James Birney (1821-1881) and Bridget McClear (1820-1893) are two major figures represented in this collection. The Birneys and McClears were immigrants from Ireland who eventually settled in Unadilla, Michigan sometime in the late 1830s or early 1840s. Here James Birney met Bridget McClear, and on April 13, 1845, they were married. Beginning about 1847, members of the Birney family began moving to Bunker Hill in the southeast corner of Ingham County. James and Bridget followed them around 1848 or 1849.
Both Birneys and McClears were caught up in the gold fever of the time. James Birney made two trips to California: the first shortly after his move to Bunker Hill, and the second in 1856. He returned to Bunker Hill in 1861 and resumed management of the family farm. Thereafter, he devoted the remainder of his life to farming, community affairs, local politics, and Catholic Church activities.
Henry Birney, James Birney's youngest brother, is also represented in the family papers. He ran a livery business in Bay City. His wife was Maria, their daughter Alma.
Michael Hankerd was an Irish immigrant who, with his brother Dennis, apparently followed the construction of the Michigan Central Railroad as far as Dexter, Michigan. Here he stopped and purchased land. At Dexter, Michael married Margaret Jones (1811-1886), who had also immigrated from Ireland, in 1835. Sometime between 1848 and 1850, Michael and Margaret Hankerd moved to Henrietta and purchased lands near Pleasant Lake. They had five children. Their fourth son was Patrick Hankerd.
Patrick married Sarah Ann Birney (1851-1953) in 1872. Patrick had been a school teacher prior to his marriage; for years afterwards he farmed his lands in Henrietta. From 1889-1894, he operated a lumber and harness store in Munith. He served as Henrietta Township clerk in 1869-1870 and as township supervisor from 1870-1886. He ran successfully for state representative in 1876 and was re-elected in 1883 and 1885. Patrick Hankerd's unsuccessful bid for that office in 1900 marked the end of his involvement in politics. He would remain active in several farmers' organizations.
Patrick and Sarah had eight children: Mary, Jane, Agnes, Charles, Helen, Vincent, Loretto, and Bernadette. Agnes died while still a young girl; the other children survived to adulthood. Mary, Loretto and Bernadette became nuns and Vincent became a priest. Only Charles married; Helen and Jane taught school and worked in a number of towns in Michigan before moving back to live with their mother. The Hankerd family also owned land around the shores of Pleasant Lake. They operated a summer hotel at the lake, rented boats, and leased land to visitors.