From Detroit to Canada: A Genealogy Whirlwind

Mt. Elliott Cemetery

Brian at Mt. Elliott Cemetery in Detroit.

Mental overload!  Last Sunday I returned home from my whirlwind trip to Detroit with my mother and aunt to investigate our Blake roots, and my brain is full of new knowledge, leads and questions.

It was roughly a 6-hour drive to Detroit, so we left around 1:00 am, on what was technically Friday, although it felt like Thursday had barely finished.  This meant that we would have a few more passengers joining us for the trip – coffee and his cousins, iced latte and Red Bull.  We made great time on the drive, and by 8:00am we were in Detroit.

The first stop was Mt. Elliott Cemetery, where many of the Blake’s were buried.  We quickly found the section we knew them to be buried in, and we split up to search for the headstones.  After 10 minutes of searching with no luck, I started to worry that this may end up like my cemetery visit back in December to search for my Parotto ancestors.  Maybe my ancestors’ headstones were long since covered by grass, and we would not be able to find them unless we scraped the dirt and grass off every headstone.

Just as I was getting ready to check with the office again, I stumbled across Catherine Blake’s headstone.  On it, she was listed as “Mother of P. Blake”!  A wave of excitement rushed over me as I yelled to my mother and aunt to come take a look.  I continued walking down the row of graves, discovering more Blake headstones!  In total, we found about 15 headstones that consisted of Blake’s, and several “in-law” families.  We found my Third-great grandparents Patrick and Eliza, my Fourth-great grandmother Catherine, Eliza’s parents, Felix & Helen O’Rafferty, six of Patrick & Eliza’s children, and a few more.  They were all buried together in a small plot. We also found that in front of their family lot, they had a small concrete step that had P. Blake inscribed on it.  He must have reserved this large area back when he was on the Board of Trustees of Mt. Elliott Cemetery.  We paid our respects to our ancestors of long ago, and headed back to the car.

From the cemetery, we headed over to the Detroit Public Library to check out the Burton Historical Collection.  The Burton Historical Collection houses old church baptisms, marriage records, city directories, biographies, city histories and more, so we knew we would be spending quite a bit of time here.  Unfortunately, the parking meters only allowed two hours at a time, so that meant I would make a few trips back out to replenish the meter.  But on the positive side, I wasn’t able to get a run in this weekend, so my parking meter jaunts would at least be some type of exercise.

Once inside the library, we got our bearings on where everything was, and divided the responsibilities up.  I would search the old church records on microfilm, my mom would go through the Detroit history books, and my aunt would look through the city directories and other sources.  I was hoping to find a baptism record for my Great-great-grandfather Nelson Blake so I could finally solve the mystery of whether he was Patrick’s son, or Patrick’s grandson (mentioned in a prior post).

Unfortunately I did not find any baptism record for him, so that mystery remains unsolved.  However, it did raise a few new questions for me.  Was Nelson born to Patrick’s eldest son Harry and his wife Nellie before they were married, and so the church wouldn’t baptize him? This would support the idea that Harry and Nellie had to give him to Patrick to raise.  Or another option is that perhaps Nelson was not born in Detroit? Maybe he was born in another city of Michigan, or possibly even Canada. While I was very disappointed I didn’t solve the mystery that I hoped would finally be solved, I was happy with the other information we found.  We narrowed down Patrick’s relocation from Canada to Detroit to within a few years.  We found some old articles on Patrick in a local genealogy society’s newsletters, and we also found quite a few obituaries on the Blakes.

Around 2:30 pm, we still had plenty of resources to search through, but we decided to head over to Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada, to see if we could find any proof of where the Blakes actually stayed.  We made it just in time before the Marsh Collection closed.  This collection houses information on the local history of Amherstburg.  Since I had called a few weeks earlier, the lady who was working had a folder set up for us with the information specific to our group.  We found many old articles on the Rosebank Farm, and best of all, we viewed a 1901 Amherstburg tax collections roll.  On this file was none other than Patrick Blake!  So he did, in fact, own a summer home here.

Truthfully, I don’t even know all that I’ve gathered so far because we found so much. I’m so excited to go through it all and see what new facts, clues, etc. we can gather.  Hopefully next week I will have sorted through the mess.

Thanks for reading, 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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