Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Collection Highlight : Virgil White Books Essential to U.S. Military Research

With the addition of Index to Volunteer Soldiers in Indian Wars and Disturbances 1815-1858 (2 volumes), the Local History Collection rounds out its final acquisition of United States military records abstracts by Virgil D. White. 

Other titles already in the collection include:


  • Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files (4 volumes)
  • Index to Medal of Honor Recipients 1863-1978
  • Index to U.S. Military Pension Applications of Remarried Widows 1812-1911
  • Index to War of 1812 Pension Files (2 volumes)
  • Index to Old Wars Pension Files 1815-1926
  • Index to Volunteer Soldiers 1784-1811
  • Index to Pension Applications for Indian Wars Service Between 1817 and 1898
  • Index to Revolutionary War Service Records (4 volumes)
Each of these titles, published by the National Historical Publishing Company, consists of abstracts & indexes meticulously transcribed from records in the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA).  In the case of pension files, an entry typically will consist of:
  • name of person who provided service
  • NARA file number
  • branch & state of service
  • pension application date
  • age
  • spouse's name & death information
  • birth date and/or place
  • residences
  • death date and/or place
  • marriage date and/or place
  • list of children & birth
In many cases, there is additional information...usually enough so that you may deduce whether it is the person you seek, and to enable you to make a request to the NARA for a complete file copy.

To my knowledge, these books are not represented in any online environment, so be sure to seek them out in a genealogical collection near you.  Most of them are probably not attainable by inter-library loan, but I did note that a couple of them are available to Michigan libraries through MelCat.

I would recommend these books highly to any library looking for quality reference books for their genealogy collections.  They don't come cheap however...Index to Revolutionary War Service Records is $335.00 plus shipping for the four volumes.  In our case, we acquired them through a series of memorials for the following individuals:
  • Margaret (McCain) Mullin
  • Joanne (Briggs) Breed
  • Bernard Breed
  • Shirley (Schultz) Probst
We also have a Buy-A-Book program whereby Nina Consolatti of Paw Paw has purchased volumes for the collection.

From a research standpoint, these titles should be on your permanent checklist of sources for any U.S. family history.  Even if you believe that your individuals provided no military service, information that can be gleaned from these volumes pertaining to collateral lines can be invaluable.  And, who knows, perhaps you have yet to discover your ancestors' service.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Collection Highlight : Hartford Day Spring Digital Newspaper Archive

The Hartford Day Spring, first published in 1871 and in almost continuous publication until 1973, has been a rich source of Hartford local history.  Decades ago, Western Michigan University's Archives & Regional History Collection sponsored a project whereby the existing issues ranging over 102 years were reproduced on 55 reels of microfilm.

Now, through a project sponsored by the Hartford District Library and area donors, all 55 reels of the Hartford Day Spring newspapers have been digitized and made text searchable.  The result is eight CD-Rom disks containing pdf (portable document format) files of each issue of the paper.

The Van Buren District Library and the Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society donated toward the cost of the project and now have a complete set of the digitized Hartford newspapers.  These files are available for viewing on computer in the library's Local History department. 

Individual issues may be browsed by date, or searches may be made to individual or ranges of issues.  Images of pages are pretty clear and articles can be downloaded or printed.

The Hartford District Library has also added access to the Day Spring to their website.  A search engine there allows searches of specific text over specified or all years.  Although it is exciting that these historical newspapers are online, there are a few things to keep in mind.  The pdf files tend to be on the large size and don't load quickly, especially if you are struggling with dial-up or slower speed connections.   Secondly, there seems to be a fair amount of instability - when taking the site for a "test drive", I froze up my web browser several times and had to "Ctrl-Alt-Delete" to close it down and start again.  Instructions for the site warn against clicking more than once after loading a page for that reason, but it seems that it sometimes freezes up even with only one click.  Perhaps a few bugs to be worked out of the online version...

I did like the search interface of the online papers, and it is easy to use.  One thing that is very nice is that when you enter a complete name like "John Smith", the search results reflect that exact phrase - not all of those where Smith might appear on the bottom of the page and John at the top.  One can also perform simple Boolean searches using criteria such as "and", "or", and "not".  The search results can be very literal, however.  When I entered my ancestor's name, Joshua Drake, there were no hits.  But, when I entered Joshua C. Drake, there were quite a few hits.

Hartford is the second Van Buren County newspaper to make an online appearance, the first being portions of the Gobles News [see our January 31, 2011 blog].  The only newspapers still publishing in the county are Decatur, Paw Paw and South Haven, but at one time there were papers published in:  Bangor, Bloomingdale, Covert, Lawrence, Gobles, Breedsville, and Lawton.  The Van Buren District Library has a collection of microfilm for all of the surviving issues, plus a growing collection of "missing issues" that have been gathered over the years.  For more information about the Hartford Day Spring digital newspaper archives or other Van Buren county newspapers contact the Local History department.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Upcoming Event : VBRGS Annual Birthday Celebration, June 27

The Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society (VBRGS) is 24 years old this year, and to celebrate that event the society is hosting an ice cream social and white elephant auction, Monday, June 27, 2011, 7 p.m. at the Webster Memorial Library in Decatur. 

Visitors and members alike are invited to bring their favorite ice cream topping and white elephant item for an evening of fun and sharing with fellow genealogists.  Ice cream will be provided, and the auction will be hosted by return auctioneer, Daniel Benson.

Part of the celebration will also include the annual election of new officers (don't worry - you're safe from the draft), and the Recognition of Volunteers awards presented by the Van Buren District Library.  

VBRGS was formed April 27, 1987 (a date easy for me to remember because my son was born the day before, so I missed the meeting).  The original bylaws, as still continued today, defined the scope of the society's service & collection to be regional in nature, including not only Van Buren County, but also the Michigan counties of Allegan, Berrien, Cass, and Kalamazoo.  A few years ago, the by-laws were changed to include St. Joseph county in the collection scope.

Please plan to join us for an evening where we typically "let our hair down" a bit and have a good time.  Contact the society with any questions.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Collection Highlight : Civil War Soldier, John Mahard, On Loan

Obviously, John Mahard himself isn't visiting the library, but his image is...thanks to the loan of his painting to the Local History department by Brad Fraula.

John Mayard, a long-time resident of Lawton, enlisted in Company C of the Third Michigan Cavalry,  was discharged for disability, July 25 1862, and re-entered service with Company G of the 28th Michigan Infantry.  He enlisted again September 13, 1864 and served until his discharge April 16, 1866, having served for 4 1/2 years. 

From John's May 14, 1914, obituary in the Lawton Leader:

"John Mahard was born in Belfast, Ireland, of Irish and Scotch parents, Nov. 27, 1825, and died at Lawton, May 9, 1914...At the age of eight years he came with parents to this country, and settled to Rochester, New York.  June 26, 1849, he was married to Susan Robinson.  Soon afterward they came to Lawton where he has since resided...Thirteen children were born to them...During his residence of sixty years in Lawton he engaged in different branches of business, and was one of the first grape growers.  September 16, 1861, he enlisted in United States service at Porter, Mich., as a private of Co. C 3rd Regiment...This regiment took part in engagements at Island No. 10, Farmington, Holly Springs and numerous others...He re-enlisted September 15, 1864, in Co. G. 28th Regiment, Michigan Volunteers...participating in engagements at Nashville, Tenn., and Wises Forks, NC..."

John, as well as many of his descendants, are buried in Oak Grove Cemetery, Lawton, Michigan.  Children identified so far include:  Thomas H. Mahard, Evaline Mahard Exceen, Jennie Mahard Caster, and Ann Mahard Langdon - all buried in Oak Grove Cemetery. 

The owner of the painting, Brad Fraula, is not a relative of Mr. Mahard.  He acquired it from an antique dealer in Dayton, Ohio.  Encased in a lovely oval frame (not the original), it had complete identifying information printed on the back including name, burial location, birth & death dates and some service information.  Intrigued by the image, Brad began to research John Mahard in hopes of locating living descendants that might be interested in seeing it and knowing more about the man.   Using online resources and with the assistance of Adam Oster, Byron Center librarian, Brad began learning more about John and his family.

Brad is anxious to share knowledge of this painting with John Mahard's descendants and has made a loan of the painting for six months to the Van Buren District Library.  Visitors may view John anytime during Local History hours, or may contact Brad directly with questions. 

Imagine how many descendants John Mahard must have today, probably numbering in the hundreds.  How rare & delightful it is to locate an image that is 150 years old, and have exact identification.  John had a little trip to Ohio for a time, but thanks to Brad's efforts, has made his way back home.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Research Tip : Genealogical Magazines Serve As Family History Tools

As a librarian and family historian, I've learned the value of reading genealogical magazines and periodicals.  Here I can find the latest news in the genealogical community, read about new publications, stay abreast of the latest online resources, explore case studies, and continue to educate myself in research methodology and search tips.

Granted, there aren't as many magazines as their used to be, as some publications have struggled and were discontinued.  Most of us remember The Genealogical Helper, really the pioneer in the field of family history news magazines, having been published since the 1940's and discontinued only a few years ago.  Another good one was Heritage Quest magazine which was discontinued not long before that.  Both publications had a lot of "meat" and are still missed by their readers.

Today, the field has been whittled down to a handful of titles, and they are all valuable in their own rite.  Our library continues to subscribe to these magazines and make them available to our library patrons:
  1. Family Chronicle (billed as the "How To" genealogy magazine)
  2. Internet Genealogy (focusing on online resources and published by Family Chronicle)
  3. American Ancestors (New England, New York and Beyond)
  4. NGS Magazine 
Following is a sampling of articles that have appeared in one of these issues:

  • Exploring Civil War Widow Pensions
  • Sharing Your Genealogy : The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!
  • Using OCR To Search City Directories By Address
  • Military Service in the 'War to End All Wars'
  • Top Websites For Irish Research
  • How Safe Is Your Genealogical Data?
  • A Genealogist's Guide to Seventh Day Baptists
  • Tracing Your Norwegian Ancestry
  • Digital Books Online
  • Treasures in Small Archives
  • Podcasts : Download Your Genealogy
  • Undiscovered Mayflower Lineages
  • Research U.S. Naval Service During the War of 1812
  • Chancery Court Files : A Rich Resource
  • Black Homesteaders
  • A Guide to Voter Registration Records
  • Cemetery Research in Italy
As you can see, there are no geographical or topical bounds to the subjects of these articles.   True, not all of the articles will apply to your research, but those that do may unlock doors to new records that you may not have ever considered.

None of these subscriptions of are overly expensive, but if your budget doesn't allow for them, don't forget your local library.  Back issues of all of these magazines are available for checkout by any of our card-holding patrons.  If you do choose to subscribe, your library would benefit from the donation of the issues as you are finished with them, or you might even consider making the donation of a subscription.

There will always be unanswered questions in our family trees, and because of that we have to continue to learn about new resources.  Genealogical magazines summarize these for us nicely.  This blog features only a few, but there are others.  Start your own genealogical article reference library, as I have, by copying select articles and keeping them in a notebook or file for quick reference.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Identifying the Goodrich Diary of Ganges : A Case Study

In May, the Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society (VBRGS) purchased from Ebay a 1940 diary written by an unknown author of Ganges, Allegan County, Michigan.  Since the location had been established and the price was affordable, VBRGS purchased it to add to it's manuscript collection housed in the Local History Collection of the Van Buren District Library.

In order to catalog it, work had to be done to identify the author of the diary.  Flipping through the pages brought no immediate answers, although there were some given names written here and there, along with a small booklet entitled "One Hundred Years of Methodism in Ganges, 1840-1940", and a brief family reunion notice from an unidentified newspaper for the Tiefenthal families.

There being no quick answers, the diary was turned over to Local History volunteer, Judy Grime, for further detective work.  Judy methodically began to read through the pages and made notes of any reference to a person or event.  Some of the individuals that were mentioned:

  • Lon Plummers
  • Julius Markey (funeral)
  • Esther McVea
  • Perry Wright
  • Art Grahams
  • Ira Bushnell
  • Emma Kiernan (wedding)
  • Lewis Bivay
  • Frank Wilson
  • Dr. Roberts
  • Frank G. Wright (pastor)
Using some of these names and the reference throughout the diary of a "Rena", Judy tried several combinations of names using the 1930 federal census, but still found nothing conclusive.  The real break came when Judy used the mention of the Goodrich surname in the reunion notice in combination with a mention of the death of an "Aunt Julia" on April 8, 1940.

Using the Van Buren County death records for 1940, a death record was located for a Julia Goodrich who died April 8, 1940, the daughter of C. B. Goodrich & Cornela [sic] Shedd.  Her birth, given as May 25, 1851, Ganges Township, Allegan County, led to searches in earlier census years to establish that C. B. Goodrich was in fact Chauncey B. Goodrich.  This also determined who Julia's brothers were in order to trace their descendants to come up with a nephew who referred to her as "Aunt Julia."  As it turns out, Julia had two brothers, Hannibal Henry & Arthur.

Employing death records and obituaries for these two brothers, Arthur was eliminated as a prospect as he had no sons.  Hannibal "Henry" had two sons, according to his 1907 obituary in the South Haven Daily Tribune, Neil and C. Lloyd.  Neil was a physician and his obituary was inconclusive.  The name "Rena" continued to trouble us and didn't show up in anything until a marriage record was located for a C. Lloyd Goodrich & Lorena L. Schumann, or we assume "Rena" for short.

C. Lloyd Goodrich was actually Charles Lloyd Goodrich and he had written in his diary about his daily activities including his fruit trees.  Using a circa 1930 plat book of Ganges Township, a parcel of property was located under the name of C. L. Goodrich in Section 8.

We are now confident that we have identified the author of the 1940 diary.  One of the reasons for sharing this with our readers is to demonstrate the array of sources that were used to solve this mystery:
 In all, Judy spent about five hours putting together a "case" for identifying the author of the diary as Charles Lloyd Goodrich.  This is a good example of how scrutinizing a source for all clues, no matter how obscure, can lead to answers to our ancestral questions.  Thanks to Judy Grime for spending her time to help us solve this mystery.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Frequently Asked Question : How Can I Identify My Family Photographs?

How many of us don't have a shoebox of photographs that we've inherited from our parents/grandparents that have absolutely no names or information on them?   The subjects of these pictures seem to reach out to us, begging to become named individuals once more.

This is a question that is being asked more and more in the Local History department.  Researchers arrive armed with their precious photographs in hopes that by merely showing them to me, I can somehow miraculously identify them.  I wish my magic wand was that powerful...

I recommend that you tackle this problem from a couple of different angles.  First, seek out relatives, even distant ones, that may be able to tell you who some of your subjects are.  These relatives may even have the same photograph but with ID.  Use your "leave no stone unturned" mentality when looking for living kin.  Contact those you know about by letter, telephone, or e-mail.  I personally prefer telephone - lots of people don't like to write letters and e-mail is rather impersonal.  Seek out those relatives you don't already know by studying collateral lines to yours.

The beauty about living in the 21st century is that we can digitize or scan our photographs so that the originals never leave our possession and they can be transmitted instantly by e-mail.  So, take the time to scan the photos that you are trying to ID, at a recommended resolution of no less than 300 dpi for good quality, less if you want smaller-sized files. 

While you are seeking out relatives, you can also solicit feedback from other sources.  Following is a list of suggestions for "posting" your photographs for identification:

  • If you know where the pictures may have been taken or where the subjects may have been residents, submit them to the appropriate county webmaster for the U.S. GenWeb project.  They may place your images online where anyone may view them.  Be sure to provide contact information so that anyone with ID or questions may contact you directly.
  • Contact the genealogical and/or historical societies in the area of interest and ask if they would post them either on their website, on display in their facility, or even publish them in their quarterly.
  • Contact the nearest library and/or archives with a genealogical collection who may be willing to post copies of your photos in their facility.
Secondly, make sure to analyze your photographs for anything unique - costume, jewelry, insignia, surroundings.  There can be some major clues in something as simple as the suit type or the hairstyle.  Another clue to identifying a time period is to establish what type of photograph it is...a tintype, cabinet card, ambrotype, etc. 

We have several useful books in our collection that address these issues and provide visual examples:


There are also online resources, many of which can be found by using Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet. 

Lastly, I would suggest that the best way to identify your family's photographs is by learning as much as you can about its members.  Genealogically speaking, do your homework by using good standard research practices, and chances are you will uncover enough information to help you solve some of your photographic mysteries.  This is especially true if you are attempting to ID a family unit.  Learning more about ages, gender and family structure could be very useful.

If you have a lot of pictures to work on, plan to become a photograph expert, learning types of photos, era clothing, hairstyles, and jewelry.  

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Research Tip : My Great-Grandfather Had Three Death Certificates! (Part 3)

To wind up the series about access to death records in the State of Michigan at all three levels of government, we'll discuss county & local... 

Counties began keeping records of death in 1867 just as the State of Michigan did, at least most of them.  According to Red Book : American State, County, and Town Sources, third edition [2004], there were some northern counties that didn't begin until a few years later, such as:  Chippewa [1869], Alger [1884], and Iron [1895].  Typically, original death records are housed in the county courthouse with varying degrees of accessibility. 

County clerk's offices in Michigan have let's say different "personalities."  Some are very congenial in allowing the examination of records per state law.  Others have been known to take it upon themselves to restrict accessibility even further.  I won't name any specific county, but will advise you to familiarize yourself with the rules of the office before your visit.  Find out their research hours.   There may be a different set of research hours from that of the office's regular business hours.  Find out their research policies.  Are you allowed to check the indexes yourself?  Can you view the actual record?  Does the office have a reduced fee for "genealogy" non-certified copies?  Is access only granted when volunteers are present?  Above all, don't just "show up" without checking these things out.  You may be turned away.

For decades the Family History Center (FHC) has made Michigan's earlier vital records & indexes available on microfilm.  These can be viewed in person in Salt Lake City, or reels of microfilm can be ordered, for a fee, and viewed at the FHC branch nearest you.  This has been my method of choice for researching county vital records for a long time.  Simply visit the FHC catalog, do a "Place" search, and select "Vital Records" to find out what is available. 

The Van Buren District Library (VBDL) is a licensed microfilm loan site of the FHC, and there are a few other libraries around that have done this, but no others in Southwest Michigan.  There are also FHC branches in the vicinity located at Church of Latter-Day Saint churches in Benton Harbor, South Bend, South Haven & Kalamazoo.  Many of these branches have area vital records on indefinite loan, meaning that you can stop in anytime while they are open and view these films.  The VBDL Indefinite Loan list of microfilm is online.

Keep in mind that many early county vital records have been transcribed and published into books by area genealogical & historical societies.  To find out if your area of interest has such publications, visit the WorldCat online catalog of world library collections.

Local level death records that were to be kept by the township supervisor can be very useful in that they may contain additional information, but can be difficult to locate.  Because vital records are no longer kept at the local level [I've not seen any beyond the 1950's], there is no contemporary caretaker for these records.  In your search for local level death records, check the following locations:
There are other possibilities including that some of these records are in private hands, and some have been lost or destroyed.  My advice is to start making inquiries until you are satisfied that your search is complete. 

My readers are encouraged to contact me with information about the location of Southwest Michigan local level vital records.