Monday, September 24, 2012

"I Found My Family on the Internet...Or Did I?", October 3

October is Family History Month and the Van Buren District Library will celebrate it with a public program entitled, "I Found My Family on the Internet...Or Did I?", Wednesday, October 3, 6 p.m. at the Webster Memorial Library in Decatur.

Courtesy of 

As your presenter for the evening, I will discuss and show examples of many of the techniques needed for the successful online family history detective :
  1. Database, catalog & web searching
  2. Dissection of original documents
  3. Evaluating records extracts/abstracts
  4. Recognizing clues that lead to additional records
  5. Tips for locating offline records

There is no question that online family history searching can be loads of fun, and with relative ease you can download, print or extract volumes of information that may (or may not) connect to your family.  Consequently, the ease with which families can be "pieced" together, often without the benefit of sources or original records to back it up, find many genealogists being led down the primrose path, or prematurely roadblocked. 

Internet has become synonymous with "instant gratification," and one of the casualties of this is that many of  the steps of solid research methodology that we offliners had to learn years ago, are now being skipped or distorted. 

In a nutshell, this program has been designed to instruct in the some of the best and vast uses of the internet, to recognize its limitations, and demonstrate ways to make optimal use of it as a genealogical "tool," not as a solution.  We will also touch on the key components of solid family history research.

"I Found My Family..." is open to public, but pre-registration is requested.  To reserve your seat, call the library at (269)423-4771 or send us an e-mail.  Also contact us with any questions.

Nameless Picture of the Day
 Unidentified man
Photographer - Smith & Thaldorf, 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. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Upcoming Event : Webb Miller is There, September 24

The Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society (VBRGS) is pleased to present "Webb Miller Is There," a presentation by City of Dowagiac Museum Director, Steven Arseneau, Monday, September 24, 2012, 7 p.m. at the Webster Memorial Library in Decatur.

Webb Miller
Webb Miller, a native of Pokagon, Cass County, Michigan, was a noted United Press war correspondent who died in May 1940 during a London blackout.   He had been no stranger to danger in reporting as he had reported on events such as the Irish Sinn riots in 1917, the 1925 Riff riots in Morocco, and the Salt riots in India in 1930.  He's also been in attendance at such landmarks events at the coronation of King George VI and the marriage of the Duke of Windsor.

Steven Arseneau is a Wisconsin native who holds a BA in United States History from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and MA in Public History from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.   He moved to southwest Michigan in 1998 to become curator of history for the Museum at Southwestern Michigan College and director in 2005.   Arseneau has also authored and co-authored several books and articles on area history, including Identification and Dating of Round Oak Heating Stoves, 2nd and 3rd editions, Images of America: Dowagiac, and “Webb Miller Is There”, which appeared in the Michigan History Magazine in February 2011.      

After the Museum at SMC acquired a significant collection from the family of Webb Miller, the research into his life and times began in earnest and has resulted in an exhibit at the museum, the magazine article and this program.  

In his current position with the City of Dowagiac, Steve is overseeing the transition of the Museum at SMC from its campus location and oversight to a new facility in the city of Dowagiac.  Steve will be discussing the museum’s move slated to begin in the spring of 2013.
The evening will begin with a Family History Essentials mini-class at 6:00 p.m. entitled “A Case Study: Mysterious Martha,” presented by Christine Pond Northrup, local genealogist.  Christine will lead us through her efforts to find Martha, a woman with many last names.   
VBRGS programs are free and the public is invited to attend as guests of the society. For more information please contact Ann Flora at 269.684.1353, email questions to
Nameless Picture of the Day
unidentified couple
Photographer - Huff, Decatur
Can you identify the young couple 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. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Online Hint : Searching for Family in Web Catalogs

Family history seeking on the internet should not consist only of genealogical databases.   Nor should it stop with search engines such as Google, Mocavo, and Yahoo.   Perhaps you've even become adept at searching book texts on sites such as Internet Archive and Google Books.  There's still more.

Consider adding another search strategy to your online checklist...library and archive catalogs.   You might think that catalogs are just a listing of titles and authors and therefore offer little assistance in the hunt for your ancestors.  In fact, this is a limited view of what online catalogs have to offer. 

My personal online research checklist consists of detailed searches of web catalogs ranging from local and county, state and national, and even worldwide.  Before illustrating how this can work for your online searching, let's cover a few basics about library cataloging. 

Those of us who are at least 35 something will remember the "old" version of the library catalog.  It typically consisted of drawers and drawers of 3 x 5 cards.  There were usually several cards for each book which would include the title and author as well as key subject tracings.  Subject tracings were an important part of the cataloging because we needed those to locate materials on a specific topic, person or place.  Subject tracings were not always straightforward to the common user.  For instance, if I were seeking information about the American Revolution, I needed to look up United States--History--Revolution.  Then there could be any number of other subheadings such as Biography, Pictorial Works, Social Aspects, and so on.  It was a cumbersome process compared to the ease with which we can now search.

First rule of thumb when searching online - always search using the catalog's Advanced Search where a query may be made using one or more of the following criteria:
  1. Title
  2. Author
  3. Subject
  4. Publisher
  5. ISBN
  6. Notes
  7. Keyword

Advanced Search Screen - Allen County Public Library (ACPL)

Like other libraries, the Allen County Public Library (ACPL) in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has all of the family histories shelved together within the library in alphabetical order by focus surname.  It is tremendous fun to walk through those stacks and find books pertaining to your family name.  But, what if your family name is not the "focus" of the book?  What if the Crawford Family History also has several collateral lines, and what if they aren't listed in the title?  What if your Bohn Family actually appears in a book focusing on the Palmer Family?

Using the ACPL catalog, if you enter the search terms "Crawford" and "Family" in the Title search, it returns 43 hits.  However, if you enter the same two search terms in the Subject search, there are 233 results, all of which have some reference to a Crawford family.  Good library cataloging will reflect as many as dozens of tracings to assist us in locating the information we seek. 

Bibliographic Record - ANSWER Catalog, Library of Michigan & State Archives of Michigan

For family historians, perhaps the most important part of a catalog record is the Notes section.  In addition to subject tracings, the Notes provide a brief summary of the item.  Here is where you may find mention of individuals, or references to a period of time or place.  In most catalogs, the Notes are also fully searchable, an excellent opportunity to enter some family names to locate family gold nuggets such as the civil war diary of Cyrus Bacon of Edwardsburg, Cass County, featured above.

Simply put, the concept of library cataloging is to provide, without having the actual item in your hand, as much insight into that item as possible to help you determine if it is of possible interest to you. 

Catalogs to be sure to search:
  1. Family Search Library Catalog
  2. Library of Congress
  3. DAR Library
  4. American Ancestors (NEHGR)
  5. World Cat
  6. National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC)
  7. Allen County Public Library (Fort Wayne, IN)
Create a personal checklist utilizing catalogs from [local examples in brackets]:
  1. State Archives and/or Library [Library of Michigan & State Archives of Michigan]
  2. Statewide Library Catalogs [Michigan Electronic Library (MEL)]
  3. Regional Archives and/or Library [Archives & Regional History Collection, WMU]
  4. Countywide Library [Van Buren District Library]
  5. Local Libraries, Historical & Genealogical Societies
Let's say that you would like to create a list of titles relating to genealogy at your local library.  Yes, you can visit in person and browse shelves, something I enjoy doing, but likely you won't see all of titles because of poor book labels, missing volumes, items in alternate locations, or some may be checked out or elsewhere in use.  Assuming that proper cataloging has been done for each item, you could generate a manageable printed or downloaded list using the Subject search line and entering text "Genealogy" or "Family History."

These are just a few examples of how to make online catalogs work for you.  The lists here are just a few that are available.  To locate others in your target areas, visit the Libraries, Archives & Museums section of Cyndi's List, visit the state or county page in the U.S. GenWeb Project, or do a geographic search using your favorite search engine.  Most online catalogs will need to be searched independently, but it will be worth the time spent.  Happy hunting!

Nameless Picture of the Day
No picture today as I write to you while on the road.  See you next time.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Annoucing The Historic Sites Inventory of Southwest Michigan

Not all of the people that walk through the doors of the Local History department are looking for information regarding a family or an individual.  Oftentimes, their interest lies in the history of their home, a business, or of buildings of the past.  Although there is abundant information available that with diligent research may eventually provide some of the answers, there has been no regional file system or archives that supports a search by an address, until now...

The Van Buren District Library is pleased to announce the establishment of its Historic Sites Inventory (HSI).  Simply put, the HSI will be an address-by-address, building-by-building survey of structures and the land parcels on which they stand, past and present. 

How will this be done?  First, it should be stated that there is currently no set of comprehensive listings of addresses as they have existed to use as a base.  We will be drawing from present-day addresses that appear in things like telephone books & city directories, and seek out listings maintained by local officials.  However, over Michigan's approximate 180-year existence, addresses have been evolving as new plats have been drawn and local & county re-numbering has taken place.  In fact, if you were to look at an addressed letter 100 years ago, you would see that numbered streets were not common, particularly in non-urban areas.   The envelope might say simply a street name, or more generic yet, just a town. 

The long-term goals of the HSI will be two-fold:  1.  Identify accurate locations with a variety of descriptions, and  2. Collect as much data as possible about each.  As with other projects such as the Bess Britton Michigan One-Room Schoolhouse Collection and the Southwest Michigan Military Registry (sponsored by VBRGS), the project will be built from a wide variety of resources.  Some of these are photographs, title abstracts, postcards, newspaper articles, correspondence, plat maps & atlases, and pre-1880 land records.

Of course, the lion's share of information will come from individuals who have personal knowledge or history in their possession of the area's homes, businesses and buildings.  You can participate in the HSI if any of the following apply for any one of the six Michigan counties of Allegan, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph or Van Buren:
  1. Current residence
  2. Past residence
  3. Current or past residence of parents, ancestors or other family members
  4. You or family member have conducted a business
  5. Personal knowledge of the history of a home, business or building from other sources

When the HSI project was announced at the last meeting of VBRGS, I also passed around inventory cards to everyone in the room so that they had an opportunity to at least give us present-day data about where they reside.  Sharing even just an address is very useful.  This helps us create that base of information so it can be organized and more things added as it becomes available. 

The short-term goals of the HSI include:
  1. Create a card file of addresses with brief information & timelines 
  2. Create files, organized by address, for supporting documents & photographs
  3. Post an address listing online (no names posted)
  4. Take photographs of present-day structures
  5. Draw together information already in the Local History Collection
The Village of Decatur has been used as the litmus to formulate the process for the collection & organization of the HSI.  Marcellus, Breedsville and Keeler have been "adopted" by other individuals who will supervise the collection of data for those communities.  There are plenty of locations left, so anyone interested in adopting are encouraged to contact us for more information. 

To submit addresses for the project, provide by e-mail the numbered address and the names of the current occupants.  Other information such as dates, prior occupants/owners, use of property, construction history, etc. are all welcome as well as photographs & any documents relating to the site's history.

We are excited about the HSI and its potential for preserving the history of the buildings & land of Southwest Michigan.  Likewise, we will be pleased to be able to offer visitors to the Local History Collection another avenue of possibilities for their research. 

Nameless Picture of the Day
 Unidentified Couple
Photographer - McCollum, 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.