Family Tree Firsts Blog

Family Tree Firsts is a genealogy blog following the adventures of a series of budding genealogists as they work their way through the Family Tree University curriculum and the results of their own family history research.

Genealogy is a journey, not a project

Brian and his son, Garrett, asleep on the couch after a long day of genealogy research.

Brian and his son, Garrett, asleep on the couch after a long day of genealogy research.

Who knew six months could go by as quickly as it did? From a time standpoint, my first blog seems like it was just a few weeks ago, but from a genealogy journey standpoint, it seems as far in the past as can be. So much has happened, both personally and genealogically.

I had never been much of a writer prior to this experience, and while I still wouldn’t call myself a writer, I do feel I’ve improved greatly with practice. Dare I say I started to enjoy writing after a while? As I wrote the early posts, I would often worry if I could keep it up. How could I possibly make enough exciting discoveries to have enough to write about for six months, and how would I keep the readers engaged? Would Tyler, my editor, realize he had made a mistake in picking me, and thus let me go? I struggled with these questions for a bit before I realized that it’s not about making mind-blowing discoveries every week. Who could possibly maintain that? It’s more about the stories along the way. When I took the cemetery trip to Chicago to find the grave of my Great-great-grandfather Rocco Parotto, I was disappointed that there was no headstone. But then I realized that the story behind him not having a headstone is just as interesting as it would have been if I’d found the headstone.

I began my assignment with several main goals, and am proud to say I feel I’ve accomplished most of them. Six months ago I was a disorganized, unfocused “genealogist”. Today I’ve got my files nicely organized, backed up and referenced in my tree with almost-proper citations. I learned a great deal about what sources are available to me through the great courses I took, and also by being persistent and thinking outside the box in my searching. The research-specific goals I had related to finding my ancestors’ homelands, learning more about Rocco Parotto, and finding out what happened to Nelson Blake from 1920 to his death in 1940. Most of the ancestral towns of my family are no longer a mystery. The Blakes hail from Dublin, Ireland, the Lindsays from Ballymacashin, County Down, Ireland, and the Parottos from an Italian town called Calvello, although I need to do a bit more research on that.

Rocco Parotto was a musician, who did his best to provide for his family, although he didn’t even make enough to afford a headstone for himself or for his first-born son, who passed away at a young age. Nelson Blake had a falling out with his wife, and either left or was kicked out of the home between 1920 and 1930. He stayed at various homes until he landed at Oak Forest Infirmary, where he died in 1940.

Looking back at some of the big activities in which I did partake, I realize that I really broke out of the comfort zone. I visited with relatives to interview them, worked with my great uncle to do a Lindsay DNA test, and went to see where the Parotto patriarch is buried. The DNA test didn’t reveal any direct matches, and Rocco didn’t have a headstone, but I am hopeful the future will bring a DNA match, as well as a headstone for Rocco purchased by descendants he never even met (us).

I took Family Tree University classes on tracing my Irish & German roots, learning how to use Google Earth and court records, and many others. Because of these classes I was able to find homelands, wills, pictures of actual homes, and too many other things to list. While these classes, at times, were difficult to keep up with because of my busy schedule, the hard work was worth it because they were so beneficial to my research and development. I can honestly say I wouldn’t have stumbled across many of the research findings that I did without them, and I know they will continue to pay dividends as I continue my research.

Of all these great activities, the ones I rank the highest are my trip to Detroit with my mom and aunt, and connecting with distant cousins online. The Detroit trip was amazing, and though we found great articles and records, my best memory of the trip was walking with my mom and aunt through the streets of the town in Canada in which our ancestors kept a summer home. It was a surreal experience to know they may have sat not far from where we did and looked out over the same view of the Detroit River. Connecting with distant cousins was also a huge highlight for me. It’s neat to build out the tree more with their help, to trade stories, and just to talk with them because not only are we family, but we share the same passion for genealogy.

Since I watch a lot of awards shows with my wife, I think it’s only appropriate that I thank a few people before I wrap up. First, thank you to all the readers who followed my blog. Thanks for sticking with a scatter-brained beginner. Thanks for your comments and support. Thank you to my editor Tyler, the Family Tree University instructors, and the Family Tree Magazine team. It’s been a truly great experience for me. I’ve learned so much about genealogy, my family, and about myself. I appreciate the opportunity more than you know. Finally, thanks to my wife for putting up with my six-month commitment. I know it’s been a lot of late nights and the bags under my eyes are a little more pronounced, but I promise they’ll go away!

So the big question from my introduction is: Was I able to juggle this assignment, along with marathon training, work, fatherhood, family commitments, friends and being an attentive husband? Let’s see… My running miles are slowly increasing, and I still have a job that’s going well. I was able to read to my son almost every night. We are finally nearing the end of the busiest two months of our lives with time spent with friends and family. And best of all, my wife and I managed to spend plenty of time together and had fun all the way. Sleep may have been the only casualty in this journey, so I’d call it a success!

Next for me is an upcoming “presentation” to my Blake side of the family with my findings. I’m looking forward to it, but I’m more excited about taking a long-awaited break after that. I’m sure it won’t be for too long, but even a week will be nice. A few days off of work, research, and hopefully social plans is just what the doctor ordered. Then it’s back to my research, building out more branches of my tree, and who knows, maybe I’ll start my own blog at some point! Crazier things have happened. Writing a blog helped me to put stories to the facts of my research, and bring the trees to life. The second most important lesson I learned is that family history research is about the stories, not just dates and facts. And finally, the most important thing of all is that genealogy is a journey, not a project. The story of family is never-ending and ever-evolving. I wish everyone the best in your research and in your lives. Thank you for following my story!

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

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

In Family Research, Follow the Hot Hand

The "hot hand phenomenon" - the theory that an athlete who has experienced success with a random event has a greater chance of further success in additional attempts.

The “hot hand phenomenon” – the theory that an athlete who has experienced success with a random event has a greater chance of further success in additional attempts.

Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there! Last weekend I celebrated my first Father’s Day with bacon, burgers, outdoor fun with family, and quality time with my son and wife. Not much more a guy could ask for. We also had a wedding this weekend for a cousin on my Parotto side. It was a great time, and was good to spend some time with extended family I hadn’t seen in a while. I got to talk to my grandfather’s sister, with whom I had spent some time last fall talking about family memories and reviewing documents she had collected when she was researching our family history. I also talked with my grandmother’s sister (Neville family). I always make sure to fully enjoy the time we have together, and every time we get together, I need to remind myself to make a better effort at getting out to visit with them.

In an earlier post, I mentioned how Patrick Blake’s father John either died in Dublin, Ireland, or in Canada, just after the family arrived. But either way, I thought he died when Patrick was a baby because that’s what most sources said. There was a conflicting story that said John died when Patrick was a young boy, but with no sources to back this up, I discounted the theory.

This week, as I continued going through my sources to summarize them in my family history story, I read a speech that Patrick made at an undertaker conference in Toronto. Patrick talked of the need for all undertakers and funeral directors to act courteously and professionally at all times to continue to change the public perception of them. He told a story from his past that served as his motivation for pushing for this change. When he was a young boy, he remembered an undertaker coming to the family home to talk with his mother and arrange for a burial. He brought a black casket with him. Patrick recalled him being an intimidating man, and that he was scared of him and the black casket. He ran away from him to hide in his bedroom. This event made him realize that as an adult, after he got into the business, that families are going through very difficult times when they lose loved ones and part of the undertaker’s role should be to comfort and provide relief to the families during this time.

This was a neat story to read and learn more about what type of person my ancestor was, but more importantly, it was a first-hand account of when Patrick’s father actually died. John Blake had made the trek to Canada with the family and had a hand in raising Patrick. This will help in finding the passenger list for their immigration, because now I know to search for both Catherine and John. It will also help me to track their movements in Canada before coming to Detroit, because now I will be looking for John instead of Catherine.

Another big success this week was making contact with another distant Blake cousin!

This relative is descended from Patrick’s son, William Blake. William, and later his son, William Jr., carried on the Blake undertaking business after Patrick’s other sons passed away. We just began corresponding, so not much more to report yet, but that makes four distant cousins I’ve now found, and only two branches left before I will have made contact with a descendent of each of Patrick’s kids that have children of their own. I hope to be able to repeat my living relative search success with my other lines, especially the Parotto line, which I’ve not done much research on as of yet. But just like in basketball or any other sport, you have to go with the hot hand! The Blake findings kept coming, so who am I to stand in the way of progress?

I would normally say “more to come on this next week”, but I don’t believe I can say that this time. Unfortunately, next week will be my last post as the “Family Tree Firsts” blogger, as my six-month assignment is coming to an end. Amazing how fast time flies! Since it will be my last post, it will contain more reflections than new findings, and I can’t promise you I will make many new findings anyways. But what I can promise you is that my last post will definitely exceed the word limit guideline. Sorry! So for the last time, I say – “Have a great week everyone!” Talk to you next time.

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

Family Undertakers and the Wild West

SquareEastWeek two of our crazy June turned out just as we thought it would: Exhausting!

Friday we were in a mad rush to get some things done around the house and to pack because early Saturday morning we were heading out of town for the weekend. We had a family reunion on my wife’s side on Saturday, followed by an early Father’s Day celebration with her family since we won’t see them next weekend. The reunion was a lot of fun! It’s held at a park every year, where the siblings of my wife’s grandfather get together with all their descendants. Unfortunately several of them have passed away, including my wife’s grandfather, but it’s neat that the whole family continues to get together, and it’s fun to talk with the great aunts and uncles. Saturday night I enjoyed watching the Chicago Blackhawks win an exciting game to move on to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in four years! The only downside was that the game went into double overtime, which meant I had to stay up later than planned. Why is this a problem you ask? Well that’s because my wife and I had to wake up at 4:00am to head out for her first triathlon! I was a little tired, but once we got there and the race started, I was filled with excitement for her. She did great and plans to make it an annual event.

Not to worry, I still managed to insert a little research between our activities. In the process of going through my records to record key details & activities into my Blake family history book, I came across an article. It was from an 1886 story in the Detroit Free Press about when Patrick Blake moved his family and his undertaking business from Lafayette Boulevard, where they had been for the last 18 years, to Abbott Street. He had been planning the construction of the new building for years, and it would serve as both the family home and place of business for his growing undertaking empire.

In May of 1886, he had several prominent friends over to inspect the new building. One guest, General George Harrington, was reported as saying that he visited many undertaking establishments across the country, and that this was the best he had seen. The article went on to describe each room in the building, which helped me to visualize what the place looked like. The best part of the article was the description of a room that had family photos. On one wall of this room was a portrait of Patrick and his wife, Eliza, on their wedding day, as well as a portrait of them many years later. Surrounding those two portraits were pictures of each of their children. Being a bit of a “glass half full” guy, I immediately started to think that these pictures are probably still out there today in the possession of a descendant of one of Patrick’s children!

That thought links with my other current focus of trying to find living relatives and map out the full family tree for all of Patrick’s children. I’m more motivated than ever to do this as soon as I can. Of his 10 children, I’ve found that four didn’t have kids of their own. Of the remaining six, one is my great-great-grandfather, and I’ve made contact with relatives from two of the other branches. This leaves three to go! It sounds a bit odd, even to me, but I can’t help but shake a feeling that I’m supposed to keep researching the Blake family because there is something important for me to find. Whether this is the long sought-after answer to the mystery of Nelson’s true birth parents, or some family heirlooms/pictures, I’m not sure, but I know I’m excited about it.

A quick side note: I was watching a history show on Billy the Kid recently, and it got me thinking about my family. In my mind, the “Wild West” always seemed like it was way before any of my ancestors, and a world away from them. When I saw the year Billy was killed, 1881, I realized this was during my ancestors’ lifetimes. Patrick Blake was continuing to build his undertaking business, along with raising 10 children. Rocco Parotto Sr. was roughly 20 years old, and was preparing to move to the US to start a new life of better opportunities.

I wonder what they thought when they read stories in the news about these gunslingers and cowboys in the Southwest? I was surprised to learn that at the time, most media outlets did not see Billy the Kid as the folk hero most see him as today. Using GenealogyBank and several other sites, I saw that people seemed to be happy and relieved when Pat Garrett shot and killed him. Pat was hailed as a hero, while Billy was labeled a murderer and an outlaw. In the minds of most hard-working, law-abiding immigrants, the outlaws of the Wild West probably seemed like troublemakers and hooligans. Interesting! I try to keep an ever-expanding list of key historical events to weave throughout my family histories, because I think it’s neat to learn about the events that occurred in the time of my ancestors, and how these things may have affected them.

Well once again I’ve surpassed the word limit guidelines so I’ll cut it for now. Have a great week everyone!

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

Famous Family Ties

Babe Ruth

Brian learned he has family ties to the Great Bambino, Babe Ruth.

Last weekend marked the beginning of the busiest June I can remember having.

We updated our monthly calendar we have on our fridge, and quickly saw that we have activities packed in every Saturday and Sunday until after the 4 th of July. Weddings, family reunions, birthday parties, graduation parties, etc. Not to mention the stuff we usually have going on. This should be interesting. Just yesterday we had a wedding for a family friend, which was a blast! I love weddings because it’s the only time my “dancing” is considered normal. And in a short while we’re off to my brother-in-law’s house for a barbecue to celebrate his birthday.

One of the graduation parties I mentioned that’s coming up happens to involve my Blake side of the family, with my grandparents coming into town for it. My grandfather’s brother and several aunts and uncles will also be there, and I was just informed they are all excited to see hear about my family research at the party. So now I have a deadline to try to update the Blake tree as much as I can, and build up the story I’m working on so that I have something organized to show them. Pressure!

My focus is now on those two things, so at least I can stay on track for a few weeks. I started reaching out to some of the people on that have Blake’s in their trees, and lo and behold, one of them happened to be a distant cousin! She descends from Patrick Blake’s second oldest child, James Blake. We traded information, and also the living members of our trees. It was so neat to learn that there are other Blakes out there that we didn’t know about. I hope to do this for each of Patrick’s children before the graduation party, so I can have a complete tree of Patrick Blake and all his descendants. I may not be able to cover them all, but the closer I can get, the better. I know my grandfather will love seeing the expanded tree. It’s mind-blowing to see how large of a family came from just two people. The other benefit of doing this is that I firmly believe someone out there has pictures, family stories, letters, etc. from the Blakes in Detroit. What a feeling it would be if I could find that person!

On my Lindsay side, I’ve been corresponding with my Great Uncle Bill for the last several months. He’s working on transcribing all of his father’s journals from a two- to three-year period when he was overseas in the military. I can’t wait until he finishes so I can read it and see what life was like for him. In one of Uncle Bill’s emails, he recalled a story of when his mother came to visit him and his wife back around 1975. While she stayed with them, she went to go visit one of her husband Walter’s old friends from his time working at WMAQ, a Chicago radio station. His name was Hal Totten, and he and Walter became very good friends over the years. His health was in decline, and so my great-grandmother wanted to visit with him one last time. Uncle Bill mentioned that Hal used to be a sportscaster for the Chicago Cubs, and was pretty well known.

I looked him up on the internet that night, and what I found amazed me. 1924 was the first year the Chicago Cubs began broadcasting their games on the radio, and he was one of those first sportscasters. He continued calling play-by-play until 1935, when he moved to another station. In 1933, he even interviewed Babe Ruth! Just a year before, in 1932, the Cubs played against Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees in the World Series. For anyone who is familiar with the Cubs, it will not come as a shock that they didn’t win that series. But in this series was the infamous scene where Babe Ruth reportedly called his one homerun by pointing with his bat to the outfield. And then he did just that! But the interview refutes that story. Babe Ruth was quoted as saying “Hell, no, I didn`t point. Only a damned fool would do a thing like that. . . . I never really knew anybody who could tell you ahead of time where he was going to hit a baseball. When I get to be that kind of fool, they`ll put me in a booby hatch.”

This was backed up by the opposing pitcher from that at-bat, Charlie Root. Charlie told Francis Powers of the Chicago Daily News that “if he had made a move like that-well, anyone who knows me knows the Babe would have wound up on his posterior. He would have got my hard, hard pitch. I mean hard and I mean inside.” Charlie firmly rejected the idea that The Babe pointed at the outfield for the rest of his life. I looked more into this on Wikipedia, newspaper articles, and other internet sites, and found that Babe Ruth did appear to point his bat at something. This can be seen on video. The question is, what was he pointing at?

Some sources say he was pointing at the outfield, others at the pitcher, and many other theories. It will remain a debated topic, but I guess I tend to lean towards believing the pitcher. Even in today’s game, if a player was to showboat in front of a pitcher, he can probably expect to see a pitch being thrown somewhere in the vicinity of his head. Fun stuff to ponder though. And it’s neat to hear that a friend of my grandfather was somewhat involved in the legend! I can imagine them hanging out on a porch one afternoon talking about it. You can find this story at the following link:

That’s all for me today. 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:

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 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 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:

From Detroit to Canada: A Genealogy Whirlwind

Mt. Elliott Cemetery

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:

Caskets in the City Directory


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, 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:

Planning for a Genealogy Getaway

Burton Historical Collection

The Burton Historical Collection (BHC) of the Detroit Public Library began as the private library of Clarence Monroe Burton. The BHC is both a repository of records of the past and a workshop of historical activity in the present, with emphasis on the history of Detroit and Michigan from the time of settlement in the 17th century to the present.

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Although by the time you read this I’m sure it will be closer to nueve de mayo. This week I put my German search to the side and was focused on trying to prepare for my upcoming Detroit trip with my mother and aunt to research my Blake family. It’s going to be a one-day event packed full of research.

Using, I made a list of my Blake ancestors buried in Mt. Elliott cemetery, and for some, the specific location of their grave. Most of them seem to be buried in the same section. I am hoping that when we visit the cemetery, we will find important information transcribed on the tombstones, and possibly additional family members I don’t know about. This may also help to lead to more living family members.

After the cemetery, we’re traveling to the Burton Historical Collection within the Detroit Public Library. This collection contains old newspapers, probate files, vital records and church records. I know that the family attended St. Aloysius church beginning in 1973, so the church records should hopefully contain my Great-great-grandfather Nelson’s baptism record! This record could solve the mystery of who Nelson’s parents were, so even if this is the only record I find, I will count the trip a success. I’m working on a list of important events like births, deaths, etc., so we can better utilize our time while we’re there. Depending on what we find at the library, we may or may not head to the courthouse. With my courthouse class recently concluded, I feel a bit more confident I can navigate through the courthouse and find additional records.

Next our plan is to cross the border into Canada to drive past the area where the Blake’s stayed in the summer. I learned from the woman I mentioned last week that the actual home burned down in 1940, and the area has been modified over the years, but it will still be neat to be in the area. If we have enough time, we may stop at the Marsh Collection of Amherstburg. Essentially it’s a historical collection of records, newspapers, etc., for the area. I spoke with their receptionist over the phone and she said they have a large file on the Rosebank farm. They close around 4:30pm though, so we may be crunched for time. Following up on last week’s find that the Van Dyke family owning the property in Rosebank may be the same family to which the Blake’s pastor belonged: I found them in the 1860 census, but the father is listed as James Van Dyke, while on pastor Earnest Van Dyke’s obituary, it lists his father as Peter. Still looking into this one.

It’s an awful lot to pack into one day, I know, but it’s all we have so we’ll need to make the most out of it. Having three of us working together should definitely help, but I still get tired just thinking about it.

I decided to subscribe to recently, and I must say it’s a pretty cool site! They have tons of military records, but what I’ve been focused on is the city directories. For Detroit they have from 1861 to 1923. So far I’ve covered up until 1872. I was able to find my Third-great-grandfather in these directories, see his profession listed, as well as his address. It also lists members of different organizations, so I’ve been able to see him listed in his role on the board for Mt. Elliott Cemetery and of St. Patrick’s Benevolent Society, which was responsible for organizing the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration and helping to relieve Irish immigrants wherever there was need in the city. Using the addresses with Google Earth, I’m able to plot out where he and his family lived through the years.

Finally, I requested some records through the Family History Library. My cousin works at a local library that doubles as a Family History Center, and she put through the order for me. One of the records is Nelson’s marriage record to his wife, Matilda.

Lots of things going on this week, and waiting on multiple replies and inquiries, so it’s an exciting time in my research! Time to get at least a few hours of sleep. Have 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:

A Handful of House History

My wife and I took our son on his first vacation this weekend. It involved a flight, and when I did the math in my head I got: flight + teething = noisy baby. But I’m proud to say our son did great! The trip involved lots of quality time with family, as well as a visit to some historic Revolutionary War sights. We got to see part of the trail that Paul Revere road when he alerted the towns that the British were coming, and the bridge where the first bullets were fired. Very cool to experience firsthand. As of yet I haven’t found a family line that was in America during this time, but I’m hopeful one of my unexplored lines will surface.

My Klenzendorf momentum proved to be a little too much to maintain for long. I figured the next logical step was to find the passenger list for when my Third-great-grandfather John came to the US. I already had the specific date from the naturalization record, so how hard could this be? I searched, SteveMorse and others, but to no avail. I also tried using different spelling variations, but that didn’t work either. I’ll continue searching over the next week.

Another Blake find was in the form of a message board response to something I had posted recently. I was looking for any information I could find on a “Rosebank farm” in Canada, where my Blake ancestors apparently spent their summer. A kind lady replied with a picture of the home, and some facts she had gathered from a book written about the area. It looked like an amazing home, and may have housed General Custer at one point.

However, there doesn’t seem to be any record of the Blake’s owning this property, so perhaps they rented it? But then I saw that the owner was G. Van Dyke. Could this be a potential family member of the Rev. Van Dyke? Rev. Van Dyke was the pastor of my ancestors’ church from 1873 to sometime after 1910. He baptized most of their children, officiated their weddings, and served with them in various associations and charitable organizations. From the sound of it, they had a close relationship with him, and so if he was related to G. Van Dyke, then perhaps that’s how my ancestors were able to use the home during summers. Yet another tree to climb.

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: