A Case Study in Brick Wall Busting

Happy Memorial Day!  I’m enjoying my day off, writing my blog and doing some things around the house with my wife.  In honor of the military, this weekend I ran a 10-mile race at Soldier Field in Chicago (the Chicago Bears NFL stadium). It’s my second year doing the race, and I really enjoy it because I get to run onto the field and appear on the jumbotron as I finish!  I did not enjoy the way my legs felt the next day, but small price to pay.

This week I tried to organize and review all that we had found from our research trip.  For starters, while we had a very productive trip with great finds, I am still a bit disappointed I didn’t resolve who my ancestor Nelson’s true parents are.  This is still my mission though, and will thus keep plugging away.  I have not exhausted all sources yet, so I’m trying to keep an optimistic attitude.

After thinking more about the information I didn’t find, I realized that I should try to narrow my scope.  Nelson was not in the Baptism records for the church his family attended, even though his older brother who was born two years earlier was.  But remembering from before that Nelson was not listed as a sibling to any of his “brothers and sisters” in their obituaries or FindaGrave.com memorials, and he was not listed as a son to Patrick or Eliza in their obituaries, this would lead me to believe that one of the following three theories is the answer:  (1) Nelson was born and baptized elsewhere, such as Canada. (2) Nelson was born out of wedlock to Harry and his yet-to-be wife, Nellie, and so he couldn’t be baptized in the church. (3) Nelson was born to Harry and Nellie, but they attended a different church than Harry’s family, so Nelson was baptized there.

I checked the birth records on FamilySearch.org to see if anything showed up for Windsor, Canada or Detroit, but nothing did.  Then I stumbled across their Probate collection, and found the references to the case for Eliza Blake’s estate after her death in 1896.  There were individual indexes for her husband, each of her children and several of her grandchildren.  They essentially just stated each person’s relationship to her and the case number.  But Nelson was not included in the index.  This was troubling to find because even if he did turn out to be Harry’s son instead of Patrick’s, that would still make him Eliza’s grandson, and so I’d assume he would be included in the estate like the other grandchildren.

This opened up two new possibilities for my hunt – (1) Did Nelson have some kind of following out with his family? He left for Chicago sometime between 1890 and 1900, so maybe it was on bad terms? (2) Was Nelson potentially an orphan who was raised by the Blake family, but not an actual Blake? In referencing back to Eliza’s obituary from the Detroit Free Press, it says “..she raised several orphan children at her own expense and afterwards made it possible for them to earn their own livelihood.”

I’ll consider this last possibility, but am still leaning more towards Nelson being Harry’s son who may have been raised by Patrick and Eliza.  If only the story that stated he was born to Harry was sourced!  I still have a few more ideas to investigate, so hopefully one of them won’t be a dead-end.  I still need to find Harry’s obituary and probate record for his will.

On a more positive note from our trip, my mom and aunt found a 3-page story on Patrick Blake from the Detroit Society for Genealogical Research Magazine, volume 66.  It basically is an interview with him where a reporter is asking him questions about his life and undertaking career!  It’s a very neat story and very well written because I can visualize the interview in my mind as I’m reading it, and it almost helps me to get to know my ancestor a bit.  It says that on average they did 600-800 funerals per year, for almost 30 years.  For quite a few years, in addition to the business they got from families who chose their firm, they would also get all of the city and county appointed funerals.  In total, he estimated 20,000-24,000 funerals in all.  I previously thought this figure to be an exaggeration because I thought he mostly just sold coffins for the first 5-10 years, but apparently he did funerals during those years too, in addition to running his furniture business.

He also told of a story where a man was leaving town and wasn’t sure if he would ever be back.  He prepaid for his mother’s funeral since she was elderly and not in good shape, and he wanted to ensure she would be taken care of.  It turns out that a little over a year after he left, he was killed.  His body was returned to Michigan, and they did the funeral for him instead of his mother, who was still living.  What a story!

Well, I’m off to enjoy the rest of this holiday, have a great week everyone!

Family Tree Firsts is an ongoing blog series featuring newbie genealogist Brian Parotto of Hampshire, Ill.

Here are some of the tools Brian is using to launch his genealogy education. Check them out:


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