Friday, February 12, 2016

I'm not into genealogy but

finding this yesterday was kind of cool.

I was at the county clerk's office to do research for the historical society. I've mentioned before people pay us to go check the various indexes for births, deaths, marriages, whatever. I had no luck whatsoever with the research request that sent me to the county administrative building, but when I asked the deputy clerk about divorce records, we started looking at the various indexes shelved in the room. She noticed the Declaration of Intention book and had no idea what it was. Neither did I. So we pulled it off the shelf and started flipping through it.

It didn't actually tell me anything I didn't already know, i.e., I knew the date when my grandfather arrived in Baraga County. It didn't come as a surprise to see evidence he was still here a year or two after he got off the train in Summit. At this point in time he was probably still working for his uncle, although at some point he decided to go up to the Copper Country and get a mining job instead.

One thing that did intrigue me was the existence of the form itself. Wherever the Declaration of Intention fell in the bureaucratic scheme of things, it wasn't used very long. The book they're in is the usual humongous volume that's a couple inches thick. The forms start sometime in the early 1900s (I did not look to see when the first one is dated) and go up to about 1905 and that's it. It's a huge book, but less than one-fourth of the forms got used. The deputy clerk and I were speculating (and laughing) about the verbiage on the form. It basically asks resident foreigners to declare that they're not anarchists. I have a hunch this was part of the U.S. Congress's reaction to Leon Czolgosz's assassination of William McKinley in 1901. In any case, we agreed that asking anarchists to swear that they're not would be about as useful as asking members of Al Qaeda to say they were radical terrorists if they happen to try coming into the country. If your intentions are evil, you're certainly not going to be honest about it when you're asked to complete some paperwork. It appears going through the motions, making it look like you're trying to do something even when it's obvious it won't work, has a long tradition in politics.

As for divorces, it turns out there is no index. You need to have a good idea of the date and then just start working your way through them, something I had no interest in doing yesterday. Maybe next week.

A slight digression: I'm never sure if I should be grateful or unhappy that the former historical society president set a firm precedent with the clerk's office of allowing us (the historical society/museum) serve as a proxy for people wanting genealogical information. Under Michigan law, the only index I should be allowed to search is the death index; marriage and birth are both restricted to family members. Thanks to Jim, however, we're able to continue doing the type of research he did for years. There are days (like yesterday) when it's fun to do the work, and other days when I'm totally convinced we need to make our fees much, much higher. And for sure there are days when I silently wish the County Clerk would tell me we can't do it anymore.

And another slight digression: Once again I was blown away by how perfect Martin Voetsch's handwriting was. Of all the county clerks, I think he wrote the best cursive. A couple of his successors also had great handwriting, but he's the only one who wrote in more of a copperplate style than Palmer penmanship. (This is the type of minutiae a person ends up focusing on when they're stuck doing research for money on topics that don't really interest them.)


  1. I could care less about my roots.

  2. My wife did research on a 1832 house we lived in. She went backwards through the deeds and then followed forward through the census records. Earlier census records were really informative, listing members of the house hold, income, worth and even servants.
    the Ol'Buzzard

  3. I am still working on ours...can find grands all the way to the 5th..


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