Wednesday, April 26, 2017

H.G. Blake

Harrison Gray Otis Blake
Who was H.G. Blake and why is there a Medina Elementary School named after him?

Harrison Gray Otis Blake was born 17 March 1818 in Newfane, Vermont. Shortly thereafter, his family moved to Salem, Washington County, New York.

On 19 December 1821, his father, Harrison Gray Blake, and mother, Lucy (Goodell) decided to visit family in Vermont. They took their youngest child, a 14 month old little girl named Rebecca with them.

Before crossing the Green Mountains into Vermont, they queried a local landlord and was told the way was snow covered but good for travel and that they should be able to make the trip in 3 hours.

After traveling for about 3 miles, they found that the snow deepened to 3 feet. Not long after that, their horse became tired and they disconnected the sleigh, and putting Mrs. Blake and the baby on the horse, continued onward. Finally, the horse refused to budge and they decided to try to find shelter on foot. They didn't make it very far before the cold and frostbite halted them. By now it was quite dark.

A search party was sent out the next day looking for someone else that was delayed on the road. Mr. Blake was found first and helped to shelter. The rescue party went back for Mrs. Blake and the baby who were found a mere 100 yards from where Mr. Blake was found.

Lucy Blake's tombstone from

Mrs. Blake had wrapped the baby in her cloak. The baby was snug among her blankets and her parents' cloaks.  Lucy Blake died shortly after being found. Mr. Blake lost all the toes on his left foot. He survived and lived for many years after, not dying until 1868, in Cleveland, Ohio.

Their story became known as the Stratton Mountain Tragedy and was turned into a ballad:

The Snow Storm, a poem penned by Seba Smith

Cold swept the mountains high, 
Dreary was the pathless wild.
 Amid the cheerless hours of night 
A mother wandered with her child. 
As through the drifts of snow she pressed 
The babe was sleeping neath her breast. 
Bitter blew the chilly wind. 
Darker hours of night came on. 
Deeper grew the drifts of snow, 
Her limbs were chilled, her strength was gone. 
“O God,” she cried in accents wild, 
“If I must perish, save my child.” 
She took the mantle from her breast 
And bared her bosom to the storm. 
As round the child she wrapped the vest, 
She smiled to think that it was warm. 
One cold kiss, one tear she shed 
And sank upon the snowy bed. 
A traveler passing by next morn 
Saw her neath the snowy veil. 
The frost of death was in her eye 
Her cheek was hard, cold and pale. 
He took the robe from off the child. 
The babe looked up and sweetly smiled.

Rebecca Blake, the baby who "sweetly smiled" and her father, Harrison Gray Blake.

The baby, Rebecca, was raised by her grandparents in Marlboro, Vermont.

The Blakes' had left two of their children home that day, Lucy and Harrison G.O Blake.

Mr. Blake became crippled by the ordeal and other people raised his children. Harrison G.O. Blake  was taken in by Jesse Rhoades. Lucy married and lived in Marlboro the rest of her days.

Harrison Jr. traveled west with the Rhoades family in 1830 when they moved to Guilford Township, Medina County, Ohio.

H.G., as he was called, went to public school and that is where he met his future wife, Elizabeth Bell.

In 1840, the young couple married. His father-in-law, James Bell, probably helped H.G. succeed over the next few years. He went from being a clerk in a mercantile house to owning the store. In his spare time, he studied law and became a lawyer in 1847.

He was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives as a Whig in 1846 and 1847.  In 1848 he was elected to the Ohio Senate and temporarily became its Speaker. He served in the Senate until 1855 when he returned to Medina.

In the 1850 Census, H.G is listed as a Merchant with real estate worth $8,000. Not too shabby for a man who was a store clerk just 10  years before!

In 1853, he became the first editor of the newly named Medina County Gazette. 

 The family moved into the Greek Revival home that still stands at the corner of East Washington and Jefferson Streets.

The Blake Home on the southeast corner of East Washington
and Jefferson Streets in Medina.

H.G. was a strong abolitionist and his home was a stop on the Underground Railroad. In later years his daughters reminisced about being kept home from school whenever fugitive slaves were hiding in the barn or house.

Plaque on the Blake Home denoting that it was a stop on the
Underground Railroad before the Civil War.
In 1857, he founded the Old Phoenix Bank, Medina's hometown bank until 1995.

In 1859, Blake was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He was known as a strong speaker and spoke ardently against slavery or compromise with the southern states.

In June of 1860, he spoke about a resolution he had put before Congress to introduce a bill "giving freedom to every human being and interdicting slavery, wherever Congress has the constitutional power to legislate on the subject." Full text HERE. The speech was considered quite daring and "incendiary" at the time.

In the 1860 census, H.G. listed himself as an attorney and his real estate was worth $11,000.

One of his most celebrated speeches was titled "Freedom Takes No Step Backwards" and was delivered on 19 February 1861 in the U.S. House of Representatives. In this speech, H.G. came out strongly against any compromise that maintained slavery. The full text can be read HERE.

In April of 1861, Confederate forced fired on Fort Sumter and the Civil War commenced.

In 1863, Harrison Blake registered for the draft even though as a member of Congress he would have been exempt.

1863 Draft Registration for Medina and Wayne Counties
Line 14 of the Draft Registration showing Harrison G. Blake's name

Lieutenant Colonel H. G. Blake
In February of 1864, Abraham Lincoln called for 200,000 more soldiers. H.G. Blake busily enrolled volunteers in the Ninth Independent Battery.  When they reported for duty they became the 166th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, with Lieutenant Colonel H.G. Blake at the head. They did not experience battle, but guarded Union property in Virginia.

After the war, veterans united in fellowship and formed chapters. The Grand Army of the Republic, or GAR. Medina's chapter was named in honor of H.G. Blake

In the 1870 census, his real estate was worth $9,000, maybe in part because of an economic depression. But perhaps also by then he had set up his daughter's households after their marriages in 1863 and 1866. (Daughter Elizabeth and husband, R.M. McDowell, built the McDowell house that sits at the far west end of Washington Street in 1890.)

In 1870, the downtown area of Medina experienced a devastating fire. H. G. led the drive to rebuild, this time, in brick! One of the first to rebuild was the Phoenix Block, home of the Old Phoenix Bank for many years.

The Phoenix Block on the Medina Square
when First Merit Bank

H.G. was mayor of Medina from 1870-1872.

By 1875, there was much talk about H.G. running for governor, but he refused his friends support.

In April of 1876, Harrison Gray Otis Blake died of pneumonia. His obituary in the Medina Gazette is lost to us, as no newspaper survives from most of that year. But this snippet survives from the Sandusky Register:

The Sandusky Register 18 April 1876, page 1.

In 2001, on the 134 anniversary of his death, the newest Medina elementary school was named in his honor.

H.G. Blake Elementary School in Montville Township

History of Medina County and Ohio (1881)

Medina County Coming of Age 1810-1900 by Joann G. King, 2016.

Historical Highlights of Medina (1966)


Freedom Takes No Step Backwards

History of Stratton Vermont

Equality of Rights in theTerritories 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Mortality Schedules

What are mortality schedules?

Mortality schedules list people who died during the previous 12 months. Mortality schedules were taken along with population schedules during the 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 censuses, and in six states (Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, and South Dakota) in 1885. (Family Search Wiki)

And for people researching their ancestors, mortality schedules can be an alternative to official death records which didn't exist for much of the 1800's in many parts of the U.S. Generally, New England states started registering births and deaths much earlier, as early as 1780. Southern and Western states didn't require state registration until much later. Some as late as the early 20th century. Ohio didn't require deaths to be registered until 1867.

Listings for Ohio are not comprehensive:

  • 1850 - Only the counties Hamilton through Wayne Counties
  • 1860 - All of the Ohio counties
  • 1870 - NO Ohio Counties
  • 1880 - Adams through Geauga Counties
  • 1885 - NO Ohio Counties

What information can be found in the mortality schedules?

It varies depending on which schedule you are searching. 

It is always important to remember why the records were originally created. In the case of death records or the mortality schedules they were created to obtain a picture of the spread of epidemics and the overall health of the communities. The information collected reflects this focus.

1850 Schedule asked this information:
  • Name
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Color
  • Free or Slave
  • Married or Widowed
  • Place of birth
  • Month in which died
  • Profession, Occupation or Trade
  • Disease or cause of death
  • Number of days ill
1850 Mortality Schedule for Spencer Township, Medina County, Ohio. As with all written records, interpreting the handwriting can be difficult. Does that look like Urrin Frimier to you? Only 2 years old, he died of dysentery,
a disease caused by unsanitary bathroom habits.

1880 Schedule:
  • Name
  • Age at last birthday 
  • Sex
  • Color
  • Marital status: Single, Married, Widowed, Divorced
  • Birthplace of this person
  • Father's birthplace
  • Mother's birthplace
  • Profession, Occupation or Trade
  • Disease or cause of death
  • How long a resident of this county?
  • Where contracted the disease if not at this place
  • Name of attending physician
1880 Mortality Schedule for Guyan Township, Gallia County, Ohio. John WILLIAMS (second line down) is my 3X great grandfather and he died at the age of 84. He was the oldest person listed on this page. The average age was 14 years old.

Mortality schedules are available on Ancestry and Ancestry Library Edition, available at the library. From the Ancestry home page, go under the Census Search and then use U.S Federal Census. Under "Included Data Collections" the mortality schedule is near the bottom of that list.

Family Search has the 1850 mortality schedules HERE. And the 1872 Canadian mortality schedules is also at Family Search HERE

Check out Dick Eastman's blog on Mortality Schedules HERE.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Library Funding

Despite what you might have read or heard, libraries are needed now more than ever!

1. Everything is NOT online.
2. Not everyone has online access and not everyone has a smart phone.
3. In economic hard times, use of the library becomes critical (Read this article on the importance of LIBRARIES from the last economic depression)
4.  A LOT of people need help finding information and using the latest technology. Where do those people go?

To the library.

Want some proof?

Take a look of some statistics for the Medina County District Library system for 2016:
  • 711,966 people visited the Medina Libraries. Obviously, some of these were repeat visitors!
  • Over 9,000 children played the Summer Reading Game.
  • 4,908 public meetings were held at the libraries, with 101,059 people attending those meetings.
  • 3,066 passports were issued. Did you know that you could apply for your passport at the Medina, Brunswick and Lodi libraries?
  • 2,700,042 items were checked out. Look at that statistic again. That is over 2 MILLION! Nearly 15% of those items were digital media like digital books, music, magazines, and videos.
  • 336,547 logins were tallied on library computers. The library is the ONLY place you access the internet if you don't have a home computer AND and internet provider or a smart phone.
  • The libraries offered 2,942 programs on topics ranging from lap-sit story times, basic computer skills to robotics. 107,620 people attended those programs!

So libraries are as important, pertinent and even more necessary than ever. Right!!?

Why bring this up?

On May 2nd, the Medina County District Library system has an operating levy renewal on the ballot that accounts for nearly 60% of our operating budget. 60%. Over half. A lot. A WHOLE lot.

The levy money (property taxes) is represented by the teal arc in the pie chart below.

2016 budget statistics on the Library's revenue

This money pays for staffing the libraries, running & repairing six separate buildings & a bookmobile, programs, AND materials (i.e. the books, DVDs, audiobooks, magazines, e-media, etc)

The last operating levy was passed in 2007 and has lasted for 10 years. But now it is up for renewal. Without the renewal, the libraries would look very bleak:

Without that money, the picture is very incomplete.

60% fewer materials, 60% fewer open library hours, 60% fewer programs and 60% fewer staff.

The library is also requesting a small increase; an additional .25 mill, which is the equivalent of about $8.75, or the cost of a paperback book.

Learn more about the library levy HERE and remember the library on May 2nd.

In other library funding news:

  1. Ohio Governor Kasich has proposed rollbacks in library funding while at the same time saying libraries should be "continuous learning centers" which libraries already are:  Columbus Dispatch article  
  2. President Trump has proposed doing away with Federal library funding  (Institute of Museum and Library Services): ALA News ReleaseThis money pays for the Ohio Library for the Blind and many of the most used databases, such as Ancestry Library Edition, Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps and the EbscoHost databases.
We will have to monitor those proposals.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Genealogy Lock-In


Lisa and I are NOT being punished, yet...

The spring Genealogy Lock-In will be Friday, April 21st from 6:30-10:30 p.m.

Click HERE to sign up.

This spring we are going back to the basics with "Starting your Quest". Discover all the information you already have in your home or in your head.

Then you will learn how to organize your research." Family history research generates a lot of paperwork and files. With Lisa's help you will be able to find any of your information in the blink of an eye!

Then Kathy will guide you through how to locate birth, marriage and death records to further your research in "Vital Records"

If you are not "new" to genealogy, join us to refresh your skills and learn about the latest techniques.


Share this program with someone you know who wants to get started and doesn't know how.

As always, light refreshments will be served and there will be DOOR PRIZES!

We look forward to seeing you there!