Monday, January 30, 2012

Libraries Still Playing Key Role in Genealogy & Local History Research

Anyone with a love of books and historical documents (those that you can actually touch) might be sharing a common concern about the rapid trend from printed matter to the intangible, namely digital files and the internet.

For some time I've had a love/hate relationship with the internet - love it for all of the readily available quality information, hate it for its immaturity and degradation of the tangible.  From a library standpoint, it's becoming increasingly scary as more and more fall victim to the "this is online so we can get rid of it" philosophy.   In addition, we librarians worry about our collections becoming obsolete with the next generation of internet junkies...

Happily, these effects haven't yet reached the Local History Department of the Van Buren District Library.  2011 statistics show that in-house (used only in the library) usage of books, microfilm and vertical files was up 12% from 2010, and the number of visitors to the collection was up 20%.  These increases, despite a reduction in service hours this last summer, come after a few years of steady decline from more robust numbers in 2006 & 2007. 

To what do we credit these increases?  To no small end they can be attributed to the continued support of Local History volunteers.  Researchers have not only enjoyed access to the largest Southwest Michigan genealogy & local history collection anywhere, but they have reaped the added bonus of one-on-one research assistance provided by staff and qualified volunteers who in 2011 donated a collective 1,991 hours.

Family history has also taken front stage on television through the new famous Who Do You Think You Are? series and by the influx of commercials.  Both stress that tracing your family can be affordable and rewarding for individuals from all walks of life.

Finally, credit has to be given to the exposure that writing this blog has provided since it was launched last January.  There are not only hundreds of subscribers, but because everything is immediately Google searchable the page hits increase by the thousands every month, making it the number one resource for getting the word out about the Local History Collection and upcoming events.  It's also been a golden opportunity to share research tips and generally keep you up to speed with the latest in the world of Southwest Michigan genealogy.  Thank you for your patronage.

Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown woman & child
taken from the photo scrapbook of Amy (Palmer) Jackson,
1919 graduate of Bangor High School

Can you identify the young mother and child in this photograph, probably taken in or near Bangor, Michigan?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Southwest Michigan Military Registry Index Now On

The Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society (VBRGS) is pleased to announce that it has partnered with to publish its index to the Southwest Michigan Military Registry as part of the Member & Institutional Collections category of Ancestry's community of databases.

Those currently with a subscription to, will now find hits in their search results from this database of over 9,400 records.  Don't despair if you don't have am Ancestry subscription because you can also go directly to the search page of the collection by clicking on this link or accessing it through the portal on the VBRGS website.

The Southwest Michigan Military Registry was launched in February 1999, and is an archives of information pertaining to the men & women who have participated in the military from the time of the American Revolution to the present day.  Individuals are encouraged to "register" their family members with the archives by submitting a registration form and supporting documentation. 

To be eligible for inclusion in the project, the subject must have served in the military, either during war or peacetime, and must have at some time in their life resided in one of the Michigan counties of Allegan, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo or Van Buren.  Residence could include birth, death or burial events. 

The Ancestry database is searchable by last and/or first name and includes the following additional components:
  • Category of military service (such as WWI, National Guard, Career, etc)
  • Southwest Michigan county represented (in some cases it may be more than one)
  • Birth & death years when known or when applicable (many listings represent living individuals)
  • By whom submission made 
  • Code for the file included in the archives 
Note that some of the entries don't include a Code because information was extracted from an obituary included in the Southwest Michigan Obituary Collection, a database that has also been recently added by the Van Buren District Library and is searchable within the Ancestry Member & Institutional Collection databases.

To learn more about the Southwest Michigan Military Registry, take a moment to read our February 21 post or contact VBRGS.

Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown boy
Photographer - McCollum & Cunningham

Can you identify the young boy in this cabinet card?  Do you have knowledge of the photographer? Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Research Tip : One-Name Surname Studies, Part 2 - Calling All Wildey's!

In part one we briefly discussed some of the reasons for conducting a "one-name surname study" with suggestions for a plan of action.  A few weeks ago, we received word from long-time genealogist, Jack A. Wildey, that he is doing just such a study:

Thomas Wildey, Founder of the Order of the Oddfellows  
"I started a project two years ago...trying to account for all the Wildeys in all the federal census records from 1790 through 1930. Taking each Wildey and assembling family charts of each "head of the family" - and then trying to connect them all together. Like taking a thousand individual familly trees and making one giant oak out of them...  I'm also trying to figure out who was living between 1690 and 1790, where all the early Wildeys moved to. I'm actually making progress, I am even starting to see who all those unknown Wildeys in Michigan belong to, in terms of different branches. I'm done waiting for people to write me to tell me who all these Wildeys belong to, I'm figuring it out on my own.  I've been looking at census records on and off for the past two years, I think I can teach a class on how to interpret census records and how to take all those errors (by the census takers and by in stride, in order to keep one's sanity.  You can really get used to the different handwritings back then, staring at those census records day after day.  I'm also recording where each family lived from census to census, you can see the migratory patterns of entire families, slowly moving from NY state - through the Midwest, through the far west, to California.  Someday I'll send you a giant chart of all this...might be of some use to Wildeys in Michigan.

The fun part is, I'm tracking all at the same time, Wildey, Wilday, Wilde, Wiley, Wilay, Wilder, Wildes, Willdee, Wildee, Willee, Willy, Wildy, Wildie, Wily, Weldy, Wieley, Weley, Wyly, Wyley, Wylye, Widlley, Wilaa, and about a dozen other spellings.  So there are families out there that someday they will discover that they are not just Wilder, but they used to be Wilde, and if they look further, they will discover that they also used to be Wiley, and even before that the family spelling was Wildey!  I'm tracking from the 1600s forward, the view looks better from back here, I can't even imagine what family members are up against when they start from present day and work backwards.  We are an English family, and all the family members are named Thomas, Richard, John, James, George, Charles, Benjamin, Samuel, Joshuah, Obediah, Peter, Stephen, Edward, Isaac, Isaiah, Jacob, Caleb, etc, the same names generation after generation, decade after decade, over and over, never ending.  It gets really confusing to bring up 100 John Wildeys/Wileys and try to figure out who they all belong to..."

The Local History department had an early hand in assisting Jack with his project, supplying extensive information regarding the Wildey family of the Paw Paw area, Van Buren County.  In 2002, he put together The Wildey Family : a compilation of manuscripts on the First Five Generations of Family Members Living in Flushing, Long Island and Westchester County, New York - Beginning With Richard Wildey (Born 1635, Died 1690).  Jack donated a copy of this to our library.  In 1997, he published Wildeys : a colonial family, also found in the Local History Collection.

Although the focus of his work seems to be primarily on census right now, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised that he will, or has, expanded his search to other sources.  Anyone with questions regarding Jack's project may contact him directly.

If you enjoy working puzzles and solving mysteries, consider starting your own one-name study, and see if you can figure out how all of the pieces fit together.  Future generations (and some present) will thank you.

The images used in this blog post were quick located using Google Images.

                        Nameless Picture of the Day
unknown Civil War soldier, Niles
Photographer - J. W. Tinsley, Chicago
Can you identify the soldier from Niles, Michigan in this daguerreotype?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Research Tip : One-Name Surname Studies - Part 1

For the truly ambitious, one way to problem-solve some of the challenges in your family tree might be by conducting a "one-name surname study."  The concept is that in the process of collecting everything about a particular family name, you might eventually stumble over a connection to your own.  How is this done?  The steps might include:
  • Select a fairly unusual surname
Try not to select a name that will yield too many results thus making the project large and frustrating, thus avoiding names like Smith or Jones.  Proper care in selecting an appropriate name will create the potential for a fun and rewarding project.
  • Compile a list of spelling alternatives 
Every surname has alternative spellings, some intentional, some not.  Even Smith has alternatives:  Smyth, Smythe, Smithe, and Smit.  Also, if you are working with non-English origins, Smith might actually be Schmidt.  Become familiar with all of the alternatives and create a working list.
  • Determine if there is already an ongoing study for this name
Those that are conducting extensive one-name studies often register them on such sites as The Guild of One-Name Studies which currently has nearly 8,000 names already registered.  Each listing provides contact information for the registrant, name, e-mail, surname variations, website, and other notes such as active DNA studies.  If your research leads you to the United Kingdom, you might visit One Name Studies With UKBMD

Mail Lists have been created for some surname studies.  I have subscribed to the Dudgeon Surname List for years.  Be sure to check the Surname Resources at Rootsweb to see if there is a list for your family name, subscribe and read through the list archives.
  • Begin gathering everything you can find, online & off, that mentions the family name or any of its variations
Once you've determined that you're going to take the plunge to start a one-name study, begin the gathering process.  When I started my Dudgeon study years ago, I did this by consulting book & census indexes.  There was no web and no digital text recognition to speak of then.

Today, I would recommend starting the "harvest" with online sources first, using such tools as Google, Mocavo, Google Books,, Family Search, World Vital Records, American Ancestors and other online heavy hitters.  Then, when you've exhausted those sources, you will better know what books, manuscripts, periodicals, microfilm, and special collections that you will need to consult.  This is where those research checklists come in handy...
  • As names, dates & places start to match up, begin compiling family groups
In planning any large project, have a plan of organization from the get-go, and do yourself a large favor and spend time being meticulous with noting sources.  You'll hate yourself later if you are sloppy on that step.   Keep a log of where you've been, or you will find yourself going down the same paths over and over.

Whether you use a paper organization system, or a software program, devise a process and stick with it.  I would suggest using your favorite genealogical software program to input names, dates, facts & sources.  There's no law that says those individuals that you enter into a family tree program have to connect until you figure out how they fit together.  And, using this method will make it much easier to locate individuals by name, date or relationship and will nudge you to state your sources.
  • Consider starting a website or mail list with your findings thereby soliciting input from others researching the same name
Some bricks walls just can't be tumbled without the help of others like yourself who may hold rare pieces to the genealogical puzzle while you hold others.  Apart the pieces don't build much, but together you can build a family tree.

If you're uncomfortable with the responsibility and/or cost of sponsoring a website, considering starting a Mail List like those mentioned herein.  By all means, register your efforts with the Guild and advertise in genealogical magazines, periodicals, websites.  Consider starting your own free blog.

In some cases, those that have conducted one-name surname studies have determined that all roads lead back to one progenitor or family.  Sometimes the roads simply lead into the mist...  In either case, you will no doubt learn new things about your branch of the family and make contact with new cousins.

Next time we'll talk about a specific one-name study with connections to Southwest Michigan.

Nameless Picture of the Day
unknown couple
Photographer - Packard, Kalamazoo

Can you identify the young couple in this cabinet card?  Do you have knowledge of the photographer? Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New on the Shelf : Mayflower Families' Richard Warren, 2nd Edition

Your research checklist for America's earliest generations should definitely include the ongoing set Mayflower Families Through Five Generations published by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants.

The Van Buren District Library is on a subscription list for any new editions to the set (currently 32 volumes), and most recently we received the Second Edition of Volume 18 Part II for the family of  pilgrim Richard Warren.  This updated volume, with an additional 51 pages, identifies descendants of Richard's daughters:  Mary (married Bartlett), Anna (married Little), Sarah, and Elizabeth (married Church).  According to the forward:

The book has been updated stylistically, and new information added where possible to the fifth generation.  Information on sixth-generation daughters' marriages has been added whenever possible in cases where a surname was already provided in a parent's will or by a land record.  Occasionally a reference in a record to grandchildren or other relatives raised a question about identity for which the editors have sought to provide answers.  Other than that, no attempt has been made to develop the sixth generation in this volume.

All volumes are meticulously sourced and completely indexed, meeting the highest genealogical lineage standards.  Anyone with ancestry stemming back to 17th century America should consult Mayflower Families even if you don't have a pilgrim...and who knows, you might.  The entire set may be viewed in the Local History Collection.

Social Security Death Index (SSDI) Update

After the December 27 post regarding the online deterioration of the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), one of our readers brought it to our attention that in addition to Family Search, another place to use the database is Genealogy BankAlthough another subscription site, Genealogy Bank currently offers free search of the SSDI, similar as used to do and no longer does.  However, enjoy it now as it is possible that this too will disappear as this situation evolves.

Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown woman
Photographer - Arthur C. Swain, Constantine

Can you identify the young woman in this cabinet card?  Do you have knowledge of the photographer? Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

New on the Shelf : Military Bounty Land by Christine Rose

Noted genealogical authority, Christine Rose, has released another new book entitled Military Bounty Land 1776-1855.  This latest release by Ms. Rose is arguably her best yet as she sheds some much needed light on the intricacies of researching our ancestors' bounty land records.

U.S. family history research that includes any male who was of age to have served in the military during the American Revolution through the Mexican War should include a search for not only military & pension files, but for bounty land records.  The bounty land process includes three steps, all of which generated records:
  1. Application for bounty land
  2. Surrendered Warrant (if application was approved)
  3. Patent (the actual award)
Chapters within the book are:
  1. The Revolution : Federal Bounty
  2. Revolutionary War : Virginia
  3. Revolutionary State Bounty (Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts/Maine, New York, North Carolina/Tennessee, Pennsylvania, South Carolina)
  4. War of 1812 Bounty Land
  5. Unindexed Bounty Land Records
  6. Federal Land Patents
  7. Finding Aids
Because the laws pertaining to bounty land & pensions changed about every ten minutes, it's important to be familiar with those that pertain to your family during the appropriate time period.  Eligibility changed, usually broadening in nature, with every new law.  Ms. Rose has included an Appendix to her book, a chronology of all the laws (acts) ranging from 1776 through 1864 summarizing the changes made to prior laws.

In Chapter Four (War of 1812 Bounty Land) it is noted that Michigan was one of three regions originally set aside for the redemption of Warrants.  However, this changed in 1815 when it was stated "it is with the utmost difficulty that a place can be found over which horses can be is so bad there would not be more than one acre out of one hundred, if there would be more than one out of one thousand, that would in any case admit of cultivation."  Hmmm, a little bit of a rush to judgement.  In any event, the designation was then handed over to the Missouri Territory and Illinois.

In Chapter Five we learn that the National Archives is as we speak preparing an alphabetical index to the unindexed bounty land application files, a large collection of records.  The index will include name of soldier, rank, war, unit, state, act/warrant number, whether or not it was rejected, and whether or not Indian.  Although not yet online, portions of the index may be viewed at the Archives in Washington, DC.

Chapter Six regarding Federal Land Patents may strike a chord with those who have done a patent search on the Bureau of Land Management website, but this must read chapter digs deeper into the capabilities of the site, explaining search strategies such as locating an address, plotting the land, and even a Michigan Survey Search. 

Plan to add Military Bounty Land 1776-1855 to your list of winter reads.  This and other books (listed below) may be checked out from the Van Buren District Library.

Other titles by Christine Rose:
Nameless Picture of the Day
unidentified residence, Otsego
taken by C. W. Davis

Can you identify the location of the house in this real photo postcard taken in Otsego?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Alternatives to Published Yearbooks & Annuals

In the course of building the Southwest Michigan Yearbook Archives, obvious gaps in school collections have emerged.  In the case of Decatur High School, it seems that the school did not publish a yearbook at all between the years of 1928 & 1954.  There were editions printed as early as 1915 and they have been in continuous publication since 1955. 

There are similar gaps in many of the area yearbook collections as other schools suffered through the Great Depression and then World War II. 

The Local History Department gets countless requests every year pertaining to school yearbooks, and where before we had to simply reply that there was no book published for some years we can now offer suggestions in the form of yearbook alternatives.

Students may have purchased "My Senior Memories" scrapbooks.  Several of these have come to the Archives over the years, the most recent acquisition being the memory book of Pauline Guinnup, a member of the 1940 graduating class of Lawton High School.  

These scrapbooks are entirely created by the student and typically include:
  • Graduating Class photo composite
  • Autographs of students, teachers & administrators
  • Notes & thoughts addressed to the student from classmates
  • Snapshots of individual students and activities
  • Student name cards
  • List of graduation gifts
  • Newspaper articles regarding class activities & graduation
  • Graduation announcement and class events programs
Pauline Guinnup, Lawton HS Class of 1940
Pauline's scrapbook, which was another wonderful acquisition for us from Ebay, also came with a personal lapel pin with her picture & signature, and some personal greeting cards.

Memory Books that have been added to the collection so far represent the late 1930's and 1940's.  In a few cases where the family did not wish to part with the original book, it was provided for a brief loan period for quality color duplication. 

Yearbooks are a wonderful resource for 20th century ancestral research, giving insight to school days activities and providing an opportunity for photographs.  Where else can we learn which sports were played, of participation in clubs and organizations, and view a "snapshot" of friendships? 

So, if you have fallen victim to the "no yearbook available" response, consider that your person of interest or their classmate may have constructed a Memory Book.  Seek them out in libraries, archives, online auctions & listings, antique shops, etc.  You might also consider contacting former classmates and/or their descendants who may have these treasures tucked away.

As we continue to put together the Southwest Michigan Yearbook Archives, we would value the addition of others of these yearbook alternatives, either in their original form or a quality color duplicate.  Contact the Local History Department for more information.

Nameless Picture of the Day
unknown group
identified as taken in Pipestone (Berrien County)
cabinet card

Can you identify the location of the house in this cabinet card taken in Pipestone?  Do you recognize any of the individuals pictured? Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.