Finding Florence’s Roots

Florence Huntley Hawkins Waite, mother of Grandfather M. e. Hawkins

The first time we wrote up a piece on Harrison Hawkins, our Grandpa Hawkins’ father, and his mother Florence, we wrote and posted the following:

We have conflicting reports about her father’s name: Paul Hawkins’s marriage certificate lists it as Isaac, while her death certificate says Elijah. Since the information for both documents would likely have come from her son Mont, the discrepancy is hard to explain. Her death certificate says her mother’s maiden name was Thompson.

Family genealogist Matt Hoppe set out to resolve the mystery. Fortunately, by then we had access to Internet resources such as FamilySearch and Ancestry which offer access to United States census records. In the end, we gained large new branches of ancestors, including Huntleys, Tiffanys, and Comstocks, lines which stretch right back to the 1600s in America, but first it had to start with Florence.

Matt: “The key discovery that opened the door to this huge addition to our family history came when I performed a census search on Florence and came up with a Florence of the correct age in Jackson, MI, in the 1860 Census.” She was six years old that year.

“Her parents were listed as Isaiah and Maryette. We knew that Florence had a brother Albert, and he was also listed in this census. Given that, along with the similarity of Isaiah to the names Isaac and Elijah, and the uncertainty surrounding the name, I figured I probably had the right family. With those two correct parent names, I was able to go on to find other censuses and other information on FamilySearch and Ancestry which confirmed that I did indeed have the right family.” 

About the time Matt made this discovery, he and his parents and I were taking his children on a family history tour of Michigan. As we sat around friends’ dining room table in Hudsonville in June 2008, Matt was busy tracing that Florence track again, and he started talking about Pierson. My ears perked up. “I know where Pierson is! It is where Grandpa Hawkins was born.” I remembered the Pierson connection from way, way back when we first started talking up genealogy in the family, perhaps even when Grandpa was still alive (he died in September 1956). 

I said Pierson wasn’t far from Grand Rapids, but it was on the far opposite side of town. Our friends were west of GR, and Pierson is northeast. The easy thing was that it is just off Hwy 131 that runs north-south through the middle of GR, now an expressway. It made sense that while we were already there in Michigan, instead of at our homes in Tennessee or Arkansas, shouldn’t we make a run up there to see what we could find? We should, and we did—Matt and I and his three children, then ages 13, 12, and 7

Pierson Cemetery

Matt: “That visit to the Pierson cemetery turned out to be the highlight of the trip for Aunt Esther and me. My children scoured the graveyard with us, and my eldest discovered their graves. Isaiah had a veteran’s spike next to his headstone, and his tombstone listed the fact that he was in the10th Michigan Cavalry during the Civil War.


“Maryette’s tombstone was a real quality affair made of bronze and included her birth, death, and marriage dates, Isaiah’s name, her parents’ names [a new generation for our family tree!], and the inscription: “Dear Mother, in Earth’s thorny paths, how long thy feet have trod! To find at last this peaceful rest safe in the arms of God.” And underneath that, the phrase: “A tender mother and a faithful friend.” Obviously, she was greatly loved. 

GGGGGrandchildren Ethan and Naomi by Isaiah and Maryette's tombstones

Because I knew that Grandpa Hawkins had a sister who died as a child, Matt’s children that day scoured the cemetery in search of her (Maud Hawkins, 1875-1881), but to no avail. However, we did find the grave of a William Hawkins with another wife Florence. I remembered that Grandpa Hawkins had a brother Will, and that’s who it was (Wm. A. Hawkins, 1872-1956).