Thursday, July 28, 2011

New on the Shelf : U.S. Passport Applications Index

Through a gift from the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA), three new microfilm collections have been added to the Local History Collection, the largest of which is the Index to U.S. Passport Applications, 1850-1852, 1860-1881 and 1906-1923.  Some smaller indexes also included in the 61-reels are:

  • Index to U.S. Passport Extensions, 1917-1920 
  • Index to U.S. Passports Issued Abroad, 1906-1918  
  • Index to U.S. Passports Consular Registrations, 1907-1921 
  • Index to U.S. Passports Certificates to Widow, Divorced Women Minors, 1907-1921
Passports are one of those often overlooked sources of family history information, perhaps dismissed by the researcher because of a perceived lack of useful data. 

The index gives some good basic information that should in most cases be enough to identify an individual:  name, husband's name (for women), place & date of birth, place & date of naturalization, the passport number, volume number and date issued.  
The earliest surviving U.S. passport is dated 1796, but they were sparse until becoming more popular in the 1840's even though they weren't required for traveling overseas until WWI.  In order to acquire a passport the applicant had to submit some sort of proof of United States citizenship.  This could be an affidavit, a letter, or certificate issued by a clerk or notary.    [For more information regarding U.S. Passports, consult the third edition of The Source : a guidebook to American genealogy, edited by Loretto Dennis Sucs & Sandra Hargreaves Luebking.]

Passports can contain any of the following information:
  • Name
  • Family Status
  • Date & Place of Birth
  • Residence (past & present)
  • Naturalization
  • Other Biographical Information
  • Signature
  • Occupation
  • Immigration
And, if that doesn't have your attention, by 1918 photographs were required to be included in the passport, and some are included before that.   

These and other microfilm donated by NARA have been cataloged and added to the microfilm collection.   Subscribers to may also access U.S. Passports 1795-1925.  

Nameless Picture of the Day
Wanda Health Resort, Grand Junction
real photo postcard

Can you identify the subjects in this photo?  Do you have knowledge of the Wanda Health Resort?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the five character catalog number with your e-mail.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

New on the Shelf : Michigan Rail Disasters

Michigan Rail Disasters 1900-1940, by Mark Worral & Benjamin L. Bernhart will be of interest to those studying Michigan railroad history and those whose ancestors either worked for a railroad or was the victim of one of the 158 incidents outlined.  Southwest Michigan is well represented, in fact Kalamazoo holds the title of having the most rail accidents during the first four decades of the 20th century.

The authors have taken pains to provide information and photos for each listing, accounts being taken from newspapers and official ICC Reports [Interstate Commerce Commission].  Included are hand-drawn diagrams outlining the scene of each accident and plenty of photos, most of which are "real photo" postcards. There are three useful indexes, organized by name of the railroad, date of incident, and geographic location.  

Southwest Michigan communities represented in the book include:
  • Bangor (1910 & 1912)
  • Breedsville (1909)
  • Comstock (1912)
  • Dowagiac (1929)
  • Harbor Beach (1912 & 1915)
  • Kalamazoo (1909, 1913, 1915, 1924, 1939)
  • McDonald (1923)
  • New Richmond (1908)
  • St. Joseph (1910)
  • Schoolcraft (1920)
  • Vicksburg (1910)
  • Wayland (1926)

 It doesn't appear that this book is a comprehensive listing of all documented train wrecks for the period.  In our photograph collection, there are several images of other wrecks in the area, including this one in Lawton in the 1910's.  The VBRGS publication Van Buren County, Michigan : a pictorial history includes two more, one in Lawrence in 1911 and the other near Hartford that same year. 

Also, these wrecks are focused on massive destruction of the train, not about loss of life as my grandfather's cousin was literally cut in half  while working at the Botsford Yards in Kalamazoo in 1915 when two railroad cars collided, but that isn't mentioned. 

I learned something new from this book that might be helpful to those that wish to research these and other train-related accidents.  Apparently, the ICC conducted investigations and reports were written, so be sure to add this resource to your railroad research checklist.    Michigan Rail Disasters may be checked out to any card-holding VBDL patron, or you may request a copy through your local library.

Nameless Picture of the Day
Unknown GAR Veteran
Photographer - Shaefer, Paw Paw
Can you identify the subjects in this photo?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the five character catalog number with your e-mail.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Upcoming Event : Local "House of David " Author & DNA in Genealogy, July 25

Clare Adkin, local author of Brother Benjamin : a history of the Israelite House of David, will be the speaker for the next meeting of the Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society (VBRGS), Monday, July 25, 7 p.m. at the Webster Memorial Library in Decatur.

In addition to answering questions about his former book, Mr. Atkin will also discuss his newest release, Quiet Guilt : The State of Michigan v. StarrBoth books will be available to view and copies of the newest  available for sale, autographed if desired.  In 2010, Clare also wrote Memories of Iddles School [Allegan County, Michigan], enumerating memories of his time there, presenting a history of the school and some of the teachers and students.  A copy of the Iddles School book will be available for viewing.

About Clare's latest book, Bob Myers, noted historian and Curator of the History Center in Berrien Springs writes, "Here's a novel that reads like history - good history, the kind of tale you can't put down.  Clare Adkin captures the feel of Michigan during the Great Depression in an intermingled tale of love and courtroom drama, using historical details that brings the era and the characters to life..."

Mr. Atkin has Master of Arts In History & Social Sciences degrees from Western Michigan University & Michigan State University.   In addition to the above books, he has also written several articles for Michigan History Magazine and other area publications.  For more information regarding his writings and resume visit his website.

Immediately preceding the program will be a "Family History Essentials" mini-class entitled DNA in Genealogy, presented by Pam Pender at 6 p.m. 

Both programs, sponsored by VBRGS, are open and free to the public.   Contact the society for more information.

Nameless Picture of the Day

 Cabinet card of young woman,
photographer - McCullum & Cunningham, Dowagiac, Michigan

Can you identify the subject in this photo?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the five character catalog number with your e-mail.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Research Packet Available Online

While promoting a local history collection, we are always looking for ways to help our visiting patrons make the most of their research time.  We've had visitors from not only all around the states, but from as far away as Belgium, Japan and Australia.

When I go on research trips for my own genealogy fun, time is usually at a premium and I do as much preparing in advance as possible so as to get the most out of my visit.  Oftentimes, these visits are part of a vacation or a "passing through" situation which allows precious little time.

The Local History Collection of the Van Buren District Library houses one of the largest regional collections in the state of Michigan, and because we have so much to offer it's often overwhelming to researchers who may only be able to visit for the day or even just a couple of hours.

To assist in preparing genealogical treasure hunters to visit our facility, we've prepared a Research Packet that is available for download from the VBRGS website.  It is a 24-page Pdf file that includes the following items:

  1. First Search Tips (things to do & check first for the quickest results)
  2. Info sheet about the Southwest Michigan Obituary Index (indexing over 110,000 obituaries & counting)
  3. Online Data Extract Form (created by VBDL)
  4. Online Search History (created by VBDL)
  5. Family Group Sheet
  6. Five Generation Pedigree Chart
  7. Ahnentafel Table or Ancestor List (one of my favorites)
  8. Research Your Ancestors From Around the World (information about the Family History Center microfilm loan program at our library)
  9. Local History Collection brochure (gives brief overview of the Local History Collection)
  10. Bess Britton Michigan One-Room Schoolhouse Collection brochure (describing collection, how to access and how to donate materials)
  11. Bookmark describing this blog and how to get your free subscription
  12. Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society brochure (summary of membership options, collections, and mission statement)
  13. Local History Master Index brochure (describes database, provides examples, and information about how to participate in the project from home)
  14. Local History Collection Overview (more detailed overview of special collections, newspapers, vital records, microfilm collections, and information about research requests)
 Anyone planning a trip to this library should definitely take advantage of this information, but even if you aren't coming to our facility there are several forms in the packet that would apply to research at any library.  Some of the "First Search Tips" are broad in nature and are useful.

Before visiting any library to do family or local history research for the first time, I would recommend the following:
  • Seek out their website (if there is one) and familiarize yourself with anything they have posted regarding using the collection, research guides, limitations on access, special collections, photocopying & digital duplication policies, and anything else pertinent to your research
  • Make contact via telephone or e-mail a short time in advance and confirm hours of operation and available personnel
  • Become familiar with the geographic area by consulting maps online and off
  • Make a "to-do" list of items to view; it's even better to consult their online catalog and write down titles and call numbers
  • Organize your notes for easy & quick reference because you will need to refer to them while researching
Nameless Photo of the Day

  Only identification is "Uncle Charles Carpp" who may be the man pictured here with these two ladies

Can you identify any of the subjects in this photo?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.

Monday, July 11, 2011

New Blog Feature : Nameless Picture of the Day

Every now and then the light bulb goes off and a new idea is born.  It occurred to me that with the vast number of photographs in the Local History Collection, a significant number of which are at least partially unidentified, that this blog would be a great place to highlight some of them for possible identification.

The Van Buren District Library houses a large photograph collection in a variety of formats.  Those that have names or places associated with them are cataloged and indexed.  That index is included in the collection's Local History Master Index.  An index is also available online along with information regarding access and how to order copies.

So, we will be initiating a "Nameless Picture of the Day" segment at the end of each blog posting after the featured article.  These photos may be of an individual, group of people, or of a building or landmark.  All of them will in some way have connections to Southwest Michigan, but will have incomplete descriptions.

Photographs appearing online that receive feedback will be re-posted with identification in future blogs.  Readers are invited to contact us with any information to assist us in verifying the subjects. 

To get the ball rolling, following are four photographs in need of ID taken from the Local History Collection.  Each is identified with a catalog number.  Please refer to that catalog number when contacting us about any picture. 

Gobles High School Students, 1926-1927 - provided by William Slack
Can you recognize any of the students?  Do you have a yearbook that would provide names?
Real photo post card, taken by Van Erie, Lakeside, Michigan
Telephone operator's station?

Unknown man
Photographer - C. F. Prichard, Decatur

Annual Picnic, Van Buren County Pomona Grange, South Haven - September 2, 1921
Were your ancestors members of the Pomona Grange?

Please let us know if you have information about any of these photographs.  Also contact us if you have photographs that you would like to donate to the Local History Collection.  

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Frequently Asked Question : The Case of the Missing Woman

Family history is always a quest for the yet unknown and can be quite challenging for some ancestral lines.  Women tend to be the hardest to research because of last name changes and for the simple reason that they typically don't show up in the written record as often as men.

Patrons who visit the Local History Collection are often stymied by the "missing woman," one that has apparently disappeared after a certain date or event.  In fact, the term "missing" really only means that she doesn't  show up in the expected places.

Once you've exhausted your search looking in all of the normal places such as death certificates, cemeteries, and the local newspaper, it's time to think outside of the box.  This is something I have a difficult time convincing researchers to do, as they are so convinced of their "facts" that they don't always consider all of the possibilities.

Case In Point - This week a local researcher was searching for Effie A. Slack, a woman who had lived most of her life in Oshtemo Township.  Effie's husband, Hudson Slack, died in 1948 and was buried in West Oshtemo Cemetery, Kalamazoo County, as were countless other Slack's, but not Effie.  She last appeared with Hudson in the 1930 census and his obituary indicated that his wife had predeceased him.  One would deduce that she must have died between the taking of the census in 1930 and Hudson's death in 1948.

A search was made of Kalamazoo County death records and when that didn't yield results, the search fanned out to Van Buren & Allegan County, the nearest neighbors.  Still no Effie. 

Then, I asked the question that I always ask when a patron can't find a female...."Are you sure she didn't marry again and have a different last name?"  The researcher felt adamant that Effie would not have had another married name as her husband outlived her and they were together in 1930, so we scrapped that idea for the moment.

We checked in other area cemeteries and tried several indexes of vital records, online & off, with no results.  Finally, we took another look at the cemetery readings for West Oshtemo Cemetery where Hudson Slack was buried without Effie.  Fanning the search out beyond the Slack plot, I noticed that there was an Effie A. Gorham buried all alone just five stones down the row from the Slack's.  Effie Gorham died in 1935 and seemed of the appropriate age - could this be Effie Slack? 

A quick search of the Kalamazoo County death records index in our microfilm collection confirmed a listing for Effie A. (Slack) Gorham in 1935.  A search of the Kalamazoo County marriage index showed a marriage between Effie Slack & Adelbert Gorham in 1933.  Apparently, Effie & Hudson were divorced sometime between 1930 & 1933, although this would need to be verified by searching for a divorce file. 

In summary, when you are looking for a "missing woman," try some of the following:
  1. Search for a death record in the county of last known residence, any prior residences, and the residences of any of her children, siblings, or parents.
  2. Search for a marriage record in any of the above counties even if you are "sure" she never married again.
  3. Don't rely exclusively on indexes or online databases to locate a record.  Human error applies to both.  Go through records manually, if necessary, for the appropriate place and time period.
  4. If other family members appear in a cemetery or census, take a look at nearby individuals for clues to the woman or other relatives that may lead you to her.
  5. Don't assume that all information on a record is accurate or true.  Many times marital status is "fudged" to hide family irregularities, particularly divorce or desertion. 
For other strategies in researching the women in your family tree, read A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your Female Ancestors, by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack.  This book can be checked out with a Van Buren District Library card, or request it through your local library.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Upcoming Events: Southwest Michigan Family Reunions

Summer is here and along with it comes a parade of certain traditional events.  May & June tend to be grad party season, weddings are slated for most weekends, we just celebrated the country's 135th birthday, and you can't throw a dead cat without hitting a yard/garage sale. 

July & August also tend to be when we hear about most family reunions.  As family historians, these are golden opportunities to share and learn more about our family's history.  Think of them as not just yet another opportunity to overeat, but a place where you can make connections with other people like yourself - people with a passion for family history.  Or, discover family members who have those ancestral photographs & documents in a shoe box under their bed that no one has brought to the light of day in decades.  You just might be the inspiration they need to dust them off and share them.

In the Southwestern Michigan area, there are at least three family reunions scheduled this summer:

Goodrich Family Reunion, Saturday, July 16, 2011, 2 p.m., Fred Russ Forest Park, Marcellus Highway, near Volinia.    This reunion celebrates the descendants of George Goodrich  Sr. & Leone (Drake) Goodrich of Hamilton Township, Van Buren County.  Activities will include, a white elephant auction, bingo, 50:50 raffle, kids's games and more.  RSVP to Charles Goodrich or call (269)423-7547. 

Drake Family Reunion, August 14, 2011, 1 p.m., 65477 CR 376, Van Auken Lake, Bangor, home of Shirley (Drake) Schroyer.  Invited are the descendants of Joshua Cope Drake of Bangor Township, Van Buren County.  Contact Jean (Drake) Johnson or call (269)616)669-2419 for more information.

[Please note that I will be in attendance at both of the above reunions to share notes regarding my upcoming book, The Drake Families of Van Buren County, Volume 1 : descendants of Joshua Cope Drake]

Cavanaugh and DeVriendt Family Reunion - Saturday, August 13-14, 2011, 12 p.m. at the DeVriendt family farm in Grand Rapids.  In addition, the family will gather at the Sacred Heart Church & Cemetery in Watson (Allegan County), for mass and a cemetery walk beginning at 9:30 a.m, August 14.    The Cavanaugh family originated in Watson Township.  Contact Karen DeVriendt or Tom Duncan for more information.

If you know of other family reunions in Southwest Michigan in 2011, contact me and I will list them in a future post. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

New on the Shelf : New Book Completed for Keeler Cemetery

Where most rural townships have more than one cemetery to their credit, Keeler Township in Van Buren County has only Keeler Cemetery, located on the southern outskirts of the community of Keeler.  Hot off the press is a new book featuring the burials in Keeler Cemetery, compiled by Robert "Bob" Cooley of Lincoln Township, and published by the Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society (VBRGS).

This book is more than your run of the mill batch of cemetery records.  Bob has incorporated not only tombstone readings, but when possible has supplemented & verified that with data from death certificates, the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), and obituaries.  He also referenced prior readings done in the late 1970's, and early burial records on microfilm [Burial records, 1842-1940].  Many times, Bob spent entire days in the Local History Collection, seeking out these additional records to make the information for Keeler Cemetery as complete as possible. 

Bob Cooley has long been fondly known as the "cemetery man."  He has spearheaded the publication of countless Berrien County cemetery books, and took on the monumental task of walking every Van Buren County cemetery in search of WWII veterans in support of the upcoming VBRGS publication, "Van Buren County in WWII."

Once completed, Bob made donation of the Keeler Cemetery publication to VBRGS for their use as a fundraiser. The book will be available shortly for purchase through the VBRGS online Book Store or may be picked up in person at the library.  Contact VBRGS for more information about how to order.  A copy is also available to view in the Local History Collection.