"All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means"

In my last post, I wrote about one of my paternal fourth great-grandfathers, Stephen Addison Davenport, and quoted from letters he wrote during his trip west to the California gold rush. But where did that information come from? From the archives of the Genealogical Forum of Oregon, who had a carbon of a thirty-eight page type-written report from the 1970s by Chandler Davenport Fairbanks, which he had transcribed in 1935 from hand-written research on file in the Library of the New England Genealogical Society Building in Boston, originally made by Bennett F Davenport, a distant cousin, in the 1870s. I had the easy job: I found it on Google. The picture of the Salem Company document? Google. The clipping from The Kenosha Democrat? Ancestry.com.

The musical Avenue Q has a song titled "The Internet is for Porn." While I make no comment on that, I can confirm that the Internet certainly is for genealogy.

Since beginning my family research, I have primarily used Ancestry.com, although vigilant verification of all member-supplied information is essential. But marvellous as Ancestry is, it is not the only source. There are any number of websites, blogs and forums out there, that, with patience and an intrinsic love of puzzle-solving, can yield all kinds of useful information. Besides Google, which is invaluable, through the Internet I have located and corresponded with distant cousins who have offered help over some "brick walls", and received aid from volunteers on numerous websites.

Two particular favorite sites are the Rutherford B Hayes Presidential Center, which has an astonishing amount of information on Ohio history, combined with an easy-to-use database, and Find A Grave. Find A Grave is a free site, run collectively by volunteers around the country, who list cemetery inhabitants, and provide photos (when possible) on request. From kind Find A Grave members, I have been sent photos of the headstones of numerous relatives, including Southworth Hamlin (paternal seventh great-grandfather, and another of those people with wonderful names)

and Mary Phillips (paternal seventh great-grandmother).

Her name might not be so evocative, but I love the verse on her headstone (although even Google has not yet yielded what it is from, if anything):

Human nature drops a tear / And mourns her absent friend /
But virtue God-like interferes / And cries her soul yet lives.

With all of this data at my fingertips, it is hard to imagine how anyone could have successfully created a family tree before the Internet. Travelling--either to a local genealogy library, if available, or to relevant county courthouses, if possible--and, more likely, the U S Mail were the only real resources. I like to imagine that two of my ancestors were able to assist at least a few of those earlier researchers. Both Leroy Stanley Burnett (31 Aug 1910 - 11 May 1980), my paternal grandfather, and William Edwin Kinman (Mar 1858 - 13 Jun 1925), a maternal second great-grandfather, were postmasters at one time, in Hewitt and Morgan, Minnesota, respectively.

Grandpa Burnett's Postmaster Appointment

Before the Internet, researchers checked out those county courthouses for vital records, and when they could find copies of the US Federal Census--jackpot!--they were able to get even more information. One of my relations, Thomas Francis Kinman (31 Dec 1877 - aft 1940), a maternal great-grand uncle (the son of Postmaster Kinman mentioned above), was actually a census enumerator in 1900; he was the guy who went door to door asking all the questions, and writing down the responses. It's no wonder that his family was the first one on the page!

If only all the Census enumerators had such nice penmanship!

Thomas Kinman did not rest on his laurels after 1900, nor did he remain a teacher, as shown above. Using--what else?--Google, I was able to discover that he was listed in the Nebraska Hall of Fame for 1940, Hall County edition. Here's the listing, in full:

KINMAN, THOMAS FRANCIS Auto Dealer; b Redwood Co, Minn Dec 31, 1877; s of William E Kinman-Sarah J Conley; ed Redwood Minn HS; Southern Minn Normal & Bus Coll; m Bertha J Matz June 24, 1908 Roscoe S D; s Richard E; d Vada M, Jean F, Wilma L, Betty L; 1904-05 Jerauld Co atty, Lane S D; 1905-08 asst cash & cash in bank, Lane S D; 1908-10 bank owner; 1915-17 owner Chevrolet Agcy Mitchell S D; 1917-20 special representative for Chevrolet Motor Co at Minneapolis Minn; 1920-22 mgr retail store at Omaha, 1922-25 special representative at Des Moines Ia, 1925-27 asst zone mgr at Omaha, 1927-30 zone mgr at Fargo N D; 1930-32 zone mgr at Omaha; 1932-34 asst mgr B O P Motor Co, Omaha; 1934- owner Central Chevrolet Motor Co. Grand Island; C of C; Liederkranz Soc; Riverside Country Club; Woodland Country Club; AF&AM 231; Scot Rite, Yankton S D; Shrine, Aberdeen S D; Gun Club; hobbies, golf, fishing, hunting; off 121 E 2nd; res 1906 W Koenig, Grand Island.

Which just shows that not everything on the Internet, whether genealogical or not, is that interesting. (Although I do take a delight in the fact that he had daughters named Betty and Wilma....) And despite the fact that Thomas Francis Kinman and I may not have a lot in common, we are family.

This week's post dedicated to someone with whom I do have more in common,
 the first known genealogist in my family:

Bennett Franklin Davenport, MD, (28 May 1845 - 2 Jun 1927), paternal fifth cousin, six times removed, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Charles and Joan Fullerton (Hagar) Davenport. He received degrees from both Harvard and Columbia universities (1867, 1871). Besides being a prominent genealogist and historian, he was also professor of chemistry at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy (1879 - 86); served as Analyst for the Massachusetts State Board of Health, Lunacy, & Charity (1882 - 92) and as Coroner for Suffolk County (1875 -77), and was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1893; published in The American Druggist, Harvard Register ("Recent Progress in Pharmaceutical Preparations"), and The Analyst (Royal Society of Chemistry, Great Britain), among many others; and was a noted authority on butter. In Forty Centuries of Ink (David N Carvalho, 2007), he is credited as having modified a formula for ink in 1900 that was subsequently used as the official ink of record in the state of Massachusetts, and, in 1901 (with the addition of "unnamed blue coloring material"), adopted by the US Treasury Department. His wife, Annie Emmeline Coolidge (6 Sep 1848 - 5 Mar 1934), daughter of John Coolidge and Martha Jane Sturtevant, was a cousin to President Calvin Coolidge.


  1. Thank God for the internet. One of my relatives, James Minnis (erroneously listed as "A. Minnis" on the Salem Company Wisconsin roster) traveled with Stephen Addison to California but survived to come home and marry one of Stephen's daughters. I have a copy of Davenport's transcribed letters from relatives in Wisconsin. Keep up your blog. I'm still tracking down relatives on the net. The Mormon's website, Familytree.com, has lots of info for those who seek.

  2. You are the second Davenport/Doty cousin I've met due to this blog. Which daughter did James Minnis marry? (I must admit I have not followed those families down, other than my direct line.) I would also love to hear more about the trannscribed letters you have. I can also copy the information I've received and send it to you if you like. You can email me directly at robtbburnett@gmail.com, if you like.