Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

A Journey through Time:Family & Friends on the Michigan Thumb & Upper Peninsula

In memory of Creighton “Joe” Kerr who passed away May 7, 2010.  Thank you, Joe. . . . for everything in our family’s history came to life as you shared memories of our past. You and your family made us feel so welcome on our visit to Michigan in October, the memory of that reunion will be with us forever.

Sometime during the 1980s Joe sent my father pictures of the homestead in Michigan. From those pictures I painted several views of the little house, and those photographs remained in my mind through the years and served as the inspiration to return to Michigan.

Video Tribute to Joe at the end of this blog post.

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.  ~Kahlil Gibran

Tribute Page Honoring Joe

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Dear Family and Friends,

What a great experience this has been making connections to all of you who have read the web page. Thanks for your interest and continued comments on the blog, email or telephone. To improve the readability and to enlarge the pictures, increase font about two sizes/or use the zoom function in view menu in your browser. Clicking on images and documents will make them larger.

Yours in friendship, Kae

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Uncovering the Past

  • John William Kerr’s journal

Malinowski Homestead on the Upper Peninsula

  • Interviews with Helen Moyaert (Belinski)

Kerr Family

  • Tracing Kerr family back to the 18th Century
  • Revisiting 2005 trip to Westport, Ireland, home of John Kerr and Catherine Reid
  • Family relationship to the Maggie Song *Video
  • John William Kerr
  • Lumber Camp at Raber
  • Mae Catherine Kerr meets George Malinowski

Our Trip Begins

  • Detroit and Royal Oak
  • Creighton Joe Kerr and family
  • Born in a tar paper shack *Video
  • Port Austin and Bay Port on the Thumb
  • Uncle Jim plays chess with Thomas Edison
  • Alexander Creighton Kerr Family
  • Emily Catherine Kerr marries a Civil War soldier
  • Perry Family
  • John Kerr Fyfe, Captain of the Batfish
  • Grant Cemetery
  • Alexander Creighton and Catherine Kerr homestead in Owendale
  • Port Austin Cemetery
  • Thumb Fire 1881
  • St. Ignace and Mackinac Island
  • Stalwart
  • Belinski Family
  • Tragedy at the Sand Ridge School
  • Lost Homestead on Sand Ridge Road
  • Interview with Helen Wahl
  • Stalwart Cemetery
  • Returning to the Malinowski homestead/Meeting Carol and Jim
  • Mud Lake Lumber Company *Video
  • Sault St. Marie
  • Recollection of a Great Lake cruise, 1955
  • Drive to Whitefish Point
  • Interview with witness to sinking of the Edmond Fitzgerald
  • Hartwick Pines State Park/Deforestation by lumber industry *Video

In Appreciation
Reflection *Video

  • Winter on Sand Ridge Road, photos courtesy of Jim Luke
  • Thinking about family names
  • Picture albums of all of the Kerr families, including current photographs

“Going Down to the Old Home Place” *Video

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Dedication: to Creighton Joe Kerr, whose encouragement, kind words and love of family have served as an inspiration for us in our journey through our heritage.

Why a sojourn to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan?

The People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn inspired me to again take up the search for the people and stories of my heritage. History cannot be complete without a narrative of their contributions, struggles, celebrations, work and friendships. Because history is mostly written about catastrophic events while concentrating on those who held power, the important details of the people’s every day triumphs and disappointments become marginalized, therefore, distorting the picture of history. My hope is that by documenting what I learn, I can add to the “people’s history” while getting to know these folks, most of whom I never met.

On this adventure, Jean and I are tracing our roots on a journey through Michigan, starting in Detroit, with a visit with our cousin, Creighton “Joe” Kerr, his son Michael and daughter-in-law Gay. From there we head up to the Thumb and to the Peninsula, with a stop at Mackinac Island, then on to the towns of Raber and Stalwart, for a three-day stay. I have contacted several residents of Raber, who have been kind enough to offer their help to find our family homestead and grave markers.

Uncovering the Past

Writing about family is not an easy task as some of the pieces do not exactly match up especially in confirming family oral history with actual documents. Anonymlies crop upon written records as well as in the oral history.  For example, in searching for John Kerr in the census, if  I had selected “exact match” for the name Kerr when the handwriting on census had been interpreted as Kern,I would have missed the family completely.

The other difficulty I found in writing family history is projecting my own sentiments, finding myself sometimes overcome with emotion for these folks and their hardships and that by some fluke of luck (for me, at least) I’m here today. I do not claim any exceptionalism or predestined philosophy, only amazement!

May 13; John Kerr Diary

In writing history I realized how the real “story” could be dismissed because of our present-day perspective. A small, well-worn, leather-bound journal belonging to John Kerr was passed down through the family. I had glanced through the pages, many of which John recorded the weather for the day.  It wasn’t until I came across this book, So Cold a Sky: Upper Michigan Weather Stories, that I realized the extent to which the weather framed their daily lives.  The author, Karl Bohnak wrote about a snowstorm, which hit the area on January 21, 1899:

In Calumet the storm was dubbed “a screamer . . . almost without equal in the history of the village.” It dumped 33 inches on the town.  . . .  after the snow, came the cold. On January 31, Marquette recorded is coldest temperature in years with a bone chilling 18 degrees below zero. P. 131

Just walking to the lumber camp in extreme weather could be dangerous and was not uncommon that people would die in the snow or cold.

On this page of the weather dated 1912, John writes a notation on his birthday, May 13, a cold and rainy day:

My 66th Birthday. I feel the effects time. I am lonesome and down hearted, a Homeless Child.


The Malinowski Family


New York City 1896

In 1859, the year Herman was born, Poland was under the rule of Russia. Herman was only two years old when in 1861, the Poles rebelled against the Russians. The revolt took place throughout Poland, and after three years of bitter fighting, during which time the Russians had to call in the Austrian-Prussian military for help, the rebellion was suppressed and their country abolished as an administrative state. Alexander III was a firm believer in the autocratic rule. Herman’s passport is a document issued by the Russian government.

The defeat of the uprising in 1863 temporarily cooled nationalistic passions. Many Poles felt that instead of fighting for independence, they should concentrate on raising the economic and cultural level of their nation. The 1870s and 80s were such an era of such concerns.  In 1890 nationalism reemerged, this time is closely associated with socialism.

I had assumed that Josephine and Herman Malinowski with their two sons, George and John, immigrated to the United States in 1891. However, according to the census records, Herman arrived in 1891 and Josephine and children followed in 1893.  Herman was a cobbler by trade, making fancy shoes; but after arriving in New York City, he had to give up the trade for health reasons. That information had been passed down through family oral history although I can’t imagine how turning to farming could be any easier on one’s health. Yet, Herman and Josephine decided to homestead to the Upper Peninsula of  Michigan. Their decision to settle there was not arbitrary. The Rev. Anzelm Miynarcsyk, who had worked to set up the St. Stanislaus Kostka parish in Goetzville, had been sending pamphlets to Pennsylvania and New Jersey encouraging people to settle in the “beautiful eastern end of the Upper Peninsula.”  He wrote that land was cheap but suitable for farming.  His efforts were successful because many Polish families came to live in the area. Josephine and Herman settled on a parcel of land in Stalwart off of Sand Ridge Road, which had been first settled by Whitehead, Oscar Hudson, and Jim Hamilton. According to one source, Herman bought the Hamilton property although I’m uncertain about his purchasing land as my understanding was that he was a homesteader. Built according to the “Polish” style, the house had just two rooms. The wood shingles probably came from the lumber mill in Raber. Two things surprised me as I researched about their farm: that some residents in the area still referred to the “Malinowski” farm sixty years after the home had been abandoned and that the house was still standing. These farmers, who grew mostly potatoes, who lived along the road were known as the “SandRidge folks.”

Herman and Jozefa Circa 1900

Interviews with Helen Moyaert (Belinski)

When we returned home from our trip, Jean spoke with Helen Moyaert by telephone about life on Sand Ridge Road.  Helen was one of ten children of Peter and Julia Belinski, who owned the farm across the road from our great-grandparents. Helen characterized the Malinowski family as being refined. I had always thought of my grandfather as being well-spoken and very cordial. Tragedy struck when John, the younger boy in the picture above, broke his back when he fell on ice, and that fall affected his health for the rest of his life.  “He didn’t grow properly but was a very nice person,” said Helen. I have just one other picture of John shown below with his sled team. With snowfall in the Upper Peninsula averaging between 100 to 250 inches a year, a sled might be a useful mode of transportation.

Helen remembered John’s funeral in 1927 when he was laid out at the farmhouse.  He had been living in Detroit, but he was returned to Stalwart for burial at the Goetzville Cemetery. However, we could not find a marker when we walked through the cemetery, which in a strange way affirmed several comments that Helen made about Herman, who she said was very tight with money. Did he neglect to pay for the headstone for his son? She recalled that mostly it was Jozefa that went to church and remembered sitting on her lap on the way to a first holy communion event. When Jozefa became ill, Herman refused to call for a doctor. Jozefa had to ask for assistance from their neighbor, Peter. That winter had been very severe, and she caught pneumonia. Jozefa passed away on January 4, 1942. Helen thought of her as a lovely person.

Herman died in March of the same year. The property was sold to the “Catholic Church,” but that’s another story.

I didn’t want to write a romanticized recollection of the past, and yet recording a story that cast an unfavorable view of any family member gave me pause. One thing I’ve learned about recording history is that one sentence can leave ten questions and changing even one word can drastically alter the perspective. I wondered whether we can ever really accurately document the past. Voltaire described history as a “lie commonly agreed upon.” I have concluded that the best I can do is “recreate” the past based on a few slivers of evidence.

When we returned to Michigan for Joe’s funeral in May of 2010, we drove over to St. Clair Shores to talk with Helen in person about life on SandRidge in the early part of the Century. We had a delightful visit with Helen and her daughter, Shirley, who was visiting from Salt Lake City.  Coincidently, Shirley lived for a while not five miles from my hometown.

Helen told us several stories of growing up in Stalwart.  She remembered her first holy communion, sitting on Jozef’s lap on the trip over to the church. Unfortunately, her dress did not fit right so the womenfolk, using straight pins, pinched and pinned the dress to the right size. Helen said she often would translate letters from English to Polish for Jozefa. Chores occupied most of their time on the farm: milking cows, tending the garden, baking bread, picking berries and churning butter.  They would use farm produce as money in exchange for flour and sugar. Most farmers made their own moonshine and wine from gooseberries, cranberries, or dandelions. Saturday evening folks would gather for singing and  polka and square dancing. The Belinski’s put down a special wood floor just for the dance parties. I remember that my Grandfather loved dancing.

We paged through Helen’s family photo albums. Below are pictures of Peter and Julia, her parents, and a family wedding photograph, which has our Great-Grandfather  Herman peeking from behind the wedding party.

One mystery that Helen solved was how Sabrina, Herman’s sister who also came to live in Stalwart, died.  She was a seamstress in the town, and on her death certificate was listed, “heat stroke,” which was surprising since even in the summer, the Upper Peninsula is not that hot.  Turns out that Sabrina perished in a fire.

March 24, 2013, Helen celebrates her 100th Birthday

Four Generations: Helen with Shirley, Emily and Isobel

Four Generations: Helen with Shirley, Emily, and Isobel

November 22, 2013

Sadly, Helen passed away on this day. Her niece, Pat Rose, wrote a tribute to her Aunt with a history of her life in Michigan, which you can read at this link. I will be forever grateful to Helen for sharing her memories of growing up on Sand Ridge Road in Stalwart. Her stories of her childhood gave us an understanding of life on the farm for our great-grandparents.

The Kerr Family

You ask about your family beanpole or huckleberry bush. Well, those who were not hanged lived to a ripe old age.

So started a letter from our Great Uncle Jim, who then recounted the history of our Kerr clan.

That’s a fancy get-up he’s got on, and I believe Uncle Jim would like to have used that sword. He wrote that would listen to his Grandfather and Richard Martin, who was the hero in the Lever novel mentioned below, relive and “fight” the battles, over and over.  His uncle who served during in the Crimean War and his brother who served as a Canadian soldier would swap stories and “when they got few drinks of white mule, they licked the French, the Russians the Sepoys in many a hard-fought battle, and I would sit and listen until I felt that I could lick the whole bunch myself.”

The graphic below shows the first four known generations of our Kerr clan.  You can click on it to see a larger version. The two family lines I have the most information about is for the brothers John William Kerr, my ancestor, and Alexander Creighton Kerr. Those two family charts appear further down with the descriptions of those families.

The first Kerr relative that we know about lived during the 18th Century.  David Alexander Kerr, born in Banffshire, a maritime county in the northeast corner of Scotland. The major industry is the manufacture of linen, which matches with the family oral history that our ancestors were weavers. Part of that history refers to our family living on the Island of Uist, off of the Island of Skye.

David served as a Sergeant Major in the Enneskillen Dragoons with the Black Watch in the Peninsular Campaign.  The Black Watch were Scottish Highlanders employed by the English government to watch over the Highlanders.  In 1739 The Black Watch became a regiment of the regular army. The Peninsular Campaign was part of the Napoleonic War fought between 1808 and 1814 in the Iberian Peninsula, where the British, Spanish and Portuguese forces opposed the French.

When David was a young man, he served in Ireland, where he married Mary Goss, who lived in Napa County of Mayo. David was a tailor in the army and was wounded in the leg. After retiring from the army, he located in Westport, Ireland, and ran a confectionary store. Great Uncle Jim stated in a letter that David was the sergeant, “Auld Sandy” mentioned in Charles Lever’s novel, Charles O’Malley, the Irish Dragoon. Charles O’Malley, which appeared in 1841, was one of the most popular of his early novels; the story took place from the West of Ireland to the Peninsular War. The book is available on the web:

One of David’s sons was John Kerr, our direct ancestor, born in Paisley, Scotland, in 1804 and settled in Westport. John and Emily Catherine Reid, who was from a Scottish family but born near or in Knappagh, married in Westport on April 1, 1833, by a Presbyterian minister by the name of Creighton and was the reason that name cropped up in our family tree. It seems to have been a Scottish custom to name a child after their local minister.

Now, fast forward 182 years. Back in 2005 Jean, Phillip and I signed up for a Sierra Club trip to Ireland, which sparked my interest in family history again.  The Sierra Club had arranged the start of the outing in Westport, Ireland. Years ago I had put together some notebooks of family history, reviewing documents and pictures without really paying attention to any details.  When I referred back to those documents for the trip, I found that John Kerr and Catherine Reid married in Westport!  . . . probably at this location, which was the building used at that time as a Presbyterian Meeting House.

Presbyterian Meeting
Building today possibly the Presbyterian Meeting House c1833
Westport CenterWestport Town Center, 2005
Westport BridgeWestport Bridge, 2005

Returning to the Nineteenth Century . . .

The Kerr’s first daughter, Mary, was born in Ireland on December 11, 1833; I believe the other nine children, Elizabeth, Alexander, Thomas, Elizabeth, Emily, John, William, James, and Phoebe were born in Canada near or in Caledonia/York as they settled on a farm in that area. In a letter dated March 26, 1930, Uncle Jim writes:

April 1st sixty four years ago I landed in Port Austin on wheels. It was a beautiful day, bright and warm and all good and Jim Ryan doing big business selling booze to the men from the woods. Great days.

The family must have moved to Port Austin in 1866, and according to the 1870 census John and Alexander were living together at the Post Office of New River. Many of men on the same page listed their occupation as working at Grindstone or Sythe Stone Factory. Next to their occupations was a question mark. Other members of the Kerr family were listed at the Port Austin post office: John, Catherine, Elizabeth, William, James and Phoebe. Another daughter, Emily, whose picture is to the left, is listed with her husband, James Brebner.

James fought in the Civil War enlisting in Company H, 1st Cavalry Regiment on September 4, 1861, in Detroit. His regiment fought at the Second Bull Run in August of 1862. He was discharged for wounds on March 24, 1863, at Annapolis, Maryland, before the Regiment went on to fight at Gettysburg under the command of Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer.

Banner of the 1st Michigan Cavalry

Maggie of a Song Still Young There

Was a title of a short newspaper clipping glued into one of my father’s photo albums. The article had no context within the surrounding postcards and pictures. I had no idea why it was saved.  It read:

Caledonia, Ontario Feb 10, 1952.

Relatives of the late Maggie Clark mentioned in the old popular song, “When You and I Were Young,” received word today that Binbrook Township Council is considering the erection of a cairn or public to mark the site of the mill referred to in the song written by George W. Johnston, Binbrook school teacher and published in a book of poems, “Maple Leaves,” in Hamilton in 1864, the verse was set to music in 1866.

Maggie Clark was George’s student, and they fell in love. When Maggie became ill, George walked to a hill overlooking a mill and composed the poem. They were married for only a year when she died of typhus. James Butterfield, an English musician and composer, who had immigrated to the United States, wrote the words to the music, and published his composition in 1866. The song became popular all over the world and is considered a standard in American folk music. First recorded in 1905, many famous singers, such as Jean Autry and Perry Como, made records of the song.

What I discovered through other documents was that our family relationship to the story is distant: John Kerr was married a second time to Ann in Ontario, Canada; and when he passed away, she married William Clark, a member of the “Maggie Clark” family. Nonetheless, this song is considered by some as of one of the 19th Century’s finest songs and certainly is representative of music that was popular during that era.

John McCormack, an Irish-born tenor, conveys the sentiment of this simple, unpretentious song in his recording that follows. Accompanying the melody are family photographs that had been lying in a box in the attic for decades.

The next generation

My Great-grandfather, John William Kerr, was born on May 13, 1846 in Canada and immigrated to Michigan in 1869.  He married Jane Sherlock, and they had three children, William, Catherine Mae, and Creighton.

The Kerr brothers farmed in the Thumb of Michigan. Back in 1881, the area was devastated by fire, according to a New York Times article:

An eyewitness states that darkness and a copper-colored sky preceded the approach of the fire. Later the sky turned a deep red, and Monday afternoon become so dark that lanterns were necessary for people to find their way.  . . .  The high winds that prevailed cut off every avenue of escape, and large burning masses  would be lifted up bodily and borne along for great distances. The skill and courage of man seemed impotent to combat with such flames, and the fleeing people were caught in fire traps and roasted.   . . . John Kerr and his family were asleep when his building caught fire, and a neighbor seeing it ran and woke them, and they succeeded in saving their house but lost everything else.


Sometime after the fire, John moved the family to Oscoda, where Mae Catherine was born. This photograph is of Mae and Creighton around the year 1885.

On December 6, 1890 John and Jane divorced, and John was awarded custody of the children.  According to a letter written by Georgia Kerr, the family felt it would be best if Jane left. Another member of the family remarked that Jane was too “footloose and fancy-free.” I could not find any other information about Jane.

Years later when Mae married, the family seemed attached to the town of Oscoda as their photo album had pictures of the town and surrounds. They saved a postcard from 1932 commemorating the Lumberman’s Monument, dedicated in that year to honor the men who worked in the logging industry.  The monument rests on a bank of the Au Sable River. John Kerr and other family members worked in the industry so seems natural that they would pay tribute.

Lumberman's Monument Lumbermans Momument Postcard

The family visited the monument in 1934. The second photo is of the Au Sable River.

Lumberman's Monument Photo Lumbermans Momument Postcard

Au Sable River

Mae went to live with her Aunt in Caledonia, Canada, while her father traveled to the Upper Peninsula to work as a surveyor for the Mud Lake Lumber Company. Of the hundreds of camps that sprung up during the late 1800s, the Mud Lake Lumber Company, which originated in Oscoda, either moved or added a mill at Raber. The folks that lived at the mills referred to their living area as “Camp.”

Mud Lake Lumber Company Camp, Raber, Michigan C 1900

Further down on the blog I have more information on life in the lumber camps and photographs of Raber Bay. Working in the mills must have been difficult. Nonetheless, from several of the photographs that we have it seems they had some time for a bit of whimsy.

Mae Kerr:Raber:1909:hatsMae Kerr and Friends C 1900-1909


Mae Kerr C.1905

Mae Kerr C.1905

While my existence seemed to have hung on a thread with the fire, again, fortunes turned in my favor with the sudden death of Mae’s first fiancée, Archibald McKiggan. Mae had been introduced to Archie through the family as her father’s brother married into Archie’s family. Archie was born in 1882 and died December 30, 1903, at Miligros, Camp Bernie, near Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is buried in the Fairview Cemetery in Albuquerque. Family oral history told us that he was killed in a lumber accident. Thanks to some additional research from our cousin Arana, who lives in the city, the records at the cemetery indicate that he was buried in a public area, but they have no records of  that public area designation, and they have many unmarked graves.  I have researched lumber and mining accidents, but could not find any reference to what happened to Archie. The question remains why he would have traveled to Arizona work when Michigan had an active lumbering industry.

Mae was living with her father at the lumber camp at Raber when she met my grandfather, George, who left the farm only a few miles away to work at the lumber mill. Mae and George were married in 1910 (more information below). According to the 1910 census, John Kerr, Mae, George, and a servant (how they were able to afford a servant remains a mystery although labor was probably fairly cheap at that time–although, I believe the word servant may have had multiple interpretations, including border), lived in the same household.  Not long after, Mae and George moved to their first home in Canada. By 1914 they had moved to Detroit where George worked at the main Dodge plant until his retirement.

John Kerr wrote his last letter to his daughter in November 1915 from Camp.

We are all well but diphtheria is all over the county. There is quite a number of cases in Raber. Clancies has three down with it. McCord’s girl is down with it and one of the girls in the boarding house is down with it. They have two men watching the house to see that no one leaves it. One of the Hall’s boys died with it out near Stalwart and more of the family sick with it. When the first one took it, they tried to keep in quiet.  It is in DeTour and in the Soo. I hope that it won’t get up to the Camp.

John died that December 15.

So We Begin Our Trip

Saturday, October 10, Detroit and Royal Oak

From the vantage point of the airplane lovely views of the Michigan landscape, dotted with the colors of fall, passed beneath us.  When we left Philadelphia, the weather was balmy, but in Detroit it was a crisp morning. We drove through the suburban neighborhoods where many of the homes displayed fall and Halloween decorations.  Royal Oak, my father’s hometown, was our first stop. The downtown has undergone a transformation over the years becoming a trendy urban-chic area.  Still, I thought that Main Street retained the charm of a former era with reconverted spaces still retaining facades from past decades.

My father’s childhood home was in the neighborhood of Rhode Island Avenue, a tree-lined street lined centered by a small park.  We photographed the house and left a picture of the house circa 1930 in the mailbox for the owners, who were not at home at the time.

412 Road Island Royal Oak

We did have a delightful talk with the neighbor who said that many of the homeowners are families who have lived in the area for generations. Each home had unique character and seemed idyllic for raising a family.


From Royal Oak we traveled north to Waterford for a visit with my father’s first cousin, Creighton “Joe” Kerr, and his family.


The Kerr family was so gracious and welcoming we instantly felt at home.  Over Michigan cider, Joe reminisced, sharing stories from our family’s past and filling in missing information on the family tree.


Gathering of the Kerr Clan – Kae, Gay, Michael, Joe, Jean, Pat, Robert

Born in tar paper shack

Joe was born October 17, 1923, at the Prentiss Bay Lumber Camp, on Old Mill Point, on the Upper Peninsula. The company had been in operation since the 1880s when the first settlers arrived in the Stalwart area. Before the turn of the century, the mail came from St. Ignace by dog team in the winter by sailboat in the summer. The sawmill processed millions of board feet of white pine, which was transported by steamers to the cities in the Midwest.

Working at a sawmill involved great hardship and the work was dangerous. The loggers and millers confronted rolling logs, falling trees and spinning saw blades.  Some lumbermen were killed or injured on the job. In one story that Joe told, a bear killed one young cook as he went to gather wood for the fire. Generally, doctors were not available, and transport to hospitals was long and arduous, especially when deep snows of winter settled over the landscape.

As the town grew, the lumbermen brought their families into the camp. They constructed homes out of any materials cast aside and then wrapped the walls and roof with a water-resistant covering of tar paper. The lumbermen supported their family on wages of about $100 a month.

Joe recollected what he believed was his birth home and how an older resident of Stalwart clarified that misunderstanding many years later:

This conversation made me curious about tar paper shacks. I found references to tar paper shacks sprinkled through many accounts of life on the prairie, in the company towns, in slave quarters, on reservations, in Hoovervilles, in the inner city, in migrant camps and Japanese internment. What I concluded was that perhaps our country was built upon these shacks, and yet, little information was available about this quintessential American housing archetype.

The log cabin, however, has reached mythical proportions as an American icon: a symbol of some of our presidents rising from humble circumstances to earning the highest position in our government. By proving common roots politicians could justify being a “man of the people.” (Turned out only one was born in a real log cabin.)  Unfortunately, this myth perpetuated the concept that an ordinary person could escape their humble roots to become rich or powerful.

This illusion of social mobility undermines the truth that collective coöperation was the foundation by which many were able to improve their circumstances.  In our interviews and conversations with folks in Michigan, we heard over and over how people helped each other out “People would do anything for you.” “Be careful what you ask for, or they’ll do it before you can think again.” Communities with strong values of interdependence held barn-raising events. Communities also celebrated together with neighborhood and community activities. On Saturday nights, they would gather at a neighbor’s barn for dancing and singing. And church and community were so important that Herman and Josephine would walk eight miles to attend services, joining and visiting with others along the road. According to their centennial book, “Goetzville still managers neighborly and friendly atmosphere inherited by the Polish and German homesteaders of a century ago.” So collective coöperation was the foundation by which many were able to improve their circumstances.

I remember from one conversation that the flattening of the social and economic structure fostered a cooperative psyche.  Everyone was at the same place, which lessened the competition for resources and diminished the scramble for social position. Tar paper shacks were the great equalizers. Joe also recalled that his mother said that there was nothing warmer than a tar paper shack.  I wondered whether that may have been a metaphorical statement.

Sunday, October 11, Detroit to Port Austin and Bay Port

Sunday morning Joe joined us for coffee at the hotel. Joe is a natural story-teller, and we listened intently to family stories, travel logs and war adventures. On our drive up the “Thumb” we talked about the mid-western accent which for us “Easterners” has a cadence and inflection that is endearing.

From Waterford we headed up Route 24, surrounded by flat farmlands of corn, soybeans and sugar beets. We stopped along the way and bought gourds from children running the roadside stand.


Playing chess with Thomas Edison


One of the reasons we wanted to travel to Port Austin was to see the place from which our Great-Uncle Jim Kerr operated the telegraph.  One building in particular stood out as a representative architecture of the 1880s.

In a newspaper article from The Journal’s Waukesha Bureau, Uncle Jim recalled his friendship with Thomas Edison back when they were telegraph operators.

In 1867 Edison was an operator in Smiths Creek, Michigan, while I was in Port Austin.  The two places were about 90 miles apart.  We operators used to play checkers on the telegraph wire by using numbers on the board.  I got be the champion checker player, and twice beat Edison.

Jim met Edison because of an incident that aroused a great deal of interest among the operators.

I had ten miles of wire to take care of when storms came up. One night after a storm, my wire was dead. I found the break eight miles from my station.  I climbed the pole and felt the Detroit office calling me by placing my fingers on the wires.  I sent back a message.  “I am eight miles from my office on top of a pole.” The Detroit operator flashed back, “You’re a liar!”

Edison wrote Jim about the incident, asking for all the details and thanked him for his efforts. When Jim was transferred to Detroit, he met Edison personally and often spoke with him as Edison waited for the train at the station.

I only saw him smile once. We were talking about the telephone and the possibilities of inventions generally. “Some day, Al,” I said, “we’ll be talking to the planets and you’ll get out of bed in the morning and say hello to London.”  Jimmy, he said, “you’re crazier than I am.” And then he smiled.

What they would have thought about Skype?

James Kerr 1918 pg.1

I have several letters from Uncle Jim to my Grandmother. In this letter he congratulates Mae on the birth of her son (my father).

His handwriting is so extraordinarily beautiful, I wondered where he learned writing in a round hand. (Click on the document, to view in a larger size.)

Haunted attic?

Our bed and breakfast accommodation stood on a small hill on the shore of Lake Huron in the town of Bay Port.  The sign at the entrance warned, “haunted house” which I thought was a Halloween decoration until I noticed in the register book that guests had written about “paranormal experiences” especially on the third floor.


We were then shown to our rooms–on the third floor! Decorated in eclectic Victorian, the upstairs was warm and cozy, beds covered in quilts and ruffled pillows, but I wondered whether a specter or two might pop out of one of the many secret spaces that occupied the attic.

On the outside porch a half a dozen or more cats made their home on a cushion.  Each cat was entirely different, black, white, Siamese, calico, and Angora mixes.  A friendly grey and white kitten rubbed against us as we were bringing in our suitcases.  I immediately wanted to take him home as he purred constantly when held. The owner would have been most happy about reducing the numbers since these feral cats were a bit of a problem.


That’s three cats.

Later that evening we ate dinner at the Bay Port Inn, where Jean highly recommended their bean soup.  We’ve had good meals in Michigan and never a bad cup of coffee.  Not eating in chain restaurants was a great experience, every place a bit different in personality and menu.  Places lacked that mass-produced restaurant appearance and seemed more from another era.


Alexander Creighton Kerr Family

Sunday evening we met Lorraine and Jack Perry . . .


and spent about three hours pouring over family documents and pictures. Richard scanned almost forty documents and photographs while Jack updated us on Kerr history and filled in many of the gaps. Previously, Lorraine put together an extensive family tree, which I referenced filling in the family charts on Reunion (software program).

One relative we learned about was John Kerr Fyfe, who was captain of the USS Batfish, considered the “championship submarine-killing submarine of World War II.” Additional history about the USS Batfish is covered at the website: His entire crew won the Presidential Unit citation, and he was awarded the Navy Cross.

The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to John K. Fyfe, Commander, U.S. Navy, for gallantry and intrepidity and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. BATFISH on the Sixth War Patrol of that submarine during the period 30 December 1944 to 3 March 1945, in enemy controlled waters at Luzon, in the Philippine Islands.  Through his experience and sound judgment Commander Fyfe brought his ship safely back to port.  His conduct throughout was an inspiration to his officers and men in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval. Service. Born: May 9, 1914 at Fitchburg, Massachusetts; Hometown: Seneca Falls, New York.

Jack showed us a clock, proudly displayed on the fireplace mantle, that belonged to our Great-great grandfather Kerr.


Monday, October 12, Port Austin to the Upper Peninsula

Not bothered by any spooks or specters during the night, we woke up refreshed and started the day with a hearty breakfast. Saying goodbye to the kitties we were off to Pigeon to meet up with Jack, who offered to take us on the “grand tour” of Kerr country. Our first stop was at Grant Cemetery, on a gravel road where deer and wild turkeys made their home. Tucked in the far corner of the cemetery were the final resting places of Phoebe and Georgia Kerr, Gertrude and Allen Kerr, and John and Anna Fyfe.


At the turn of the Century Alexander Creighton Kerr, his wife, Catherine, and their children lived on a farm in Owendale. Previously, Alexander had been married to Annie Doak, who passed away in 1878. They had four children, two survived, Catherine Emily and William.

And the family tree for Alexander and Catherine.

The farmhouse had been abandoned for years, and we weren’t sure whether we would still find it standing; but set back on the road, the house maintained its presence through the overgrown brush. The shingles covering the outside walls were well-worn but underneath I could see the original clapboard, which looked in good shape. I thought maybe the house could have a second life with a dedicated team from This Old House.

DSC01780Jack directed us back to Caseville to meet his brother Sandy and his wife, Valerie.  Sandy showed us his many albums of family history. One of these albums displayed greeting and postcards from the early part of the Century, such as . . .

DSC01799Sandy also had several published community books that had the history of the Kerr and Perry families.


Jack, Jean, Sandy, Valarie, Kae

Of shaving cream and grave markers

Our second to last stop was at the Port Austin Cemetery, not far from the town center. Here’s Jean using shaving cream supplied for us by Joe Kerr, who also told us about using this technique to read faded printing on headstones.


We made one last stop at the Caseville Historical Society building, then back to Pigeon to say our good-byes to Lorraine and Jack, and extending many thanks for all their help in tracing the family history.

Revisiting the legacy of The Thumb Fire of 1881 or how did a search for family roots bring me to a critique of Smoky the Bear?

As noted before, John Kerr and his family barely escaped from the fire that ravaged the Thumb. After leaving Bay Port, we found a State Historical Marker commemorating the event, considered one of the worst disasters by fire this nation has ever experienced.

Several books, such as Michigan on Fire I and II by Betty Sodders offer a history of fires documenting accounts of the terror the residents faced trying to escape. Without reading those accounts it is difficult to realize the magnitude of the conflagration. A good source online is the Report on the Michigan Forest Fires:

The environmental damage caused by the lumbering industry was primarily responsible for these fires, which brought wide-scale destruction. Raging for three days millions of acres were consumed and hundreds lost their lives. Some escaped the flames by finding refuge in the waters of Lake Huron. Like the 1871 fire, the fire of 1881 came at the end of a severe drought and was the result of small land-clearing fires whipped by relentless winds into a seething cauldron of flame. Saginaw Valley and Thumb region suffered the most damage, burning much of the same land that burned ten years before.

In 1881 Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross, and the first official disaster they responded to was the Michigan fire.

Upon returning home, I did a bit of research on the vulnerability of such fires occurring today. Wildfires in Michigan still place property and lives at risk.  While Smokey the Bear’s message, that “Only you can prevent wildfires, is still important as many fires started by debris burning, the issue is more complicated. Note that the word wildfires has been revised from just fires. That’s because past fire suppression policies allowed for the accumulation of woodland debris. So controlled fires have gained legitimacy, but not without criticism as described in this analysis of Smokey’s “ambivalent environmental implications”:

Neither a return to a “let-burn” policy, which had been experimented with in the early days and which was reasserted beginning in the 1960s, nor the use of prescribed burns in areas with high levels of fuel accumulation could truly approximate the cleansing effects of pre-Columbian “natural” fires. The reason: The forests had been made decidedly post-Columbian by a century or more of rapacious logging and, especially in recent decades, by fire suppression, thanks in part to Smokey. As virtually everyone now understands, the combination changed the composition and therefore the vulnerability of many forested areas to devastating insect attack and drought.

The other issue not exactly addressed by Smokey but imbedded in his message of “only you can prevent wildfires”– is citizen action by advocating for responsible regulation through political activism and vigilance.  Overdevelopment, corporate greed and global warming are forces that play against the interests of the citizenry and the ecological balance.

Jean and I actually had a brush with fires out of control at Sun Valley, Idaho, in the summer of 2007.  At one point we thought we might have to evacuate as the sky was ablaze and smoke filled the air. Even at a distance, watching the flames shoot up from the mountainside was a scary experience.

The Mackinac Bridge

We continued on our way up the middle of the state on Route 75 surrounded by vast tracts of forest. We hit a rainstorm, then snow showers, the pines turning white, and we still had several hours of travel ahead of us.  We crossed over the Mackinac Bridge in darkness, but were still mightily impressed with its grandeur. Well, it is the third-longest suspension bridge in the United States. We had arrived in the land “above the Bridge”, the Upper Peninsula.

Tuesday, St. Ignace, Mackinac Island, Stalwart and Raber

We awoke by the light of a bright sunrise over Lake Huron.  The morning air was chilly, and frost covered the windshield of our car.  We only had to drive across the street to catch the ferry for a mid-morning departure for Mackinac Island, made famous by the romantic movie, Somewhere in Time.  Upon disembarking we immediately felt part of another era where travel was by horse and buggy and bicycle.  Vehicles are not permitted on the island, so we chose a tour by carriage rather than bicycle being that the temperature was rather frigid. Our driver, a young woman named Nicole, entertained us with humorous antidotes about the island culture, her personal life, and the care and training of the horses.  We became acquainted with the two horses, Charlie and Buck, who displayed very different personalities.  The horses pulled us past the Grand Hotel, through the fall foliage, past the local graveyard, onto the site of Arch Rock then down a steep path boarded by vistas of the lake. Bundled in a warm blanket, we huddled close for the entire trip.

Jean Richard Mich Cold2

Do we look like we’re cold?

After returning to St. Ignace, we stopped for lunch at the historic B & L Café, which has retained its appearance as a 1940s ice cream parlor. I ordered a “Yooper” pasty (ahem. . . pronounced “pass–tee”, not to be confused with, well, you know) a local favorite brought over by the Cornish miners. This distinctive cuisine usually consists of a turnover filled with beef. I was surprised they offered a vegetarian version, our waitress expressing wonderment at why anyone would want to eat it with chicken filling, let alone vegetables.


The Belinski Family

Back on the road again we headed toward Stalwart to meet up with Art and Michele Belinski.  I felt very fortunate to have found them as our ancestors shared a gravel road called Sandy Ridge.  In fact, the Malinowski and Belinski families lived right across from each other.  Art’s brother, Wally, joined us, and we learned so much about farm life around the turn of the century.


Thanks to Michele, I was able to get a copy of Goetzville•Raber•Lime Island: Memories are made of this!, which is a history of the area compiled by local residents. In the section, The Belinski Homestead, a paragraph recounted  how Peter Belinski and family arrived by boat to the Raber area.  Peter wanted to homestead and went to Stalwart to search for land.  Herman Malinowski, offered lodging to Peter and encouraged him to settle on the land across the road from his property. Herman signed the document as witness to Peter Belinski’s declaration of intention to become a citizen.

Belinski Citizenship

Tragedy at Sand Ridge School, February 1919

Jozefa and Herman played a small part in a tragic story, which began at the Sand Ridge School, situated just down the road from their farmhouse. The story sorrowfully ties the Malinowski and Belinski families together again.

A year after our visit to the UP, Michele send me a copy of Pickford Patchwork, The Fabric of a Farming Community, Schools Memorybook 1878-1958, which documented the events of February 1919 through personal accounts and newspaper articles. I’ve retold the story here:

Finding the lost homestead

Michele spoke with another local resident, Ted Pestula, about the exact location of the farmhouse.  I am so indebted to both Ted and Michele because we drove along Sand Ridge Road but could not find the house even though we knew the approximate mileage from the main road.  After talking with Michele, we learned that Ted had placed a white bucket at the location, and that was the reason we found the homestead on our second attempt.  We still had to look intently into the woods, but about fifty yards away a rusted roof camouflaged by the colorful leaves peeked out from behind the tree branches.

Jean and I immediately hopped out of the car and began bushwhacking our way through the undergrowth toward the house.  When we started our search, we didn’t know whether the house would be standing or not, so what surprised me when I got up close was the solid construction of the home.  The walls looked about a foot thick, the frames on the windows were almost intact, the wood floor was warped but mostly in place, and the roof remained­–not bad for a 115-year-old house, left uninhabited for the last 60 years.


Abandoned houses retain a mystique, almost like hallowed ground.  The imagination wanders and ghost-like images of a mother standing at the stove or a father stepping down to the root cellar reconstruct a time long ago. Everyday life occupies every corner of the house–the decorative wainscoting, the attic, the ladder propped against the wall­–even the keyhole.

Across the road, we took pictures of the Belinski barn also now abandoned. Richard called us back to the car as darkness was quickly setting in. We knew we would have to return tomorrow.

Belinski Farm

From the clues above, can you find the homestead on the Satellite Map?

Sand Ridge

Wednesday, October 14, Stalwart and Raber

Early morning we headed out for Pickford for breakfast at the Main Street Café. In small towns, strangers stand out from the locals so it seemed that introductions were naturally in order.  Over pancakes and coffee we talked about our family history with the folks at the next table. One of the men, Don Stevenson, said that as a child he used to play along Sand Ridge Road, and he knew the house set back from the road surrounded by trees.

From Pickford we drove down Route 48 for a meet up with Mary Wahl at her home in Stalwart.


Mary has lived in the Stalwart area all of her life, her family owned a farm on San Ridge for a time. Mary shared stories about farm life when she was growing up–the chores, the locust infestations, epidemics, and schooling.  Saturday nights were party times, and all the families would gather at one of their homes. Folks would bring their harmonicas, violins, and harps and they would square dance, polka, and sing. Peter Belinski actually installed an oak floor in his house just for dancing. Mary confirmed that many households made their own moonshine, which I’m sure contributed to the merriment.  At that time Sand Ridge Road was the main thoroughfare from Sault Ste. Marie to Raber, which was so difficult to imagine given narrow gravel roadway it is today.

Back on the road, we headed toward St. Stanislaus-Kostka Church to see the grave marker for Herman and Josephine Malinowski, which we found resting under the colorful branches of a nearby tree.  We photographed the Church and then spoke with Barb Pedelko about arranging to have our Great-grandparents added to the Memorial Tree just inside the main doors.

Several months later Michele sent us a photograph of the memory leaf.

We then drove to the Stalwart Cemetery to visit the gravesites of John Kerr and his daughter, Mae Kerr Malinoski.

The first photograph was taken circa 1940 at the Stalwart Cemetery.

Cemetary Stalwart C.1940

Michele was kind enough to take these photographs of the cemetery and send them over email before the start of our trip.



We wanted to make one more stop before lunch and returned to the homestead on SandRidge. We circled the house, taking pictures through each window and door.  The floor was sound so we walked through photographing the root cellar and attic.

Jean Homested

We then explored the area just outside the house, where Jean discovered the old water pump.


We also uncovered the remnants of a old bucket. This finding deserved it’s own post as the pail actually turned up in one of the photographs of the farm.

Sand Ridge Farm Cows

Grandfather, standing to Jozefa’s left in the picture, traveled almost 400 miles to visit his folks on this day. I questioned why did he make such a long trip at this time? George appeared quite dapper in his fedora and long black coat, and I noticed that he was smiling coyly at the camera. I searched back in family records again and found that my grandmother, Catherine, had died in 1936. Several years later George remarried. Was that his new bride taking the picture?

This was the beginning of a new life for my grandfather, but Jozefa would have only a few years left to care for her animals and farm. I thought about her small hand holding the handle of the bucket.

Years later, Jean painted the scene.


From a nearby clearing, a man approached us asking if we needed any help.  We explained our purpose of finding our family homestead, and he was thrilled and asked him to join us at his home, which was under construction nearby.  Jim and Carol Luke were the current owners of the property and were very much interested in the history of their land. We brought out the computer and showed them all the pictures we had dating from around 1900 to 1940. We then returned outside to enjoy the views walking through the surrounding fields, which spread before us like a carpet encircled by the colors of the forest. We felt very fortunate that Carol and Jim would be the caretakers of the old homestead.


Searching for the lumber mill at Raber Bay

Our final destination was the location of the Mud Lake Lumber Company at the water’s edge at Raber Bay. In hearing family stories about the mill, my mind’s eye had a picture of a thriving village and lumber yard. A saloon, general store, dance hall, and school had been part of that community. Schooners would sail into the bay to be loaded with lumber, and a narrow-gauge railroad, which ran in back of the Malinowski farm, brought in timber. My Grandmother, Mae, had saved pictures of her friends from when she lived in the Camp with my Great-grandfather.


In 1919 the mill burned for a second time and never recovered.  We  gathered some small pieces of wood and recovered an artifact from the piles of discarded lumber. Mike and Joe later identified our find as possibly being a yoke. One of the local residents told us that several years ago the water receded, and all kinds of interesting relics turned up in the sand.



Thursday, October 15, Sault Ste. Marie to Whitefish Point

Today was Jean’s birthday, and all day she was greeted with “happy returns” telephone messages from family and friends. This turned out to be another memorable day. We drove to Sault Ste. Marie stopping to watch a freighter move through the Soo Locks and visiting the museum.

Remembering a cruise on the Great Lakes, 1955

For Jean and me this was our second visit to the Locks as back in the summer of 1955 our family went on a cruise on the SS South American.  Built in 1914, the ship was part of the Georgian Bay Line, which ran cruises for fifty years on the Great Lakes. Our journey started in Buffalo, New York. I clearly remember my Dad waking us up at 3 o’clock in the morning so that we could get an early start on the drive. When I was a child, I was extremely prone to car sickness; I made a vow to myself that I would not get sick this time.  It actually worked!

Although modest compared with today’s ocean liners, in my memory the SS South American was a grand white ship. (Painting by Paul LeMorre)

Staterooms were small with wooden bunk beds taking up most of the room; a small porthole provided an outside view. I remember that we walked in our robes to the shower rooms.  For the cruise wear, my mother dressed us in matching outfits.

My Grandfather and his wife boarded at Detroit, joining our family and our aunt and uncle. The ship continued on to Mackinaw Island, Sault St. Marie, and Duluth. In 1950, the trip cost $89 dollars per person so, in 1955, the cost probably was still well under $150 each.

What I recall most vividly were the parties and the cruise director, “Mr. Tewease.”  Upon finding him, he would blow up balloons for us and create animal figures.  He always had some fun activity going on–scavenger hunts, games, and dances.  One game the adults played involved husbands sitting on folding chairs with their pants rolled up over their knees.  Blindfolded wives were then instructed to “feel the knees” to determine which one was their husband.  Today I could see sexual harassment suits written all over this game, but back then they thought it was absolutely hilarious. On the last night, we attended a gala captain’s dinner replete with pointy party hats.

Later that evening, the seas grew very rough, and I fell victim to my motion sickness. I remember getting medicine, which put me into a sound sleep as the ship swayed back and forth in the night.

What happened to the cruise line? The SS South American and her sister ship could not meet new safety standards enacted in federal legislation, and in 1967, the ship made its last voyage and eventually scrapped in 1992.

A postcard memory: My childhood friend, Joan, sent me this postcard in 2014. Joan had saved the card from 1955, which was sent from me (with assistance from parents) to Joan from Mackinac Island.

Postcard MacKinac Island

St. Mary’s Cathedral

Our Grandparents were married in the rectory at St. Mary’s Cathedral in 1910 so we stopped briefly to take pictures there. Since Mae was Protestant and George was Catholic, they could not be married in the Church itself. I noticed on the bonds of the marriage certificate that someone had underlined the word church where it read: “in the church of St. Mary’s Rectory,” perhaps a small defiance of the rule?


While at the museum, I overheard one of the guides suggesting a touring route along the coast up to Whitefish Point. Although not part of our plans, we decided on the spot that’s where we would head for the afternoon. The trees in full color lined the road all the way to the Point.  We stopped along the way at the Point Iroquois Lighthouse, and from that vantage were spectacular views of Lake Superior and surrounding countryside.

Lighthouse Michigan

Boardwalks led the way to sandy beaches where Jean and I, upon seeing the colorful stones along the shore, began picking up as many different kinds as we could, trying to be mindful that we were already taking home pinecones, lumber artifacts, and gourds.

Whitefish Point, called the graveyard of Lake Superior as more than 200 ships were lost in that vicinity, was the home of the Shipwreck Museum.  We visited the light keeper’s house, viewed a film on the Edmund Fitzgerald, and browsed around a charming gift shop filled with nautical souvenirs.


Reliving the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald

As we came off the boardwalk from the beach, a gentleman with a white beard wearing a seafarer’s cap motioned us to come into the lifeboat building. He began to recount the events of the sinking of the Fitzgerald when Jean surmised that his connection to that shipwreck might be more personal.  Turns out that he was a member of the crew on the Anderson, the ship that followed seven miles behind the Fitzgerald before it sank on Lake Superior.  Gordon Lightfoot wrote a haunting folk song that memorialized that freighter. 

William recounted how on that fateful day in November in 1975 three 30-foot waves hit their vessel, followed by a severe snowstorm.  Upon looking at the radar screen, the Fitzgerald had disappeared about seventeen miles from Whitefish Bay. The video below recorded William telling the story.

Art said that he remembered that particular storm on the Upper Peninsula because the winds blew so hard that he could hear the trees cracking in the woods under the pressure of the gales.

Reflective and amazed at what we had learned, we drove back to Stalwart as the sunset over the trees cast long shadows over the road. I thought back to our night of rough weather on Lake Superior many years ago.

Friday, October 16, Stalwart, Castle Rock, Hartwick Pines State Park and Waterford

Our plan was to drive back to Detroit but not before stopping by to see Michele and Art.  She beckoned us into the house for warm, wild-blueberry cake and fresh coffee.  They gave us homemade zucchini-raspberry jam and stamen wine sap apples to take back with us. Michelle even presented us with little gift bags of scented candles.  Art showed Richard his heating system, a wood-fired hot water exchanger system, that supplied heat to their home. The system required attention at least twice a day and was definitely a unique setup for us folks from the city who get heat with a gas pipe into the house.

Our final destination was back to the homestead for one last visit.  Our plan was to collect a few of the apples off the tree in front of the house to see if we could start a couple seedlings. In the picture from the 1900s, an apple tree stood in front of the house–perhaps the tree there now was one of its offspring.

Before passing through St. Ignace, we stopped to climb Castle Rock, which offered panoramic views of the land and lakes.  My father had a picture in his scrapbook of Castle Rock:

Castle Rock C1936Circa 1936

And now . . .


Museum of Ojibwa Culture

In St. Ignace we stopped to visit the Museum of Ojibwa Culture. The first gallery presented the cultural values of this tribe: “A society of kinsmen, a society of gifts, a society of equals, and a society of nature.”  The second group of exhibits showed the life of this tribe, who were the earliest inhabitants of the Great Lake region. After the French fur traders arrived in the 1600s, the culture changed. On traveling up to Whitefish Point, we drove through the L’Anse Reservation on the Upper Peninsula, which is only one of two in the state.

Lumber industry destroys the forests

On our way toward Detroit, we stopped at the Hartwick Pines State Park, which maintained a stand of virgin white pines and was home to a visitor center and logging museum. We wanted to learn more about the logging era in Michigan since that industry had a profound influence on our great-grandparents.  Exhibits retold the stories of the loggers and their lives in the “camps”.

By the turn of Century, most of the trees had been cut down. Unfortunately, the lumber industry had altered the ecology of Michigan forever by stripping over 19 million acres of forest, none of which was replanted while leaving behind fields of barren wasteland. The lumber barrens even engaged in a scam to sell plots of these lands by establishing “demonstration farms.”  The unscrupulous owners imported fertilizer to make the land look productive.  People used their life savings to buy small plots of land only to find that the land was unsuitable for farming. Much of the land reverted to the State as a way for the lumber barons to avoid paying taxes. Do we have regulations today that prevent exploitation of the citizenry from scams from exploitive corporations? Although we have made some significant strides toward environmental protection legislation, problems with enforcement of those regulations persist. Pollutants cross numerous jurisdictional lines–cities, counties, and states– creating complex processes to hold companies responsible.  Budgetary constraints also make enforcement difficult.

DSC02059from the Hartwick Pines Lumber Museum

Reflecting on the beauty of the Michigan forests and as a tribute to those working on restoration.

Saturday, October 17, Waterford

Before returning home, we were fortunate that we were able get together with Joe and Mike to say “goodbye” on this very special day, Joe’s 87th Birthday. It has been such a joy to connect with Joe and his family on this trip.


In Appreciation

Our very special thanks to Joe, Gay, Mike, Pat, Robert, Lorraine, Jack, Sandy, Valerie, Ted, Michele, Art, Mary, Jim and Carol for making this a trip of a lifetime. Michele, the warm blueberry cake and coffee were delicious and such a nice surprise.   Warmest wishes, Richard, Jean and Kae

You air that serves me with breath to speak!
You objects that call from diffusion my meanings, and give them shape!
You light that wraps me and all things in delicate equable showers!
You paths worn in the irregular hollows by the roadsides!
I think you are latent with unseen existences- you are so dear to me. You flagg’d walks of the cities! you strong curbs at the edges!
You ferries! you planks and posts of wharves! you timber-lined sides! you distant ships!
You rows of houses! you window-pierc’d façades! you roofs!
You porches and entrances! you copings and iron guards!
You windows whose transparent shells might expose so much!
You doors and ascending steps! you arches!
You gray stones of interminable pavements! you trodden crossings!
From all that has been near you, I believe you have imparted to yourselves, and now would impart the same secretly to me;
From the living and the dead I think you have peopled your impassive surfaces, and the spirits thereof would be evident and amicable with me.
Walt Whitman
Song of the Open Road

Upon Reflection  . . .

In our attempts to fit the pieces of our heritage together, we trampled through a number of cemeteries.  I believe it’s only fitting that I make amends for any insensitivity while treading on hallowed ground and offer this tribute to those who have gone before us.



Winter on SandRidge

Jim Luke was kind enough to send these beautiful pictures taken along Sand Ridge Road.

Thinking about Family Names

When my father recalled his family life, I somehow felt transported into another era. A friendly informality was the overreaching impression I received as their lives seemed to be anchored in an unpretentious way of life. He reminisced about the get-togethers with family and friends, and how they would put on the kettle as soon as someone stopped by. There didn’t seem to be formal dinners and invitations and “calling before coming over.” A spontaneous and gracious welcoming was the way folks were greeted. The family would spend entire summers camping on the edge of a lake with friends and relatives, and the men would commute on weekends from their workplaces.

I don’t believe that my father praised his Mother as such, but subtly he must have conveyed her character to me.  My visualization of her was of a caring mother who liked people and always had friends and family around her.  She was a model of thoughtful generosity and genuineness.

When we returned home from Michigan, Creighton wrote about our Grandmother Mae:

She was the Rock of the Malinoski family. Your father’s demeanor, quiet life, kindness came from his mother. Of the many times, we got together as I was growing up Aunt Mae was the Queen and the leader.  Always kind, firm but fair, and admired by all.  I never heard my father or mother speak any ill will between Mae and George.

We named our son John Kerr, born on the same day, May 13, of his great-great-grandfather John Kerr, and our daughter Mae Catherine.

On a side note: I’ve counted the name John Kerr in our family tree, either as middle or last name nine times: John Kerr, John William Kerr, William John Kerr, John Kerr Malinoski, John Kerr, John Kerr Fyfe, John Kerr Fyfe II, John Kerr Fyfe, III, and John Kerr Kalwaic. Three other family members have used Kerr as a middle name: Matthew Kerr Chenault, Jean Kerr Strosahl, and Phillip Kerr Strosahl. Named on November 10, 2011, an addition to our Kerr Clan, Alexandra Kerr Strosahl, born April 6, 2012. Our little grandson, Corvin Kerr Axelrod, born and passed on April 9, 2012, is our most recent addition to the Kerr’s. Most common family names:  John, Alexander, William, James, Creighton, and Catherine, Mary, Anna, Kathleen.

Our Family Holiday Gathering, December 2009

The Kerr Family Albums

During the trip, we were able to collect many family photographs.  Organized by families, the albums below include some of these pictures.

“Going Down to the Old Home Place”

To Herman and Josephine for homesteading on the Upper Peninsula &
to Carol and Jim for their thoughtful stewardship of the land today.

Pages of Interest

DeTour/Drummond Island, Goetzville,& Raber Area – EUP Small Town Life

The Stalwart Fair: The Biggest Little Fair in MichiganChippewa County Michigan: History, Records, Facts, Genealogy and Ancestry

Chippewa County: MIGenWebRaber TownshipHow the Stalwart Settlers came to StalwartChippewa County Michigan “Genealogy Trails”

Comments on: "A Journey through Time:Family & Friends on the Michigan Thumb & Upper Peninsula" (25)

  1. Jean Strosahl said:

    Kae it is fantastic…It reads like a novel…Ithink the date is wrong under one of the pictures..Can not wait to start the Journey


  2. Johann said:

    Wow Aunt Kae! Thank you for researching and compiling this information!


  3. Gay Kerr said:

    Kae, enjoyed visiting with you yesterday and look forward to “sharing” your trip through your blog, have a great time!


  4. Richard said:

    Wow, thanks for keeping us up to date, I love the photos. I’m looking forward to more.


  5. Claudia said:

    Dear Kae,

    I enjoyed following your travels very much. What a wonderful experience! The photos are great! How moving it must have been for you to visit your long lost ancestors in the places they inhabited and to meet family you have never before met and to make new friends along the way!



  6. Jim & Carol Luke said:

    This has been a dream come true for us. We love this property and have always wondered who built the homestead on it. Meeting the three of you was such a great feeling for us. We are so thankful to know the history of this property and we will do our very best to preserve this property as your Great Grandparents would have wanted. We are looking forward to your updates and are so happy to be a part of your journey. The three of you are so very kind and sweet, we wish you the very best. You are welcome in our home anytime.

    Jim & Carol Luke


  7. Jean Strosahl said:

    Bravo !!!!!!!! you have done an incredible job of putting the journey of 100 years into a vidio. Can we put it on U tube? I am going to watch it again.


  8. Jean Strosahl said:

    Every time I think it cannot get better, you add something that is just incredible. The Reflection video is a beautiful reminder of those who have gone before. Your fellow traveler in Time,


  9. John Kerr Fyfe III said:

    Hello and Thank-you Jean for finding us. I will share this with my Husbands Family and I know they will be thrilled. Jack & Lucy Fyfe VA Beach


  10. Johann said:

    Wow Aunt Kae!!! This is truly fascinating stuff! I can hardly wait for the rest of it!


    • psalmboxkey said:

      Thanks, Johann. It seems this will be an unending story as I uncover so many interesting stories about family and friends and how those accounts relate to the wider culture and society.


  11. Lori Kerr said:

    This was the first time I was able to view your website. Thank you for all your time and work that you have put into this. We are mourning the loss of a great man whom you got to meet on your journeys – Creighton “Joe” Kerr in which I was lucky enough to call my grandfather for the past 17 years of marriage. Thanks again! Lori Kerr – wife of Scott Michael Kerr, grandson of Creighton “Joe” Kerr.


    • psalmboxkey said:

      Dear Lori, what a lovely testimonial to your Grandfather. Jean and I will find comfort in meeting you and visiting with the Kerr families. Warmest wishes, Kae


  12. Jean Strosahl said:

    I believe Joe would have enjoyed the video. It is comforting to know that generations of grandchildren and relatives will be able to have a glimpse into his life. Jean


  13. Kae: Gay and I watched the tribute this morning. I can’t tell you how much it means to us. You have done such a beautiful job on the site. The video was one of the finest tributes to him and the Kerr family anyone could ask for. Your hard work has brought my father great comfort as he feared much of his past would have been forgotten. Your site has become a family heirloom and thank you from the bottom of our heart. Mike & Gay


  14. i am impressed that you have saved some of your images from your past – i particulary like the image of the family homestead


  15. psalmboxkey said:

    My sister and I consider this one of our best trips . . . seeing these places in person made the all of the photographs come to life.


  16. […] the barn that belonged our Great-grandparents, Jozefa and Herman. My sister and I had been on a pilgrimage to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in search of our family history and found their farmhouse off a […]


  17. […] enjoyed some basic comforts as compared with the lives of their parents, who were homesteaders on a farm in Upper Michigan and worked in the lumber mills. My father was the first in his family to graduate from […]


  18. […] A Journey through Time:Family & Friends on the Michigan Thumb & Upper Peninsula […]


  19. what a great story and journey. I did a road trip a few years back that took a similar route. It was fantastic

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Terrific research, Kae! You probably do not remember but when we were in 8th grade, I left Springfield to move to Ann Arbor for half a year, while my father had a sabbatical at the University of Michigan. Later on, when I was about 20 and off in NM, the remainder of my family moved to Houghton, in the Upper Peninsula. They lived there for many years while my father taught at Michigan Tech, and my younger siblings grew up there. Visiting them at Christmas, I was fascinated by the fact that the mine owners in the up had established so many churches and opera houses for the miners (from many ethnic backgrounds) and also by the fact that the homes in Houghton had boardwalks leading from the front door of the house to the sidewalk. That was so the homeowner could easily push the snow off the walk down to the street level.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kate, you must have left after the 8th grade picture was taken. We have a “Yooper” connection! Lovely! Whenever I hear folks complain about the snow in Pennsylvania, I smile and think about the winters on the Upper Peninsula. It was cold in October when we went and did have some snow flurries. Seems like the communities are very close knit and yet friendly. In small town restaurants, folks would just start talking to us.


  21. French Explorers came to the Upper Peninsula in the 16 for pelts, particularly beaver; they used Huron and Odawa Indians as go-betweens with trappers from other tribes. The fur trade led Native Americans to give up their traditional way of life and plug into the global economy, says historian Russ Magnaghi of Northern Michigan University in Marquette. The tribes also revealed locations of copper and iron deposits. By the 18, metal ore revenues surpassed those from fur, attracting miners from Germany, Ireland, Britain, Poland, Italy, Sweden, Norway and Finland.


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