Saturday, October 27, 2012

Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records

Genealogical skill building is a big part of successful family history research, so it's a good idea to make time to read up on some form of research methodology that may be as yet unfamiliar to you.  Last month I had just such an opportunity while out of town for a week.  There was going to be significant "down time" during my trip and there are only so many things you fit into two carry-on bags for the airplane.  So, I decided to take along a book from the genealogy general reference and "how-to" section of the Local History collection.

I chose and read Locating Your Roots : Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records, by Patricia Law Hatcher.  Land records research is rather complex compared to other types of records, a source that many historians often overlook or avoid.  Betterway Books, the publisher of this and several other family history titles, uses a format that is appealing...a non-academic, non-textbook style that allows you to breeze through and yet the content is very useful.

Rather than write a review of this book, I thought it would be more helpful if I listed some things that I learned or reinforced that may be of use to others:
  1. Tip - Identify wives' given names through the sale of property [Although the wife did not need to be identified on the purchase of property, the dower right laws dictated that she must be identified on the sale, accompanied by a Release of Dower rights that she signed with no coercion from her husband - this might be the only way to determine the first name of "Mrs. John Smith."]
  2. Creating a timeline is an effective brick wall research tool
  3. If your ancestor was a frequent purchaser/seller of property, create a land chart [described on page 16] to assist in creating a checklist of all documents relating to that property
  4. List of ways that land can be acquired or disposed of [page 17]; have you ever heard of Silent Inheritance, for example?
  5. Five different ways to record information from a land record index, page 66 [I actually created a #6, inspired by this list]
  6. King Philip's War (1675-1676) was the first American campaign whereby land was used to reward military service, a practice that ended in 1855, before the Civil War
  7. Michigan was once a bounty land state, but soon was withdrawn as the land was considered undesirable
  8. The Ordinance of 1785 defined the federal land system, including that four of 16 townships in a section were to be reserved for the federal government and that Section 16 was reserved for schools
  9. Only 40 percent of homestead applicants actually completed the process [This might explain why parts of your family were found in the west for a few years and then came back to Michigan]
  10. 362 Land Offices were created [see pps. 159-183 for lists by state]
  11. The recording of a deed, if recorded at all, could have been done decades after the fact
  12. In the Public Land States [including Michigan], tax lists are usually organized by township & range, therefore you can learn where your ancestor and his neighbors resided, even if they didn't own land
  13. In addition to documents recording the purchase, sale or mortgage of property, seek out those records of ownership such as tax records and plat maps
  14. For an in-depth study of the Public Land system read The Public Lands : Studies in the History of the Public Domain, by Vernon Carstensen [VBDL doesn't have this title yet, but will be seeking it out]
  15. Don't discount the importance of reading state-specific books and articles relating to land records, to best learn what is available and how to access them
  16. "Calls" is a general term for metes-and-bounds descriptions in a deed or survey [page 142 has a nice example of a "calls" abstraction form]
At some point in your family history research, you will reach a family where the traditional records don't yield the answers you seek.  Learning about other less common sources, can only enhance your chances of finding answers.

Locating Your Roots can be checked out from the Local History Collection with a valid VBDL card, or request a copy by inter-library loan through your local library.  This was definitely a useful learning experience for me.  Maybe later this winter I'll get brave enough to read about naturalization records...

Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown family group
Photographer - H. E. Bradley, Buchanan

Can you identify the family members in this carte-de-visite?  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.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Upcoming Event : Michigan Boys in Blue, October 22

The Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society (VBRGS) celebrates Family History Month with  “Michigan Boys in Blue,” Monday, October 22, 2012, 7 p.m. at the Webster Memorial Library in Decatur,  a presentation by John Urschel, archivist and historian.
Urschel is currently the supervisor of the local history room at the Buchanan District Library in Buchanan, Michigan.  He is a semi-retired contract archivist holding a BA in history and MA in Public History from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. Along with his responsibilities at the Buchanan District Library, John has become an author and lecturer in the southwestern Michigan area.  He is the author of City of Kalamazoo Parks, Kalamazoo Village and City Officials 1843-2007 and an executive producer of “Kalamazoo 1884”, a 37 minute documentary of Kalamazoo when it incorporated. 
A project which started out as a book about Civil War servicemen from Buchanan has turned into a series entitled Michigan Boys in Blue.  Volume one for Buchanan has already published.  John has begun work on volume two to include select men from Decatur, Dowagiac, Volinia Township, Marcellus, Mattawan, Paw Paw, Lawrence and Hartford,  and volume three is slated to focus on Grand Rapids.  John will consider future volumes to ultimately cover the entire state of Michigan in the series. 
Urschel will also host the Family History Essentials Series mini-class at starting at 6:00 p.m., highlighting his research methods used in his unique research projects, allowing time for a question & answer period.  The main program will begin at 7 p.m. after a break for refreshments and a short society business meeting.
This and other monthly programs sponsored by VBRGS are open to the public who is invited to attend as guests of the society. For more information please contact Ann Flora at 269.684.1353, email questions to  This October presentation rounds out the VBRGS 2012 program season, with the 2013 year scheduled to commence on February 25 with "Anatomy of an Obituary," to be presented by Toni I. Benson.

Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown man
Photographer - Dawes, Dowagiac
 Can you identify the young 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.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Bangor Newspaper Digitizaton Project (You Can Help) - Part 2

The first newspapers of record for Bangor began in 1873 as The Bangor Journal.  That title lived a short life and in fact no issues are known to have survived.  By 1874, The Bangor Reflector came into being and was in publication for several years to be followed by a series of titles.  The longest-running title was The Bangor Advance which continued until 1983, followed by other titles until the final printing in 1985.

The original microfilming in 1987 began with January 1, 1875 and ended with April 19, 1983.  Although the collection was fairly complete, there were gaps or missing issues.  Those missing that have been identified include:

February 20, March 6 & 27, September 25 (1875)
Sep 19 – Nov 28 (1879)
May 18 & 25, June 1 (1883)
July 23, December 30 (1886)
January 7, 1887
April 27, 1888
March 15-29, 1889
June 20, October 10 (1890)
October 4, 1895
June 30, 1899
January 5 & 12, May 25, August 10, all of October, 
                                        November 9 thru December 28 (1900)
January 11, February 8, March 1 thru 15 (1901)
May 1, September 11, October 9 (1903)
January 1, December 30 (1904)
September 22, 1905
January 26, March 16, May 4, June 1, August 31, November 16 (1906)
December 18, 1908
February, all; March 4, 18 & 25 (1910)
Jan 17 thru March 2, June 13 & 27, August 8 (1913)
May 15, 22 & 29, September 25 (1914)
February 12, June 25, July 9 (1915)
November 30, 1917
October 14, December 30 (1920)
June 21, 1928
January 2, 1941
1943 - entire year
July 5, 1945
January 1, 1948
1955 - entire year
August 3, 1966
January 1, 1969
January 31, 1978
January 16, 1979
January 1, 1980              

There is no question that most of these issues existed at one time and that they may still exist somewhere in private hands.  Individuals don't always realize what a precious piece of history they may have in the form of a folded up issue of a newspaper in their attic or closet, an issue that may be the only one in existence.  And, in the absence of complete issues, portions or select articles may be tucked away in a book or bible, or lovingly placed in scrapbooks.  Whatever the form, they are an important part of history.

For the purpose of the current digitization project, we are attempting to use as many original papers as possible, versus microfilm images.  There are some for which we've located part years, but not all of them.  Those years that still need to be located in their entirety include 1956 thru 1959 and 1961 thru 1980.  
Many of the earlier issues that we have located are in poor condition, too poor to be scanned without some prep work.  According to the technical department, some issues will either need to be "pieced" together using archival tape, or pages may need to be placed inside a protective film cover.  In either case, the cost for having this done will be considerable, so we will be depending on volunteers to help with this step.

The question about whether or not the digital images of the Bangor newspaper will go online for search, view & download depends almost entirely on cost.  At a minimum, the images will be available at the Decatur and Bangor branches of the Van Buren District Library.  Launching onto an online environment incurs costs for the initial upload and ongoing maintenance.  

How can you help?
  1. Report to us any knowledge of "missing" issues (or partial issues) as listed above so that we may make arrangements to borrow them long enough for digitization
  2. Sign up to become a volunteer to assist with preparation of the newspapers for scanning
  3. Make a monetary donation toward the digitization process, or perhaps toward online launch costs
 Anyone with an interest in Bangor and its history will be thrilled with the digitized newspapers.  Imagine sitting down to a computer and searching for the occurrence of a particular surname over 110 years and getting results in seconds, followed up by seeing the actual image.  And, once you've located the item(s) of interest, crop, save and print it in a snap.  

Those of us who have spent hours in front of a microfilm reader cranking away, squinting our eyes trying to read nearly illegible text...or if you live no where near Michigan and have had no way to access the papers at all...or try to research the history of a business spanning 60 years without reading through multiple reels of get the picture.

For more information about the Bangor newspaper digitization project, or to make a donation of your time or a monetary gift, please contact the library by e-mail or call us at (269)423-4771.  Thank you.

           Nameless Picture of the Day

            Graduating Class, Woodward School, Kalamazoo, 1945

 Can you identify any or all of the students in this group photo from Woodward School?  This was a beautiful photo acquired from a yard sale.    Please contact us if you have any information and we will publish it in a future blog. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Bangor Newspaper Digitization Project (You Can Help) - Part I

Bangor, Van Buren County is about to be the next Michigan hometown to have its newspaper, spanning 110 years, brought into the digital age.  Thanks to a large monetary gift to the Bangor Branch Library of the Van Buren District Library, about half of the cost of the project is already in place.

Work has begun to digitize the Bangor Advance [other titles included Bangor Reflector, West Michigan Advance, Advance and Reflector, Bangor Journal, Van Buren Advance, Van Buren Advance Union, Bangor Trust Express,  The Advance, and Van Buren County Visitor], using original newspapers when possible.

The extant Bangor newspapers, 1875-1983, were microfilmed in 1987 through a project sponsored by the Bangor Arts & Crafts Council.  Since that time, the 82 microfilm reel set has been available for use by family & local history historians at the Bangor Branch Library, the Library of Michigan, and the Local History department of the Van Buren District Library in Decatur.  Filming was done using negative images, i.e., black background with white print.  For this and other reasons, images of many of the earlier years are difficult to read and even more difficult to make readable prints from the film.

It is statistically proven that character recognition is considerably higher from digital images created by original newspapers than those created from microfilm images.  Couple this with the fact that most of the original Bangor newspapers are still available, it was decided to use these original issues for the project.  The cost per image for this method is higher as it requires more hands-on time, but it best insures the maximum preservation and text search capabilities of these papers that are in an elevated state of deterioration.

"We are excited at the prospect of bringing the Bangor newspaper to a more accessible & usable format," indicated Bobbi Martindale, Bangor Branch librarian.  "Although it's been wonderful to have the film here for our patrons to use, we have no film printing capabilities, and in many cases even if we had, the images were too poor for printing."

"The gift from a local women's group of about half of the cost of this project will get us rolling," continued Martindale, "but we are going to need additional monetary assistance to finish the project.  It is our hope that once word gets out that we are creating a more usable, permanent record of our local paper, area individuals & organizations will help chip in the rest of the cost."

Not all of the original Bangor newspapers that were used in the original filming have surfaced 25 years later.  Thanks to the efforts of Robert Emmert of Bangor, most of the earliest years, 1875-1955, have been located.  The Van Buren District Library has been able to provide full coverage to the years 1981 thru 1985, and partial holdings for the years 1961 thru 1980.  However, it is hoped that the complete collection of issues for those years are still in private hands and may be located and borrowed long enough to complete the digitization process.

More next time:
  1. How you can make a monetary donation for the Bangor digitization project
  2. Listing of those Bangor newspapers that were missing from the filming in 1987
  3. How you may assist with preparing the original newspapers for digitization
  4. How you may help with the loan of original Bangor newspapers
  5. Will the digital Bangor newspapers go online?
Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown family group
Photographer - McCollum, Decatur
Can you identify the family 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.