Introduction to Tours and Discoveries

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of taking several groups of family members to visit the cemeteries and other ancestor “sites” such as the North Chester Church and the farm houses that are part of our family history. This is a written report about these “ancestor tours,” as I’ve come to call them. Though we did many of the same things, each tour had its own personality and its own highlights, depending on who participated and what happened. A number of the events on these tours have in themselves become part of our family history—especially the occasions when we were invited into the two ancestral homes northwest of Grand Rapids. 

For many reasons, these accounts need to be in this Scrapbook so there are records of them somewhere besides in my memory. As I’ve been writing this, it has been fun to have many memories popping up about parts of the stories that I hadn’t thought about in years. 

Lisbon Cemetery 2006 Tour

In addition to the accounts of feet-on-the-ground tours, I’ve also written up accounts of all the ancestor-information discoveries I’ve made. Those are written up in chronological order under “Discoveries.”

Why these “ancestor tours” in the first place? In this Family History Scrapbook, I tell something about them. 

Though the family didn't know much about their ancestors, the ancestral heritage was unusually important to them. Every year on Memorial Day, as many of the family as could gather, did—even from out of state. They would drive by the brick farmhouse and the little North Chester Baptist Church that had played important roles in their family history. They visited the graves of parents and grandparents and planted red geraniums by the headstones. And the patriarch of the family, Grandpa Hawkins, would take off his hat, bow his head, and express a prayer of gratitude for the spiritual heritage left to the family by those who had gone before. 

The practice of Memorial-Day visits apparently went back multiple generations. The original purpose of Memorial Day was to honor those who had died in the Civil War, but as other wars took place, all who died in military service were honored. And families began using the occasion to plant flowers at the graves of other lost loved ones besides military ones. This was especially common in the days when families were not as geographically scattered as we are now. 

As I started looking into this and checking facts, I discovered that four generations of my grandmother’s family had lived and died in the North Chester-Alpine areas northwest of Grand Rapids. Not only the grandparents who died in her lifetime, but three of the four sets of Fern Porter Hawkins’ great-grandparents were buried within sixteen miles of where she grew up. She personally knew all her grandparents but one, and they would have been visiting graves of their own parents in the area, so it’s not surprising that visiting graves to honor predecessors was a common practice in her life—one that continued right up until her own death in 1951. (The fourth set of great-grandparents died twenty years before she was born and were buried in the city itself some twenty-five miles away, and it was a number of years before we discovered them.) Check out the pedigree chart on the Index page of the Porter link.

One of the highlights of any such tour was always driving by the brick house on 16th Street. That house had been Grandma Hawkins’s home from age fourteen until she was married, and it was her parents’ home during the rest of their lives. It was “Grandpa and Grandma’s house” to the six grandchildren of Ferd and Esther Porter (including Agnes and Lyman, mentioned and pictured below). In addition, the property was the site of the well, or cistern, in which Samuel Stauffer had lost his life in 1899 in his efforts to save the life of another; Grandma was not quite six when that happened. Though the property had been sold and went out of the family following her father Ferd’s death in late 1944, it continued to be cherished by those in whose lives it had played a significant part.

I have a childhood memory that illustrates the importance of the Memorial Day cemetery visits, this one in 1946 near the end of our family furlough. My uncle Paul Hawkins had come home from WWII at Christmas time in 1945, and it wasn’t long before he fell in love with the girl who would be his wife for 45 years until his death. They set the date for a May wedding. Memorial Day that year fell just twelve days after the wedding, and I clearly remember that there was no debate about the fact that this brand-new family member had to make the cemetery tour with the rest of us that year. Even as a ten-year-old I picked up on that, and it would stick with me.

Of course our world has changed immensely since Grandma Hawkins’s lifetime during the first half of the Twentieth Century. Almost no one lives near their family roots anymore. Even in Grandma’s lifetime, only one of her three children ended up where she had grown up. The rest of us have scattered —to other states, to several other states in one lifetime, and even to other countries. It isn’t the same world, and we don’t live the same kinds of lives. But those predecessors are still our roots. As I expressed in the introduction to this family-history website, “They are not just names on mildewed headstones or in dusty archives. They were human beings whose blood flows in my flesh today. Without them, I wouldn't be here or be who I am.” 

Life in today’s world is always full of other things—current, now things that seem more relevant than ancestors. Yet some of us have found great satisfaction in exploring those ancestral roots. It has been my pleasure to learn as much as possible about them, to rebuild their lives from what information is available, and to share that knowledge on this website and on these “ancestor tours.” I hope it helps others feel closer to them.

Navigating the Accounts

In each tour I have given the date, somewhat of a title, and listed the names of the people who were involved in the occasion. Then I’ve told the background and story for each tour, identified the highlight(s) of that occasion, and included pictures taken at that time. Quotes indicate subheads within a link. The word “link” refers to entries in this Scrapbook. Italics refer to Index page in the Scrapbook. Example: See “Family Stories” under Ferd and Esther in Porter link

Gathered and listening around Stauffer resting places in Bennett 
Cemetery in Chester Township, Ottawa County, Michigan 2014

Arriving at the Brooklawn Cemetery, also in Chester Township 2014