Treasure Chest Thursday: Antique Store Find

The popular TV show American Pickers capitalizes on one of my favorite pastimes…treasure hunting. So, it’s Thursday and in the spring, summer, and fall, that usually means I am out in search of yard sales. But, alas, we have had a deluge so far today (and miserable weather in general so far this spring) and I’m not sure too many people will be setting up their treasures for me to pick through. So what’s a picker to do?

Go to an antique store, you say? Well that’s just what I did on Tuesday. I was in search of vintage sewing treasures and a large basket to help with my interpretation of Mary Davis, my alter ego that I portray as a Civil War reenactor. I recently discovered that she was an early milliner in Plymouth where I live, and I’m adding that skill to my repertoire. But I digress…

As I was scouring the treasures, I found a booklet called “The Family.”

The Family

I often feel the need to rescue documents such as these from antique stores, estate sales, yard sales, etc. That’s why I have a lot of organizing to do in my office. In this case, I bought the pamphlet because as an archivist I feel that it needs to either be in the hands of descendants or in an appropriate archives being preserved.

There is not a ton of information in this pamphlet, but it would still be a gold mine for any descendants who don’t have the information that was handwritten in here, probably by the mother, Essie Brooks Tower. The date of publication of the booklet is 1905, so much of what was written was entered after the fact and is subject to Essie’s memory and information passed on to her. So it is a secondary source that would need to be corroborated with primary documents.

Husband page

Wife page

Wife's Family page

Children page

I checked on to see if there were any family trees already created on this family and I did find some. There was one listing a child, Lillian Irene Tower, born after Essie stopped filling in data in this family booklet. That listing has the best possibilities as the information is somewhat sourced and looks like it might have been added by a descendant who had personal knowledge of the family.

I am still undecided whether I should send this to an archives, perhaps in Charleston, Illinois, where Essie and her first child, Harold A. Tower, were born, or whether I should make it available to a descendant (possibly the one who created the tree on Ancestry). I’m torn because apparently someone in the descendant chain gave up the document at some point, as it did end up in an antique store in Livonia, Michigan. How it came to be there, I will never know. But, readers, should this wonderful, handwritten document go to a worthy descendant or to an appropriate archives? I’d like your opinions, so I am creating a survey.

I’m interested to hear what others have done when they’ve found treasures that don’t necessarily relate to their own family. Please comment here.

Published in: on 19 May 2011 at 12:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Madness Monday: The Peter Burger Enigma

One cold, winter evening in late April(!) this year, I was bopping around on the Internet and decided to see what I could find on one of my Kelley collateral relatives. I was preparing for a talk that I gave last Friday at the National Genealogical Society Conference in Charleston, SC, called “Effective Internet Searching.”

My Kelley ancestors arrived in the U.S. from England in 1872-73. William Joseph Kelley and Julia Matthis Kelley had 10 children, nine of whom made the journey, including my great-grandfather Frederick William Kelley. Over the years I have done extensive research on the rest of Fred’s siblings (with the exception of his oldest brother Joseph Richard–whom I have just recently had success with, but that’s another blog). I’ve been able to fully document eight of the nine kids that came to Detroit with their parents. The life of Sophia Kelley and her spouse, Peter Burger, were the holdouts.

I knew that Sophia and Peter are buried in Woodmere Cemetery in Detroit, because they’re in the same plot as Sophia’s parents, so I started there. A quick Google search for “Woodmere Cemetery” uncovered the website¬† Detroit’s Woodmere Cemetery Research.¬†Gail Hershenzon has created a fabulous searchable database of the cemetery cards, containing all of the juicy information that family historians crave. I was like a kid in a candy store searching on this site, finding many more relatives than I realized were buried there. Since I knew Peter was there, I searched for his entry and found the following:

Peter Burger's cemetery card from Woodmere Cemetery, Detroit

The item that naturally caught my eye was “pistol shot” under the disease heading. Since it doesn’t say whether the shot was self-inflicted or whether Peter was murdered, the next step was to try to find an official death record. Thankfully, has been indexing Michigan death records and posting the entries along with digital images. I quickly found Peter’s death record on the FamilySearch Record Search pilot search (I didn’t find it on FamilySearch’s new search) and discovered the pistol shot was suicide:

Peter Burger death record,

Suicides often prompt other possible records to be created, including newspaper articles and coroner’s reports. I wasn’t able to quickly find any coroner’s reports on the Web, but I was able to find a couple articles about Peter’s suicide through my local library. The Plymouth District Library in Plymouth, Michigan, offers library card holders remote access to the Detroit Free Press from 1831 on, which is a great boon to Detroit research. I logged on and found, among others, the following from the 3 March 1893 edition:

So the mystery of Peter’s death was solved within a matter of minutes by using a combination of websites and records. The remaining question about Peter and his wife Sophia was when and where were they married? I had previously searched for their marriage in Detroit records and had come up empty handed.

So I hopped over to and uploaded a very small GEDCOM as a family tree. That crazy little leaf that Ancestry incessantly advertises quickly popped up with a hint for Peter. It was a possible marriage record! And the marriage took place somewhere unexpected: Windsor, Ontario–across the river from Detroit. I had never thought to look there. But the record clearly shows that it is the marriage of my Peter Burger and Sophia Kelley:

Burger-Kelley Marriage Record, Windsor, Ontario

Near the bottom of the record is the clue for why the couple crossed the river to say their vows–Peter was Catholic and Sophia was Protestant. In 1890 Detroit, mixed marriages were still problematic and it was evidently a quick process to get married in Windsor, no questions asked.

The moral of my story here is that while not everything is on the Internet (I hear that thought repeatedly!), it is possible to find fabulous clues and maybe even digitized original records if you use creativity in your search. Now I know more of the story of Peter Burger and Sophia Kelley.

Happy Monday!

Published in: on 16 May 2011 at 8:48 am  Leave a Comment  
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Gilligan’s Epitaph

I grew up watching Gilligan’s Island on TV. It aired from 1964 to 1967 and was one of my favorite shows. The theme song still resonates, “Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip…” It was a fun show that helped exotic travel ideas grow in my mind. So when I had to write an epitaph of someone for an English assignment when I was in my junior year of high school, I naturally chose Gilligan. Picture this on Gilligan’s tombstone:


I led the normal life of any


Human being

Until the seven of us



After that my self



And I got kicked around by my



I usually got the brunt of the

Criticism, work

And mistakes.

But I have them to thank for letting me keep




Published in: on 15 May 2011 at 11:04 pm  Comments (2)  
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Plant Lady (In Honor of My Mother)

[I wrote this article about my mother when I was in a photojournalism class as a sergeant in the Marine Corps in 1981. I post it today to honor my mother on Mother’s Day as she mends from a traumatic injury.]

She’s called the Plant Lady.

To earn this title, Phyllis Kelley has spent many dedicated years bringing ailing plants back to life. Children, customers and neighbors bring plants to Phyllis knowing she will return them healthy.

Phyllis, a 25-year resident of Glenview, Ill., divides her time between two jobs, three greenhouses, a garden, and her husband. At her daytime job, she is a secretary for Ducks Unlimited, a non-profit organization that develops breeding sites for ducks.

It’s at night that she really blossoms. That’s when she makes herself known to the public as the Plant Lady. About 15 hours a week, Phyllis can be found pruning plants, watering them, and in general, giving them all the love they need to flourish. She works at Amlings Flower Shop. Customers ask for the Plant Lady when they have a particular growing problem.

At home, she rarely sits down. What little time she has left after her jobs must be divided between 500 plants in two window greenhouses and a walk-in greenhouse. And then there’s her vegetable garden.

The garden has helped reduce the cost of food. Every year she plants tomatoes, green peppers, broccoli, pole beans, radishes, and cantaloupe. Some of the fruit and vegetables are eaten after picking, but the bulk are frozen for winter use.

Most of the plants in the greenhouse are there for her pleasure. She thrives on anything unusual. “Anybody can grow a geranium and get it to bloom,” said the lively brunette. “But getting a Bird of Paradise to bloom takes a lot more effort.”

The exotic plants she enjoys most are orchids. A few years ago she took a night school course in Orchid Culture. Since then she has acquired more than 200 varieties. She is a member of the Indoor Light Gardener’s Association and the Illinois Orchid Society.

Her responsibilities don’t stop there. Every year, she supplies plants for the bazaar at her grandchildren’s school. In September, she transplants baby plants into new pots so they will be well adjusted by Christmas time. Then she donates the plants to the bazaar so children can buy their parents inexpensive gifts.

Phyllis said she has been growing anything with roots since she was old enough to walk. Her father was a gardener and she was his shadow. She remembered the first plant she rooted. It was a rosebush called Paul Scarlet. She took one of its climbers and bent it to the ground. She said she didn’t know what she was doing, but a few days later the new plant took root. And her plant story has grown from there.

Her children tell friends they were raised in a jungle. Her husband cringes every time she comes home, wondering where she’ll put the new plant. Phyllis said he drew the line at the bedroom. He said he needs one room in the house where he doesn’t have to worry about being strangled in his sleep.

What’s in store for the Plant Lady? More courses in plant culture, more organizations, and more donations for her grandkids. Does she ever want to own a greenhouse as a business? “Tomorrow would be swell,” said the Plant Lady.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I know you can’t read this, and I know you’re in some pain, but know you are loved and appreciated.

Published in: on 7 May 2011 at 8:14 pm  Comments (4)  

Ode to Sue

Here’s a poem that I wrote to my older sister, Sue, back in December 1977. The sentiments are still true today and I want to share them after spending the last five days with Sue as we worked through some health issues with our mother.

Ode to Sue

Although she started life before me
And grew up before I came to know her
She means an awful lot to me
Which this poem ought to show her.

We’ve had our ups, we’ve had our downs
And somehow passed our eighteens,
It wasn’t easy, there were frowns,
Was it something in the genes?

Our aspirations lay in different spheres,
Hers in the art of mother and wife
Raising kids with minimal fears
Leading a relatively normal life.

As I walk down the lonesome road
As my career looms before me,
It helps to lighten the load,
Knowing my big sister’s behind me.

This picture is from about 1959. I’m the towhead on the left (am back to being a towhead today!), my next older sister Pat is in the middle, and the oldest sister Sue is on the right. Love our matching outfits!

Published in: on 6 May 2011 at 10:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Old Golf Road

I’m not in a good place mentally today because of a death and injuries my mother sustained in a fall yesterday, so I’m going to jump right into one of my favorite short stories that I wrote back in the early 1970s, called “The Old Golf Road”:

There is a street that runs from Evanston [Illinois] to Elgin. This street goes by many names: Evanston-Elgin Rd., Golf Rd., Rt. 58, Emerson, Simpson–just to name a few. About ten years ago, this street was lined with farm houses and acres of land. Between Des Plaines and Schaumburg Golf Rd. was one lane. The condition of the road wasn’t the greatest, but it was a beautiful drive.

There wasn’t many stores or gas stations along the way, just fields upon fields of crops, as far as the eye could see. At one point there was a quaint farm house with an adorable little water well perched on top of the hill.

The well does not exist any longer. A few years ago it was torn down and now only the broken pieces of wood remain. Very little, if any, of that farm land is still undisturbed. So many changes have taken place along that one stretch of road that a visitor that hasn’t been here for ten or fifteen years wouldn’t even recognize it as being the same peaceful road.

First, they started moving houses. They moved one house about four miles down the road, for what purpose, who knows? Then little by little shopping centers started popping up. Golf Mill shopping center in Niles was the only shopping center in that whole area for many years. Now, within a one mile span there are approximately ten or eleven such shopping centers, four on one corner!

Further down the road they built the world’s largest shopping center under one roof, Woodfield. And of course, the addition of this huge new center means widening the roads to allow for the traffic that goes in and out each day. In that specific area now, Golf Rd. gets as wide as four lanes. The rest of the road, aside from the Woodfield area is now a two lane highway.

Woodfield wasn’t the only big addition. Since that was built, a number of other shopping centers have gone up around it, such as Woodfield Commons. And on one side of the road for a stretch of about six blocks is a row of car dealers, one right after the other. A little bit down the road from that there is another row of furniture dealers. The whole area is becoming commercialized beyond belief.

Aside from shopping centers, Golf Rd. has become populated with an abundance of apartment buildings and complexes. Restaurants have overdone their welcome, also.

Stoplights have taken over the streets. Where there used to be one stop light every couple miles, there is practically one every block. From Glenview to Des Plaines along Golf Rd. there are eleven stoplights. That is a five mile stretch! City driving can’t be much worse.

For the shopper, all these new developments are great. Anything he could think of wanting is not more than a couple miles away, much different than in years gone past. But for the naturalist or even someone that just enjoys beautiful things, good old Golf Rd. is a thing of the past.


I haven’t lived in the Glenview/Des Plaines area of Illinois for more than 30 years. I can only imagine what my teenage self would have thought of the developments along Golf Road today. I think I was nostalgic way before my time.

Published in: on 30 April 2011 at 8:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Opening Day ’74

I am a Chicago Cubs fan–but I’m the kind of fan that the word “fanatic” was created for. I love the Cubs, despite their ups and downs and the fact that they haven’t won a World Series since 1908 (what’s winning anyway?). And despite the fact that I turned the TV off last night in the bottom of the 3rd inning when the Cubs were losing 10-1, I still live and breathe Chicago Cubs.

That’s why I was thrilled to find the following short story in my stack of writings from years past. This story is even more apropos because my husband Marty and I went to Cubs spring training in Mesa, Arizona, this year–a dream I’ve had for much of my life. Enjoy my enthusiasm about Opening Day 1974 [again, I’ve left the spelling and punctuation as written in 1974]:

We were crazy little kids. Fanatics, they called us. From the last day of the previous season we counted down the days toward opening day of the next season. We just couldn’t get enough of it. We followed them through spring training, trying our hardest to get down to Scottsdale to see them in person [The Cubs used to play spring training in Scottsdale; now they play in Mesa, Arizona]. Of course we were never successful, but we sure tried. By the time opening day rolled around, I had already memorized the batting averages of each of the players (not to mention their birthdates, heights, weights, and middle names).

For months we had been planning our trip to the ballpark on opening day. We got up during the wee hours of the morning and bundled ourselves up in layers of clothing (it’s only around forty degrees in the beginning of April). Someone’s parents protestingly drove us to the Skokie Swift at about 6:00 a.m. Our train route was memorized, of course. We didn’t need parents to chaperone us. All the way there, on the Swift and the “L,” we were the only people talking. The anticipation was unsurmountable. In fact it was almost too good to be true–we were actually going to see our favorites in action after a break of seven months! Once again we counted down the stops until we were finally at Addison. Off the train we went, flying down the stairs and around half the ballpark until we were at the gate of the bleachers. The line was already halfway down the wall but for opening day that isn’t too bad.

We ran into all the regulars–Ronnie, who is crazy [this was Ronnie Woo Woo]; Dennis, who has class; Pattie, who always budges in line, plus a few old friends. The reunion was great. We talked about the offseason, the basketball games, and spring training. We still had four hours to go until they opened the gates, but what’s four hours anyway? We strolled around the park many times, stopping in the snack shop and all the sport stores, and walked down to the lake.

And then the Andy Frains [used to be the ushers at Wrigley Field] told us they were opening the gates! One mad rush for the door and we were lost in a huge mob of people. My buddy was the first casualty in the first-aid office. He cut his finger on a piece of broken glass.

Somehow all of us made it in there. After our tickets were paid for, another mad dash was made up the ramp and then down the leftfield catwalk to the corner seats. We had to fight for the best. Now all the fun began. The organist started playing songs like “Havanagela” and “It’s a beautiful day for a ball game.” All the girls would be dancing the Hora and singing to the music.

When batting practice started, we’d try to catch the balls hit to the bleachers. It was always amusing when someone caught a ball but everyone else dove for it, not realizing they were fighting for nothing.

We whiled away the pre-game hours with jokes, autograph hunting, and eating. We went through a lot of food in one day, with the assistance of the vendors who were always there when we needed them.

Finally, after seven months of waiting, there was the announcement of the line-up, the national anthem (which we changed the words to), the umpires meeting at the plate, and then–PLAY BALL!


After many years of not being able to go to Cubs games because I lived too far away, I was able to get to a game in May 2008 with my niece Kristin. We sat in the left-field bleachers very close to where I always sat when I was a kid. Here we are, freezing in May in the left-field bleachers:

And spring training in Mesa this year:

I don’t know if my pictures taken in the 1970s at Cubs ballgames still exist or not. I think that years ago my mother threw away the great scrapbook I kept back then. Alas, you’re stuck with these images.

Published in: on 29 April 2011 at 10:22 am  Leave a Comment  

I have no descendants…

Many genealogists that I know are researching their family history and preserving family documents for their posterity. That begs the question, why do I do family history research, since I have no descendants? Well, I’ve been actively researching my ancestry since the 1970s, long before I knew that I was unable to have children. But my passion for genealogy is rooted in the thrill of the hunt, rather than what I’m saving for future generations.

I do have a lot of extended family members who may or may not be interested in all of the research I have done, so I’ve decided to start this blog to share some of me and some of my findings with them (and anyone else who is interested).

I thought I’d begin with my autobiography that I wrote when I was 11. There are references in the text to images that I removed long ago and no longer remember what was there, but I’ve found some postcards in my voluminous collection that are probably the images referred to. The text is fun to reflect back on and to think that I had lived long enough at that point to write an autobiography, such as it is. Here’s the cover:

Here’s the text with context added in brackets [ ] (I kept original spelling and punctuation):

Liz Kelley

Sept. 7 [1967]

A few days ago we went to Charleston [Illinois]. The first day we ate at the sorority [Delta Zeta where my grandmother was house mother] and slept in the dormitory on the 3rd floor. The next morning we ate breakfast and went into Mattoon. We saw some real oil wells. My Gram showed us the hotel we were going to eat at.

After that we ate at the CCC (Charleston Country Club) and danced to old time music. The next morning after breakfast we went to the Hotel. They’re food’s delicious! Then we went down the Lincoln Trail passed two Historic places that Lincoln lived and the third one was Shiloh Cemetery where Lincoln’s Father and Stepmother were buried. I don’t know how it’s possible but the X is where Lincoln’s father was buried also. [I couldn’t find an X on this postcard, but here’s their grave.]

Then we went down the road aways and came to the copy of the Lincoln Log Cabin. Then we went down the road more and came to the real house Sarah Lincoln lived in. Then we started back for the lake (not Michigan) and went back home. That night we had something like supper but not as much food. We watched T.V. and went home. Next morning after breakfast we got packed and left. We got home at 12:45 A.M. July 16th we went on our Summer vacation. It is in Wis. (King’s Haven Resort) [which no longer exists]. Our beach:

This is our cottage [above]. Here is a picture of Sandy as a baby. [Sandy was a tame deer that visited the resort. I no longer have this picture.]

On the back is a picture of the street where I got most of my postcards on. This is the Main Street. Here is most of the town of Spooner where we stay.

On the next page is a picture of a junkie town we visited. [Don’t know what this was.] The X is the store we bought a lot of grocery’s at. Across the street, the red building, is the gift shop my brother got his goggle and mask at. Then we went back to our cottage. You’ll notice on page 5 the top post card in left hand bottom corner is a little building I forgot to tell you about. [Don’t have this image.] That is the main place where the owners live. It’s called the bar. You can get soda’s and candy and potatoe chips and other things there. I met a girl up there last year, her name is Jennifer Dittmer. This photo is a picture of Sandy right now [the little boy behind Sandy is my younger brother, Scott].

The owners have probably taken Sandy to a deerfarm by now because it is around hunting season and he might get killed.

This is our dog, Pepper.

Well, that’s my autobiography. Guess I don’t need to write one now. Anyway, I’ll put memories and family information up here as time permits. I hope you enjoy.

Published in: on 28 April 2011 at 3:37 pm  Comments (2)