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Turning Michigan-Canadian Research Upside Down

Immigrants did not always follow a straight and obvious route. Michigan-Canada migrations create an intriguing panorama of people on the move. Browsing through biographies from the 1800's it becomes obvious that arrivals from the Old World traipsed back and forth between the United States and Canada.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: JudyRosella Edwards
Word Count: 1874 (approx.)
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References to Canada are sprinkled throughout the "Portrait and Biographical Album, Mecosta County, Mich.," as international migrations brought European settlers to North America. Geography has changed so much since the early 1800s that interpreting these biographies can be a challenge.

An overview of an album like this makes it clear that immigrants did not always move directly from their homeland to a single destination. It was not uncommon for them to keep moving. Sometimes they appeared to be following work. Other times, they seemed to follow population centers where medical services and hotels might be needed. At times, they appeared to move in order to be closer to family that had relocated. And, then, there are those who just seem to have had wanderlust in this great new continent where there was elbowroom enough for everyone.

This big new continent consisted of Canada and the United States. However, when it came to relocating, the border did not matter much. There was a lot of migration back and forth between these two countries, separated by an invisible border.

The Chapman Brothers "Portrait and Biographical Album, Mecosta County, Mich." was the first of dozens of such albums produced by this company. Even though Mecosta County, Michigan is not on the Canadian border, you will find using it as a secondary resource is easier with a little Michigan-Canada geography under your belt. Chapman Brothers published the information as it was provided, which makes for rather interesting and challenging reading a century or so later. At times, perhaps, it seems that even the migrants did not quite know the Canadian geographical names.

Upper and Lower Canada are mentioned frequently. However, if you look on a map, you will find that the names seem incongruous. When the volume was written, in 1883, Upper Canada was the lower part and appeared to lace itself around the northern shores of the Great Lakes. It corresponds to what we know as Quebec today.

UPPER CANADA

Elias S. Reed, a Mecosta County farmer, was born in Oxford County, Upper Canada, in 1828. His parents were not Canadians by birth. They were Americans. His father had been born in Massachusetts and his mother in New Jersey.

Late in November of 1829, Harriet R. Mero was born in Upper Canada. Her parents, David and Lena (Mirkley) Welch were immigrants, but not from Europe. Harriet's mother had been born in Canada and her father in New England.

Harriet married a farmer, John Decker, whose parents moved from New York to Upper Canada when he was six years old. A decade after Harriet (Mero) and John Decker married, they established a farm in Mecosta County. By that time, John Decker had migrated from the United States to Canada, and back again.

A decade after Harriet (Mero) Decker was born, Peter and Mima (Kyle) Newkirk's daughter, Huldah, arrived. She married Gilbert Mero and they moved to Ohio. After a few years, they moved to Mecosta County, as well. Here we have a couple who migrated from Canada to Ohio before they settled in Michigan.

The Mero family is an example of how vast your search needs to be to encompass an entire family. Your research would quickly become international.

In January of 1856, Charles W. Pullman was born in Upper Canada, in Oxford County. Here we see the panoply of North American history within a single family. Charles' father was born in New York, but his ancestors had immigrated from England. He died as a captive in Libby Prison during the Civil War. Charles' mother had immigrated in 1837 from Germany. Later, the son moved to Mecosta County.

What a journey, from England and Germany to Canada, then to New York before fighting in the Civil War and eventually settling in Michigan. Research would include census searches, birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates and other documents from four countries. We don't normally think of Germany and the Civil War in the same sentence.

Another Oxford County resident eventually moved to Mecosta County, Michigan. Dr. John L. Burkart's father moved his family to the village of Ingersoll in Oxford County, in 1855. The good doctor's father was born in Alshofen, Baden, Germany, and his mother in County Wexford, Ireland.

The parents married in Oxford County before moving to Mecosta County. But along the way, they spent some time in Delhi, located in Norfolk County, Canada, where Dr. Burkart was born. He was one of at least five Mecosta County residents who were from Norfolk County in Ontario.

James Simmons, a farmer, was born in Middleton, Norfolk County, in 1830. His parents, David and Sicily (Ronson) Simmons arrived ten years earlier from England. He married Catherine Ostrander in Charlotteville Center, also located in Norfolk County, Ontario, Canada.

In 1845, James Shields was born in the same county in Upper Canada. He, too, eventually arrived in Mecosta County. Two years, later, in 1847, William T. Jones was born in Waterdown, Wentworth County, in Upper Canada. His father was only eleven years old when he arrived in Canada from Ireland. When the father was a young man, he moved William and the rest of the family to Michigan.

The most interesting thing about all of these biographies is that they don't follow a nice neat trend. Genealogy would be so much easier, if they did!

SLOW MOVERS

The image of the squatter lends itself to the belief that when immigrants did arrive, they either settled for a long time or they moved on quickly. As genealogists, we should know that no rule is without its variations.

In 1855, James O'Neil, a Mecosta County farmer, was born in Camden Township in Canada West. His parents were both born in Ireland and relocated to Canada for about 25 years before moving to Mecosta County, Michigan.

Upper Canada corresponds to the Canada West. In 1840, Mrs. Mary A. Dutcher and her husband, Alexander McPhee, moved to Canada West. They spent a couple of decades there before moving to Mecosta County in 1861. Mary was born in England and migrated to St. John, New Brunswick, with her parents, Edward and Elizabeth (Fowle) Hudson when she was only three years old.

NEW BRUNSWICK

Canada has three Maritime provinces: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. Several families moved to Mecosta County from New Brunswick. Today, New Brunswick is officially bilingual, the two languages being French and English. However, do not expect everyone in New Brunswick to be French.

Jacob Snider, son of Jacob and Rachel (McReady) Snider, was born in Ontario. But his parents were both born in New Brunswick. Reportedly, his father was German and his mother French, in spite of the surnames indicating otherwise. The son married Teakles Halliday whose parents were also New Brunswick natives. Her parents, Isaac and Elizabeth (McReady) Halliday were Irish. Jacob and Teakles moved to Mecosta County, Michigan, around 1864.

Sometimes, a biographical album will mention someone's nationality without diagramming the relationships. But, knowing that information, can point researchers to potential ancestors, provided the family reported that nationality accurately.

LOWER CANADA

It sounds backwards, but north of Upper Canada was Lower Canada, reaching all the way up to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Lower Canada was originally a British Colony. From a genealogical perspective, this might be a good place to search for British immigrants. For various reasons, some of these immigrants eventually moved to Michigan and settled in Mecosta County. Work and family appear to be the most common reasons.

From 1791 to 1840, Lower Canada included the Province of Quebec, Canada, and the Labrador region of what we know as the Providince of Newfoundland and Labrador. At about the midpoint of that era, Michael Doyle arrived in Lower Canada during 1820 at the age of five, when his parents, Michael and Jane (Dorsey) Doyle, left Ireland and settled in Quebec. At the age of 56, he and his wife, a fellow Irish immigrant, left Canada and moved to Mecosta County, Michigan.

Considerably later, James Davis arrived in Quebec from Wales. Seventeen years later, he and his wife left Quebec and moved to Newaygo County, Michigan. After nearly two decades in Quebec, they stayed a mere two years in Newaygo County before moving on to Mecosta County, Michigan, where they remained.

George Miller grew up in Scotland before migrating to Canada. He married Elizabeth Chalmers, a fellow Scottish immigrant. Twenty years later, they moved to Delaware.

The French influence does exist, however. Joseph Falardo was born in St. Esprit in the Province of Quebec. Joseph Falardo is a descendant of the Falardeau family, French immigrants who settled in Canada. The implication is that his parents were not first-generation Canadians. Falardo left Canada and moved to New Hartford, Connecticut. He likely moved there to get work, where he was he was employed in a cotton mill.

His father joined him in the United States and they both studied the carpenter's trade in a somewhat unlikely place: Brooklyn, NY. Afterward father and son along with their families moved to Cohoes, New York. Joseph Falardo then made another work-related move to Vergennes, Vermont. This time it was to hire 100 men in his newly established sash, door, and window-blind factory.

Joseph Falardo's frequent relocations all seem to be related to employment. When the Vergennes, Vermont business failed, he found work in Essex, New York, working for his two brothers who had migrated there. Then he managed a mill in Whallonsburg, New York, before opening his own mill in Whitehall, New York. He then moved to Big Rapids in Mecosta County, Michigan, and gave 50 men work in the mill.

The route of the Falardeau family in France to the Falardo family Michigan is certainly not a consistent one. It highlights how employment sometimes determines where people live. Business histories can be helpful in pinpointing when and where someone was living at a given time in history.

SASKATCHEWAN

According to Chapman Brothers' 1883 biographical album, Mary J. Smith was born in Fond du Lac, Canada. On today's maps, you will find that Fond du Lac is in Saskatchewan. The reason Saskatchewan is not identified as the place name is simple. This album was written one year before Saskatchewan became the formal name for the land between the 49th and 60th latitude parallels, between the United States and the Northwest Territories, lying between Manitoba and Alberta. Knowing that little tidbit of information can save you a lot of time. Canada is a big country and it really helps to narrow down your location before sifting through all the potential documents.

LESSONS LEARNED

The important thing to remember is that migrations are not simple, they are not straightforward, and just when you see a trend you will also see plenty of exceptions to it. Just when you think you have tracked someone down, you realize you do not know where Fond du Lac, Canada is today, or where it "was" a century ago. A useful resource is the Canadian Encyclopedia.

Do not focus on state information, or even United States information, when researching Michigan. You could find your subject spent at least some time in Canada. Suddenly that international genealogical database and gazetteer become quite valuable.


Reference:

Chapman Brothers, Portrait and Biographical Album, Mecosta County, Mich.,", (Chicago: Chapman brothers, 1883.)

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2009.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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