Monday, February 28, 2011

New on the Shelf : Cass County Families

Lois Streeter Corliss (1907-1959) has been a well-recognized name in Southwest Michigan genealogy for her tireless efforts in compiling and transcribing genealogical records of all kinds, back in the days when there were no computers, only hand-notes and typewriters.  Lois, a resident of South Haven, Michigan, and whose roots were in Marcellus, was a former teacher in Covert Public Schools and an active member of the Van Buren County Historical Society & the Polly Hosmer Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

One of her larger works, Cass County Families, is a 50-volume compilation of family group sheets pertaining to hundreds of Cass County's pioneer families.  Because it was never officially published it is one of the area's lesser-known resources.  An original set is housed at the Library of Michigan, Lansing, and it was microfilmed by the Family History Center.  A set of these films has been added to the Van Buren District Library Local History microfilm loan collection.

The set includes forms that are hand-filled onto pre-printed family group sheets where Mrs. Corliss added information from an array of sources including obituaries, cemetery readings, census enumerations, vital and other records.  Because of it's lack of full source citations, these compilations are not considered authoritative proof of lineage, but Mrs. Corliss has done a lot of the leg work for you here, providing dates, names, places and ancestral lines for many area pioneer families.  It seems that her goal was to integrate information from a variety of records into one finished product to paint a big picture of these families.  One can only guess at the thousands of hours invested in such a project.

In the case of Samuel Kedney featured here, his sheet is complete with birth, death, spouse & children information, including those treasured parents' names that we all seek.

On the back of some of the pages are full records transcriptions, newspaper citations and census enumerations.

These and any of the over 1,200 microfilm available at the Van Buren District Library may be viewed anytime during the library's regular business hours.  For more information about the collection, hours of operation or about how to become a volunteer indexer, please contact us.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Online Hint : Census Book Free on Heritage Quest

For some time now Michigan genealogists have had free access to Heritage Quest Online databases through the Michigan Electronic Library (MEL).  Simply logging in with a valid Michigan driver's license or any Michigan library card opens a portal to thousands of books, federal census returns, Freedman's Bank records, service & bounty files from the American Revolution, and much more.

Not everyone knows about the gems within the gems.  For example, a full version of The Census Book : a genealogist's guide to federal census facts, schedules and indexes : with master extraction forms for federal schedules, 1790-1930, by William Dollarhide is available to view, print or download.

For anyone using the census in their research, and you should be, Dollarhide's book is the guide that provides everything you need to know about them including blank forms for each decennial year.  Tables outline what census years are available for any particular state/territory, and there is valuable information about non-population schedules such as mortality, agricultural and social statistics.  

To locate the book within Heritage Quest databases, simply click on Mel Databases scroll down the list to "HeritageQuest Online" where you will be asked to log in using one of the methods above.  Select "Search Census" from the list of database choices, and choose "Browse" toward the top of the page.  At the left, select "What you should know about the census" and Dollarhide's book will open in a new window where you can select the portion you wish to view, print, or download, using the icons at the top of the screen. 

Think you already know everything about the census?  Did you know that New Jersey has no surviving federal census prior to 1830?  How about that there was a federal census taken in some areas in 1885?  Or, that not quite all of the 1890 federal census was destroyed?  The Census Book answers all of these questions and much more.  It should be part of your reference shelf and now you can own it for free. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Frequently Asked Question : Why isn't my military ancestor listed in the Southwest Michigan Military Registry?

The Southwest Michigan Military Registry project was begun in 1996 by the Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society (VBRGS) in order to create an archives of information about the area's military men & women from Revolutionary War times to the present day.  Currently, there are over 9,000 entries in the collection including 33 entries for Revolutionary War patriots who settled in one of the Michigan counties of: Allegan, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo & Van Buren.

In order for an individual to be included in the project, friends or family may fill out the registry form and submit it along with documentation supporting that service.  Documentation for service has included:  discharge papers, pension & service files, commendations, membership in the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Grand Army of the Republic or other military-related organization, wartime correspondence, VA hospital records, newspaper articles, and military gravestone photos.  Submissions have also included service anecdotes, biographical & family information, and in many cases, photographs.

VBRGS has also made submissions to the archives using items from their own manuscript & photo collections, newspaper clippings & magazine articles, as wells as obituaries from the Southwest Michigan Obituary Collection

The main reason why an individual may not appear in the archives is that no one has yet submitted that person's information.  One common misconception among citizens is that this project is a duplication because there is somewhere already a complete "official" listing of all of the country's military personnel, past and present.

Reasons why this is not so?  One big reason is that large bodies of records have been destroyed by fire or other catastrophic event, examples - Revolutionary War service records in 1800 & 1814; 80 percent of WWII, Korea & Vietnam records in 1973.  Another major reason is because not all military service was sponsored by the same governing body.  Service records for almost all of America's wars can be found either at the national, state, county or local levels.

So, make sure that you take the time to submit information about your Southwest Michigan family's participation in U.S. military history.  The documents in your possession may very well be the only surviving proof of that participation.  In addition, the project archives has become a primary local history research tool.  To make a submission, print out the form and send it to the address provided, along with any documentation.  For more information contact VBRGS.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

New on the Shelf : Southwest Michigan WWI Census

Michigan County War Records, 1917-1919 was a census taken of men serving in the U.S. forces during WWI.  The original records, housed at the Archives of Michigan in Lansing, were microfilmed by the Family History Center in 1996 and consist of 266 reels of microfilm

The Van Buren District Library (VBDL) has recently added to its microfilm indefinite loan collection all of the card index records for the Michigan counties of:  Allegan, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph & Van Buren, consisting of 19 reels.

According to Michigan Genealogy : sources & resources, by Carol McGinnis (2nd ed.), these records were compiled in 1923 when the Daughters of the American Revolution in Michigan, working with county War Preparedness Boards, sponsored a census of WWI veterans.  Using the last known address, census forms were mailed out to each veteran.  The degree of completeness and return rate of these forms varied.

Questions on the census were divided into three categories, personal, war record & family.  Included were places for birth/death information, parents' names and current addresses, occupation before & after the war, spousal information including marriage date & place, and list of children with birth dates.  In addition, veterans could provide a complete war record comprised of enter/discharge information, rank & promotions, and transfers.


When properly filled out, these records paint a pretty complete portrait of the individual (sorry, no pictures that I've seen), more thorough that any federal or state population census. The cards are easy to use, being arranged first by county, then alphabetically by the name of the veteran.

The SW Michigan films may be viewed in the Local History Collection of the VBDL, or films for any Michigan county may be ordered for viewing through your local Family History Center.  If planning a visit to the Archives of Michigan to view the original records, contact them in advance of your visit to learn about access.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Research Tip: How & When 1940 U.S. Federal Census To Be Released

The National Archives & Records Administration has announced that the 1940 U.S. Federal Population Schedule to be released to the public April 2, 2012, will not be available on microfilm as it has been in the past.  To go along with the technological times, the census will be at first released digitally only on the NARA website.

The good news is that access to the census will be free.  The bad news is that there will be no index accompanying the images.  Indexing will no doubt be conducted later by Ancestry.com or perhaps the Family History Center, but in the short run, browsing will be the only option.

Many of the questions on the 1940 questionnaire are the same as in past years, but include a few interesting additions such as:  income in 1939, whether person has a Social Security Number and whether those benefits or those from Railroad Retirement were part of their 1939 income.  Women are also asked how many children they've born, not including stillbirths - a question which hasn't been asked since the 1910 census.
Special censuses of Housing and Agriculture were taken along with the population schedules, but were subsequently destroyed.

The NARA has created an informative website that answers questions about the 1940 census and includes recommendations for researchers in preparation of its release.  You may view videos that were released to the public prior to the taking of the census encouraging the public to participate.  A complete list of questions asked, enumeration district descriptions and finding aids, and other general information is included. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Collection Highlight : Chancery Records

Most historians have heard of courts such as probate and circuit, but in many jurisdictions there was another court with which we are less familiar : Chancery Court.  Simply, chancery is a court of public record.  In some areas it may also have been referred to as the Court of Common Pleas. 

In Michigan, Chancery Courts presided over several kinds of cases including intestate (no will) estates, land disputes, dissolution of business partnerships, and divorces.  These files, which can date back to the county's earliest records, usually begin with a Bill of Complaint, and can be a very rich source of genealogical & historical information.

The Van Buren District Library (VBDL) microfilm collection includes select Chancery Records for Allegan, Cass, and Van Buren Counties, Michigan, all of which were filmed by the Family History Center in Salt Lake City.  Kalamazoo and St. Joseph counties will be added as funds allow.  The library sponsors an Adopt-A-Microfilm project whereby individuals may donate money toward the permanent retention of select records for the Local History Collection.

In the April 23, 1850, Bill of Complaint  featured here, Emeline Van Antwerp of Paw Paw is suing her husband, Jacob H., for divorce.  The documents of the day were typically hand-written and full of colorful information.  For those that have searched for a divorce case in Van Buren County's Circuit Court and did not locate one, Chancery Court files are another place to look. 

Researchers may view these and other microfilm in the Local History Collection.  Some of these records have indexes, some are simply organized chronologically. For more information about these films or the Adopt-A-Microfilm project, contact the library.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Upcoming Event : Treasures at the WMU Archives

The Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society (VBRGS) will start out its 2011 program year, Monday, February 28, 7 p.m. with a presentation entitled "Finding Genealogy Treasures at the WMU Archives" presented by Sharon Carlson, archives Director.  The program, open to the public, will be held at the Webster Memorial Library, Decatur.

The Archives & Regional History Collection at Western Michigan University is located at East Hall, East Campus, Kalamazoo, and houses one of the largest manuscript collections in the state, as well as oral histories, a large photograph collection, and an accumulation of books, newspapers & periodicals.

As the repository for regional government records, the archives houses county, township and city/village materials from 12 counties in southwest Michigan including Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo, Kent, Muskegon, Ottawa, St. Joseph, and Van Buren.  Among those items included are tax & court records, local vital records, and township minutes.

Ms. Carlson will discuss the archives' special collections, guides & indexes, research policies and services, and will touch on plans in the making for a future facility.   There will be a question & answer period at the end of the lecture.

The public is welcome to attend the program; membership is not required.  For any questions, contact VBRGS or call (269)657-4409.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Got Yearbooks?

The most comprehensive Southwest Michigan yearbook collection is housed at the Van Buren District Library in Decatur, currently consisting of 1,375 volumes, ranging from 1894 to 2010.  Communities are represented from the counties of Allegan, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph & Van Buren, as well as some larger colleges like Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. 

Types of yearbooks include elementary, grade & high schools, colleges (two-year, four-year & business), along with some alumni directories. 

Not all years for all schools are yet included in the collection.  Donations for missing volumes are being solicited and purchases are being made from a variety of resources including Ebay.  Yearbooks tend to have very limited publication, and as a result can be difficult to locate.

Yearbooks and annuals, loaded with photographs & biographical tidbits, are quickly becoming a popular family history research tool.  To make them even more valuable, the library is also sponsoring an indexing project whereby every-name indexes are being created by volunteers and entered into the Local History Master Index.

Do you have yearbooks from any community in Southwest Michigan that you would like to see deposited in a permanent collection?  Or, if you don't wish to give up your yearbook, would you be willing to index it to help others locate their family members?  If so, please contact the Local History department for more information.

The Southwest Michigan Yearbook Archives is a joint project of the Van Buren District Library and the Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Department Again Tops 2,000 Volunteer Hours in 2010!

For the second year in a row, over 2,000 volunteer hours have been donated to the Local History Collection at the Van Buren District Library.  19 individuals from around the country donated their time and expertise by helping to staff the department and with work-at-home projects.

Volunteers continue to be very important to the success of the collection as they provide support to the Local History Librarian.  Since the collection is open anytime during the library's 58-hour week, volunteers help fill in by volunteering "in-house" where they work directly with patrons, assist with shelving, work on special projects, and provide overall added security.

"Work-at-home" volunteers are tireless in their efforts to assist with indexing, newspaper clipping, and assist with the library's large Southwest Michigan Obituary Project.  Indexes are created and added to the library's Local History Master Index which is nearing the million record mark.

More volunteers are always needed, so anyone interested in becoming a Local History volunteer, either locally in-house or by working at home, may contact the library for more information.