Family Research around Detroit MI

We departed Frankfort MI on July 7 after a week there and headed over to our next destination…Ortonville MI which is northwest of Detroit about 35 miles. We completed our 217 mile transit and got settled in at the Clearwater Lake Campground.

Our reasons for visiting this area are twofold…to visit the land around Connor Creek where Neil’s 5th great grandfather Richard Connor’s son Henry settled. His name was Henry Connor and he was one of the early settlers in this area…his father came with Mennonites from PA despite not being one and when the Indians ran the Moravians off he was allowed to stay because he spoke their language and also he still owed a debt (his first born male child) to the Indians in return for having the white woman who became his wife ransomed from the Indians. Anyway…he settled on land on what would later become Connor Creek about 15 miles upstream from the river and going there to see it was our first expedition. We’ve joked for decades about having to pay your first born male child for something…and it turns out that Richard actually did pay his first born male child to ransom his white wife-to-be from the Indians…she had been captured at the age of 4. He later ransomed the child back from the Indians…but we don’t know what the price was.

The land is located right next to Detroit’s airport and the creek itself basically doesn’t exist anymore…it was paved over to become city and later airport. Nonetheless…there is a restored park section named the Connor Creek Greenway that occupies part of the original land…and that was our destination on Saturday.

Now mind you…Neil thought that visiting inner city Detroit MI was definitely not on his bucket list…but since Connie wanted to go we headed off anyway. We noticed several things of note once we got there. First off…we definitely stood out from the crowd of local people with two exceptions I’ll talk about in a minute. Second was an apparent almost complete breakdown of societal norms in a lot of the areas we passed through. Windows with no glass in them…burning trash cans…barbed wire topped fences were quite common along with boarded up factories. Among the norms that were missing was a complete lack of any semblance of obeying traffic laws. We saw at least 3 folks just make a U-turn in the middle of a 4 lane street with no care that it was illegal. The worst offender was this elderly gentleman in a van who was in the right turn lane sitting at an intersection where the light was red on the main street. Since he wanted to make a U-turn…and since nobody was coming out of the side street I guess…he just proceeded straight from the right hand turn lane, through the red light into the middle of the intersection and made his U-turn around the rest of us…like this was a completely normal occurrence. We did wonder if the lack of policing of minor offenses in neighborhoods like this contributes to the overall crime rate in the area due to gangs, drug pushers and the like. Perhaps the locals just get used to violating the law so it’s easier to ignore the big stuff. But then you would see 500 yards down the street a beautiful residential gated community with well kept yards and houses that clearly cost a half million or more…it made us ponder why one would want to live there.


We did get a nice shot of the Connor Creek Greenway…although Neil had to carefully crop it so it actually looked park like instead of slum like.

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One hundred yards to the left of this shot he got a more typical view of the general area…hey, it is inner city Detroit ya know.

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After we took the two photos above and were on the way back out to Connor Street (which more or less follows the old Connor Creek)…we saw the only two people that looked like us…the first one was this young lady who was changing clothes in the middle of the street out of the back or her car…she stripped right down to her underwear and put something else on. The second one was…let me think of the proper wording here…well, let’s just call her a soiled dove. She was plying her trade…well, negotiating price actually…talking to a guy through the passenger window of his car as we entered the park and was enthusiastically working when we left.

We did stop at several traffic lights…but Neil was fully prepared to run them if the gangs came after us.

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After that experience we headed south to what remains of Connor Creek…it’s now only about a quarter mile long, is fenced on the sides, and terminates at the Detroit Water Treatment plant.

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So…the creek that Neil’s ancestors lived on now serves as the water supply for Detroit MI. Wow.

We headed into a little park down by the river after this shot…and were originally going to stop there for lunch. However, in view of some of the shooting incidents that had gone on the last few days we decided that we would be a little too obviously out of place…even though most of the folks in the park looked friendly and were watching their kids/grandkids play baseball…so we headed off and found a place a little farther out in the suburbs that was a little more ethnically mixed for our picnic before we headed home.

Sunday was Mass…the church is close enough to walk to from the campground so we did that instead of driving over. We sat around the rest of the day…Neil ran out to get more propane for the grill and we had steak and corn casserole for dinner.

Monday we headed out for our second major stop here…stops at two cemeteries where a whole bunch of Neil’s relatives are buried.

Going backwards from Neil through his mother we eventually get to his 5x great grandfather Richard Connor…his daughter Susannah married Elisha Harrington (Neil’s 4x great grandfather). Their daughter Samantha married John Plues (3x great grandfather), their daughter Agnes married Philander Carr. Their daughter Grace married Mathias Frederick. Grace and Mathias moved to Mobile AL (Neil’s hometown) and after Agnes died Philander moved south to be with them. Grace and Mathias had a son Neil who married Myrtle Starke…Neil and Myrtle are our Neil’s maternal grandparents…they produced Jane who married Bruce Laubenthal who begat Neil. All of this stuff is in Connie’s public family tree which is available on if anybody really cares. Neil says there was a whole bunch of begattin’ going on back in the day. 

First stop was at Oxford Township Cemetery…where we hoped to find the grave of Agnes Plues Carr…Neil’s 2x great grandmother. We thought it was in this small cemetery on one side of the road…and started checking it out by looking at headstones since there was no office. We quickly decided it would take all day to search the 4,000 or so graves there…so drove across to the other cemetery…it turned out to be part of the Oxford Township Cemetery as well. Didn’t find anybody to talk to so we drove into the third cemetery right next door and found the house that the caretakers live in. Neil had a quick conversation with them and the fella he talked to sent us to the Oxford Township offices about a mile down the road.

On arrival there we gave the nice lady we found the name we were looking for. She could not find any Plues buried there…and only one Carr…his name was William L Carr and…we were pretty sure that he wasn’t the right branch of the Carr clan…Connie did some research later and verified that he was the wrong one. So…we struck out on Agnes…she’s probably there as her death certificate says she died at 63 from gallstones and is buried there…but since the township has documented all headstones in the cemetery…she was obviously buried without a marker.

Giving up on that…we headed off to our second stop…the Clinton Grove Cemetery down in Clinton Township…where we hoped to find both Richard Connor (Neil’s 5x great grand father) and Elisha and Susannah Connor Harrington…Richard’s daughter and son in law and Neil’s 4x great. According to the information Connie had gathered ahead of time we knew the section and lot numbers for both of them. We got to the cemetery and a nice lady in the office verified them for us…and off we went. Richard is supposed to be the oldest grave in the cemetery…he was a Revolutionary War veteran who died at age 89 in 1808. We quickly found the correct plot…as well as the family marker and individual headstones for a lot of family members…Richard Connor (and presumably his wife Margaret although we weren’t sure of that), Elisha Harrington and his wife Susannah (Richard’s daughter), Henry Harrington (Elisha and Susannah’s son) and his wife Elizabeth, Lottie Harrington (another descendent of Elisha we think based on the dates but not in Neil’s ancestry line), as well as another 6 or 8 graves of Connor or Harrington family members although none of those stones were marked.

Richard Connor’s marker on one side of the Harrington/Connor family plot monument.

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Elisha and Susannahs marker on the family monument…this is to the left of Richard’s marker above.

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Richard Connor’s Revolutionary War marker placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). We never knew that Neil had an ancestor who directly fought in the Revolutionary War.

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Connie standing next to the family monument. Richard’s marker is opposite the side facing the camera in this shot.

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Neil standing next to the family monument. This was taken from the opposite side as the shot of Connie above. Richard Connor’s marker on the monument is facing the camera and his actual headstone (marked simply R C) is about 3 feet to the right of his feet.

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From there we set off about a mile or so southwest to the banks of what the Indians called the Nottawasippee River, the white man called the Huron River…since renamed to the Clinton River after former New York governor DeWitt Clinton who built the Erie Canal. This location was the first white settlement in the interior of Michigan and was established in 1782…Richard Connor was with the Moravian religious group that originally settled the area…the settlement was abandoned in 1786 and the Moravians went north to Ontario while Richard Connor was allowed to remain in the area by the indians and remained at the settlement until his death in 1808. Elisha and Susannah Harrington then became the leading citizens of the settlement after her brothers deeded her their interest in the land the settlement occupied.

Two photos of the Clinton River taken from the site of the settlement…although nothing remains of it now. It was really cool to be walking on the same ground as Neil’s 5x and 4x great grand fathers…contemporary writings about this site described it as “a bluff over the river”. Today it’s just about 15 or 20 feet above the river maximum…and the area is heavily overgrown with trees…based on the old writings it was apparently a much more open area 240 odd years ago. For scale…the river here is maybe 50 feet wide and doesn’t look more than 5 or 6 feet deep but it was too muddy to tell for sure. Based on the old writings descriptions and the signs in the park…this has to be within 30 or 40 yards of the actual settlement site. 

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Finally…we set off for our last stop of the day…the Historical Village of Clinton Township. This is basically a couple of old buildings that were moved from the original settlement sites to the center of town near the library.

Moravian Hall…this was built sometime around 1880 and was the center for worship and town meetings…the original building cost $500 and it was moved to the current site in 2003

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A restored cabin from the settlement. This one was actually owned by the Williams family and was constructed around 1850…it would have been very similar to the one Elisha and Suzannah Harrington lived in and probably larger and more comfortable than the one Richard and Margaret Connor lived in.

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Ok, enough of that ancient history stuff…on to interesting things of the week.



And here’s a pro tip for ya…ya probably always thought that if you were being chased by an alligator…they can run 30 miles an hour for a short distance…then all you needed to do to escape was climb a tree. Well…according to these photos from southern FL…they can actually climb both fences and trees. So your best bet is to run in a zig zag path…with those short legs the darn gators can’t change direction very well and if you can out run him for 50 yards you’ll get away because he’ll get tired and give up…or maybe just ran faster than your buddy, after all if you outrun him then you really don’t need to outrun the gator. 


Tree Gators

So that’s our visit to the lower peninsula of Michigan…it was cool to see the old grave sites and walk on the same ground that Neil’s ancestors walked on. Tomorrow we’re heading back over to Hanna IN about 260 miles southwest…Connie has another retina specialist appointment on Monday. After that we’ll head 50 miles east to Elkhart to get the house wheel bearings replaced then west to Junction City KS to get some fiberglass issues repaired by New Horizons.


About Gunther

The full time RV travels and experiences of Gunther the Bear and Kara the Dog…along with their human staff neil and Connie.
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