Tuesday, September 24, 2013


As I've said before, I'm researching my direct lines, but of course researching in a family more broadly can help uncover clues to overcome brick walls. Through that, I've found a few who really intrigue me. I end up pursuing them because I want to understand their story better, regardless of whether it helps my with my primary goal.

Hopkins Murray, a great-granduncle, is one of those. The family story was that he committed suicide. Dumped into an orphanage with his siblings at age eight, he had a tough start. My research uncovered him working in Auburn, NY 1871-1872 and then in mental institutions in censuses for 1880, 1900 and 1905 , along with an 1879 newspaper article stating he was being sent to the state insane asylum. He would have been 27 at that point. I've felt sad about the trajectory his life took.

I recently requested some research from the Cayuga County Historian's office and, although they didn't uncover the items I'd hoped for, they found a second 1879 newspaper article about Hopkins. (scan looks like 1870, but it's definitely 1879)

My first reaction was "Poor Hopkins. Institutionalized nearly his whole life, including at a prison in Michigan."

From what I've read, the prison in Jackson was modeled after the state-of-the art prison in his hometwon of Auburn, NY and where his father had been a prison guard 15 years earlier. Of course, state-of-the-art is relative and in the mid-1800s conditions were pretty hideous.

From Michigan's Dept. of Corrections website:

Rules for punishment were brutal and in 1855 whipping was allowed by regulation as were use of the ball and chain, shackles and the iron cap. The iron cap was an instrument made of strips of iron fastened over the convict's head. They remained in place day and night until the period of punishment was over.

I'm hoping I'll be able to find out more from the Michigan Archive and corrections records. Maybe I can locate the town where his crime occurred and uncover more details there.

10/10/2013 Update:

I received the records. Hopkins was sentenced to four years June 26, 1875 for "burglary in the daytime" in Ingham County. He was discharged early on Jan. 9, 1879. He was 5' 10-1/2" and 134 lbs.

A more detailed personal description was included:

Sandy complexion--Light hair--Grey eyes--High full forehead--Long strait [sic] nose--Small mouth--Full lips--Long chin with dimple--Scars on inside of right hand between 1st and 2nd and 2nd and 3rd fingers--Large scar on front of right leg half way between knee and hip.

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