Willard I. Tyler Brigham

Tyler Family Historian

Many of us are familiar with Willard Irving Tyler Brigham simply as the author of Volumes I and II ofThe Descendants of Job Tyler since 1619. But who was this researcher who drove himself to an early grave in his search for information on our family, and who didn’t live long enough to see it completed? The following account is taken from an article written early in the century by Emma E. Brigham.

Brigham was born in 1859 in Montpelier, Vermont, to Dr. Gershom Nelson and Laura Elvira (Tyler) Brigham. He was descended from eighty different immigrants, including Richard Warren, who arrived in 1620 on the Mayflower, as well as Governor Simon Bradstreet, Governor Thomas Dudley and, of course, our own Job Tyler. His lineage, then, included many prominent early settlers.

He attended school at the University of Michigan and was elected class historian. He then studied law in Grand Rapids and Petosky, Michigan, where he rendered services to the Pottawatomie Indians, and was adopted by the tribe under the name of “Kenoshaus” (“bigmouth”–hence, orator).

Because of his oratorical skills, he was asked to tour the U.S. for five yearws as an actor with a well-respected Shakespearean troupe. Physical ailments sent him back to law, and he practiced in Minneapolis, where he helped write a history of the city.

During this time he interested Tyler family members in forming a Tyler family association. Brigham served as both secretary and historian of this organization during its most active period, from 1896 to 1901. (He also served the same role for the Brigham family.)

He gathered Tyler material as quickly as he could, with the intent of publishing it. This work was disrupted in 1901, when his doctor insisted, for health reasons, that he move to the southwest.

Although he was a talented lawyer, he spent relatively little time with his practice, and worked instead on completing the two volumes of the Tyler family genealogy.

The article concludes in the words of Ms. Brigham:

“Picture him now, with two histories on his hands, on each of which money had been pledged and paid, dependent on the small and very irregularly paid income from the Brigham work, such sums as interested Tylers might advance him, and–his wife’s chicken yard. If you know anything of the constant small demands on the pocket book in genealogical work, you will recognize that it was something like the old tale of bricks without straw.

“Had health been given him and life spared, think not but that every obligation he had made would have been met. Willard Irving Tyler Brigham was a highminded, honorable man, but misfortune came to him from out of a clear sky, in a form which it was impossible for him to foresee or to provide against, and it found him at a point in his work where he needed health and a prolongation of life to fulfill the obligations resting upon him. He did the best he could. No one conversant with all the circumstances can doubt this. How bravely he battled for life that he might finish his noble tasks can never be sufficiently known to his kinsmen. His editors marvel at his erudition and industry. He toured New England and New York State on his bicycle more than once, going to large and small places for records. One summer he traveled in this way more than 2,000 miles. The summer of 1900 he spent in Great Britain and France in researches. In fact, he contracted the disease from which he died in the damp stone buildings in London, searching for Tyler origins.”

For information, contact Norman Tyler at ntyler@emich.edu.

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