Research tips for those looking to make someone's story come to life
Before I was hired to work here at Greenwood Cemetery, I would walk the grounds. No matter the season, there is just something so peaceful and serene in the air here. As is often the case when one's soul is quiet and reflecting, the harrowing details of life settle, and the important ones rise.
This happened one day as I was walking and reading names on monuments. I came across one that had the names of four children — all died on the same day: Nov. 14, 1970. I was born and raised in this town, but, because I was born four years after this tragedy, I did not know what had happened.
I went home and logged on to the cemetery website, going straight to the research/newspaper section. I searched the date I saw on the stones and the horror of what an arsonist did to this family, to this town, unfolded before me through news articles on my tablet screen.
Though this particular trip to the archives was fueled by curiosity, followed by sadness and outrage, it was also the one that made me realize each and every grave, each stone etched with names and dates, is tied to someone's story and not just the story of their death, but of their life.
I look out upon the rolling terrain of Greenwood. I see through the trees thousands of monuments. We will never run out of stories.
The following summer, Karl, the superintendent at Greenwood for the past 63 years, hired me to research 10 Petoskey suffragists — all buried here. This is the project that honed my research method.
I began my research with Emma Baker. Soon, I discovered her maiden name was Lamb and she had been married before to Rev. George Barnes. When researching history about females, I learned quickly to search for the husband's name, as, in those days, Emma was referred to as Mrs. George Barnes.
On the "Newspapers" section of the research page at the top are four fields: Search; Newspaper; Month; Year.
I limited my research to a 20-year period leading up to the 19th amendment being ratified. So, I began with entering the year, 1900. I left the newspaper and the month blank because I didn't need to filter either of those out. I used the keyword "George Barnes" in the search field (adding quotes around a two-word search is helpful).
If I got no results, I'd move to the next year, and the next and the next. The results show about a paragraph's worth containing your keyword (in this case, George Barnes). Though sometimes the type is a bit broken, it is enough detail to decide if it is what you're looking for or not. If not, continue searching. If so, you can click on the page link and the newspaper page containing that name will appear.
Since the type is so small, I first use the plus sign at the top of the page to make everything bigger. Then I do a command+F (Mac) or control+F (PC) which will allow me to search this page for that word and jump to it.
Now I can read the entire article and make my notes before continuing the process.
It was in this way, I discovered that Emma Lamb was a contented elementary school principal somewhere downstate. Her sister, Sarah, was married to George Barnes, a reverend with the United Methodist Church. A year after Sarah died, Emma married George Barnes in Danville, Michigan (perhaps that is how they did things in the 1880s?). He was sent to Charlevoix for work. When he retired, the couple moved to Petoskey. They lived on Grove Street and built a cottage in Bay View. From there, I found so many mentions of Emma Lamb Barnes Baker, it took me 10 hours to get through them all.
Examples of what I found:
— 1893, Feb. 22 (Petoskey Record): The regular meeting of the Petoskey WCTU will be held Thursday, Feb 23 in their hall over Stark’s store. Our 'Pansy, Mrs. G.S. Barnes, will give an interesting original temperance story;'"
— "1912 November, Mrs. Grosenbaugh gave a report of her work in the equal suffrage campaign in the county and Mrs. Emma Barnes added humorous incidents from her experience in her campaign;"
— "1918, Feb. 15: Emma and her (second) husband, (Vestal A. Baker) trudged through the worst storm of the season with drifts up to the waist by 10 pm when the party broke up. Since it was a Valentine’s Day party, and their anniversary, 'they were compelled to shoot a red-winged arrow through a suspended red heart, while they wore caps decorated with cupids and hearts.'"
As I looked at all these items arranged in order from her birth to her death, I began to know Emma.
Her story was alive.
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