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 Ancestry.com 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.

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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, FamilySearch.org 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, FamilySearch.org


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 Ancestry.com 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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