Caskets in the City Directory

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Brian’s great-grandfather had an undertaking business.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there!  This was a special one for our family because it was my wife’s first as a mother.  It gives me a whole new appreciation for her, for my mom, and all mothers. I tried to do as much as I could so that she could relax for the day.  I cooked breakfast, changed diapers, did the dishes, and whatever else I could. I was exhausted!!

On the genealogy front, I finally made some progress in the DNA initiative—the one I’d had my Great Uncle Bill do back in December.  I contacted an administrator of the Lindsay DNA groups, and he emailed several Lindsay’s who have also done the DNA test and who have ancestors from around Killinchy Parish in County Down, Ireland.  I wrote up a brief history of my Lindsay ancestors to send to them to see if they have any links.

I continued looking up Detroit City Directories at Fold3.com, and have now gotten through 1879.  Patrick stepped down from his role as a member on the Mt. Elliott Cemetery Board of Trustees in 1872, but continued to serve as Treasurer of St Patrick’s Benevolent Society through 1878, and became president in 1879.  Beginning in 1873, his profession was listed as just an undertaker instead of “undertaker and furniture”.  He saw the opportunity in the market and at this point must have been mildly successful in undertaking to make the decision to sell off the furniture business.  Further supporting this, I found that in 1876, Patrick Blake moved his undertaking business from 27 Michigan Avenue to 27 Lafayette Avenue, which was next door to the family home at 25 Lafayette Avenue.  This ties in with the picture I posted several weeks ago that shows Patrick standing in front of his business, with his wife Eliza sitting on the porch of their home next door.  They moved into this home back in 1871, and had operated his undertaking business out of 27 Michigan Avenue since 1870.
They were only about a mile apart, but I’m sure that when the place next door opened he jumped on the opportunity immediately. Who wouldn’t want to work next door to their home and not have to worry about a commute? Which at the time would have either been a 15-20 minute walk, or a 10-minute carriage ride.  Also around this time, Patrick’s sons started to appear in the directory. James B. appears to have been the first son to join the family business in 1875, and the eldest son, Harry, joined in 1879.  And adding another top 10 find to my growing collection are advertisements for Patrick Blake’s undertaking company!  These began appearing in the 1877 directory, and have appeared in the 1878 and 1879 editions too.  Since it’s a pay site I found the record on, I don’t believe I can share it with you all, but I’ll try to summarize.  He took out about a third of a page in the directory, and on the add there’s a drawing of a horse-drawn hearse, Patrick’s name at the top, the address 25 & 27 Lafayette Avenue, and a description of how they keep “constantly on hand a full line of Caskets, Coffins, and Shrouds, from the richest to the cheapest”, and much more.  What an amazing feeling to read this!  I could imagine how proud he must have felt, being such a hard-working, self-made man, to have an advertisement with his name on it appear in the city directory.  I can’t wait to add this to the family story and share this with my family.
All of these little details, when combined, paint a detailed picture of their lives.  As I mentioned before, at the same time that I’m doing my research, I’m trying to put what I have into a timeline for the Blakes, and then from that I build it into the family story.

After adding a few pictures to the story, like the ones mentioned above of the family business and the advertisement, it’s really starting to come alive.  Just like I learned early on in my research and blogging, having all the facts I’ve gathered is great, but it’s the story that matters most, and putting them together with a narrative and some pictures makes a world of difference.  It’s exciting for me as I continue to add things. There is still a lot of work to go though.  My grandparents announced recently that they are coming to visit again this summer, and I would really like to be able to hand them a rough draft of the Blake Family History containing everything I’ve done so far.
Finally, I’m putting the finishing touches on my Detroit itinerary, and have copies of materials printed out for my mother, my aunt and myself.  We’re counting down the days until the trip. I hope everyone has a great week!


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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