William Burke (1820-1898): Word of Mouth, a Map, and the 1880 Census

Some ancestors are easy to find information about and others, not so much. My great-great grandfather, William Burke (1820-1898) and his wife Catherine (Powers) Burke (1821-1880) are looking like they’re going to require some intensive detective work.

Much of the information I have about them comes from family word of mouth, collected by my mother back when many of William’s great-grandchildren were still alive in the 1970s and 1980s. This information may or may not be accurate, of course. Lots of factors affect the accuracy of family stories. But there seems to be agreement that William and Catherine were born in Ireland, perhaps in County Cork. I don’t know yet when they married or when they immigrated to America. Eventually, they settled on a farm in West Point Township, White County, Indiana.

The 1880 United States Federal Census helps provide confirmation for some of the dates and places I have for William and Catherine’s family. Here is what the census shows:

The families on census page 25 living in West Point Township, White County, Indiana, were enumerated on the 16th and 17th of June, 1880. One family on this page is the household of William Burke (spelled Burk on the record). William, age 60, is listed as widowed. This is in line with some family information that Catherine died earlier in 1880, though by no means proves it. William’s occupation is farming. Ireland is listed as his birthplace, and it’s also listed as the birthplace of his parents. The record indicates that William cannot read or write, which was not uncommon for immigrants at that time.

The rest of the household consists of four sons of William, all of whom are listed as single and farm laborers. The record says Michael, age 26, and William, age 24, were born in Ohio. John, age 20, and Richard, age 18, are listed as born in Indiana.

We have to remember that information on censuses (or any record, for that matter) should not be taken as gospel. There are lots of errors made in any kind of record-keeping, which is why we always look for multiple sources to confirm facts about our ancestors’ lives. But this census can begin to give us a sense of the shape of the lives of William and Catherine and their family.

William’s age is given as 60, so he was born about 1820. Michael was born about 1854, William about 1856, John about 1860, and Richard about 1862. A timeline based on this census information would say that William and Catherine emigrated from Ireland sometime before 1854 and that they lived in Ohio for a few years before settling in Indiana by the time John was born in about 1860. Catherine died sometime before the census was taken in June of 1880.

Here are the Burke farms in West Point Township, White County, Indiana in 1896. Courtesy of Sue Burke Harrington, used with permission

This image is from the 1896 plat map of West Point Township. You will see the farm of Wm. Burke Sr. on 80 acres in the northwest corner of section 29. In section 30, to the west, you will see 80-acre farms for R. Burke, M. Burke, and Wm. Burke Jr. Also in section 30 is a 180-acre farm belonging to John A. Burke. The little black squares indicate where the houses are located on each farm.

Now, Michael Burke had died in 1889, but according to family information his widow Agnes lived in White County with her second husband until sometime after 1910 when they and their family moved to Michigan. That could account for the plat map’s showing “M. Burke” on that farm even after Michael’s death. Another question that needs to be researched and answered.

It’s a start. There are still lots of questions about this branch of the family. I’ll keep working on them, but if you know anything more about them, please leave a comment and let me know.

How I’m related to William and Catherine:

William Burke (1820-1898) and his wife Catherine (Powers) Burke (1821-1880)

Their son, Michael Burke (1854-1889) and his wife Agnes (McCormick) Burke (1863-1918)

Their son, William Michael Burke (1888-1956) and his wife Mabel Nellie (Boone) Burke (1890-1956)

My father



1880 United States Federal Census.West Point, White, Indiana; Roll: 324; Family History Film: 1254324; Page: 313A; Enumeration District: 183; Image: 0207. Record for William Burk. http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=1880usfedcen&h=28023949&indiv=try.

Donna Hundey Burke Weaver Archive. In the possession of the author.

Sue Burke Harrington family collection.


Family Places: Sumner, Michigan – Early History and 1913 Snapshot

It occurred to me this week, while I was in pursuit of information about my elusive great-great-great grandfather Michael McGurn (1826-1868), that learning about family places is probably as important as learning about our family stories. I’d hoped to write a post on Michael, but I just don’t know enough for sure about him yet, so I had to shelve that idea for now.

Instead, here’s a first installment on a place where the Forquers and McGurns have deep roots: Sumner, Gratiot County, Michigan. My great-great grandfather Reason M. Forquer (1849-1934) came to Sumner in 1873. He farmed and also owned a general store in town. Another great-great grandfather Thomas Henry McGurn (1853-1937), a blacksmith and later a saloon keeper (and son of the elusive Michael), was living in Sumner by 1880, though I don’t know exactly when he arrived.

Sumner’s first settlers came to Gratiot County in the mid 1850s, establishing a sawmill and a store in the location that would become the village. The settlement was first known as “Belltown” after George S. Bell, who came from Ohio in 1854 and took possession of 400 acres of land in Sumner Township. Another of the first immigrants into the area, Titus Stover, ran the store, and his customers took to calling the settlement “Stoverville.”

Sumner's Main Street in 1913
Sumner’s Main Street in 1913. Tucker, History of Gratiot County

The village that would eventually be Sumner was laid out in 1868 and named Estella. When the post office was established in 1869, it was named Sumner because it was the first post office in Sumner Township. Between 1869 and 1887, the town had one name and its post office had another, until frustrated residents petitioned the board of supervisors to change the name of the village to Sumner.

Map of Sumner in 1901
Map of Sumner in 1901 – Land owned by “R. Farquer,” a common misspelling of Reason M. Forquer’s name, is shown at the top. The hotel is at the corner of Main and Water St. (now Ferris Road). http://www.mfhn.com/gratiot/maps.html

Willard D. Tucker’s history of Gratiot County provides a snapshot of Sumner (and of the whole county, for that matter) in 1913. That year, for instance, the post office was operating two rural delivery routes. One rural delivery carrier was Charles L. Booth (1879-1926), husband of Minnie (Forquer) Booth (1879-1967). Minnie’s brother Arthur Reason Forquer (1881-1951) was my great grandfather, and I knew Aunt Minnie when I was a child. The other delivery carrier was Elmon Jesse Evey (1869-1932). Elmon’s son Walter Evey (1901-1991) became my great uncle Walter by marrying my grandmother’s older sister Opal Jeanice (Forquer) Evey (1903-2006).

In 1913, Sumner’s school had two teachers and ten grades. There were churches in town for Free Methodists, Adventists, and members of the Church of Christ. You can see the school and the three churches on the map.

Businesses in Sumner in 1913 included a flour mill, a hotel, and a blacksmith shop. There was also a resident physician. Several stores sold general merchandise, including the store owned by my great-great grandfather Reason Forquer, which he would later sell to his son Arthur Forquer, my great grandfather.

That’s a start on the history of Sumner and its relation to our family. More to come in later posts.

Reason M. Forquer
Reason M. Forquer. Donna Hundey Burke Weaver Archive, used with permission

How I’m related to Reason M. Forquer:

Reason M. Forquer (1849-1934) and his wife Isabella “Lizzie” (Edgett) Forquer (1853-1929)

Their son Arthur Reason Forquer (1881-1951) and his wife Mable Blanche (McGurn) Forquer (1882-1984)

Their daughter Katy Pleasant (Forquer) Hundey (1910-2000) and her husband Harold Benjamin Hundey (1907-1987)

Their daughter, my mother


Thomas Henry McGurn
Thomas Henry McGurn. Donna Hundey Burke Weaver Archive, used with permission

How I’m related to Thomas Henry McGurn:

Thomas Henry McGurn (1853-1937) and his wife Anna E. (Doxey) McGurn (1858-1945)

Their daughter Mable Blanche (McGurn) Forquer (1882-1984) and her husband Arthur Reason Forquer (1881-1951)

Their daughter Katy Pleasant (Forquer) Hundey (1910-2000) and her husband Harold Benjamin Hundey (1907-1987)

Their daughter, my mother



1880 United States Federal Census. Census Place: Sumner, Gratiot, Michigan; Roll: 580; Family History Film: 1254580; Page: 639C; Enumeration District: 102; Image: 0377. Record for Thomas Mcgurn. http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=1880usfedcen&h=22275303&indiv=try.

1900 United States Federal Census. Census Place: Sumner, Gratiot, Michigan; Roll: 713; Page: 21B; Enumeration District: 0060; FHL microfilm: 1240713. Record for Thomas H Mcgurn. http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=1900usfedcen&h=24777605&indiv=try.

Centennial Committee. Sumner Michigan, 1868-1968: Centennial Yearbook. 1968.

Death Certificate, Michigan Department of Health, Certificate of Death: Reason M. Forquer. Donna Hundey Burke Weaver Archive.

MIGenWeb Project. Gratiot County Michigan. 1901 Map images. http://www.mfhn.com/gratiot/maps.html

Tucker, Willard D. Gratiot County Michigan. Historical, Biographical, Statistical. Saginaw, Mich.: Seeman & Peters, 1913. (May be accessed online here: https://openlibrary.org/books/OL6566617M/Gratiot_County_Michigan.)