Monday, May 21, 2012

Collection Highlight : Van Buren County Probate Case Files

What are probate files?  A common misconception is that probate is synonymous with wills.  In truth, wills are only a portion of what can be found in a probate file or packet.  Sometime ago, I heard at a lecture about probate records as a genealogical record source that only about 11 percent of our ancestors actually had wills, but the percentage that have probate files is much higher.

Although one of the functions of probate court is to settle estates, there are other types of cases that can be found under the heading of probate.  Some examples include:  guardianship (children & adult), incompetency & commitments, name changes, adoption, and in Van Buren County early establishment of county drains.  

In the typical probate of an estate, you may find one more more of the following:
  • Will
  • Inventory (these are especially interesting)
  • Petition for Probate (listing all of the heirs-at-law)
  • Letters of Administration
  • Administrator's Bond
  • Real estate accounts & sales
  • Affidavits and sworn testimony
  • Receipts including cemetery & funeral home
  • Letters to and from family members
  • Original handwriting & signatures!  
Typically, these files are 10-15 documents in length, but I've certainly seen them be in excess of 100 pages.  As yet, there is not a good representation online of probate files with the exception of some New England states, so researchers will need to either contact the original probate office of record, or view those that can be obtained on microfilm from the Family History Center (FHC).

The Local History department has a hefty collection of Southwest Michigan [Allegan, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph & Van Buren] records including probate indexes and files.  Most were obtained on indefinite loan from the FHC and are available to view by visitors to the collection in Decatur.  

All 23 reels of Van Buren County Court Cases, 1846-1912 have been added to the microfilm collection including a case files index.  To view, stop into the Local History department anytime during its regular business hours, or order microfilm into your local FHC branch.  For more information about these records, or how to order other microfilm from the FHC, please contact us.


In our March 15 post, we featured a photograph of Black School, location unknown.  Thanks to our readers, Marlene Robinson & Judy Grime, we now know that this building is located on the corner of Hammond & Three Miles Roads in East Bay Township, near Traverse City in Grand Traverse County, Michigan.

The Traverse City Record-Eagle in an October 18, 2008 article indicated that the school had been closed for about 10 years and East Bay Township was considering its purchase. 

 Nameless Picture of the Day
Group of men standing on wagon
Only identification - Charles Dine, front, 5th from left
Judy Grime Collection (Cass & Van Buren Counties)

Can you identify the men in this photograph?  Please contact us if you have any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

New on the Shelf : DNA & Social Networking

Basic family history methodology is somewhat timeless, but some of the new online & scientific tools that continue to burst onto the genealogical scene have somewhat of a shorter life span. 

Some of my peers and I have joked that our computers/laptops become obsolete the moment we buy them.  Although that may be a bit of an oversimplification, we can't deny that the new "techie toys"  although irresistible are short lived.  How many of us got a Kindle or a Nook for Mother's Day?  Are you mesmerized by DNA study and the idea that it may do your family history for you?

With the changing times comes the added task of keeping up to date with the functions and uses of these tools.  There are a lot of ways to do this including subscribing to subject-specific blogs such as this one, attending online webinars or view online videos on sites such as YouTube.  You might subscribe to a magazine such as MacWorld or Smart Computing, among others.

Not to be overlooked are the latest book titles available at your local library.  A recent addition to the Van Buren District Library book collection is DNA and Social Networking : a guide to genealogy in the twenty-first century, by Debbie Kennett.  As the title suggests, this 223-page book published late in 2011 addresses the two main topics of "The Genetic Genealogy Revolution" and "The Social Networking Revolution." 

The section about DNA gives an overview of the basic principles, identifies the different types of tests, and walks the reader through the process of setting up and running your own DNA project.  The appendices provide a list websites & testing companies. 

Networking as defined in this book includes the following areas:
  • Family History Societies
  • Surname Studies
  • Message Boards & Forums
  • Mailing Lists
  • Genealogy Networking Websites, specifically online tree building sites
  • General Networking Sites such as Friends Reunited, Facebook, Twitter
  • Blogs (follow an existing or start your own)
  • Wikis
  • Multimedia such as Flicker
  • Online Videos, Podcasts & Webcasts
  • Social Bookmarking
  • Voice & Video Chat
...Everything you need to know to get you up and running using the latest tools of the trade.   If you lean toward the high-tech, you'll want to make sure you read DNA and Social Networking and other current titles.  If you've been reluctant to learn about new research tools, perhaps reading one of these books will make the transition seem friendlier. 

In our March 29 post The Case of the Disappearing Abstract of Title we discussed a lesser-known & vanishing property records resource.  Anita Rogers of Indiana had the following to add:
Regarding the Abstracts of Title - As a realtor for 35 years, it was usually my job to request the abstract from my Sellers and deliver it to the Title Company, ALWAYS with the request 'Give It Back' at the closing, either to the Seller or the new Buyer.  Yes, the Title Company destroyed them once they read them and replaced with a Title Policy.  They had no room to store them and were of no further use to them.  Notes to the local Title Companies may be the way to preserve the precious remaining documents.  Oh what stories they tell!
 Thank you, Anita!

Nameless Picture of the Day

 unknown baby
Photographer - Fuller Studio, Kalamazoo
From the Ron Starz Collection

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


Monday, May 7, 2012

New on the Shelf : Dr. Homer Mix Journal, Riverside

If your family resided in the Riverside area of Michigan [Berrien County] during the years immediately before and into the Great Depression, it might be interesting to take a look at the journal of Dr. Homer Mix. 

Spanning the years 1926 thru January 1932, the journal is a chronological listing of patients, followed by the amount charged for the doctor's services. 

This ledger was purchased by the Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society (VBRGS) and has been added to the manuscript collection housed in the Local History Department of the Van Buren District Library.  The seller had the following information to offer about the ledger & Dr. Mix:

There are entries of child birth being $1.  Surgery performed for $2-$5...Dr. Homer Mix was a famous country doctor in Berrien County according to newspaper accounts of Dr. Mix's life later in his career.  He practiced either in his home which was in downtown Riverside, Michigan, or by taking his horse and buggy out to each patient's home in either Benton Harbor, Riverside, or the surrounding countryside areas.  The doctor was also a great collector of antiques, and one newspaper in the Herald-Palladium called him the biggest collector of primitive artifacts and Victorian antiques of his time.  He attended medical school in Wisconsin, and then moved to Michigan to begin his practice sometime around 1900.  My father and I purchased his old home in Riverside, Michigan, many years ago, after it went abandoned for over 40 years.  The town had always believed the house was haunted where the doctor practiced, because of all of the old skeletons and very primitive artifacts that were left in glass cases after his son was killed in WWII...[the house] is now fully restored...There were weird medical devices, which we have since sold off to medical museums...
 Dr. Homer Pease Mix was born in Wisconsin in or about 1852 and died in Benton Township, Berrien County, Michigan, May 9, 1952.  He and his wife, Agnes, are both buried in Lakeshore Cemetery, Hagar Township.

Chock full of names, this journal is a terrific piece of local history.  Following is a sampling of the names taken from the September 1928 entries:
  • Joyce Allen
  • Mrs. Chas. Bessemer
  • Orson Pratt
  • Harvey Mandell
  • Perry Thar
  • Mrs. Wesley Schmaul
  • Mrs. Rube Schmaul
  • Ben Emery
  • J. H. Morgan
  • Gus Novack
  • Harvey Stanley
  • Ross Welsh
  • Miss Hellen McCann
  • Walter Hamilton
  • Glen Swisher
  • Mildred Emery
  • Ellen Elson
  • Lois McKelvey
 For more information regarding Dr. Mix's journal or to inquire about viewing it, please contact the library. 

Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown man
Photographer - E. Gillis, Lawton

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