Thursday, February 9, 2012

Preserving Michigan's Rural School Heritage - Part 2

Last time we talked about the origins of the Bess Britton Michigan One-Room Schoolhouse Collection and its founder, Bess Britton (1913-2003).  Since the acquisition of the collection in 2000, the Local History Collection has experienced continuous interest in the project.  Those who visit enjoy looking at pictures and reading through notes and articles regarding their rural school alma mater.  Those who are unable to visit in person, contact the library to inquire and to donate additional information.

During 2011, the entire collection was migrated from the many large three-ring binders into individual files, organized by the name of the school.  A five-drawer lateral file cabinet to help house the files was purchased and donated to Local History by the Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society, added to the existing three-drawer cabinet. 

This change allowed for easier retrieval of specific school information and also provided added security, a developing concern due to the content of rare and irreplaceable material.

Visitors to the Local History Collection, upon registration, may view school files one at a time after filling out a Request Form, after which library staff or volunteers will retrieve the requested files.  Requests for black & white or color photocopies may be made directly on the Form, at a cost of 15 or 40 cents per copy respectively.  Digital cameras and scanners are prohibited.

As of this post, there are 4,770 schools represented in the collection database.  Not all of these schools have individual files, and the database may simply identify the school by name & location when known.  The database, organized by name of school, is available to view in pdf format from the VBRGS website and includes the following categories of information:  name of school, township/village, county, district number, section number, physical address, and brief notes. 

The database will also indicate if there is a file, and if there is additional information in the form of books or manuscripts.  There is also an indicator if an article about the school has been published in the Van Buren Echoes, quarterly publication of VBRGS.

For those who may know the location of a school, but not the name, a partial geographic index is available at the Van Buren County GenWeb site.

Just this last week, an every-name index (almost 60,000 entries) to the entire Bess Britton collection was added to the Members and Institutional Records portion of  Ancestry subscribers will see results from this collection in their search hit list.  Those who don't subscribe may still access this collection through the Members and Institutional Records link here or the link provided on the VBRGS website.

In addition to individual names, the every-name index notes the name of school, county & township, district, and provides the page number within the school file. 

We are pleased to have the opportunity to make this  and other indexes from the department available to researchers for free through a partnership with

In Part 3, we will outline the process for obtaining copies from the Bess Britton Michigan One-Room Schoolhouse Collection, how to contribute information, and how to register your school with us online.

Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown woman
Photographer - Schaefer, Paw Paw
original owned by Judith (Brown) Grime

Can you identify the woman in this cabinet card?  Are you familiar with 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.