Thursday, August 23, 2012

Featured Manuscript : The Gayle Draper Pickering Collection

The word "manuscript" is defined as a hand-written, unpublished book or document.  These items are usually one-of-a-kind or rare in nature, thus making them more difficult to locate than their published counterparts.   Often manuscripts are uncatalogued and tucked away in boxes or shelves in an out-of-the way room or closet, dust collecting on the top, or tragically, being overtaken by poor environmental conditions.

Ironically, its these manuscript collections that we should be seeking out the most.  Here may lie the answers to our toughest genealogical questions, photographic images of long ago, or the history that puts the flesh on the bones of our ancestors.

My colleagues of the Southwest Michigan Local History Librarians Consortium agree that manuscripts are the future of our collections.  As more and more things "go digital," it will be the rare and unique that keeps patrons coming through the door to use our genealogical & local history collections.

The Van Buren District Library (VBDL) and the Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society (VBRGS) collectively house a sizable manuscript collection.  In an attempt to "dust off" these items, we will be highlighting some of them in future blog postings, starting with a large VBRGS collection, the Gayle Draper Pickering Collection.

Gayle was born in 1915 and passed away in 1993, a resident of Centreville, St. Joseph County, Michigan.  She actually grew up in and spent her youth in Lawrence, Van Buren County.  She had been active in the St. Joseph County Historical Society up until her death, and her treasure of family history was deposited with them.  Due to Gayle's deep ties to Van Buren County, the historical society decided to turn her collection over to VBRGS, who happily accepted the gift.

Marriage Certificate - Fernando Rhodes & Abbie Nordbergh, July 8, 1866
This collection has all of the goodies over which historians salivate, such as diaries, deeds, photographs, military records, personal letters, postcards, school records, just to name some.  Well represented in the papers is Fernando Rhodes, a Civil War veteran who lived out his life in the Arlington Township area.  We find leather wallets literally stuffed with documents including his marriage certificate and Civil War discharge.

There are hundreds of photographs, and although a large percentage are unidentified, quite a few are.  Some of the names on the pictures include:

  1. Joseph DerKenderen
  2. Robert Louis Harwick
  3. Curtis O. Green
  4. Isabelle & Ruby Klesner
  5. James Sydney Northrup
  6. Ted Schafer
  7. Mary Frances VanLoo
  8. Harvey Roger Wyant
  9. Verda Powers Draper
  10. Dale Hammen
  11. George Nodland
  12. Glenn & Lucille Phillips
  13. Richard Harland Powers
  14. Hazel & Mildred Talbot
  15. Fie & Peter Buckler
  16. Eileen Jardine
  17. Frank Haywood
  18. Mahitable Northrup
  19. Richard & Ruby Staley
  20. Maude Starbuck
...and many more.  Fernando Rhodes apparently belonged to the Wadsworth Post No. 49, Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) post in Lawrence as we also find a little undated booklet of that organization's Constitution and Bylaws. 

One of the downfalls of manuscript collections such as the Gayle Draper Pickering Collection, is that there usually isn't time to construct an every-name index to them.  Instead, cataloging consists of a rough generalization of the contents.  Our library takes the time to index all identified photographs, but not much beyond that.  Every now and then, however, someone will take a special interest in a group of records and work to create an index for us...something we encourage. 

Manuscript items in the Local History Collection are housed in storage, and require advance notice to be retrieved for viewing.  The photograph index appears on the VBRGS website as well as in the library's Local History Master Index. The catalog database for manuscripts is maintained in the library and will soon become searchable at the LH computers.  Anyone with questions regarding the Pickering or other collections may contact us

Nameless Picture of the Day
 Unknown young woman
Photographer - Conklins Studio, Dowagiac

Can you identify the young woman in this cabinet card?  Do you have 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, August 13, 2012

Upcoming Event : Tracing House History, Robert Myers, August 27

Do you know the "genealogy" of your house?  Would you like to learn more about an ancestral home?  Tracking the history of a building can be challenging, but doable if you become familiar with the procedure and the range of records essential to your search.

To help illustrate some of the ways to best research the background of a structure, the Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society (VBRGS) is pleased to host a presentation by Robert C. Myers entitled "My Old House : Tracing the History of Your House," Monday, August 27, 2012, 7 p.m. at the Webster Memorial Library, Decatur, Michigan.

Several years ago Bob and his wife purchased a historical house near the Krasl Art Center in St. Joseph, Michigan.  Eager to learn everything about their home, they went in search of its history.  Who had built the house?  Who had lived there before them?  Had the house or its inhabitants played a significant role in the development of St. Joseph?  Bob will share his discoveries and guide you in tracing the history of your home.

Robert Myers
Robert Myers has served as Curator of the Berrien County Historical Association in Berrien Springs, Michigan, for more than 20 years. He received a B.A. in History from Alma College and his M.A. in History from Western Michigan University.  He is an actor, has authored many historical books on Berrien County, Michigan, published articles in Michigan History Magazine and Michigan Review, and is a favorite speaker in and around Berrien County.  With his Living History Outreach Programs, he takes the museum to the classroom many times wearing period dress.  

Prior to this presentation, at 6 p.m., Bob will lead a Family History Essentials mini-class showcasing the collection found at the Berrien County Historical Association Archive housed at The History Center at Courthouse Square, 313 N. Cass St., Berrien Springs, Michigan.

The programs are free and the public is invited to attend as guests of VBRGS. For more information please contact the society.

Nameless Picture of the Day 
 unknown young ladies
Photographer - Bigelow, Dowagiac
 Can you identify the young women in this carte-de-visite that measures only 1 3/4 x 3 inches?  Do you have 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. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Early 20th Century School Directories Fill in Names of Schools & Personnel

West Valley School, Decatur Township
Unearthing the history of Michigan's rural schools can be a little challenging.  Typically each district was governed by the local township, and funding was primarily local with some support later coming from the county and the State of Michigan if certain criteria were met. 

Because of local administration, rural school records were also kept locally, and often when the school closed or consolidated, those records ended up in the private hands of one of the sitting officers.  No mandate seems to have been made to turn those records over  to the state education department or any other larger governing body. 

A few of these records are slowly resurfacing and we have managed to collect some of them to add to the Bess Britton Michigan One-Room Schoolhouse Collection.  They come to us in original form, photocopies, or books are loaned to us long enough for duplication.  By weekly monitoring the online auction giant, Ebay, there have also been countless original school records for sale.  Would it be that we had funds to purchase them all...

Some school districts were formed, a building constructed, and subsequently closed or consolidated in a matter of a few short years.  It can be difficult to establish something as simple as the name and location of these former structures, something that we strive heavily toward in our attempt to identify all of Michigan's approximately 7,500 rural schools.

From at least the 1920's until the early 1960's, many counties published an annual or semi-annual directory of the county's school districts, rural & village or city.  Typically, these directories were published by the county Board of Education, and included some general county information such as members of the board, listings of state officials, notes on education sub-groups.  This is usually followed by a township-by-township listing by district number of all of the school districts inside its borders.  This list can include the following key pieces of information for each district:
  • Name of School
  • District Number
  • Current Enrollment Numbers
  • Name & Address of Teacher(s)
  • Administrator's Names & Residences - Director, Moderator & Treasurer 
  • Valuation [current worth]
Also included may be rosters of private or religious schools, schedules of textbook titles, and other general information regarding education in that particular county.

Students' names are not customarily in these little directories that are usually less than 35 pages, but they do provide a written "snapshot" of schools in a specific date & time.  Those who are seeking knowledge of a family member's history as a teacher may be able to build a timeline using these directories.  Also, rural school administrator posts were filled by local private citizens, and it might be fun to find out that your great-grandfather was the Moderator of a school, that records can be found and that they are in his handwriting.  I made a similar discovery in my family - great-grandpa was Moderator, kept the books very well, with only an eighth grade education...

So, how do we find these directories?  There's no one place to go to in the State of Michigan to find a full collection of them.  The Library of Michigan does have some select counties & years, but a long way from all that were ever printed.  We have purchased some from Ebay, found some in antique shops and used book venues, and are still seeking more. 

A few can be located online in places like Google Books, but they are few and far between, a mere representation of what actually existed.  A quick search there produced a listing for one in Washtenaw County, 1929-1930, but even that was not viewable online.

Conduct your search methodically, checking all the regular places such as local, county & state libraries/archives, museums, historical & genealogical societies, and don't forget that old trick of penning a Letter to the Editor in the local newspaper asking for knowledge of the existence of these directories or any other records pertaining to a school of interest.  Visit the websites of area historical groups who may have these gems in their collections or may have posted portions of them online.

If you have in your possession, or find in your travels, any Michigan county school directory, we would gladly hear of it.  If possible, we will either acquire it by donation or purchase, or make arrangements to duplicate it as part of the Van Buren District Library's goal to identify all of Michigan's historic rural schools.  Contact us with any information or questions. 

Nameless Picture of the Day
Unknown man
Photographer - Densmore, Niles

Can you identify the man in this cabinet card?  Do you have 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.