Saturday, November 3, 2012

Southwest Michigan Database Reaches 1 Million Mark

Indexes...something that family & local history researchers rely heavily upon...basically come in three general formats.  First, there are the paper indexes, generated to accompany a book or collection.  Second, in the last twenty plus years or so we've seen the rise of databases that allow searches by name.  The third form of indexing is the ability to search across millions of web pages using a web browser or search tool. 

Smart historians learn to make the most of all three as all of them have benefits and limitations, and no one of them can yield all possible results.  Admittedly, I have leaned toward the tangible...preferring to have an index in my hand and being able to browse through an alphabetical list of names.  This is still effective for single or a handful of items.

However, picture a regional collection such as that of the Van Buren District Library.  There are literally thousands of resources, the bulk of which directly relate to the six Southwest Michigan counties of Allegan, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren, and have not yet made their way to the internet.  Imagine that you may be visiting for the day or a few hours.  It's not practical to go down the shelves checking every individual index, or scanning through pages that are not indexed.  And, what about those items that are not even on the open shelves?

Enter the Local History Master Index (LHMI), a database created by the library to index items within the collection.  A work in progress, indexing is being done by volunteers working at the library or at home.  All of the indexes, now numbering well over 400, are merged together into one database for in-house searching.  As of yesterday [November 2], the LHMI reached the 1 million record mark. 

The LHMI was designed to be a "first search" tool for visitors, potentially saving them hours of research time and also leading them to resources they might not have otherwise located.  It has been extremely rewarding for me, as a librarian, to see the glee on people's faces when they locate names of interest in our database. 

Some of the things that have been indexed so far:
  1. 110 Cemeteries
  2. Plat Books
  3. Family Histories
  4. Newspapers
  5. Vital Records
  6. Regional, County & Local Histories
  7. Tax & Voter Lists
  8. Funeral Home Records
  9. Yearbooks
  10. Directories
  11. Photographs
  12. Family Files, Pedigree Charts & Pioneer Certificates
  13. Naturalization Records
  14. Scrapbooks
  15. Church Records
  16. Military 
  17. Van Buren Echoes
  18. Poorhouse Records
  19. Census & Mortality Schedules
  20. Wills & Estates
  21. Manuscript Collections
  22. Obituaries
  23. Schools
  24. Historic Site Inventory
The LHMI is available for search on the Local History computers, and soon will be available in a new format at the rest of the VBDL branch locations at Bangor, Bloomingdale, Covert, Gobles, Lawrence & Mattawan.  Each record within the database is searchable by surname and first name.  Results provide a complete bibliographic record of the source, the page number, and some associated dates. 

The question has been asked, "Will the LHMI be available on the internet?"  Although it is currently only available on site, it is our hope to eventually be able to place it online.  Until then, we encourage visitors to the collection.  After all, even when the index goes to the net, the resources themselves are still here at the library.

Not everything is indexed yet, but work continues.  Next time we'll discuss in more detail how items are indexed, what things remain to be indexed, and how you can volunteer to help by indexing at home.  Contact Local History with any questions.

Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown girl
Photographer - Boughton, Decatur

Can you identify the girl 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. 

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