Family, Minnie's Potatoes, Writing

Exhuming Secrets: Minnie’s Potatoes


This handsome hunk is my great-grandfather, Fred Hartman, circa 1885. I found his photo in the genealogical archives of the library in Alpena, Michigan. I started my search in Alpena because of what I had discovered earlier in the bowels of the Standish courthouse.

The lumberjack Fred Hartman, the deed stated, purchased 67 acres in 1893 of a former pine forest in Lincoln Township, Arenac County, Michigan. The document revealed he paid $676.40 to the Standish Manufacturing Company for that land.

Note: This opportunist lumbering company profited initially from logging out the old growth timber, some of it as old as 300 years. They left a prairie of tree stumps for some one else to clear, the equivalent in my mind of leaving dirty dishes in the sink for someone else to wash. This same company profited a second time by selling the useless land to the men who labored to clear-cut those trees. More millionaires were made during Michigan’s lumbering era than from the California Gold Rush. Fred Hartman was not one of them.

I learned my great grandfather’s age was 47 and that he lived in Oscoda, Iosco County, Michigan. He was a father of nine, with seven surviving children in 1893. All this information came from one deed. I thought I had hit the jackpot.

I started hanging out in the courthouse crypts scanning the Arenac County deeds from 1893 leading up to 6 March 1896. I discovered another deed with Fred Hartman’s name on it. The man had sold the same piece of land to his wife for a dollar. This document revealed my great grandmother’s name as Wilhelmina, and her age in 1896 as 41. The clerk told me it was odd to find a woman’s name appear on a deed in 1896. Married women did not have the legal right to own property until 1900. Before the law changed a husband legally took possession of his wife’s dowry, all her inherited property, and her the moment their marriage contract was signed. That was legal.

Fred Hartman’s death certificate showed he died in 1900. Why would this man transfer the land he labored so long to own to a woman, his wife, instead of a son, the accepted custom of that time? Was this brute savvy enough to settle an argument by tricking his wife into thinking him generous, knowing the deed would not hold up in a court of law? Or, did this loving family man know he was terminally ill, and in preparation for his demise, transfer his holdings to his wife for his children’s future? This was a super-sized mystery. I kept digging. Instead of answers I exhumed even more of Fred and Minnie’s family secrets.

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  • Reply Tom Witt December 18, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    I love the beginning. It opens up so many possibilities and peaks your thirst for more.

    • Reply Laurice LaZebnik December 29, 2015 at 3:00 am

      Thanks, Tom. More coming.

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