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Western Michigan
Genealogical Society
c/o Grand Rapids
Public Library
111 Library Street NE
Grand Rapids, MI
Email - wmgs@wmgs.org


By Shirley M. De Boer CG

How often do you find a source that contains nearly a thousand pages of information that is written about women, by women, and dates back to the early 1800’s? Memorial to the Pioneer Women of the Western Reserve edited by Mrs. Gertrude Van Rensselaer Wickham is such a source! This work was originally printed in five parts, each for sale for forty cents. Reprinted as books, Parts 1 & 2 made up Vol. 1 in 1896; Parts 3 & 4 contained in Vol. 2 were published in 1897; and Part 5 & the Name Index finished the series in Vol. 3 in 1924.
[Mrs. Gertrude Van Rensselaer Wickham, editor, Memorial to the Pioneer Women of the Western Reserve, 3 volumes (Cleveland: 1896-1924), originally published in smaller parts on different dates.]

This three-volume set of books is especially helpful because it provides both maiden and married surnames for women, as well as personal information that is not available anywhere else. It is laden with interesting stories, and seldom does a page go by without thirty or more names on it, along with many locations and dates. It is common to find a married couple and their entire list of children along with the children’s marriage partners. This is an important source for Michigan research because many of our families migrated from Ohio.

There is an every name index, which makes Memorial to the Pioneer Women handy for quick reference; however, additional finding aids will benefit a serious researcher. Because the information was submitted at various times, material on a given town or township is found in different places in the volumes. The finding aid following remedies this problem. When a surname of interest is found in this source, it is important that the researcher read all the submissions about that town or township for clues to origins and migrations.

Additionally, when consulting the name index a guide that shows the towns and townships by chronological pagination allows a searcher to pinpoint the surname location which may be near a key place already occupied by known relatives. In addition to the finding aid that follows this article, the author has prepared a four-page guide that begins with page one and follows through chronologically to page 1140. Identifying surnames when seen by page in the county and township may give a perspective otherwise unnoticed.

Although there are occasional errors, as one might find in any secondary source, this series is a valuable genealogical treasure. It will lead a researcher to various primary records, as well as it will enhance the family record with a woman’s perspective. How did this source come to be written?

In the preface to volume one, Mrs. Wickham writes: “When in August 1895, the women of Cleveland organized to assist in the proposed celebration of the city’s centennial year, local history was selected as one of the important features of the work which they were best qualified to do. It was decided that in addition to resumes of the industrial and philanthropic work engaged in by women during the century of Cleveland’s existence, efforts should be made to enrich the history of the Western Reserve by securing and recording new facts in regard to it.

Accordingly the Woman’s Department of the Cleveland Centennial Commission created the office of ‘Historian’ and appointed one of its members (Mrs. Wickham) to fill the position, leaving the subject in her hands with which to devise or plan as she thought would best ensure the object desired.

Upon investigation, it was found that every county of the Reserve had its published history, and that in each was included that of townships composing it, so that apparently everything worth mentioning already had been told.

One thing noticed, however, was the prominence given to biographies of men, living or dead, who had been identified with the settlement and growth of the Reserve, with little or no mention of their wives, who, doubtless, had performed as equal though different part in laying the foundations of future civilization and prosperity. The following anecdote, verbally related, served to stimulate the dawning thought that a fitting time had come in which to treat—not of the services, as usual, or our forefathers—but, if the term be admissible, of our foremothers.

Twelve men, composing the jury in a criminal case on trial in a Northern Ohio town, found a verdict difficult to attain, and were weary from their long-continued effort to agree. It was night, and as the hours passed, one after another was overcome with a desire for sleep, which was thwarted by those best able to keep awake and most anxious for release.

Finally, some one suggested that every member of the jury who could tell the names of his two grandmothers should be allowed to rest awhile. Every sleepy eye brightened at the prospect, but when the roll was called, only three men of the twelve could swear to adequate knowledge, in both cases.

Some could give the maiden name of one grandmother—the one who had lived the longest, or with whom they had been most associated—but, until the present moment, they had never possessed any laudable curiosity concerning the early life and environment of the other.

In view of this, a circular letter was prepared embodying the idea that a history of the pioneer women could be written by women, and asking for co-operation in preparing it. This was mailed, as fast as names and addresses could be secured, and the result was that with comparatively few exceptions, in townships all over the Western Reserve, women have been and are yet diligently working on this memorial to our mothers and grandmothers, the first chapters of which are given now, in order that they may be collectively submitted to the public at the opening of the Cleveland Centennial Celebration.”

Covering a period of thirty years, the final volume of Memorial of the Pioneer Women of the Western Reserve was published with an index in 1924. It seems appropriate to include here a few random examples of the information contained in the books.

“Ascenath Biddlecomb was married in 1822 to Alonzo Hosmer. He was twenty-two years old and probably Ascenath was much younger; sixteen years seemed to be the usual age of a pioneer bride. Alonzo was a fourteen-year-old lad when he came to Parkman with his uncle, Lewis Smith, from Middlesex County Ct., in 1812. The couple became the parents of ten children who arrived at the age of maturity. This fact enables one to gauge pretty accurately the amount of housework and home cares which devolved upon the mother of such a family. They lived in Parkman sixty-four years. Both were highly esteemed in the community for their fine traits of character. Two of their sons, Perry and Alonzo were veterans of the Civil War.” (Parkman, Geauga County, page 942)

“Mary Marsden eloped from a comfortable home near Pittsburgh with John McLaughlin, a Roman Catholic. Because of his faith her father disinherited her. Later, they sought a home on the Reserve in 1806, and she swam her horse across the Mahoning River with a child in her arms, afterwards known as Aunt Jane McKinnie. She was a woman of spirit and to this source is traced the peculiar vein of wit characterizing her descendants.” (Kinsman, Trumbull County, page 398)

“Mr. and Mrs. Crispin Mennel, nee Elizabeth Melburn, formerly from Yorkshire, Eng., came to Grafton in 1826, where they bought a farm on which they resided during their lives. She kept a dairy many years, and excelled in cheese and butter making. Other English women who came about the same time from Yorkshire were as follows: Mrs. William Richardson, Mary Dalton, Mrs. John Coleman, Sarah Strattler, Mrs. John Langdale, Hepsibah Clark, Mrs. Moses Dafter (Ellen Alexander), Mrs. Joseph Johnson (Ann Brown), Mrs. William Rosindale (Jane Brown), Mrs. Samuel Alexander (Sarah Francom), Mrs. Robert Wilson (Mary Toney), Mrs. Thomas Scrage (Elizabeth Burdette), Mrs. Joseph Salsbury (Mary Grasby), Mrs Robert Blantern (Elizabeth Turner), Mrs. Urias (Elizabeth Spence) Noble. All these were remarkably tidy and thrifty housewives. They walked erect and wore white caps which gave them a very neat appearance in any costume.” (Grafton, Lorain County, page 258)

Have you ever said, “Oh! If grandmother had only written it down?” Well, here is a source in which our foremothers did write it down! The volumes are available at the Library of Michigan and also at the Allen County-Ft. Wayne Public Library. When we find a piece that fits into our genealogical puzzle, it’s good to say “Thank You.” Memorial to the Pioneer Women is indeed a source for which we are thankful! The following page shows the geographical area covered in the Reserve, and the next four pages are a finding aid that will be helpful in correlating places and relationships within the three volumes of this women’s history.


Months prior to the end of the Revolutionary War the British and Tories invaded Connecticut and destroyed by fire the towns of New London, Greenville, Fairfield, Danbury, Ridgefield, Norwalk, New Haven, East Haven and Groton. Benedict Arnold, then a British General, personally oversaw the destruction of New London. More than 1800 supporters of the American Revolution suffered because of the devastation of these nine towns.

As our new government took shape after the war, the states that owned land in the west relinquished their claims to the United States. In 1786 Connecticut ceded its western lands with the exception of one area that they “reserved” for themselves. In 1792 Connecticut gave ½ million acres of this reserved land to the sufferers of the 1781 war invasion and called this area the “Fire Lands.”

Three years later the State of Connecticut sold the balance of the land to the Connecticut Land Company. In 1796 one of its directors, Moses Cleveland, established the first permanent settlement. In 1800 this area was incorporated into the Northwest Territory as Trumbull County, and came under the jurisdiction of the United States. Records prior to this time were under the jurisdiction of the State of Connecticut.

The “Fire Lands” are located in Erie and Huron counties; Ruggles Township in Ashland County; and Danbury Township in Ottawa County. The balance of the “Western Reserve” includes the counties of Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage, and Trumbull, and parts of Mahoning and Summit.

This summary contains excerpts from the 8th edition of Ohio Lands written by T.A. Burke (Ohio: Auditor of State, 1996). The publication is available at no cost from the Auditor.



  *Includes Kent County and the counties immediately surrounding; namely Ottawa, Muskegon, Newaygo, Montcalm, Ionia, Barry and Allegan Counties. There is some extension beyond these counties into other areas of the Western Lower Peninsula.

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