Friday, June 29, 2007

Finding Out More on My ROBBINS Family - Part I

As a family historian, you get so that you think you know a lot about your family. I have the disadvantage of having always lived far away from my extended family, and so sometimes there are gaps in my knowledge that don't get noticed until I start really analyzing my records. And then there are just the serendipitous surprises that make genealogy oh-so-fun!

It started off yesterday afternoon while examining the information I have on my paternal grandfather, Robert Lewis ROBBINS. I'm re-organizing and cleaning up my file folders, making sure I have copies of all the records I need, especially printouts of things I've found on the Internet. I've got my U.S. Research Checklist I created to help me remember to find certain "must have" records for each of my direct ancestors. There were some documents I figured I'd better scan and keep both on my hard drive and in my Picasa Web Albums. Copies of the documents are going into the file folders, while originals and photographs, as well as expensive copies I've paid for, are being placed in acid-free sleeves, ready to go later into a newly-rented safety-deposit box at my financial institution. This is something I've wanted to do for a long time to keep these heirlooms safe. And then there's the (dreaded) source citations I need to do properly in my RootsMagic software!

Besides my grandfather's birth and death certificates that I need to order, I realized I didn't have any land records for him. I knew he bought land in Coopersville, Ottawa County, Michigan at 185 River Road, on which he built his house and business--this was after he had served in World War II. I also knew he purchased property on Crockery Lake in the northern part of the county sometime after 1953, and there built a cement-brick cottage on the foundation of an old barn for family summer vacations. And I knew he bought a house in Coopersville sometime around 1972 at 131 Madison Street for his widowed mother to live in and for Grandma and him to stay at when they weren't snow birding in Texas. I thought he might also have owned land in several Texas counties, although it was more likely he rented lots for the various RVs and mobile homes he and Grandma had in their retirement.

The only evidence I had of his property records were oral history from my dad and one of my aunts, and a copy of the advertisement flyer the real estate auctioneers printed shortly before Grandma sold the house on Madison Street in 2005. I did a Google search on Crockery Lake to see if I could stumble upon some land records or assessment records though the county clerk's office. What I found instead was more than I could have imagined! The Chester Township History & Genealogy website has a wealth of information about its communities, including old photographs, biographies, history, and maps (including some of Crockery Lake). What surprised me was that on its Genealogies page the surnames Robbins and Lewis were listed. There isn't a search engine on the site, so I did my little trick of using Google to search a website: search term, followed by a space, then the word site followed immediately by a colon and the URL (no spaces between site and the end of the URL).

robbins site:

(Notice that I didn't include the index.html from the URL, because I wanted Google to search the entire site, not just the index--or home--page).

Wow! Was I ever in for a treat! The first link I clicked went to the page about the American Legion Auxiliary founded in 1946 in Conklin. As I scrolled down the page, I noticed that Marie Robbins, Josephine Robbins, and Joyce Robbins were charter members of the Reinhart W. Roman Post 537. Why, those were the names of my great-grandmother, my granduncle's wife, and my grandaunt! Could it be...? A little further down the page, it said that Marie Robbins was the first President of the Auxiliary. Really? And yet, I wasn't done! Just a little further, and I found Great-grandma's smiling face staring back at me from the Internet. Holy cow! Gosh, I knew Great-grandma had been in the Auxiliary, because her grave had an Auxiliary marker at it. But I had never before heard she had been the movement behind getting an Auxiliary started in her community! And isn't that grand: a photo of her I didn't have before!

Well, then I went to the American Legion page, and there was information that my great-grandfather, William Bryan Robbins, Sr., and his son--my granduncle, Bill Jr.--were charter members of the Legion post. Very cool! Again, new information!

But, wait! There's more! In 1948, the Conklin school district published its one yearbook ever in its short-lived history. I browsed through the photos and text, not finding anything on my family, but being interested in the small-town history and nostalgic drawings. A quick check with my RootsMagic program confirmed that all my relatives were either too old, too young, or living in another community at that time to have attended school there that year. As I neared the end of the yearbook (third-to-last page), I noticed in the advertisement section there was a notice of compliments to the graduating class from Marie's Gift Shop...yes, that Marie! I had already written about Great-grandma's little shop in her AnceStory on my website, but it had always been a kind of vague story from the past. It suddenly became very real to me. This wasn't easy to find, either. I had to go to the Schools page, then click on the Conklin district page, and finally the yearbook page. It would have been easily overlooked, but somehow, I found it.

My Robbins family were latecomers to this area. They had arrived from McKean County, Pennsylvania at Hesperia, Michigan on the Newaygo-Oceana County border in the late 1860s, migrated south to Muskegon County in the 1910s, and settled in Conklin sometime in the 1930s. Yet, it is evident they were heavily involved in their community. Great-grandpa died in 1972 and Great-grandma moved to my grandparents' home in Coopersville. I do have some very faint memories of visiting my great-grandparents in Conklin in 1970, when I was three! I distinctly remember the inside of the little white house and eating a meal there. I also remember going to see Great-grandma there two years later when Great-grandpa died. She was sitting out in the yard with the grandaunts and uncles, and I ran to give her a big hug (prompted by my grandfather).

The Chester Township History website won the State History Award in 2005 from the Historical Society of Michigan for an outstanding website design, and it's easy to see why! The design has a standard I'd love to meet with my Atlas Project. Needless to say, my printer was very busy last night! I wrote the webmaster, asking for any more information she might have on the Robbins and Lewis families. I also fired off several e-mails to extended family members, excited to share my find with them.

What exciting, new discoveries about your family are awaiting you on the Internet or at your favorite archives?

(Coming up next: More finds on the Robbins family in online property records!)


Craig Manson said...

Another great example to motivate all of us! By the way, speaking of land records, I recall you saying that your grandparents spent summers on the Texas Gulf Coast. You may want to also check the sites of some of the coastal counties appraisers, particularly Aransas County (, Nueces County ( and San Patricio County (

Miriam Robbins said...

Great minds think alike, Craig! I'll actually be blogging about Aransas and Nueces County Clerk offices in Part Two!