Delilah’s Family—New Discoveries in 2000


Delilah…that great-grandmother who has been most known in the family for her babies who died in infancy. Delilah…whose home we visited one hundred ten years after she died. Delilah …whose name her granddaughter Fern wanted no part of .....


In all our digging into of our ancestral heritage, who would have guessed that it would be Delilah who would provide us with our first solid link to American history? From the beginning we had a small link through William Compton, whom we know died fighting the American Revolution, but we know nothing more about him and have had no success in connecting him to Spencer Compton, who was reportedly an ancestor of his.


We didn't know about our Champlin family until the fall of 2000. Then we found out we had documentable ancestors back to within 10-15 years of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts. Later we found an even closer link to the Pilgrims; see Connecticut Porters.


The Search

In 1994 I located Delilah’s death record in the Ottawa County Courthouse in Grand Haven, Michigan. I was delighted to discover on it the names of her parents—but puzzled to note that they were listed as residents of Michigan. If they had lived and died in Michigan, why didn’t we know about them and have their grave sites along with the other graves and ancestor sites?


In Mary Ann Porter’s 1923 Porter family history, she told us Delilah was born in Delaware Co., New York. She also said that Delilah’s maiden name was Champlain, which fit the family tradition that Delilah had been French. As it turns out, the Champlain and the French parts were wrong, but the Delaware County fact would be a major key in connecting Delilah and us to a family whose roots reached clear back to the New England of the Pilgrims.


Delilah’s parents’ names were Jeffrey and Ellis. The Ellis, though unusual, wasn’t surprising to discover because Delilah named her first daughter (and only one to live) Mary Ellis, and the name was used again for one of Mary’s granddaughters. Delilah’s sister’s married name, we’ve discovered, is Mary E. Maynard, so there is a good chance she was Mary Ellis before the others were.


We now know their family name was Champlin and that Delilah's father was not only a 7th-generation American but a 7th-generation Jeffrey Champlin (though not all in a direct line). We also now know that Ellis (or Allis, as she is in some of the records) not only descended from that first Jeffrey Champlin along with her husband, but that she descended from him through two different lines! That makes Delilah descend from Jeffrey the Immigrant through three different lines. Those Champlins did a lot of sticking together in family lines!


We learned all this as a result of a note I left on an Internet genealogy message board saying I was looking for information on Jeffrey and Ellis Champlain.


Examining the Data

Before going further, it is fair to ask how we made the connection between this historic family of Champlins and our Delilah. When Bob Champlin responded to my message and gave me preliminary information, at first I was incredibly excited, then skeptical. But when I received the full write-ups on the seven generations of Champlins, the following facts helped us forge the chain.


First, there is the name Ellis. Even if spelled Allis, it is still unusual. The fact that she was married to a Jeffrey, even though Champlin rather than Champlain, was a good start.


Second, there was the question of geography. The Champlins’ roots, we learned, were in Rhode Island, from the days of Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, generation after generation. Jeffrey and Ellis were both born there and were distant cousins. Yet according to our information, Delilah was born in an obscure county in New York and her parents supposedly died in Michigan. Could these New England people really be among our Michigan ancestors? In discussions of family history when I was growing up, I never heard any mention of Rhode Island. So when I read, to my amazement, that Jeffrey and Ellis Champlin both died in Walker, Kent County, Michigan, the words almost jumped off the page! Walker is in the northwest corner of Grand Rapids.


But as I read Bob Champlin's materials there remained a third important matter, that of Delaware Co., New York, for Delilah’s birth. When I began reading a paragraph about the places that Jeffrey and Ellis lived, I immediately processed the fact that—if this connection was legitimate—one of those places had to be Delaware County. And there it was! Her family was in Delaware Co. at the time of the 1850 census, when Delilah was eleven, while we know that she married George Porter in Michigan in 1855.


Our first documentation on the 1855 date is from Mary Ann Porter, along with her report that George’s family moved to Michigan from Madison County, New York, in 1847. The 1855 marriage is further substantiated by the fact that their first child was born in 1856, a fact we know from his headstone in Lisbon Cemetery.


A fourth confirmation, though by itself it wouldn’t prove anything, are the dates for Jeffrey and Ellis’s family. Their deaths in 1872 and 1873 are compatible with Delilah’s life, and the birth dates of her siblings (1827, 1829, and 1831) are very compatible with Delilah’s in 1839.


Champlain, brothers, and cemeteries

As for the Champlin/Champlain discrepancy, Bob Champlin, who provided me with this treasure trove of information, explains it this way:

Many people contend that Jeffrey Champlin was a descendent of the French explorer Samuel de Champlain. The only relationship between the two is the similarity in the spellings of their respective surnames. Samuel de Champlain's original surname was Complain - not Champlain. … To make matters worse for those who claim him as an ancestor, Samuel had no children! 

Bob goes on to tell that de Champlain married a 12-year-old girl 31 years younger than himself, but the marriage was never consummated and she ended up founding an order of nuns. So much for Champlain!


Though we had never been aware that Delilah had two brothers, we now know that both were well known in their day. The older, Stephen Gardiner Champlin, was a general in the Civil War and died sixteen months before the end of the war when Delilah was only 24. As I recount in my Letter to Delilah.

The Civil War broke out in 1861. For a while I naively imagined that, way off in Michigan, it didn’t touch you very much, but we now know that it affected your family very personally. Your brother Stephen, twelve years older than you, joined up early in the war, rose through the ranks eventually to Brigadier General, was wounded and returned to Michigan, but three months later was again leading his regiment in battle. His wound, not fully healed, “broke out afresh,” and in the end led to his death some eighteen months after being wounded. 

The other brother, John Wayne Champlin, was a Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court and lived until the summer of 1901 when Grandma Fern Hawkins was seven years old. Surely she would have known him? He was an uncle of Fern’s father, Grandpa Ferd Porter, who lived until 1945. Whether Grandma ever spoke of John Wayne or my mother knew of him, I cannot say. I never heard Mother’s sister Agnes nor her cousin Lyman Wood, who was very interested in this family history, mention Delilah having a brother, but that need not be surprising since John Wayne died 10-15 years before the Porter grandchildren were born. 

We now know that Delilah’s sister Mary (possibly Mary Ellis), born 1829, also lived in Grand Rapids and died there in 1897. Given biographical information on the two brothers mentioning six children, Bob Champlin knew that Jeffrey and Ellis had other children, but he had discovered only three of them; my word of Delilah provided a fourth. The other two may not have lived very long.

Jeffrey and Ellis both died about ten years before Delilah. They are buried in the Fulton Street Cemetery in Grand Rapids. At first I was surprised that the Champlins were buried in a cemetery in town, given that all other family members of that time were buried northwest of Grand Rapids towards Sparta. But we know they lived in Walker, not North Chester like the Porters and Stauffers, and now we know that is where their son Gen. Stephen Champlin was buried some dozen years before their deaths. 

In April 2002 my husband and I visited the cemetery and found their graves, and since then I’ve taken a number of other family members there. The grave of Delilah's General brother, Stephen, is at the top of a rise and received a new headstone in 2001. The grave of Ellis's other brother, John Wayne, is next to hers, with a few other family members around. Sister Mary Maynard and her husband and a son are buried in the huge Greenwood Cemetery, in northwest Grand Rapids.

Delilah's Grandparents