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Local History and Genealogy

Michigan’s Historic Lighthouses

On Monday evening, May 19th, the Southwest Michigan Postcard Club will present “Michigan Lighthouses: Past and Present,” a trip along Michigan’s shoreline with author Grace Truman at the Oshtemo Branch Library. Truman will illustrate her talk with a slideshow of photo postcards that she and her husband have collected over the course of their journeys.

Grace and Steve Truman are co-authors of Storms & Sand: A Story of Shipwrecks and the Big Sable Point Coast Guard Station (Pine Woods Press, 2014). Storms & Sand tells the history of a life-saving station that once stood in what is now part of Ludington State Park, and chronicles the lives of the lighthouse keepers at Big Sable Point.

Monday’s program is co-sponsored by the Southwest Michigan Postcard Club and the Kalamazoo Public Library. Truman’s presentation begins at 6:30 pm; books will be available for sale and signing.


And... if you’re intrigued by the hobby of collecting postcards and other historic images, here’s short video from the club’s show and sale last month in Kalamazoo.



Storms & Sand

Images of the Civil War

One of the great things about KPL is that its collections are so vast, varied, and sometimes surprising. Our 107-year-old government documents collection yields some of the best surprises. A few years ago, we cataloged one of the real gems of the documents collection - the entire 128 volumes of The War of the Rebellion: A compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. This fully indexed set contains reports, correspondence, orders, etc. for all military operations of both the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War. You wouldn’t think that could be beat, but the documents collection yielded something even more fascinating – the Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. It doesn’t look like much on the outside, but wait until you see all the images inside. There are maps of battles, diagrams of forts, images of war-damaged buildings; as well as uniforms, weapons, wagons, boats and trains. The atlas provides a total visual history of the Civil War. 

 Check out the Flickr gallery of selected images from the Atlas!


Rebel lines near Atlanta


The New History Room

If you haven’t been to the history room recently, come by for a visit! You’ll notice something different as soon as you get to the second floor when you see our beautiful new entrance. But that’s just the beginning. The local history room has gone through a lot of changes over the last few months. From time to time we were noisy, a little dusty, and sometimes even closed; but the disruption has really paid off! We now have twice as much space, and everything we need to help with local history and genealogy research is easily accessible. Improvements to the history room include:

• Special collections conveniently separated for easy access, including: genealogy; city directories and phonebooks; maps and atlases; and yearbooks.
Microfilm, microfilm reader/printers, and hard copies of Kalamazoo Gazettes housed within the history room.
• Print station is now located next to the computers.
• Shelves have more room, making books easier to find and giving us room to grow!

Enjoy a few photos of the new history room and then come in and see it for yourself.







History room entry


Things are happening!

The Local History Room has had to close up for a couple of days while we get organized into our expanded space. Things are quite a mess right now, but soon we’ll be enjoying more room and a great new layout.

Our collection isn’t accessible at the moment, but don’t forget that all the genealogy databases can be accessed from any of the computers in the Central Library and the branches, and there are many wonderful local history and genealogy books available in the circulating collection.





History Room Renovation

See Our Community Calendar

Welcome to the KPL Local History Community Calendar! Join us in investigating widely diverse Historical subjects presented by local historical societies, organizations, collectors, and preservationist groups. We list conferences, tours, meetings, special events, and large Southwest Michigan antique markets and extend our invitation to anyone interested in history to visit the Community Calendar on the KPL Local History Website. Scheduling an event or program of local historical nature? Complete an information form, or call 269.553.7843, and we will be happy to list your event on our calendar.


Local History Community Events

Green Dots in Local History Collection

We have recently updated Our Local History Reference Collection with green dot stickers on books that have circulating copies. This means that any title in Local History with a green dot sticker has a duplicate that can be checked out. Patrons may simply look up the title in our catalogue or ask the Local History Reference person to find the location of the circulating copy. Patrons are welcome to put the title on reserve if it is checked out or only available in a branch library.


Green Dot Poster

A Gem for Irish Research

We are very fortunate to be able to continually add new books to the history room collection. They include items on local and regional history, Michigan history, and genealogy research techniques and materials. I enjoy searching for these items and perusing them when they are ready for shelving in the local history room. Occasionally a new book will really jump out at me and I will find myself totally absorbed. This happened with our newest addition to the collection for Irish genealogy research, Atlas of the Great Irish Famine by John Crowley. This big, beautiful book is full of gorgeous photographs and artwork related to Ireland; but its greatest feature is the dozens of maps detailing every aspect of population change, workhouse locations, housing types, employment, cemeteries, soup kitchens, migration… you name it, there’s a map that explains it. However, it isn’t just dry maps and figures. The impact on society is conveyed through written and oral accounts of the time, art, poetry, and in depth analysis. At over eight pounds and 700 pages, this reference book was not designed for cozy, cover-to-cover reading. But once you open it, you’ll find yourself wanting to go back to explore it again and again.


Atlas of the Great Irish Famine

A Win-Win for Genealogists

For those of us who have caught the genealogy bug, there’s no need for further inducement to trace and record our family history. We know the thrill and challenge of genealogical research is addicting all by itself. However, if you need evidence to help justify your obsession with census data and tombstone transcriptions to those yet to be infected, I have just the thing. A new book by Bruce Feiler, The Secrets of Happy Families, reports that it is highly beneficial for children to know about their family history. Feiler shares some amazing conclusions drawn from a study conducted by Robyn Fivush and Marshall Duke, professors of psychology at Emory University. Feiler summarizes, “The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.”

Of course, sharing family stories with your children or grandchildren is a great way to teach them your family history. But if you’d like to take it a step further, here are a couple books to get you started. Climbing Your Family Tree: Online and Off-line Genealogy for Kids by Ira Wolfman and Roots for Kids: A Genealogy Guide for Young People by Susan Provost Beller both present a kid-friendly introduction to genealogy. So now you can share your passion for family history AND help the next generation become happy, confident people.


The secrets of happy families

Apocalypse Then

As I was re-shelving materials earlier this month, I dropped a copy of White Pine Whispers by local author Larry B. Massie. When I picked it up, it was turned to the opening page of a chapter entitled 'When Doomsday Came and Went'. In it, he relates the story of a population awaiting the arrival of a date that was foretold to bring with it the end of the world. With December 21 fast-approaching, I thought it would make for an appropriate read.

Massie opens the chapter with a brief story of Daniel B. Eldred, a pioneer notable for having given the city of Climax its name. Allegedly, Eldred had set out for Kalamazoo on the morning of October 19, 1844 when a linchpin came loose from his wagon and one of his wheels became unstable as a result. Upon nearing Galesburg, he sought the attention of a blacksmith. The blacksmith began to work to carefully reshape the linchpin to ensure a proper fit when Eldred asked that he just "Drive it in; it will answer for three days. I shan't want it after that as the world is coming to an end."

Eldred was a Millerite, a group that believed that the world would end on March 21, 1844, and led by the farmer-turned-preacher, William Miller. Miller had become enamored with the biblical passage Daniel 8:14 which stated, "Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed." He deemed these words prophetic and believed that this foretold the second coming of Christ which would coincide with a cleansing of the Earth by fire. Additionally, he suggested that the 2,300 days mentioned in the passage should be interpreted as 2,300 years and would have begun in 457 BCE, the year that the fifth king of the Achaeminid Empire, Artaxerxes I of Persia decreed that Jerusalem would be rebuilt.

When the day dawned on March 22nd without incident, some Millerites had been rattled in what became known as the "Great Disappointment", but most maintained their faith that the prophecy would hold true by the end of the year. After some recalculations and number-crunching, Miller settled on October 22nd as the day that would mark the end of the 2,300 year period. By the time that the date arrived, Daniel Eldred of Climax was one of several hundred thousand Millerites who were anxiously awaiting the apocalypse. Eldred and many others had abandoned their professional duties since March of that year. Children had stopped attending school, debts had been settled, and fields that should have been nearing harvest lay fallow.

The second "Great Disappointment" occurred when October 22 gave way to October 23. By this point, Eldred and many others in Michigan and elsewhere were financially ruined, having staked their livelihoods on the notion that they would no longer have any need for earthly pursuits. Eldred sold his farm in Climax and relocated to Virginia, presumably after fixing his wagon's linchpin a bit more thoroughly.

The most enduring legacy of this story was the founding of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, organized by a group of Millerites that remained dedicated to the idea that the prophecy would eventually come true. Nearby Battle Creek, MI quickly became the nexus of the Church's activities under the leadership of Ellen G. Harmon and James White, devout Millerites who married and relocated there in 1855.

White Pine Whispers is a collection of short stories and essays concerning Michigan's history on topics as diverse as the effects of the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 and the history of the sport of Lacrosse. It and many other books by Larry B. Massie are available in the Local History Room.


White Pine Whispers

Browse Our Collection - Online

One of the best parts of working in the history room is getting to know the collection and all of the wonderful items in it. There’s only one problem. Sadly, people just don’t come in and say “Hey, show me something really cool,” so some of my favorite things don’t get as much attention as I feel they deserve. However, that’s all about to change. We are now making selected items completely accessible through our website, and will be scouring the history room for great things to share in the coming months.

Our first offering is a catalog from the Henderson-Ames Company of Kalamazoo that dates back about 100 years. It contains products exclusively for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Henderson-Ames boldly claimed, “We are ready to show any Lodge, that the great values which have made us the leaders for many years in the manufacture of Odd Fellow Regalia, Costumes, etc., are increased in this the most complete catalog ever published.” There’s no way to know if their assertion was correct, but with 134 pages of everything from false beards to grave markers, they couldn’t have been far off. Enjoy flipping through the catalog, and be sure to check out the large color images of costumes that begin on page 71.


IOOF catalog