Tag Archives: Family history

Posts dealing generally with family history research, analysis and writing

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.


John Andrew Burke (1887-1971), The “Uncle Jack” I Never Knew

William Michael Burke (left) and John Andrew Burke in 1889
William Michael Burke (left) and John Andrew Burke in 1889. From the author’s collection

Families are funny things, and their dynamics are complicated. Even though I was 18 when he died, I never met my Grandpa Bill’s (William Michael Burke [1888-1956]) older brother or any of his family.

Jack and Bill were the sons of Michael Burke (1854-1889) and Agnes (McCormick) Burke (1863-1918), my great-grandparents. The boys were barely toddlers when their father died, aged 35, in an industrial accident in Peoria, Illinois. Their mother took them back home to White County, Indiana, where both she and Michael had been born.

William Michael Burke (left) and John Andrew Burke (right)
William Michael Burke (left) and John Andrew Burke (right). From the author’s collection

On 31 January 1893, Agnes married her second husband Franklin Riggs in White County. They lived in West Point Township, White County, Indiana, until they moved to Arcada Township in Gratiot County, Michigan sometime between 1910 and 1920. Arcada Township is where Grandpa Bill’s farm was, but I don’t yet know where Agnes and Frank lived in the township.

Frank and Agnes had eight more children, in addition to the boys from her marriage to Michael. It’s easy to imagine that Jack and Bill might have felt marginalized in this big, new family. There’s no way to know at this point what kind of stepfather Frank was, but I remember my father occasionally mentioning his name in a not-very-nice tone of voice, perhaps passing on his father’s attitude. I don’t know. Frank died 9 January 1952, six months before I was born.

But back to Jack and Bill. Jack lost his right arm in a hunting accident when he was young. According to his granddaughter, Carole Grimes, Grandpa Bill accidentally shot him – yikes.

On 10 February 1915, Jack married Dorthea Belle Miksell (1890-1965). The 1920 Federal Census shows them farming in Arcada Township, Gratiot County, Michigan. By 1927, though, they were living in Michigan City, Indiana, where they remained for the rest of their lives, living at 1515 W. 10th St. Jack worked for the Pullman railway car manufacturing company, painting rail cars.

John and Dorothea Burke
John and Dorthea Burke. Courtesy of Carole Grimes, used with permission


It’s a shame when close family members don’t know each other, but I’m very happy that 21st Century technology has allowed me to connect with cousin Carole, Jack’s granddaughter. And I’m grateful that she’s given permission for me to share these great pictures of her grandparents.

Dorthea and John Burke
Dorthea and John Burke. Courtesy of Carole Grimes, used with permission

How I’m related to Jack:

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

Their sons, John Andrew Burke (1887-1971) and William Michael Burke (1888-1956)

William Michael Burke is my father’s father; John Andrew Burke is my great-uncle


Ancestry.com, U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-Current (Online publication – Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2011. http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=ssdi&h=8175678&ti=0&indiv=try&gss=pt.

Ancestry.com, Indiana, Marriage Collection, 1800-1941 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005), Ancestry.com, White County, Indiana; Index to Marriage Record 1850 – 1920 Volume I Lett, W. P. A. Original Record Located: County Clerk’s O; Book: C-12; Page: 285. Record for John Burke. http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=inmarr1880&h=404937&indiv=try

Ancestry.com, Indiana, Marriage Collection, 1800-1941 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005), Ancestry.com, White County, Indiana; Index to Marriage Record 1830 – 1920 Volume II Let, W. P. A. Original Record Located: County Clerk’s O; Book: 5-W; Page: 74. Record for Agnes McCormick. http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=inmarr1880&h=1900801&indiv=try

Ancestry.com, U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011), Ancestry.com, Record for John A Burke. http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=usdirectories&h=648594919&indiv=try

Ancestry.com, 1920 United States Federal Census (Online publication – Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.Original data – Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. (NARA microfilm publication T625, 2076 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Reco), Ancestry.com, Year: 1920; Census Place: Arcada, Gratiot, Michigan; Roll: T625_763; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 31; Image: 1158. Record for John Burke. http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=1920usfedcen&h=17642419&indiv=try

Starting My Family History Blog

I’ve been meaning to start this blog for a very long time, and finally I just decided to get on with it.

My mother, Donna Jean (Hundey) Burke Weaver (1930-2003), and I took an adult ed class in genealogy in about 1974 at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, DeKalb Co., Illinois, where we were living. We’d both been interested in genealogy, but we didn’t really understand how to go about family history research in an organized way.

The class was an excellent introduction to all the forms and methods of research available at the time. I wish I could remember the name of the woman who taught it, because I’d like to try to track her down and thank her for getting us started down this road.

This is the first Pedigree Chart I filled out when we started our research.
This is the first Pedigree Chart I filled out when we started our research. The sources of each piece of information were noted on the back of the sheet. From the author’s collection

After the class, Mom and I worked on getting information from older relatives, sending away to county courthouses for documents, traipsing through cemeteries, tracking down books that might contain information on our forebears — all the activities that characterized pre-Internet research. As my career became more busy, I had little time to spend on it, but Mom kept on plugging.

When the Internet came along, Mom embraced email for contacting family members at a distance, Family Tree Maker for organizing her records, and FamilySearch for early online research. She bought a laptop to take on her trips to the Family History Library at Salt Lake City and to other research locations. She would love all the things we can do with technology these days!

After she died, I inherited the boxes and boxes of stuff she’d accumulated, along with her Family Tree Maker files. I was still working, and would still be for another eight years, so I was unable to do anything about organizing and sharing all the great information she’d found. But now that is my work in retirement.

In the meantime I had done a lot of thinking about the best way to give other family members access to these treasures of family history. While pedigree charts and death certificates get us genealogists excited, they’re pretty dry in themselves. It’s the stories they tell that can capture the imagination.

This blog is for telling those stories, so my extended family can take part in the delight that comes from learning about those people who came before us, and so that they and I can honor the love and hard work that went into making our own lives possible.

And I’ve just told my first family story….