Friday, April 20, 2012


It was at a Brown family reunion in August of 1996 that my Cousin Richard showed the letter to the rest of the cousins. He had found it in an old desk that had been passed down to his father, my Uncle George, and when my uncle died, to my Cousin Richard. When he carefully pulled it out of the small, faded envelope and unfolded it we were all astonished to see that it was written on birch-bark. Not only that, but the date it was written was a little over 100 years ago. Here is a copy of page one of four using both sides of two sheets of birch-bark.

The first bombshell hit in the address of my grandfather. I have transcribed the whole letter and the top two lines read:
"Gladwin Mich  March 20th 1896
To Edwin Brown Regd. No 2354 S.H.of C & R."  I can't believe how long it took me to figure out what the initials meant, perhaps because the thought never entered my mind that my grandfather was ever a number in the State House of Correction and Reform. As soon as I figured it out, I called the Archives of Michigan because I knew they had an extensive alphabetized card file of prisoners in the state correction facilities from 1839 to 1980. They looked but could not find a card for Edwin, Eddie, or Ed Brown.

The next time I was in Lansing, I headed for the Archives and found the record book of the S.H.of C.& R at Ionia. It is a ledger, arranged by registered number, of entrances into the reformatory. Here is a transcription.

  2354   Edward Brown. 7 years. Burglary   2/12/6
             27 years of age.  Born Mich.  Married. Carpenter.
             Parents living. Father George Brown. Gladwin Mich.
             Home with father. Separated from wife. R.W.C. Temperate.
             First conviction.
             Complexion fair; deep sky blue; brown hair tinged with grey;
             round receding forehead; medium nose; small mouth; square
             sharp chin. King William star on left breast, Sc cut both sides 
             second finger right hand. Sc cut right thumb. Does not use tobacco.
             Wgt 147#                 Hgt 5 ft 10"

There are certainly a lot of interesting facts about my grandfather in the above, but I was left with a lot of questions. The cousins all knew that he had a son before he married my grandmother in 1900, but he had never said anything about his previous wife. Another little bombshell, also brought out in the above letter, was that he was living with his father. Since we knew that his mother had married Nathan Clark in 1892, she was either a bigamist or there must have been a divorce.  I do know that R.W.C. meant that he could read, write, and cipher. I have, so far, been unable to find out what a King William star is. If anyone knows, please tell me.  Another thing I need help with is how to preserve the original birch-bark letter which is now in my possession.   
Grandpa's story will be continued.

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