Saturday, April 30, 2011

Research Tip : Hidden Layers in Old County Histories

During your family history research you probably have encountered one or more of the old county histories or "mug books" as we sometimes call them.  They may have a certain amount of early history of the area followed by hundreds of biographies of some of the local citizens.  These written portraits may have been the starting point for some of your family groups, and we wish that there were sketches like these for all of our families.

Those histories that cover multiple counties may have hidden layers of information.  I'm reminded of such a case with the addition to the Local History Collection of the third volume of  the Portrait and Biographical Record of Kalamazoo, Allegan and Van Buren Counties, Michigan, published in 1892 by Chapman Brothers of Chicago.  "But, there is only one volume," you might say.  Not true.  Most researchers who have looked at this book on the shelf or online don't realize that there were in fact three editions of this book published, one for each of the three counties, and all with unique content.

This explained one of the mysteries that I had with our collection...we had the book and a separate index to it.  But, the index pages didn't match the book.  Now I know it was because we had the Van Buren edition of the book, and the index to the Kalamazoo edition.  Since then, we have acquired all three editions, with 1144, 986 and 946 pages, respectively.  The Allegan edition, the volume we just acquired, was very difficult to locate and apparently the rarer of the three.

In 2007, I wrote a two-part article for the Van Buren Echoes, quarterly of the Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society, about the these volumes and the differences between them.  Included was a combined biographical index of all three volumes, showing which biographies were included in which volume(s).  Some were published in all three, some in only two or one.  The article is available to read in Volumes 20 & 21 online, with your VBRGS membership.

What's online?  Google Books does reference all three volumes, but none of them are viewable.  Ancestry appears to only have the Van Buren edition, as does the Internet ArchiveMichigan County Histories apparently only has the Kalamazoo edition.  To find out what libraries have the respective volumes in their collections, search for the title on World Cat.

I suspect that if the Kalamazoo, Allegan, Van Buren history has multiple editions, so do other histories published during that era.  This is something to keep in mind as you leave no stone unturned in search of information about your ancestors.

Every-name indexes for all three volumes are being developed and added to the collection's Local History Master Index (LHMI), available to visitors to the library.  For any questions, contact the Local History department.

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