Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Southwest Michigan Obituary Index Updated to 115,000 Entries

The next best thing to having original genealogical records online are indexes & transcriptions that lead us to those records.  The Southwest Michigan Obituary Index (SWMOI) just updated to over 115,000 entries is a great example. 

Launched online by the Van Buren District Library in 2005, the SWMOI is an ambitious project to create an index to an estimated quarter million obituaries in it's collection.  Items date as far back as the 1800's and as recently as 2008, representing the Michigan counties of Allegan, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo & Van Buren; from about 30 different newspapers.

Obituaries are first mounted onto 11x17 sheets, the index is created, and the sheets are digitized.  The index includes:  name of decedent, issue date of the publication (when known), the newspaper name (when known), and a corresponding page/image number.  Funds for digitization come solely from money raised from copy orders and donations as a result of the online index.

 Initially, the library had hoped to place the digitized images online with the index, but copyright issues have prevented that.  However, the images may be viewed and printed from the Local History department computers.  Orders for copies may be made by mail or using PayPal, or researchers may visit the library in person and make copies themselves for cost of photocopies.

Because the library is using it's hard copy collection to create the index, it is not an every-obituary index to any one newspaper or time period. Although not all of the obituaries have complete identification (issue date & publication), most of them do and every effort is being made to accurately identify them.

The project is supervised and indexed by the library, but the lion's share of the work of newspaper clipping, mounting, and alphabetizing is done by volunteers.  For more information about the SWMOI and the volunteer program contact the Local History Department.