by Kirsten McNelly Bibbes
Orphan. I was an “orphan” in Lansing, Michigan for many years. Don’t get me wrong—my parents were alive and pretty perky—but lived in Arizona. Not knowing a soul, I moved to Lansing in 1996. I started my legal career based in Lansing, practicing in Ingham, Clinton, and the surrounding counties. I was lucky enough to appear in many of the area’s old courthouses.
Making Roots. In time, I worked my way to partner with a historic downtown Lansing law firm, Foster Swift, founded in 1902. From time to time, I visited old area cemeteries. Twice each day on my way to work, I passed the beautiful Mount Hope Cemetery, opened in 1874. Michigan was home. I always felt that I had roots there. I had no idea just how deep those roots ran, taking hold long before I arrived.
Finding Roots. Until genealogist Sue McNelly got in touch with me, I had no idea that I had a family connection not just to Lansing, but to the area’s legal profession as far back as the mid-1800s. Turns out, “Lansing’s oldest resident,” Daniel Case, is my fourth great grand-uncle. He and some of his family members are buried right in the Mt. Hope cemetery!
A “Pioneer Resident” of Lansing, Daniel L. Case. Sue had come across (what do I call him, “Uncle Case?”) Daniel Case’s obituary while doing genealogy research. I was fascinated to learn that my ancestor not only was one of Lansing’s pioneer residents, but he was a lawyer who practiced law in the very same counties as me. For three years, he was Mason, Michigan’s prosecuting attorney.
McNelly discovered that along with practicing law, by 1847 Daniel Case worked as a farmer and owned one of two general stores in “Lower Town,” located where Grand River and Center Street intersect today.
Case’s Legacy. My great-great-great-great uncle was an anti-slavery activist, and even, for a time, worked as trustee and resident manager at the Michigan School for the Blind (which stands today). I try to imagine where he may have delivered the passionate anti-slavery address documented in his obituary, and wish there were a surviving transcript:
Mr. Case had always been an active Democrat until the bitter and bloody contest in Kansas between pro slavery and free state parties. The conduct of President pierce toward the slave power forced Mr. Case to sever his relations with his party, and in 1856 he fully identified himself with the [anti-slavery] Republican party and canvassed the state for Fremont and Dayton. During that exciting campaign, Mr. Case delivered an address to the democracy of Ingham County, giving the reason for his political change, which was considered one of its most powerful and convincing political arguments of the time.
I can’t express how much I would like to sit down and talk with Daniel L. Case. Putting aside modern conveniences, I can’t imagine his life was all that different than mine. I am proud to be descended from this man, and now better understand why I have always felt at home in Lansing.
Kirsten McNelly Bibbes is a litigation attorney who practiced in Lansing, Michigan from 1997-2011. She now practices in San Francisco and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.