“Secret” Marriage in St. Joseph, Michigan in 1902

I love/hate mysteries, and this is probably one reason that I’ve been passionate about genealogy research for 30+ years. For a long time I focused on direct-line ancestors, but more recently I’ve been exploring all of the “side lines”–the brothers and sisters of my ancestors and their families. One benefit of this is that I’ve found several 2nd and 3rd cousins who have become good friends. 🙂


My most recent exploration involved one of my grandfather Barrett’s older sisters. She grew up in Pennsylvania, and her husband’s family was in Chicago before moving to Missouri, and yet in 1902 they were married in a small coastal town on the southeast side of Lake Michigan. How did they meet in the first place?!


As I found more records about their marriage, I noticed that they’d been married on a Wednesday. Was that unusual?? Wait, according to the documents I found, there were five other couples married on this Wednesday–in February, in Michigan–and two of those other couples were married by the same minister, W.P. French!

As I looked forwards and backwards in the online wedding registry, it seemed that there were multiple people marrying every day of the week in this small town, and most of them were from other parts of Michigan or from other states!

As I “Googled” to try to figure out what this was all about, I found a couple of articles that explained a lot:

According to the first article (https://www.michiganradio.org/post/100-years-ago-michigan-was-place-go-30-second-wedding), 100 years ago couples from Chicago could take a 4-hour boat ride across Lake Michigan and be married in St. Joseph, MI the same afternoon. The relaxed requirements for marriages in Michigan (including no wait time) made this town a hub for quickie weddings, and “the clerk was averaging a marriage every four minutes, with the fastest ceremony being just 30 seconds. “

The second article (http://absolutemichigan.com/michigan/michigan-history-st-joseph-wedding-capital-usa/) went further, saying that while we think of Las Vegas as America’s wedding capital, St. Joe was the undisputed wedding capital of the Midwest in the early twentieth century.

Well, who knew?! And as I searched for even more information, I found this:

I have absolutely NO idea what this is about. With so many people coming to St. Joseph, MI to get married, why did THIS particular couple make the newspaper? Did they do or say something that called attention to themselves? Was it a “secret” marriage because they eloped? Was that unusual for the “Marriage Capital of the Midwest”? And I’d say their marriage was hardly a “secret” after their names were published in the newspaper!

One of the things I’ve found fascinating AND …humbling… about genealogy research is that it gives the researcher such a broad–almost omniscient–view of an individual. We often know when someone was born, who their parents were, who they married, when they died…. We can see their life played out in documents, photographs, and headstones.

Despite these little “footprints” through time and space, however, I always find myself wanting to know more; really wanting to KNOW the people who came before me. I guess that explains why that even after 30 years of looking at census records, wills, deeds, faded pictures, and graves, I’m still engaged and interested…

As to this couple, after marrying in St. Joseph, Michigan in 1902, in 1910 they were making their home in Elgin, Illinois, west of Chicago. According to census records, Hamilton McKinley worked for the Elgin Watch Company as a “commercial traveler.” (In 1900 when he was unmarried and living with his parents in Mexico, Missouri, he had listed his occupation as “watch maker.” Prior to that, in 1898, he had served in the Spanish-American war.)

By 1915 the couple was living in Mexico, Missouri. Hamilton had taken over his father’s bakery business that had been established some 30 years before. He was still listed as the owner of the business (his brother, Alex, was the manager) in 1918.

Census records show the couple in the same town in Missouri in 1920, but by 1930 they were living in Los Angeles, California, renting an apartment on Crenshaw Boulevard. Hamilton listed his occupation as a jewelry salesman. They were still in California in 1935, but they spent some time that year in St. Petersburg, Florida.

At the age of 62, Hamilton Brown McKinley died in Glendale, California on April 10, 1938.

After a military funeral service, his body was placed in crypt #8252 at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. His widow, my great-aunt (or “grandaunt” as ancestry dot com calls it), was living in Los Angeles again in 1940 and owned this house (picture from Google Maps, street view):

But what happened over the next 20 years? Louella “Lulu” Barrett McKinley died in a nursing home in November 1960 in Cleveland, Ohio at the age of 81.

Why was she in Cleveland? She and her husband had no children and I don’t think that any of her siblings were in Ohio. Why was an autopsy performed? (The document says that it was “used for certification.”) Perhaps there was someone she knew there, or perhaps it was in her will (which I have not found) but somehow it was arranged for her body to be taken back to Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California to be interred in crypt #8252 beside her husband.

It’s possible that some of my Barrett cousins–descendants of my grandfather’s other siblings–know more of the story of this couple, so I’ll be checking with them. And also–like many other genealogists around the country–we’re all looking forward to the release of the 1950 census records in April 2022.

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Camping at Douthat State Park – May 21-23, 2021

Thanks to a last-minute cancellation, I was able to make weekend reservations at Douthat State Park near Clifton Forge, Virginia. We’ve done two day trips to Douthat for First Day Hikes, but we’d never camped there.

We were packed up and ready to go around 1:00 pm on Friday.

This is a large and well-established state park with 4 separate campgrounds, and we had a “non-specific” site in White Oak. Getting into this campground involves crossing a creek on a low bridge. While it was certainly wide enough for our car and trailer, I drove across right in the center!

There were still several sites to choose from by the time we arrived and we chose site #14. This was a back-in site (as are most in this campground) and not very level. The door side of the trailer needed to come up about 4″, and we also had to raise the back end and lower the front end of the trailer.

This was the first opportunity we’d had to try out our new Andersen leveler, and it worked great. As a general word to the wise, though, be sure your trailer wheels are well chocked before disconnecting from your tow vehicle especially when a site isn’t level!

After we had everything set up, we drove down to the beach area of the lake.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails “puddling” on the beach

It was so peaceful and relaxing…. Wayne stretched out on one of the benches near the lake and quickly fell asleep! When he woke up, he took this picture of the blue sky and green leaves.

Dinner that evening was Shrimp Scampi & Linguine (a Bertolli frozen meal) cooked outside in the electric skillet. After dinner, Wayne started a campfire, and it cooled off so much later in the evening that I needed to put on my sweatshirt jacket. Nice sleeping weather!

The next morning, Wayne fixed breakfast outside. I’ve said it before, but the electric skillet is one of the best things we’ve found for food preparation when we’re camping; we rarely take our propane stove with us now.

Scrambled eggs with onion, garlic and cheese – Bush’s vegetarian baked beans – bagels & cream cheese – coffee

I wanted to make a quick trip into Clifton Forge to look around and also to pick up a couple of things at a grocery store.

ALSO, I wanted to get a picture of myself at the Amtrak station. One of my cousins who grew up in Clifton Forge recently made a cross-country train trip and she was able to get a quick picture of herself at the station. This was my “Hi, Jane!” moment. 😉

Clifton Forge has been a railroad town for years and years. Two of my grandmother’s brothers moved to this small town to work for the C&O railroad, and a great-great uncle on my grandfather’s side lived and worked there, too, as did other relatives!

We decided to “stop by” the C&O Railway Heritage Center on our way out of town and had NO idea that we’d spend the next couple of hours there! We took so many pictures that I put them in a separate blog post that you can view here. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.

When we got back to our campsite, we sat outside for a while and enjoyed watching the various critters that stopped by:

Oh, and funny thing–we heard an Eastern Whip-poor-will both nights at Douthat State Park; I hadn’t heard one in years! In the link it says, “They chant their loud, namesake whip-poor-will song continuously on spring and summer evenings,” and that is the truth! I don’t know how or when it ever took a breath because it sang non-stop. 🙂

It was warm Saturday afternoon and Wayne wanted to go to the lake to swim. Hmmm. I put my bathing suit on but I was pretty sure I’d just watch from the sidelines.

Wayne ventured out into the lake, but pretty quickly he ventured right back to the beach. As he put it, ice cubes would not have melted in the water! Made me laugh!

As he sat on the beach in front of me drying off and warming up, I thought of how fortunate and how blessed we were to simply be in this beautiful place…. We are so very thankful for all of the healing that has taken place since November 2020.

When we got back to the campground, I took this picture of the hood of my car. Can you say, “Ah-CHOO!”? So just as mountain lakes are still going to be super cold in May, camping in a forest in the springtime is going to expose you to a lot of pollen!

For dinner Saturday night we fixed another delicious Bertolli frozen meal. While the fridge and freezer in the trailer are small, it’s so nice to have the ability to keep things frozen.

After dinner, we sat outside talking and listening to the Whip-poor-will until the campfire burned down to embers.

With check out time at 1:00 pm, we had time to go back to the lake on Sunday morning.

With a lake this size, one of the obvious attractions is fishing. In addition to needing a regular VA State fishing license and a trout license, the park charges an $8/day fee for fishing from early April until mid-June. During this time the lake is stocked with trout twice a week, and we saw people catching HUGE trout while we were there!

Below the dam is Wilson Creek. It’s a very pretty area that we’ve visited on our previous day trips.

While this was our first camping trip to Douthat, we hope to go again sometime!

Until next time,

Sharon & Wayne

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C&O Railway Heritage Center – Clifton Forge, VA – May 22, 2021

While camping at Douthat State Park, we decided to make a quick trip into the town of Clifton Forge to pick up some groceries and to look around. On a whim, we stopped by the C&O Railway Heritage Center, and our “quick trip” turned into an hours-long visit!

You can read about the Center on their website, https://cohs.org/heritage/, and I’ve posted our pictures here:

Locomotive 7534
Train ride for children
Locomotive 614
The furnace was in the front. Coal was fed to the furnace through a “stoker.”
Coal car
Stoker
Baggage car
Kitchen in “Gadsby’s Tavern” dining car
“Gadsby’s Tavern” dining car
Sleeper car – private room
Sleeper car – bunk beds
Sleeper car – sleeping berths along the hallway
Sleeper car and private rooms
Blue Caboose
Red Caboose
Former freight station, now a museum
Another look at Locomotive 614
J.P. Morgan’s private car (currently not restored or open to the public)

We greatly enjoyed our visit to the C&O Railway Heritage Center!

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Blue Ridge Parkway – May 15, 2021

Until next time,

Sharon & Wayne

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Augusta Springs Wetlands Park, Goshen Pass, Chessie Trail, and Blue Ridge Parkway – May 8, 2021

Augusta Springs Wetlands Park is south of Staunton, VA on Rt. 42. It offers an easy 2/3 mile trail through various habitats.

Tree creature at Augusta Springs Wetlands Park

We left Augusta Springs Wetlands Park and continued south on Rt. 42 to the small town of Goshen, VA. We stopped at a gas station/convenience store for sandwiches and drinks, then drove on Rt. 39 to Goshen Pass where we had a picnic lunch.

We continued on Rt. 39 towards Lexington, VA and the Chessie Nature Trail along the Maury River.

There were wildflowers all along the trail….

We left Lexington and passed through Fairfield, VA on Rt. 11 before turning onto Rt. 56 East at Steeles Tavern.

Rt. 56 is very steep and curvy as it leads to the top of a mountain.

The Blue Ridge Parkway crosses Rt. 56 at the crest of the mountain. Always a favorite, we turned north on the Parkway.

We continued to meander, leaving the Parkway and coming home through the Rockfish Valley. What a beautiful day!

Until next time,

Sharon and Wayne

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