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Local History and Genealogy

The New HeritageQuest

If you haven’t logged into HeritageQuest lately, you’re in for a big surprise! The database that KPL and other libraries have been providing for years for genealogical research has gone through a major change. Through a partnership with Ancestry, HeritageQuest is now able to provide more advanced search functionality (very similar to searching in Ancestry) and increased content.


The U.S. Federal Census 1790-1940 is now complete with an every-name index. There is a new image viewer with improved image resolution as well as simple save and share capabilities. They have also increased their book collection to include thousands of city directories. Research aids full of great information and tips are available – but don’t be surprised when they refer you to searches in Ancestry. One of the wonderful things that HeritageQuest has always had, but you may have overlooked because it was completely buried on their old site, is the Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920. I love those maps and now they are prominently linked right at the top of the home page. Of course, the best thing about HeritageQuest is something that is exactly the same as it has always been – it is accessible from home by logging in with your library card number!


If you can’t remember how to get to HeritageQuest and the other great databases that KPL provides for genealogical research, just go to the Genealogy Topic Guide and scroll down to the Databases section.



The Art of Memory

It is no secret that I am particularly fond of cemeteries. Unlike many people, I don’t find them to be sad or spooky places. I love them for their park-like beauty, art, and architecture; and of course their history. After reading The Art of Memory: Historic Cemeteries of Grand Rapids, Michigan, I have to believe that its author, Thomas R. Dilley, feels the same way. The book is filled with beautiful photos of cemeteries, tombstones and mausoleums throughout Grand Rapids.

Dilley could have stopped there – many authors of cemetery books do - but the photos are just the beginning. The book deals mainly with the garden or park cemeteries of Grand Rapids, which first began to be established in the late nineteenth century. But this development is all put into perspective with an excellent history of burial and burial places going all the way back to the beginning of civilization. It goes on to tell the histories of the specific cemeteries and then further to explain the monuments themselves. For example, popular architectural styles of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries - such as Greek Revival, Romanesque, Egyptian Revival, and Art Deco - are all represented in the tombstones and mausoleums of Grand Rapids, and Dilley explains their popularity and significance.

While the book includes a great deal of interesting Grand Rapids history, the insight provided into the evolution of cemetery design and tombstone architecture and symbolism will give you an understanding and appreciation for cemeteries anywhere in the country. You may find yourself picking up The Art of Memory for the beautiful images, but I guarantee you’ll keep reading for the fascinating details.

Your Genealogy Place

With the holidays behind us, it’s time to get serious about your genealogy research, and the local history room is full of resources to help you do just that! Whether you’re just getting started, or have been at it for years, you can certainly benefit from a trip to the history room.

You can’t find a better place to dig up information on your Kalamazoo ancestors than our local information database. It includes more than four decades of full name and subject indexing of the Kalamazoo Gazette and well over 100 years of obituary/death story citations. But that’s just the beginning – the database also includes indexing of local magazines and select Kalamazoo County newspapers, as well as citations for history room files and specific items in books in the history room collection. This includes portraits in many of the high school and college yearbooks.

You don’t need to have Kalamazoo roots to benefit from KPL’s resources, either. We have hundreds of genealogy books, from instructional to vital records to compilations of ship passenger lists. In addition to Michigan, geographically our collection includes research volumes for Indiana and Ohio, New England, and the Mid-Atlantic States. We even have printed volumes for Canadian and European research. When you also consider our genealogy databases - Ancestry Library Edition, America’s Genealogy Bank, Heritage Quest, and American Ancestors – KPL provides access to records from all over the world!

Of course, there are many, many records that will never make it to a printed book or be included in a database, but billions of them have been microfilmed by Family Search. That is why KPL is a Family Search Affiliate Library. For a small fee, reels of microfilm can be borrowed from Family Search and sent here for viewing and printing or scanning with our digital microfilm readers. So what are you waiting for? Come on down to the history room and start researching!

Second Chance for Programs

If you read our Link newsletter or peruse the website from time to time, you probably know that KPL has hosted many wonderful local history programs in recent years. We’ve covered topics related to architecture, neighborhoods, women’s history, shipwrecks, and even the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. All the local history programs have a Kalamazoo or Michigan focus. What you may not know is that most of these programs are recorded and the videos are made available on our website. Of course, nothing beats being at a program and having the opportunity to ask questions and interact with the presenter, but if you miss one, it’s not too late to enjoy it. 

Take a look at the recently posted video of WMU professor Brian Wilson presenting on the topic of his new book, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and the Religion of Biologic Living. I promise you will be fascinated (and then you’ll want to go back and view any of the other programs that you missed)!

An Idyllic Summer Day

It’s been a while since we posted an unidentified photo so this one has a bonus – an extra related photo. Both feature what appears to be at least three generations of a family posed in front of a house. One is taken from a distance, making the house fully visible. The house is brick and it is clearly in a rural setting. The family of nine adults and four children are spaced out across the photo. It appears to be a warm summer day with leaves fully out on trees and bushes, and windows open on the house. The children are posed with croquet mallets and balls as if they had just interrupted their game to have their photo taken.


The second photo gives a much clearer view of the family. They are tightly spaced in front of a porch on the right side of the house. Several of the women and children are wearing flowers pinned to their clothes. Styles indicate a date in the early 1890s.


Help us! Our local history photograph collection is a wonderful resource, but unfortunately not every photo comes to us with full details of the place, people, or date associated with it. For that reason, we are enlisting your help. If you have any idea who this family is, or if you recognize the house, let us know. But even if you don’t, be sure to take a minute to enjoy these interesting old photos.

View all photos in the “unidentified” series

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