Local History and Genealogy
News, comments, resources, and more.
While I attest to having a fascination with the art and park-like beauty of many cemeteries, working in the local history room has given me an even greater appreciation for them as a tool in genealogical and local history research. Many times, a tombstone provides just the clue needed to fill in a blank or push the research in a different direction. But with around 70 cemeteries and burial grounds in Kalamazoo County, tracking down a gravesite can sometimes be a challenge.
Over the years, individuals and groups like the DAR and the Kalamazoo Valley Genealogical Society have published books of cemetery records and tombstone inscriptions for various cemeteries and we have those in the local history collection. In more recent years there have also been some very ambitious projects launched on the Internet that provide burial/tombstone information - and many times even photos of individual stones. The problem is that no one set of books or single website has everything for all the cemeteries in the area.
In response to this issue, the Library has launched Cemeteries of Kalamazoo. This collection of web pages locates all the known cemeteries and burial grounds in Kalamazoo County and identifies all the sources – both print and online – for burial and tombstone data for each individual cemetery. You can search for the information by township or with the Cemeteries A-Z index.
As with many of our projects, this is a work in progress and we intend to update and expand as more information comes our way. So be sure to let us know if we’ve missed anything or you know of a new source and we’ll promise to keep this a tool that will be useful for years to come.
Cemeteries of Kalamazoo
Kalamazoo is brimming with great history and there are many ways to enjoy it. One of my favorites is through the Gazelle Sports Historic Walks led by Lynn Houghton. The walks are fun, informative and a great way to slow down and truly appreciate all the wonderful historic architecture Kalamazoo has to offer. As a local historian, regional history curator at the WMU Archives and Regional History Collections, and co-author of Kalamazoo Lost and Found, Lynn’s credentials can’t be beat. She deftly identifies the characteristics of architectural styles like Greek Revival, Italianate, Art Deco and many more that can be found throughout Kalamazoo. But that‘s not all you’ll learn. Every building has a story related to the people involved with it – from designers, to builders, to occupants – and you will have the opportunity to hear many of those stories, and through them, learn a great deal about Kalamazoo history.
The walks are free and take place on selected Thursday evenings and Friday mornings through summer and into the fall. Dates, times and locations of this season’s Historic Walks can be found on our Local History Community Events Calendar. So put on your walking shoes and get out there and enjoy the history that surrounds you!
The Civil War is a topic of great interest to many people - and when you add in a Michigan connection with a portrayal of an actual Civil War soldier you have the makings of a great program. In collaboration with the General Benjamin Pritchard Camp 20 Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, the library will be presenting just such a program.
Richard Hamilton, author of “Oh! Hast Thou Forgotten," Michigan Cavalry in the Civil War: The Gettysburg Campaign, will entertain and educate his audience when he portrays his ancestor, George Thomas Patten, at the Central Library on June 8. Patten, who served in the 6th Michigan Cavalry Regiment which rode under the command of Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer in the Battle of Gettysburg -- lost his life at the Battle of Falling Waters. Dressed in a Civil War uniform, Hamilton will interact with the audience as he assumes the character of his courageous ancestor.
The program begins at 7:00 - but come early for the book signing at 6:30. The 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War is less than a year away, and this is a great opportunity to commemorate our history.
Oh Hast Thou Forgotten, Michigan Cavalry in the Civil War
Wouldn’t you love to peruse historic photos of places you see every day, or that you remember but no longer exist? In the history room we get to work with these photos every day and we know how much interest they engender. For that reason we’ve made our photo collection (as well as portions of the WMU Archives and Kalamazoo Valley Museum photo collections) available for viewing in our local information database. But if you don’t feel like searching for photos, take a look at our photo galleries. We’ve pulled out some of the best photos from our collection and grouped them together under various topics. You can see Washington Square evolve from the turn of the twentieth century into the 1990s, enjoy the beauty of Kalamazoo parks, and stroll down Burdick Street in the 1800s. Or maybe you prefer photos of people like the portraits of the Kalamazoo High School Class of 1872, or people at work at Gibson Guitar or the Michigan Asylum. Our photo galleries provide a wonderful glimpse of Kalamazoo’s past and are available for you to enjoy whenever you feel like looking back.
Businesses - Photo Galleries
For decades, local history room staff have witnessed the amazing thrill people get when they locate that lost ancestor, solve a family mystery, or simply find a grandparent recorded in the U.S. Census. Genealogical research enthralls millions worldwide. To those of us involved in this community, it might seem that genealogy could not get any bigger--but that is clearly not the case. Public radio’s Marketplace recently aired a segment “How Big is Genealogy” which discussed the huge popularity of the hobby. This was demonstrated, in part, by two primetime television shows airing this season. Henry Louis Gates, creator of African American Lives, returns to the topic of genealogy with the four part PBS series Faces of America in which he reveals the family history of 12 American celebrities. Part two premiers February 17. NBC has also discovered the allure of genealogy. Partnering with Ancestry.com, they will air a similar show called Who Do You Think You Are? next month. With the influx of retiring baby boomers, this trend will likely continue to grow-- and we’ll be ready for it in the local history room.
The local history room has been bringing Kalamazoo’s past to life for more than a decade through All About Kalamazoo essays on the KPL website. Back in 1998, the website launched with twelve essays written by local history staff, divided into four categories: Houses, Businesses, Biography, and General Topics. Over the years, this feature of our website has grown dramatically through the interests and efforts of dozens of people. Today we offer nearly 150 essays in 17 different categories.
I will never forget when local history specialist Catherine Larson, who pioneered our local history web pages, invited me to start writing essays for the website. She said to write on any topic that interested me, because if it interested me, it would interest other people. That attitude has paid off and resulted in a great collection of essays on a very diverse set of topics - everything from parks to parking and Lassies to Ladies. But please don’t think that we've run out of things to say. New essays are being added to the website all the time - four in just the last month! So keep checking back, because if it interests us…
All About Kalamazoo
The Local History Room is so full of all different kinds of resources that at times it can feel a little overwhelming. Some of the resources that can often go overlooked are the small volumes that touch on very specific genealogical topics for a particular region of a country. One example would be the 21 volume set Abstracts of the Proceedings of the Prerogative Court of Maryland. Although titles of this nature may sound a bit cumbersome, the front of the first volume of each set contains an introduction that explains the material found in the set and how it can be used. Other volumes may have a more straightforward title such as the recently acquired, Scotland During the Plantation of Ulster: The People of Dumfries and Galloway, 1600-1699. Generally, the sets of this nature are indexed by people’s names so if you have a particular ancestor you are looking for, the search is pretty simple. So how do you go about finding these books when the titles can be so long and you may not know what to enter in the Catalog? You can do a keyword search for a particular state or country or you can browse the history room shelves for these books since the genealogy section is laid out geographically. If talking to a person is more your style, the staff in the local history room are always willing to help you with your search.
Scotland During the Plantation of Ulster
My great aunt served as a nurse during World War II and as a result I have always had an interest in biographies written by women who worked in a similar capacity. The local history room owns copies of two such biographies, Bedpan Commando by June Wandry and World War II Front Line Nurse by Mildred A. MacGregor. Bedpan Commando which was published in 1989 tells of June Wandry’s experiences in North Africa and throughout Europe. The book was so engaging that I’ve read it twice now. World War II Front Line Nurse is a recent addition to our collection. In her time of service, Mildred A. MacGregor also served in various locations in North Africa and across Europe, similar to June Wandry. Her story differs from that of June Wandry in that she was truly on the front lines. In her account she tells of arriving at Omaha Beach 16 days after D-Day, serving near the location of the Battle of the Bulge, and arriving at concentration camps following their liberation. These books remind me of how many other heroic stories were lived out during WWII by the many people who did not publish books. They provide invaluable insight into what life might have been like for medical personnel overseas.
World War II Front Line Nurse
Kalamazoo is a great place to live if you are into genealogy or history. Not only do we have numerous places close by for doing research, but there are also many area organizations, societies and commissions devoted to preserving or researching history in various ways. Groups like the Kalamazoo Valley Genealogical Society and the Oshtemo Historical Society meet monthly and often offer informative and entertaining programs for the public. The Kalamazoo Valley Museum, Western Michigan University and, of course, the Library all offer events of interest to history buffs. So, wouldn’t it be great if there was one place to look for all the area meetings and programs related to history? Well, now there is! KPL’s Local History Community Events Calendar, which can be accessed from the Local History and Genealogy pages of the website, provides information on events happening locally and even some bigger events taking place a little farther away. Be sure to check it often because new items are added regularly and don’t forget to contact us with information on events you would like included in the calendar. With this new calendar you’ll never have to miss any of the great local history events our community has to offer.
Community Events Calendar
Has the idea of tracing your Irish roots plagued you but you don’t know where to begin? The Kalamazoo Public Library has recently acquired a book called Tracing Your Irish Family History. It provides details on Irish census records, religious registers, recorded pedigrees and much more. Rather than reading like a textbook the book provides plenty of pictures and many interesting side notes in the margins on topics such as interpreting Gaelic place names, historical events such as the Tithe War, common abbreviations found in Irish documents and other areas of interest. Does the task still feel daunting? Check out a copy and peruse it at your own leisure. Who knows, maybe you too will be bitten by the genealogy bug! The library has many other books on Irish ancestry if you are looking for more information. Interested in genealogy from other countries, nationalities or ethnic groups? Check out the catalog topics listed under the Genealogy topic guide. Remember that if the task feels too overwhelming, you can always contact the staff in the history room, or better yet come in and visit! They can set you on the right path.
Tracing Your Irish Family History