Archive for September, 2015

#52 Ancestors No. 26 – James White – Michigan Thumb Fire September 5, 1881

This is post 26 of the 2015 #52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge where a group of us blog about a different ancestor for each week of the year.  To learn more about the 52 Ancestor Challenge visit Amy Johnson’s site at Amy’s website. 52ancestors-2015 Image

Thomas MacEntee of GeneaBloggers tweeted of photo of a cartograph1 depicting the Michigan thumb area that mentions a fire that happen on this day in 1881, as a blogging prompt. Recognizing the all too familiar appendage of my birth state, I remembered that one of my ancestors lost their life during the fire.

Burnt District resulting from the Michigan Thumb Fire, September 5, 1881.

Burnt District resulting from the Michigan Thumb Fire, September 5, 1881.

The illustrated cartograph showed the burnt district in the Michigan thumb area that resulted from the great fire on September 5, 1881. The Great Fire, as it is known, burned for three days. It destroyed a million acres of land, including forests, farms, mills, and businesses. The fire consumed the lives of over 280 people2.

James White was just five months old when he died on 16 September 1881. His death was caused by the effects of the fire 11 days earlier.  It is not known if he suffered from smoke inhalation or from burns. The death was recorded in 1882 and is transcribed in the GENDIS2 database.

I have a mimeograph copy of a family history from an unknown source and date that includes two written pages of notes. The notes talk of Aunt Vi (Violet White), who would be James’ older sister. The letter mentions that Aunt Vi was five years old at the time of the Great Fire. The writer of the letter states, “Aunt Vi remembers them huddling under a quilt all but their father and one of the boys. They had to keep pulling out sparks that land on the quilt. Then all was over the quilt was full of little holes.”  There is no mention of James’ death.

James’ parents are James Montgomery White and Persis DesJardins are my great great-grandparents. Th family were farmers in Minden, Sanilac County, Michigan. By the time of the fire, James and Persis had eight children. Two more children would come later. One was my great-grandmother, Minnie White.

2Wikipedia Great Thumb Fire,

Additional resources:,1

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