Local History and Genealogy
News, comments, resources, and more.
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
Local history and genealogy enthusiasts are fortunate these days. Not only are there great databases available for research, but the ease of self publishing has resulted in more books on local topics than ever before. The only problem is finding out about them. When I find a good source for local history material for an area outside of Kalamazoo it is a huge help. I recently found a source for local books on topics related to Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren counties and have taken full advantage of it. You will notice many new books for that region being added to our collection over the next month or so. Titles like Then and Now: Coloma - Paw Paw Lake - Watervliet, Michigan, Blossomtime Festival Southwest Michigan: A Pictorial History, 1906-1996, and Photographic Memories: South Haven, Michigan are just a few of the great things that will now be available in the local history room. They may not all be newly published, but do we care? After all, it’s history!
Paw Paw Lake
Whenever I have an opportunity to acquaint new people with our local history collection there are certain items and sets that I can’t help but point out. One of these sets is Kalamazoo County Records of Soldiers & Sailors in the Great War. This is actually two sets of scrapbooks; a seven volume set for World War I and a 20 volume set for World War II. They were put together during the Wars to keep track of everyone from Kalamazoo County who served. Each page of the scrapbooks is a form with space for the person’s name, address, personal and family information as well as their war record. Newspaper articles are often pasted to the backside containing further information about the service of the soldier or sailor. While not every form is completely filled out, valuable information can be obtained for each person remembered in these scrapbooks. As we get further and further from these monumental events in our nation’s history it is comforting to know that the individuals from our area who took part will continue to be known and remembered through our collection.
World War Scrapbooks
What could be better than having access to all the information you need right at your fingertips? That’s what the Library has done on the website with Topic Guides. With a couple clicks you can find recommended books, periodicals, databases, community resources, and websites on 50 different topics. Guides even include pre-set catalog searches to help narrow your options to only the most useful items for you. Local history fans will find the Kalamazoo, Genealogy, and Architecture and Historic Preservation guides particularly useful. Regular updates keep Topic Guides current and relevant. So, bookmark Guides on your favorite topics and you will be off and running on your research with the best the Library has to offer.
When it comes to local history and genealogical research, we have always been fortunate here in Kalamazoo. We have many wonderful collections to draw on between KPL’s local history collection, WMU Archives, the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, and the holdings of many other local organizations that collect and preserve historical materials and make them available to the public. We are also lucky to be located within a few hours drive of several excellent large historical/genealogical collections: the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, the Newberry Library and the Great Lakes Regional Branch of the National Archives both in Chicago, the Burton Collection at the Detroit Public Library, and the Library of Michigan in Lansing.
Sadly, one of these institutions is being threatened with closure and the dismantling of its collection. The Library of Michigan may be a victim of cost-cutting measures recently outlined by the Governor’s Executive Order No. 2009-36. If this takes effect, much of the Library’s holdings may end up at Michigan State University and the non-Michigan genealogy materials will be eliminated or dispersed to other institutions. Over the years, I have heard that the genealogy collection at the Library of Michigan is one of the ten largest collections in the country and it would be a tragedy to see it dispersed. However, genealogists are not letting it go without a fight. On August 5th genealogists from around Michigan (and probably other states) are assembling in Lansing to support the Library of Michigan and to show “legislators and fellow citizens that [they] care about our state's past.” They plan to meet at 9:45 at the State Capitol and later march over to the Michigan Historical Center to form “Hands Around the Library.” The event is being planned by the Michigan Genealogical Council and they invite all interested individuals to join them.
Library of Michigan