Sepia Saturday: Mysterious Foremother

[Original post Feb 18, 2011, revised June 2015]

 Another relative I've been researching is my father's paternal great-grandmother, Elizabeth Blindberry (born in 1813 in New York State, died 1873 in Livonia, Michigan). Alas, I have no photograph of her or her husband.

Tombstone of Elizabeth and husband George Nelson Bentley
Family apocrypha has it that "her family owned the land that the Book-Cadillac Hotel now stands on," in Detroit. If this is true, here's an example of the genealogist's bugbear -- nonstandard spelling. For the owner of that land spelled his name Blindbury -- John Blindbury.

Assuming that this is the proper connection, my guess is that Elizabeth was John's sister. In those days, the census typically named only the head of the family, particularly ignoring the names of women of all ages. John apparently did have a younger sister who would have been born around the right time. In an attempt to find out about Elizabeth, I dug up what I could about her brother, my great-great granduncle.

Here's an excerpt of a biography published in the succinctly titled History of Detroit and Wayne County and Early Michigan - A Chronological Cyclopedia Past and Present by Silas Farmer (1890).

John Blindbury, of Detroit, was born February 22, 1806, in the town of Lyon [sic], Wayne County, New York, and was the eldest son of Joseph and Mary Blindbury. His father served in the war of 1812. At the age of twelve, Mr. Blindbury lost his mother, who died of consumption, leaving a family of seven children. This loss was a severe blow, and felt the more keenly because the family was, at this time, in straitened circumstances, and the children required a mother's care and experience. At their mother's death, the younger members of the family became the charge of an elder sister. John Blindbury was early trained to hard work. His education was limited; he had only a few months in the year to devote himself to study, and the district schools were far inferior to those of the present day. 

At the age of nineteen, in the year 1825, he emigrated to Michigan. ...Mr. Blindbury purchased eighty acres of land in the town of Southfield, Oakland County; he erected a log house on his purchase, and then sent for his father's family. After seeing them settled, he began chopping [lumber], in the forests of Michigan, at four dollars and a half per acre. Unlike most young men of this day, he considered his time as his father's until he came of age. 

I gather that his father -- I wish the article gave his name to nail it for me -- came along with the children. Joseph Blindbury had remarried by this time and there were several more children from this union. He was to die in Southfield in 1851.

Blindbury's homestead is described in the autobiography of one William S. Balls thusly:
"This was the autumn of 1857 in which we bought a farm in Greenfield on Grand River Avenue not quite six miles from the Detroit City Hall. This property included a two story brick house and one small barn. The front portion (about two acres) was planted to a large variety of fruit including a fine orchard, two grape arbors, pears, cherries, crabapples, a large quantity of currants, etc., all these in bearing. It was a place that Mr. Blindbury, the hotel man, had built and prepared for his own residence as he wished to retire. The rest of the land was mostly uncultivated, about 20 acres of it woods.

Nine months before that time, he gave his father a note to cover the value of his labor during the remaining months. After this, he went to what was then known as the Black River country [in St. Clair County], and entered into the lumbering business, in the employment of A. M. Wadhams. Here he remained about four years, at the end of which time he returned to Southfield, purchased one hundred acres of wild land, erected a log house, and began to clear the land for cultivation. 

He married, December 2, 1831, Maria Rogers, daughter of Moses and Mary "Polly" Rogers, residents of Southfield, and granddaughter of John Rogers, who served throughout the Revolutionary War.

John Rogers
They had three children, none of whom are living [as of 1890]. [Blindbury] remained on the farm for six years; when, owing to poor health, he was compelled to leave it. In 1837 he removed to the Grand River road, eight miles out of Detroit, and opened a small hotel. This proved a very profitable undertaking, as many immigrants were then entering the State. He remained in this place nine years, and then opened another inn, two miles nearer the city, remaining eight years and doing a profitable business. 

In 1844 [Blindbury] was elected Representative of Wayne County in the State Legislature. In 1850 sold the hotel, and erected a dwelling-house near by. About this time he was appointed Marshal of Wayne County. In 1852 he removed to Detroit, and erected what was known for many years as the Blindbury Hotel, on the corner of Washington and Michigan avenues, [later] known as the Antisdel House.

Location of the property

Here are stills from a 1923 Detroit newsreel (check it out!) showing the Antisdel House.

Landmarks of Wayne county and Detroit, by Robert Budd Ross and George Byron Catlin, offers this about the hotel property:
"In 1836, Nathaniel Champ built a house on the northeast corner of Washington and Michigan avenues [in Detroit], and he lived there until 1851. On this property he build the first temperance hotel in Detroit, and was its landlord for several years. Several managers of the hotel succeeded [him] and in 1843, his son, William Champ, became landlord and managed until 1851. The property was then sold to John Blindbury. In 1852, Mr. Blindbury built a hotel on the same site and named it the Blindbury Hotel. J.F. and W.W. Antisdel were afterwards landlords, and in 1870 W.W. Antisdel was in charge. W.A. Scripps afterward became a partner. The house was demolished in 1890."

John Antisdel
Here's an interesting document:  census taker William H. Pattes recorded the employees and residents of the Hotel on June 1, 1860.

Mr. Blindbury was brought up a Methodist, but never united with any church. He held very liberal views on religious subjects. His life was exceedingly upright. In politics, he was always allied with the Democratic party. Mr. Blindbury died on the 1st of March, 1867, leaving a comfortable estate to his widow, whom he made his sole executrix. His life was eventful, and was marked by hard work, energy, and perseverance. His labors were finally crowned with success; and he stands before us in his works, as a representative pioneer of Michigan.

The Antisdel was lauded as "The most home-like hotel in Detroit; well kept, strictly temperance, and worthy of the large patronage it receives."

Eventually it made way for the famous Book-Cadillac Hotel at the heart of Detroit. There are some great old photos of it here.

 All this is well and good, but I still don't know anything about Blindbury's sister Elizabeth, my great-great grandmother, other than she married George Bentley, of nearby Livonia, probably in 1836 at the age of 23. They proceeded to have children: Mary (b. 1837), , Margaret (1843), Susanna (1846), Charlotte (1848), , Charles (1853), and William (1865) when Elizabeth was 52! She only lasted eight years after that.

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  1. Well, at least you've got some good solid information and photographs. I agree though, the name variations can be very trying and isn't it frustrating when you can't fill in ALL the gaps?


  2. You might not know any more about Elizabeth but we know a lot more about John. And fascinating stuff it is. Perhaps more than any other country, you could tell the history of the USA in such family tales alone. Movement, settlement, hardship and eventual success : an American story in itself.

  3. Fascinating.

    And I agree about the name spelling. One side of my family has had their name spelled 4 ways. Such a bother.

  4. Congrats on finding more info about your family. My future family members will just have to be content with photographs & my journals to remember me by, however, as there will be no tombstone for me. I intend to have my ashes scattered across the Sierra Nevada mountains as close to my beloved Lake Tahoe as possible when my time comes. The poor Book-Cadillac hotel certainly has gone through a great struggle to remain standing & now will hopefully find itself useful once more.