executed just before the Fentons left for Iowa was in error.
I am going to make every effort to post the facts and information recorded in this group of deeds, but I will also try to relate the facts to the framework of our ancestor’s lives. Time will tell how successful that effort will be, but I will bet that I will learn more along the way than I might have anticipated.
- Sir Walter Scott, Marmion, Canto vi. Stanza 17. Scottish author & novelist (1771 – 1832)
- R.L. Polk & Co., Directory of Big Rapids City, Mecosta County : Cadillac, Cedar Springs, Cheboygan, Fife Lake, Harbor Springs, Howard City, Kalkaska, Mackinac, Mackinaw, Petoskey, Reed City, Rockford, St. Ignace, and Traverse City : including also, Alanson, Alba, Ashton, Belmont, Boyne Falls, Crofton, Edgerton, Elmira, Kingsley, Leetsville, LeRoy, Lockwood, Luther, Mancelona, Manton, Maple Hill, Mansfield, Milton Junction, Pierson, Sand Lake, South Boardman, Tustin, Walton, and Westwood : embracing a complete alphabetical list of business firms and private citizens, city officers, churches and public schools, benevolent, literary and other associations, and a complete classified business directory of the above named places. (Detroit: R.L Polk and Company 1884), page 284; digital images, ProQuest LLC, Heritage Quest (http://persi.heritagequestonline.com/hqoweb/library/do/books : accessed 18 November 2009).