Western Michigan Genealogical Society
Neal Ball, Cleveland Naps

Neal Ball, Cleveland Naps

I look for the unknown family stories. They’re rewarding. How do I find them? Persistent research on those collateral lines – and luck.

The Williams family of Jamestown Township, Ottawa County & Gaines Township, Kent County was one of my wife’s major family branches in Michigan. Adams Williams was the patriarch and his wife Betsey Bouck the daughter of a Michigan pioneer, Adam Bouck (1830 – Washtenaw County). Adam and Betsey Williams are both buried in Pine Hill Cemetery, Paris Township, Kent County. Both the Williams and Bouck families were of Palatinate German descent and came from Schoharie County, New York.

Adams Williams’ son Daniel married Mary Jane Leman in Niagara County, New York about 1850 and moved to Michigan about 1855, apparently the first of his extended family to go west. Daniel granted land in Gaines Township, Kent county to his father in 1856 and lived in Jamestown, Ottawa county with his wife and two children. Tragically, Daniel died of disease in the “War of 1861,” but by then had four children, the last two born in Michigan. Daughter Emma, born about October 1858 married Albert Smith of Grattan Township, Kent County on 29 July 1875. Albert and Emma begat Maud Smith in July 1882. Maud in 1903 married Cornelius Ball of Grand Haven.

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Family tradition – truth or fiction?

rear: Ada Belle (MEREDITH) BRYANT & Sarah (HARRISON) MEREDITH; front: Harry, Bertha and Gladys BRYANT

rear: Ada Belle (MEREDITH) BRYANT & Sarah (HARRISON) MEREDITH; front: Harry, Bertha and Gladys BRYANT ca. 1904

My father’s Aunt Marjorie wrote two lengthy letters in 1995 to my uncle answering his questions about the Bryant family history. The second letter focused on her father, William, and her only brother, my grandfather, Harry Bryant. She described hardships that Harry endured which shaped his personality.

One story was about when he Harry, his mother Ada Belle and three younger sisters (Aunt Marjorie was the baby) lived in Michelson near Houghton Lake about 1911 – getting by as best they could even though their husband/father had left them.

“Your father was a wonderful little boy – after dad left, I remember him helping mother pick over a bushel of navy beans for the grocer to pay for groceries. He also used to take his wagon to the train station – at least a mile away, – and help mother bring home a 5 gallon tub of ice cream, which she sold in the little shop she set up to try to make a living. She also took in sewing.”

Another story reflected that Harry helped to bury two of his sisters. In December of 1911, Ada Belle married her second husband George Coon and in 1913 they all moved “across the Straits to Naubinway” where George’s father had a small house and a job for George at a mill.

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The Door

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What does genealogy have to do with a door?

Some internet research years past led me to a page published by Evelyn Sawyer in 2003 on the Kent County Genweb site. “22 James street” is mentioned in a transcribed article from a scrapbook among the collections in the Grand Rapids library’s local history department. There is no date on the article. From clues in the content, it’s likely to date from about 1905.*

The full transcription is online at: http://kent.migenweb.net/schools/stonesch.html

Since you can read the article yourself, I’ll summarize by providing just the key statement that piqued my interest:

Hon. At S. White will be there and will bring with him the key to the great lock of the big front door of the old school house. The front door itself of the old school now forms the chief entrance to the residence of Mr. White at 22 James street, and other doors and timbers of the old building were used in the building of his residence”

So here is this locally significant architectural element from the early stone schoolhouse built in the village of Grand Rapids (pre 1850) – the actual door – almost literally in my back yard. continue reading…