Local History and Genealogy
News, comments, resources, and more.
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
For over 35 years, staff members from the Local History Room have been indexing the Kalamazoo Gazette. This has been a wonderful contribution for genealogists, researchers and others just looking for information. To use this valuable resource:
- Go to www.kpl.gov
- Click on “catalog”
- At the top of the page find “Local Information” and click on that link
- Click on “Local Newspaper”
- Then type the name or subject that you are researching
REMEMBER…what you are given is a citation. You will need to come to the Library and look at the Gazette on microfilm which can be found in the Tech Center.
If you need to find an article or obituary from a recent issue of the Gazette, talk to the staff in the Local History Room who will be more than happy to assist you.
Local Information Database
Genealogists know that no single resource has everything they need to trace their lineage. It can take thousands of individual records, documents, articles, etc. to get a full picture of just one branch of a family. That is why databases that pull together millions of historical records and materials are such fantastic tools for genealogists. KPL offers several wonderful databases for genealogical research including America’s Genealogy Bank that is brand new to us this week. With more than 32 million obituaries, 103 million newspaper articles (dating as far back as 1690), and full text of 11,700 historical books, local genealogists have another amazing resource right at their fingertips. AGB is even available for home access using your KPL library card number. So give our newest database a try. It may be just the tool you need to knock down a genealogical brick wall.
America's Genealogy Bank
Ever wonder what those very large bound volumes are on top of the cabinets in the Local History Room? They are collectively known as the Historical Newspapers. These were special editions of various local newspapers, all laminated and indexed. They were published for such special occasions as the centennial of Kalamazoo County in 1937, the opening of the new Kalamazoo Gazette building in 1925 or our nation’s Bicentennial in 1976. Each edition is filled with articles and photographs on our community’s institutions, organizations, businesses and individuals. Make sure you don’t overlook the advertisements which are fascinating in among themselves. What makes these issues useful is that they are indexed and a physical copy can be found right next to them. So the next time you are in the Local History Room, pick one of these up, leaf through it and see what new bit of information you can find out about Kalamazoo.
When you visit the Local History Room, walk over to the shelf that has the 328s. There you will find a series of dark red, unassuming volumes that appear to be filled with useless information. How untrue that is! These books are known as the Michigan Manual and are published every two years by the State of Michigan pursuant to section 24.24 of the Michigan Compiled Laws, meaning it’s required by law. They are filled with a voluminous amount of information on such subjects as Michigan’s history and its government. It has information on all the statewide elected officials including the Representatives and State Senators and each of Michigan’s Departments listing all the members of various boards and commissions. You can get population numbers for each of our 83 counties, the voting results for the previous primary, special and general elections, the members of the constitution convention of 1961-62 and the names of the Michigan Asparagus Commission. For someone like me who teaches Michigan History, these books are amazing. The Local History Room has manuals on the shelves going back to 1925 and in storage ones dating back to 1861. So the next time you are in the Local History Room and don’t know what to do, pick up one of these books. Who knows what you might find.
Like many people interested in history and genealogy, I love collecting old photographs. There is nothing better than receiving a group portrait of my family members from past generations with everyone carefully identified and the date dutifully recorded. Unfortunately, many historic photos find their way to collectors without any identification at all. But that doesn’t mean their secrets are locked away forever. Careful examination of historic photos often reveals a great deal about their time period, location, and subjects. The history room has several wonderful books to help you do just that. One of my favorites is Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900. This book breaks down by decade and clearly identifies the clothing and hairstyles popular for each. Styles for men, women, and children are all included as well as clues to society and popular culture of the time. With 272 photographs, Dressed for the Photographer is enjoyable to browse but is also an incredibly useful tool.
Dressed for the Photographer
We are known for many things in this community especially our name. If you don’t know where it came from, go to http://www.kpl.gov/local-history/general/kalamazoo-name.aspx which is one of the many interesting essays on Kalamazoo subjects that you can find in the Local History page on the Library’s website.
Meanwhile, if you are curious about how such communities as Battle Creek, Otsego and Gun Lake got their names, look for the book, Michigan Place Names by Walter Romig (H 917.74 R765) in the Local History Room. There also are copies on the regular shelving if you want to check the book out. Mr. Romig spent ten years compiling information about the origins of the names of villages, towns, townships and cities that are still here and those that are gone forever, like Singapore which had been located at the mouth of the Kalamazoo River at Lake Michigan.
Obviously dates Mr. Romig gives need to be verified for their accuracy. Kalamazoo became a village in 1843, not 1838, and a city in 1884.
Michigan Place Names