Bob McDonald, class of 1943, has used his genealogy experience, and the wonders of the Internet, to resolve the question of house Frank Rackett came to live in the white house formerly located at 3579 Division Avenue. It is an amazing example of detective work, fitting together a few scraps of information to deduce the only consistent story of how a farm owned by Tom and Charity Payne, starting some time after 1876, came to be owned by Frank Rackett, and remained so until June of 1959, when he died at the age of 95.

An 1876 Kent County plat map shows that Augustine Godwin still owned all the farm land bounded by today's 36th Street, and just north of 34th Street, where the family house was located, and Division Avenue and just west of the Grand Rapids and Indiana railroad track. Sometime after this, Tom and Charity Payne acquired 10 acres of land, bounded east and west by Division Avenue and Buchanan Avenue (which did not exist at the time ) and south and north by today's 36th Street and a line at about where Wexford would be if it extended west beyond Division Avenue. Probably at about the same time the white house at 3579 Division Avenue was built. For now, neither date is exactly known, but are probably part of some township or county property record.

Using this information, the Internet, and the suspicion that Frank Rackett come to the area from New York state, Bob McDonald was able to create the following time line for the Rackett family using census data:

Time line

Fortunately, Rackett is not a very common surname, and Charity is not a particularly common first name, which helped Bob narrow down the possibilities in New York state to just two sets of Racketts. Of those, only one fit the little that was previously known.

The George E. Rackett family existed in 1860, and lived in Wallkill, NY, a small town about 15 miles southwest of Poughkeepsie, NY, and located on the Wallkill river. A son George was already part of the family. Frank Rackett was born on February 24, 1864. 1870 census data shows that the father, George, was no longer with the family. It is possibly that he died in the Civil War. Bob McDonald found a document dated February 7,1867, showing that the widow of George S. Rackett, Charity B. Rackett, had applied for a widow's pension.

Material provided by Bob McDonald, class of 1943.

George S., and this does confirm that his middle initial should be "S", not "E", was in the army, in the 142nd NY infantry, and apparently died, because by 1870 Charity B. had married Thomas Payne, and the family moved to Kent County, Michigan, and appears on the 1870 census. Sons George H. and Frank A. now have the surname Payne. The 1870 census shows that the Payne family lived in ward 3, dwelling 418, family 404. A translation to a street address is needed.

The 1880 census shows that son George H. Rackett was no longer with the family. Born in about 1851, he would have been about 29 years old at the time, and perhaps struck out on his own. It's likely he married and had at least one son, for reasons that will become clear later on. An 1882-1885 Grand Rapids directiory shows, on page 459, that George H. Rackett was a finisher for hte Phoenix Furniture Company, and lived at 220 Jefferson Avenue. An 1887-1888 Grand Rapids city directory adds that Frank A. Rackett - the middle initial "A" does not often appear - lived 3/4 of a mile south of the Grand Rapids city limit, which must have been the southern edge of Burton Heights at the time. It also says that George H. Rackett's residence at 220 Jefferson was south of Hall Street. Useful information, because street numbers and names could and did change over the years. In year 2011, 220 Jefferson is just south of Cherry Street, the location of a new Saint Mary's building. But the data says there was a 220 Jefferson soouth of Hall Street. He is still shown as living in Grand Rapids in 1889, but in Greene County, Missouri, in the 1900 census. He would have been about 49 in 1900. The reason for the move is, as yet, unknown. Frank Rackett died at the house of a niece, Gertrude Rackett, in 1959.

George H. Rackett had a son, George E., born in about 1880. He married Gertrude (maiden name not known), who was born in Kansas in about 1886. Gertrude died in 1972. She was a nurse, and cared for Frank Rackett, until he died at age 93, in 1957. Apparently George E. and Gertrude Rackett had a daughter, Margaret, born about 1906, and a son, Richard, born about 1911. A guess now is that Margaret and-or Richard, and family, are the ones that came to Wyoming, MI, in 1959 to look for buried treasure in Frank Rackett's yard after he died, in about June. It was thought that he, like many people during the Great Depression, buried money in a jar. This was indeed a common practice 200 years ago. Some claim they saw Frank enter the house with money that actually had dirt on it. Whether they found anything is probably lost to history, as is whether Frank Rackett told then where anything was buried.

The information below is from the the January, 1920, census, for Greene Country, Campbell Township, Springfield City, Missouri, 5th part of 1sr precinct. Alas, no street address. Again, how George H., and his son George E. Rackett, ended up in Springfield, MO. There might have been an opportunity of some kind for George H., but nothing more is known at this point.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

A 1940 directory shows Frank Rackett still at 3579 Division Ave. The 1946 Grand Rapids city directory, the last to appear on as of year 2011, shows Frank Rackett still living in the same house. It's though he left some time in 1948, but the exact date is yet to be determined. The results of the 1950 census will not be available until 2020.

Sadly, a large amount of the 1890 census data was lost in a fire, and it is not clear what the status of the Rackett family was. As of year 2011, is attempting to reconstruct the 1890 census from other sources. It now has the resources to do this, so perhaps more information from this time will surface. Otherwise, the loss of the 1890 census in a fire in 1921 leaves a 20 year gap in this time period, rather than the usual 10 year gap.

The 1900 census data shows that Frank Rackett had taken back his birth name, going from Payne back to Rackett. His brother Geroge did this too at some point. The reasons for Frank Rackett reverting to his birth name are not known. He is listed as being a boarder with Tom and Charity Payne in 1900. Bob McDonald suspects this is because the census form was not clear about how to handle a resident with a different last name, and so put Frank Rackett on the record as a boarder, not a family member.

Shown in the 1900 census, by the arrow at the left side, Charity Payne had a total of six children, although only Frank and George survived to adulthood. Just when and where the other children were born is not known at present. Born in 1825, she was 39 already by the time Frank Rackett was born, so it's at least likely that the other children were born well before 1864. At the time is was common for many children to die well before age five.

A 1907 Kent County plat map shows Charity Payne as the owner of the farm. Thomas Payne, born in about 1828, died in 1904, and is buried in Pine Hill Cemetery, on 60th Street, between Eastern Avenue and Kalamazoo Avenue, in lot 196. But by the 1910 census Frank Rackett had become the head of the household, and Charity is listed as living with him. Born in about 1824, she would now have been about 86 years old, a long life even in year 2006. Frank Rackett is 45 or 46 years old at this time.

The following

lot information

from April 15, 1910 shows conclusively that Charity Payne was the mother of Frank Rackett. Scroll down to where the two arrows on the right side of the page occur. The first one indicates that Frank Rackett is the head of the house. The second that Charity Payne is his mother. By this time they were the only two in the house. Exactly what the purpose of this document was is not clear. If it was the census form for 1910, the information obtained is by then quite abbreviated.

Charity Payne died in 1911, and is also buried in Pine Hill Cemetery, next to Thomas Payne. At that point Frank Rackett owned the house, and would live there until 1948.

The 1920 census shows Frank Rackett, age 55, as the sole occupant of the house, as does the 1930 census, when he was 66. Raw data from the 1930 census shows his occupation as "truck farmer." This leads to speculation that Reiser Avenue once extended through Frank Rackett's land, connecting to what is now 36th Street. While not something one normally considers, streets do come and go. Consider that 36th did not exist from Jefferson to Eastern after about 1948, until about 1964, when the old airport was removed. Similarly, the part of Reiser Avenue that one extended south of 35th Street, up to the east edge of Frank Rackett's property, now no longer exists again. It is quite possible that Reiser Avenue extended all the way to what is now 36th Street before Frank Rackett's land was sold to Godwin school in about 1935, perhaps only as a dirt road, mostly used by Frank Rackett to provide access to his farm.

He occupied the white house on the northwest corner of Division Avenue and 36th Street for almost the entire time that it existed. He moved to Springfield, MO, in about 1948, having lived on the corner for something like 65 to 70 years, to live with a niece, Gertrude Rackett. As stipulated in an agreement when most of the 10 acre farm was sold to Godwin school, the house had to be left standing as long as he lived, which was June, 1959. Between 1948 and 1959 the house suffered the same fate as the flora and fauna collection, and was heavily vandalized. In 1950, when I first saw the property, it was heavily overgrown, leading to the impression that the property had been abandoned for many years. Only recently has it become clear that the property looked like that even when Frank Rackett lived in the house. Whether it ever had a tended yard is unclear, but that would have likely been the case, and over the years he simply let the yard go.

His niece, in Springfield, MO, Mrs. Gertrude Rackett, lived at 812 E. Loren, shown below in year 2012. Although likely changed in appearance since 1957, this is the house where Frank Rackett spent his last years, and died in on Tuesday morning, September 24, 1957.

Left click on the image below for a larger version.

The only information about a Gertrude Rackett is a person that was born Febrary 24, 1886, and died March 1, 1970. It's possible this is the right person, but for now nothing is known about her maiden name, or where she was born. Or where she died for that matter. George Rackett, Frank's brother, was born about 1851, and was therefore 13 years older. Apparently he had a son, who then married Gertrude. How she came to live in Springfield is unknown, as is whether she had children who might shed some light on matters. Nor is it known now what her husband's name was, and whether he had siblings. She was a nurse, and she would have been 62 ( if this is the right person ) herself when Frank Rackett came to live with her, and 73 when he died, She lived to be 84. It's likely that more genealogical research will turn up more information about Frank's brother George H. It does seem likely that there were no other living brothers or sisters.

So what started with a 1907 Kent County plat map entry of one Charity Payne owning the 10 acre farm along 36th Street, and suspicions that the Rackett family came from New York state, has led to the establishment of how Frank Rackett came to own the white house that generations of Godwin students at least know of. Most of those who knew him best are now also gone, so it's unclear how much more detail about him will ever come to light. At the time it was torn down in 1959, the white house at 3579 Division Avenue likely contained a large amount family history, including photographs. Unless someone rescued some of the contents, it is now loast to the ages. But seeing this background unfold suggests that one never knows what might still surface.

A footnote, Some member of the Payne or Rackett family bought six plots, lot 196, at Pine Hill Cemetery. Thomas and Charity Payne are buried there. It's not known just what the intent for the other four plots was. At some point two members of a the Martin family, who lived somewhare around 48th Street and Division Avenue, were buried in two of them. Eventually the other two reverted to ownership by the cemetery. Frank Rackett is likely buried in Springfield, MO, where he died in 1959. If it was his intention to use one of the plots, the arrangements were apparently never made.

Pine Hill Cemetery plot 196

Material provided by Dave Van Dyke

Bob McDonald also found another family of Rackett's from the town of Southold, on the eastern tip of Long Island, in Suffolk County, New York. The birth dates are quite similar to those of Frank Rackett's family, and includes a Frank A. Rackett, who apparently spent his entire life in Soutold, NY according to census records. Given that the surname Rackett is not common, it's quite possible that the two clans are related. For now this has not been pursued, and is perhaps a bit far afield. But given Frank Rackett's critical contributions to Godwin, some look at his background is certainly warranted.

At some point in time it would be interesting to obtain more information about Frank Rackett's brother George H. Rackett, what happened to him after he departed the home on Division Avenue, and whether there are living decendents that might shed more light on the family. It is known that some family members knew of Frank Rackett's coin and other collections, because they apparently came looking for them in 1959, when he died. Whether any of them can be found is year 2006 is a potentially interesting project.

Those interested can view the

Census data

that Bob McDonald used to construct the time line that basically spells out much of the story of the Rackett-Payne family that lived at 3579 Division Avenue for something like 70 years.