James Birney Family
Much of the early correspondence in the James Birney Family series relates to Bridget Birney's family, the McClears. Because of hard economic times in Michigan, Bridget's mother, Sally McClear, was forced in 1840 to move back to Tariffville, Connecticut, to work in the mills. Bridget joined her there in 1842. The early letters in the collection thus consist of exchanges between James and Bridget, and between members of the McClear family in Michigan and Connecticut.
Later correspondence in this series consists mainly of letters between James and Bridget and their children while he was gold prospecting. When James returned to Michigan, a brother, Thomas Birney, remained in California, and there are letters in the collection from him. The Birney letters provide detailed information about their daily lives, James' time in California, the management of the farm in Bunker Hill, and family financial matters. The letters are filled with news of family and friends, but in addition, include comments on politics, their church activities, and the economic conditions of the time.
The remainder of the James Birney series consists of legal papers and such miscellaneous items as election tickets and receipts, various account books from their farm, and a policy register (ca. 1870s) of the Farmers' Mutual Fire Insurance Company. The account books contain records of expenses and accounts of James and Bridget, and illustrate their struggle to pay debts and to get ahead financially. Among these account books is a volume kept by James in 1856 while he was in California.