The Uncle Who Was Really a Grandfather

A group of children at a District School near Corsicana. Brian discovered that a great-great-uncle was really his Third-great-grandfather. Photo compliments of the Library of Congress

A group of children at a District School near Corsicana. Brian discovered that a great-great-uncle was really his Third-great-grandfather. Photo compliments of the Library of Congress

Last weekend was finally a free weekend!  We had no plans to be anywhere except for my wife heading to a baby shower on Sunday for my brother and his wife.  That meant time to get some good research in, as well as clean the house & spend some time with my son.

This week I wanted to continue focusing on the Blake side, and specifically to find out why my Great-great grandfather Nelson is not mentioned as Patrick’s son in any of the stories, obituaries, or articles that I’ve found. One article, found in “Chronography of Notable Events in the History of the Northwest Territory and Wayne County” by Fred Carlisle, may be just the clue I need to solve this.

This article summarizes Patrick’s life as an important figure in Detroit’s history, and lists his children.  All are listed, as well as Nelson, although it goes to say that Nelson was actually born to Patrick’s oldest son Harry, but that Patrick adopted him.  That means that Nelson’s “father” Patrick was actually his grandfather, and his “siblings” were actually his aunts and uncles.  It would also move Harry into my direct line as my Third-great-grandfather, and Patrick would now be my Fourth-great-grandfather.  Hopefully that makes sense—I know it sounds crazy!

Before I got too excited about this new find and started re-arranging my tree, I remembered the biggest lesson I’ve learned so far—validate all stories with documented proof before accepting it as truth.

Knowing that I have not yet been able to find Nelson’s birth certificate meant I would have to focus on learning more about Harry, who up until now I had not looked into. Starting with an 1880 census, Harry (aka Henry) was married to Nellie Palmer and they just had their first child (or was it their second!) the year before.  Harry was about 24, and Nellie was about 23.  Nelson was born in 1875, so that would have made them 19 and 18 at the time. Perhaps they weren’t married yet? The circumstances seem to fit, but to confirm this is true I’d like to find Nelson’s birth certificate, Harry and Nellie’s marriage certificate or index, and Harry or Nellie’s obituaries to see if they mention Nelson. I found the church that the Blake family attended in Detroit—it’s still around today—so I sent them an email to see if they would happen to have old records on my family.

Continuing my research on Harry, I found him in the 1900 and 1910 census, although they show him being married to Mary Blake instead of Nellie.  However his daughter Eliza was still living with them (21 at the time), as well as sons William (b. 1881) and Joseph (b. 1895), so maybe it was the right person…but what happened to Nellie, his first wife?

Well, according to the Ontario, Canada deaths collection in Ancestry.com, she died in 1883 of jaundice.  The location was the same county where Harry’s father Patrick kept a summer home, as well as where Harry and Nellie’s daughter Eliza was born.  That would explain why Harry was married to Mary in 1900, and also why there was such a large gap between his sons William and Joseph.  Nellie died 2 years after William was born, Harry and Mary wed in 1888 and had Joseph in 1895, according to the 1900 census.  Marriage certificates would confirm this is indeed what happened, but I’m pretty confident I’m on the right track.

I’m looking forward to diving into this more throughout the week, and hopefully hearing back from the church.  I’m also excited to begin my new class, Irish Research 201!  Have a great weekend!


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


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