Local History and Genealogy

News, comments, resources, and more.

A Visit to the Place of My Nativity

One of the privileges a library worker has is seeing the new books as they come in. This book of anecdotes about Bronson Methodist Hospital, by retired employee Dick Vander Molen, caught my eye recently. When I browsed through it I discovered an amusing story about the pediatrician who tended to me in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I took a copy to my dad to show him this story and he ended up wanting to read the whole book, which he did, saying he enjoyed the stories about many local people, some of whom are his acquaintances. Anyone interested in the history of Bronson or in the people who worked there in past years will enjoy this collection.


The Bronson I Knew
David D.

Don’t judge a book by its cover

Ever hear that expression? Well it’s very appropriate when you look at the 40-volume set in the Local History Room called the Michigan Pioneer Collections (H 977.4 M 62). Bound in black with gold lettering, they don’t look all that impressive, but open them up and you will find them chock full of interesting information about life in Michigan during the 18th and 19th centuries. The books were a product of the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society whose one goal was to collect information and stories from the people who settled in Michigan in between the 1830s and 1850s. Fortunately, there are two indexes which are so valuable especially if there is a certain subject you are looking for in these books. These are at the top of my list when I am doing research. I once found some great information about the construction of Kalamazoo County’s first courthouse. 

You don’t have to have a specific topic to research. Just open them up and start reading. Sue Husband who worked at the Archives and Regional History Collections at Western Michigan University was reading these books one volume at a time. I don’t know if she ever finished them but I admired her for her persistence.


Michigan Pioneer Collections
Lynn H

Don’t miss the Old House Expo...

Do you live in an old house or just like them?  Then mark Saturday, January 24, 2009 on your calendar for the Old House Expo sponsored by the Old House Network.  This annual event held from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. at the Kalamazoo County Expo Center and Fairgrounds on Lake Street will be filled with seminars and classes on such topics as windows, painting, mortar, state tax credits and how to research house histories conducted by Beth Timmerman, Kalamazoo Public Library’s Local History Specialist.  Keynote speaker for the Expo is expert and author Gordon Bock, editor of the Old House Journal magazine since 1991. In addition, there will be a Vendors Hall filled with displays and demonstrations.

Tickets are $5.00 and will be sold at the door.  For further information you can go to the Old House Network’s website at http://www.oldhousenetwork.org/index.php


121 W. Cedar
Lynn H

Get to know the Ross Coller Collection

In 2008 the Local History Collection acquired a wonderful resource called the Ross Coller Card File Collection. Ross Coller worked as a journalist for both the Kalamazoo Gazette and Battle Creek Enquirer. He also left us a valuable historical resource as he read historical issues of these papers and made notes on 3x5 cards on people, places, organizations, institutions…you name it…just about anything you would want to know about these communities from the 1830s until the 1940s. 

The original cards he did from the Kalamazoo Gazette reside at Western Michigan University’s Archives and Regional History Collections. Now you can view the cards here at the Kalamazoo Public Library which is reproduced on 33 rolls of microfilm.  The information is arranged in alphabetical order, with wonderful cross-references.

You never know what you can find in this resource.  Once I was researching baseball in Kalamazoo and found a great deal of information in these cards going all the way back to the 1850s when the first hardball games were played in Bronson Park. The village council was concerned most about the damage this sport might do to the trees.

Look at the Coller Collection and see what gems you discover.


Ross Coller

Lynn H

Cemetery Strolling

I know it may seem a little weird, but one of my favorite pastimes is wandering around old cemeteries. They provide a wonderful park-like atmosphere and are filled with history and art. Finding small old cemeteries can be challenging but years ago the Library of Michigan published a wonderful resource, the Michigan Cemetery Atlas, for locating cemeteries all over the state. The maps are broken down by county, making both large and small cemeteries easily located and identified. Its companion volume, the Michigan Cemetery Source Book, lists tombstone transcriptions that are held at the Library of Michigan for many of these cemeteries.

Unfortunately, cemetery wandering is a seasonal activity so at this time of year I have to be content with virtual strolls. Two sites that provide images of tombstones in Kalamazoo area cemeteries are Kalamazoo County Cemeteries on the Web and the Cemeteries section of KalamazooGenealogy.org. Both sites contain burial/tombstone information for thousands of people and many are accompanied by images of the stones. These sites are wonderful resources for genealogists, as well as taphophiles, and are growing all the time. Links to these and other great sites for genealogists can be found on our Genealogy Topic Guide.


Mt. Home Cemetery
Beth T

So what are those big books on that shelf?

One of the first things people see when they come to the Local History Room are these big books of maps sitting on the map shelf.  They don’t quite know what they are but they are colorful and heavy.

These maps are some of my favorite resources.  They are the Sanborn Insurance Maps which were produced by the Sanborn Map Company originally for fire departments so that they could know the composition of the buildings signified by different colors.  They also were used by insurance companies.  As a researcher, they are a great resource to illustrate the history of a building and all the changes it went through.  The two massive volumes on the top of the shelf are from 1908 and 1932.  In addition, there is a two-volume set from the 1950s in that area.  There also are additional maps on microfilm dating all the way back to 1887, the first map for the city. 

Take a look at these maps.  Not only are they fun to look at, you never know what you will learn.


Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
Lynn H

Do You like Old Photographs?

Well, of course you must if you love local history. But, do you know how you can look at a great number of Kalamazoo photographs from the collection of the local history room from your computer?  It’s so easy.  Just follow these instructions:

  • Go to www.kpl.gov
  • Click on “Catalog”
  • Then go to the far right of that page and click on “Local Information”
  • This brings up six different categories, you want “Local Photographs”

Now you can search for a whole host of images typing in general search words like “education” or specific search words like “Kalamazoo Public Schools.” Once you get a list, you will notice there is a small icon in the lower right hand corner for each entry. Click on that and the image will appear. If you would like to make the image larger, just click on it. This also includes some images from the Kalamazoo Valley Museum and the Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History Collection.

This is a treat…enjoy!


Lovell Street School, 1884-1895
Lynn H