The Long Post: A Story Researched

Have you ever been prompted to research family history? Well, I’ve yet to dive into my genealogy, but recently, I came across the results of my very first internet research project, an important bit of history from my father’s life. I had begun it in the Spring of 1998 and forgotten about all the work I had put into it until I found an envelope with copies of it tucked away when cleaning out my late brother’s apartment recently. I had sent copies of my findings to all of my siblings. Back when I was researching this story, I was unable to find most of the details online, but was able to find contact information for hospitals, libraries, funeral homes, etc. and called the sources directly. I realize this post has nothing at all to do with crafting or design, but it’s a story I am compelled to tell and think is quite fascinating though very sad. So many families have amazing stories to tell and most are worth researching. Here’s one of ours, it’s a bit long, so please bear with me.12 years ago, my dad told me that when he was a teenager, he and his father, General Drew Thompson, heard a loud explosion and rushed across the street to a tiny house engulfed in fire, broke in and pulled 5 children from the structure. However, my dad, being only 17 years old and having just joined the US Navy, was sent off to training within days of the fire, never knowing the fate of the children in the accident.

I began my research and below is the letter and newspaper articles I was finally able to send to my dad, placed in a leather keepsake album.

To my father, Allyn D. Thompson:

July 16, 1998

Dear Dad,

A few months a go you shared with me the story of when you were young of a house fire in your neighborhood that you helped pull children from. You told me that you always wondered what happened to the children and thought that they had all perished as a result of the fire. Well, as I promised, I have been researching this story for you, and for me, and I am so thrilled to finally share with you what I have found. The scrapbook contains newspaper articles from the Flint Journal, written the day after and two days after the fire. With the names given in the articles, I was able to piece together, with the help of the internet and many wonderful people in Michigan who were fascinated by the story, all of the following information.

January 16, 1948: A fire in a house occupied by 5 children killed 3 of the children, David Lee Lafayette, 1 month old, Amos Burge, Jr., age 2, Fern Burge, age 10.

January 17, 1948: The fourth child dies as a result of the fire, Geraldine Burge, age 7.
Listed in severely critical condition with third degree burns, Charles Burge, age 9.

After reading the newspaper’s account, still in question was the status of the 5th child, Charles. There was no mention of his health status past the second day. So, for the last few days I have spoken with at least 50 people in the Flint, Beecher and Mt. Morris areas who might be related to anyone involved in the story, who could shed some light on the whereabouts of Charles Burge. And, whether he was living or deceased, and if living, how to locate him. For information I have contacted hospitals, a cemetery , the driver’s license bureau, Social Security death records, libraries, every Charles Burge and virtually every other Burge listed in the state of Michigan. I have spoken with a few Lafayettes and many Mayles. So many people in very interesting ways helped bring me to Charle’s older sister, Arlene Lafayette, the mother of baby David Lee. Today I spoke with Arlene and she helped me to finally speak with Charles Burge, the only survivor of the fire, that you helped save.

Charles Vernon Burge, born April 18, 1938, is now 60 years old. He graduated Beecher High School and went into the Navy on May 5, 1955 at age 17. He served 3 years, stationed at Norfolk, Virginia. He was aboard an LSD (landing ship dock) and an AGC (flagship/communication ship that carried around the admiral). He went on to marry his high school sweetheart, Diane Chartrand, widowed with 3 young children that he helped raise. They had one son together, Charles Vernon Burge, Jr. He worked for 33 years at Stoke Steel Treating in Flint. He was a driver for the company for 15 years then transferred into the shop and shoveled steel into a furnace as an Automatic Furnace Operator for the remaining 18 years. He suffers from diabetes and has recently gone blind, therefor on disability from the steel company. He lives alone, separated from his wife of 33 years, in Flint Michigan. His sister, Arlene, looks in on him and helps him around the house. He has no physical scars relating to the fire.

Charles is a very witty man, very pleasant to talk to . I couldn’t believe how much he reminded me of you. He said he wouldn’t mind at all speaking with you if you were interested in contacting him personally. And before I finished talking with him today, he said, “Tell your father ‘Hi’ for me, and ‘Thank you.’”

I was also able to get a little more detailed information than the newspaper gave regarding the family: Mrs. Amos Burge, Mildred, had “taken off” out of state to California as I understand. She and Amos Burge did not get along well at all. She was on her way back home when she stopped half way to call to get some money forward to her to continue her trip back when she learned of the death of her children. Amos Burge worked at the Buick plant in Flint, so the children would go to their older sister’s house (Arlen Lafayette), after school as there would be ono one at their home to care for them. This may better explain the children’s presence at the Lafayette home, although it too can be assumed, asit states in the article, that Amos took them there later due to fuel shortage to heat their house.

One neat thing that happened while speaking with people in my search was that I spoke with a woman Named Sherrie at Hurley Hospital in Flint. Before I could get too far into my story regarding my research project, she told me that she had spoke with my father once, sitting on a bench in a mall in Flint. She remembers that you were there and some children were playing near which prompted the two of you to strike up a conversation. You told her the story of the fire and how you always wondered what happened to the children. She never forgot that. What a small world.

So there you have it, some closure I hope. You know, Pop, I have always been proud of you, even before hearing this story. I can only imagine how this mush have affected your life at such a young age, and how you have carried it with you this long. It’s a sad, yet joyful 5o year anniversary of the day you’ll never forget. I am so proud to have this piece of history to share with my children. I love you, Dad. Thank you for sharing this part of you with me.



Yesterday, I went online to the archived obituaries in Flint to find that of Charles Vernon Burge, Sr., 4/18/1938 – 1/29/2007.My beloved dad, Al, now 79, lives with his adoring wife, Judy, in Texas. This is a photo of him as a very young man in the Navy.

What family story could you research?

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71 Responses to The Long Post: A Story Researched

  1. #1 - Apron Thrift Girl says:

    History is so fascinating. My family is full of incredible stories. My grandfather was in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and my other grandfather escaped from Russia in the 1920's. I've never done much research about either one. You have peaked my curiosity though. What a gift you gave your father by unearthing what happened on that night so many years ago. And with your theme of your blog about vintage graphics & crafts, I think it is perfectly fitting.

  2. #2 - PussDaddy says:

    That was a fascinating story and I enjoyed it very much. I wish all of the kids had survived though.


  3. #3 - She Likes to Write says:

    Oh, do not even get me started on family history stories! I am an addict! I think I left a comment stating this two posts back. I feel like a private investigator… I love the thrill of the hunt in researching family stories.

    In fact, I've been online for hours tonight looking for information about an old Revolutionary War ancestor. I took a break to read your blog… and it's about family history tonight! What a fun coincidence!

    (PS. I'd love to know what your favorite links are to finding archived newspaper articles or histories.)

  4. #4 - Amy @ Living Locurto says:

    Oh my gosh, that is such an amazing story! I got chills reading it.

    I have one thing I would like to research when I have time. At my grandma's funeral, we found out she was half Cherokee Indian. She had lied about it her whole life and then some distant cousins came to the funeral and told my aunt. We had no idea. The last I checked, you had to go to Tennessee to check the records.

    I grew up in Oklahoma around native Americans and here I had more Indian blood in me than many of them! ha. They all got free tuition and I had to work my butt off to pay for my education. Grandma should have fessed up! hee.

  5. #5 - Paper Paradise says:

    An amazing story, history is so very fascinating. You have done so well finding this information. x

  6. #6 - Norma says:

    As an avid family history researcher myself I can understand your excitement to discover all of this. You'd better be careful – it can definately be addictive once you start 🙂

  7. #7 - Pearl says:

    How fasinating history can be, it must have really haunted your poor father, I'm glad you were able to help him. What a loving tragic story. Poor babies.

  8. #8 - Moultrie Creek says:

    Genealogy is a highly addictive hobby and you'll be amazed at the number of stories similar to this one you'll dig up. It's surprising how many ordinary people do the most extraordinary things – and how many of them are related to you.

    This is a very special gift for both you and your father. Thank you for sharing it with the rest of us.

  9. #9 - My name is PJ. says:

    Family history is always as interesting as it is entertaining. My father is a genealogist, so I don't have any investigating to do, but I sure do appreciate what he unearths!

  10. #10 - Yve says:

    I think your father is an incredibly brave man, but you already know that :o)

  11. #11 - Charlotte says:

    Isn't it amazing that out of the ashes of this tragedy that you were able to bring some closure to this sad story. We've all been blessed by your efforts.

    Thank you.

  12. #12 - youngmi says:

    thanks for sharing such an interesting story. i've always wondered about my family history since we know nothing about our history past two generations. my parents both left korea during the war so much of their family history was lost during that time and most likely can't be recovered due to the damages done during the war. i think it's amazing what you were able to discover 🙂 thanks again for sharing!

  13. #13 - mary beth says:

    What a great gift you have given your dad and I know it blessed him! When we get old we wonder how the things we did through life made any difference in people's lives. It is wonderful that he can look back and know this story turned out well because of his efforts that day!

  14. #14 - Best Life says:

    Waaahhh! This whole thing made me cry. It could be hormones, but this was very sweet. Thanks for posting it. Lisa~

  15. #15 - ChrisA. says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your father's story. That was a wonderful thing that you did for him. I would love to research my family's past.

  16. #16 - Lori E says:

    I research family trees for many people and this is the reason why. That feeling you get when you make a connection for the family. We never know who will be thinking about us on any given day saying "I remember this girl that lived in our town or went to our school".
    If you need any help getting going on you own tree let me know.

  17. #17 - Lori E says:

    I research family trees for many people and this is the reason why. That feeling you get when you make a connection for the family. We never know who will be thinking about us on any given day saying "I remember this girl that lived in our town or went to our school".
    If you need any help getting going on you own tree let me know.

  18. #18 - dominique eichi says:

    I praise you for honoring your father so well and thinking of his heart that needed healing in this moment of his life.

  19. #19 - Vicki says:

    You did a great job researching this for your father. I can't imagine saving children from a fire and not know what became of them. Very loving of you to have given your father such a gift.

  20. #20 - StarvnRtist says:

    what a great story! thx for sharing.

  21. #21 - tough jelly says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. As you said, it is sad but amazing.

  22. #22 - Dawn in NL says:

    Fascinating story, isnt it wonderful what can be done on the internet.

    My great uncle died in World War I. The story went that his name was on a particular monument in France. On a visit to me in NL, my brother stopped to look. It wasnt there. That evening several family members were discussing and lamenting and my husband quietly went out to the study and searched the internet. He came back minutes later with the details of where my great uncle was commemorated. My brother went back to France the very next day to visit the monument.

    On the basis of that information my father was also able to have his uncle's name added to the roll of honour in Edinburgh Castle. Having served in an English regiment, he had not been automatically added to the roll.

    A few moments of my husband's time but it meant so much to my father and brother. It is still mentioned frequently 10 years on.

    All the best,

  23. #23 - Annalea says:

    Now THIS is what family history/genealogy work is all about. :o) Yes, tracing back lineage is important . . . but it's stories like these that help give a family the feeling of real history, and connection to the past.

    Thank you so much for sharing it with us!

  24. #24 - Elaine A says:

    Cathe –

    Thank you for sharing such a moving story and a bit of your family history with us. Your dad is truly a special man.

    Elaine Allen

  25. #25 - Samurai Mom says:

    I am so glad you shared this!

  26. #26 - Shelly says:

    Hi Cathe,
    Thanks for sharing your story! Family research holds a special place in my heart too!

    I'll just give you the "Short Story" of my internet search, for it was truly generations in the making. Suffice it to say, I found two half sisters I never knew I had, until about 10 years ago with the help of the Internet. (I live in Washington State-but with online volunteers I found one in Ireland and One in Germany. They had the same dad and mom, And we all share the same Bio Dad-whom I never met.

    It took some time and effort and the help of volunteers that look up info in other areas, but wow! What a life changer!


  27. #27 - Cheryl says:

    Oh thank you for sharing that story! I do my family's genealogy and one story stuck out as one I had to research.
    My grandmother always said her father died by being struck by a train in 1929 when his car stalled on the tracks. She was 8 years old. This always sounded like it came out of the movies. After Grandma died, I started the family tree, but as the youngest, her siblings had passed on and there was no one to talk to. Eventually, I got a copy of his death certificate and he was indeed killed by being struck by a train. I wrote to a local library to ask if they had newspaper copies on film to research this and they copied it and mailed it to me for free. His son and he were arguing in the car and stopped it on the tracks when they saw the train at the last minute. The son yelled for the father to jump out of the car, and the father replied "Jump Yourself!" The son lived. The car was carried a quarter mile before the train stopped. A strange tale that started with a nugget, just like yours, and also not the happiest of endings, but one we found interesting in our family tree.

  28. #28 - Krystel says:

    What an amazing story! We all like to think we're the type of people who would break into a burning building like that, but it is quite another thing to have the presence of mind to overcome shock and panic in time to act like your father and grandfather did. How sad that despite their efforts, only 1 survived, but his life was still a blessing! What a gift you gave your father, answering that question for him.

  29. #29 - mizdarlin says:

    I can think of no more delightful gift for your father than this information…you certainly inspired a lot of people with this post!

  30. #30 - dancing_lemur says:

    What an incredible story! It's wonderful that you were able to find all of that information. I've heard a few good stories about my family, but this encourages me to really track down the stories and document them as you have.

  31. #31 - Tina S says:

    How wonderful! I love that you were able to "fill in the blanks" for your dad after all these years. I really do love a happy ending!

  32. #32 - Juliet A says:

    Fascinating – thank you for sharing this story.

  33. #33 - Colleen says:

    So very interesting – I work for a DNA/genealogy testing company and we are privileged to hear stories all the time 🙂

    You and your dad should be very proud and what a sad yet incredible story! Thanks for sharing !

  34. #34 - The Water Girl says:

    My mom has always done genealogy as a hobby, gathering family stories and records and piecing together the history of "us." Oh the summers I spent getting bug bites in back country cemeteries! I tried and tried to learn how to help, but I don't have the attention span. Luckily, both my cousin and my fiance could spend hours hunched over the binders and the computer with her, so I know none of her work will be lost or forgotten.

  35. #35 - Little Lovables says:

    What an incredibly tragic story, and to know those little ones were abandoned by their mother, including a 1 month old baby!

    It is such a wonderful thing you did for your father, I'm sure it has touched him, and Charles Sr. so much, I know it has brought some insight to your readers.

  36. #36 - Mary Ellen (megardengal) says:

    Thank you for sharing your Dads story with us!!

    I just found some papers of my dad's that have gotten me curious about his life and am beginning to do a genealogy search!

  37. #37 - Rayna Polsky says:

    I work as a newspaper librarian and do research like this every day. I love it, love it, love it. I write a blog about local history and I'm never at a loss for something to learn about!

    I really liked reading this entry. Thanks, Cathe.

  38. #38 - Leslie says:

    Wow! Great detective work Cathe. Family history is so fascinating. Each answer leads to more questions, and it can become quite addicting. I love finding all the great stories hidden away in the past. What a great gift you gave your dad. I'm dying to know—did your father call him? What was that exchange like?

  39. #39 - Stories by Me! says:

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  40. #40 - kana says:

    Very wonderful story, thanks so much for sharing it with us!

  41. #41 - Melisa (and Frankie) says:

    Thank you for sharing that with us! I am inspired to share a family story on my blog. When I have the post all put together, I'll let you know.

    Take Care,

  42. #42 - Queen "B" says:

    Aloha, I so very much enjoyed your post. It is clear how much youy love your Dad,especially his bravery..he is a hero, to save one soul is a miracle, good for you, I'm sure your Dad is grateful:)

  43. #43 - Julia @ Hooked on Houses says:

    What a story! I was riveted. What an amazing gift to give your father.

  44. #44 - Jill says:

    How very interesting. Thanks for sharing part if your family's story.

  45. #45 - gm glimmerglass says:

    Thank you for this story. What a wonderful thing to do for your dad!

    With the help of the internet, I was able to piece together a story my mother told.

    She lived in a orphanage in Helena MT when an earthquake struck in winter.

    At 7 years old, she remembered being evacuated from a burning, crumbling building and that the children were put into boxcars lined with hay and topped with quilts to keep them warm. They were afraid at first, but very cozy.

    Later, they were housed in the nicest hotel in town, while their school was rebuilt. She told us that the hotel was like a palace to the orphans and they had great adventures there all that winter.

    I was amazed to find newspaper clippings online about this story – although I notice there was no mention of the kids using the hotel laundry chute for a slide.

  46. #46 - Urban Comfort says:

    What an amazing amount of work you put into your research and what a gift to give your father! It brought tears to my eyes.

  47. #47 - Pfeiffer Photos says:

    Love history. Haven't been able to get much on my family but my husband's side has been fun to delve into researching. We discovered the men were start-up bankers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and came to Oregon from the Midwest during the silver and gold rush era. Thanks for sharing with us, Cathe.

  48. #48 - Sandy says:

    What a wonderful story and you must be so proud of your Dad! Just one thing I noted you stated that Charles Burge was born in 1938 and is now 60 years old – if his birth date is correct he isn't 60 – I know this because i was born in 1946 and I'm 63!

    Teacup Lane (Sandy)

  49. #49 - Cathe Holden says:

    Thanks Sandy. But that letter was written 12 years ago. I had just dug it up. So at that time he was 60 : )

  50. #50 - Claire DeRosa says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. We all carry stories big and small. We all change lifes and may not even realize the effect we have on others.

  51. #51 - Erica@ZunkyChic says:

    I am so glad that you shared this story. What a wonderful gift you gave to your dad.

  52. #52 - Malinda Lloyd says:

    I would love to find out what happened to my father's father. He left when my dad was young. My family, being very southern in the weirdest of ways, never spoke about it and I only have a few whispered snippets about him from my mother.

  53. #53 - Jennifer says:

    I was and still am so grateful of the history you uncovered and documented. Knowing our family and their compassion, bravery and selflessness, I am certain there are more facinating and amazing stories out there. Thanks for all you research! Love to ya.

  54. #54 - suzof7 says:

    That was a joy to read – thank you for sharing! I love love love your blog, but it doesn't seem to agree with my bloglines.

  55. #55 - B says:

    What an amazing yet sad story.

    B x

  56. #56 - Thrifty Miss Priss says:

    this was fascinating! How wonderful that you did this for your father!

  57. #57 - GrannySmithGreen says:

    What a labor of love! I know this must have brought your father to tears. What an amazing story. You know, all people have "a story", it's just a matter of telling it. Have you seen the BBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" It's a great genealogical show. I hear that a US version is coming to NBC in March. I think it will go over well. Thank you very much for sharing this touching story.

  58. #58 - Kathleen says:

    What a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing it. I am also a crafter AND genealogist. These types of stories are what encourage others to write down the stories that are lost generation to generation.
    Thank you!

  59. #59 - Nancy says:

    Compelling story.. thanks for sharing it.

  60. #60 - auntie says:

    what a beautiful, amazing story! your dad must have loved hearing about that one survivor after all these years.

  61. #61 - Marissa says:

    Family history is definitely fascinating once you jump in. My research has taken me to little farm towns in Iowa all the way across the Atlantic to Scotland. I never tire of it!

    It's so much more than just names, dates and places. It's the lives and stories behind those facts that really matter and help their memory live on.

    Thanks for sharing Charles' story, Cathe!

  62. #62 - Kelly says:

    I was blog surfing and I came across your blog I live in Michigan near flint and when I saw the picture of the fire I reconised the Michigan State Troopers uniform my husband is a Michigan state trooper I was so interested in the story what a small world we live in indeed thankyou for sharing this story your father is a hero.
    Kelly T

  63. #63 - Adirondack Metal Designs says:

    Thanks for sharing a beautiful story. I have been researching family history for years..learned great and not so great things about ancestors!

  64. #64 - Mrs. Happy Housewife says:

    What an interesting story! Thanks for sharing it with us. I enjoyed reading it.

  65. #65 - Jason Black says:

    Hi, could you please contact me. My great-grandparents were Amos and Mildred. I am trying to find out anything I can to assemble my family tree. I had a biological grandmother, Delia, whom I never met and would like to find more history about the family.
    Jason Black

  66. #66 - Emily says:

    This brings me to tears. It speaks of the bravery and character of your Dad and the power of your loving connection with him. To go to all that work over all these years shows me the depth of your love for him. The closing sentences of your letter are something that every parent would be honored and deeply touched to hear. You have shown him great love by doing this.

    I am just so deeply touched by this….it goes straight to my heart. Thank you for sharing with me, and the rest of us. You are a very giving and generous woman.

  67. #67 - thomas a kehoe says:

    chuck was my best friend for 68 yrs. I will never forget him TOM A BETTER FRIEND NEVER EXISTED

  68. #68 - THOMAS A. KEHOE says:


  69. Pingback: My Father’s Tattoos | Just Something I Made

  70. #70 - TOM KEHOE says: