Thursday, June 20, 2013

Researching Your Civil War Ancestor, June 24

The Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society (VBRGS) welcomes guest speaker Patsy Miller on Monday, June 25th at 7:00 p.m., in the Community Room of the Webster Memorial Library in Decatur, MI.  She will be honoring those who served in the war between the states with her presentation entitled “Researching Your Civil War Ancestor”.    
A power point presentation will provide tips on how to find relatives that served in the Civil War and how to
obtain information on their service including unit summaries, service records, and pension files. A handout containing valuable information about additional resources and state websites where Civil War records can be found will be available. A question and answer period will follow the presentation.
Ms. Miller is currently the president of the Berrien County Genealogical Society and a member of the VBRGS.  She is a life-long resident of Berrien County and has been working on her family genealogy for the past 20 years.

The VBRGS provides monthly meetings of genealogical and historical interest to further their mission to “preserve and share the history of the people and places of the counties of Allegan, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties in southwest Michigan”. This program is free to the public and will include time for refreshments that will be served by our hosts for the evening.
Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown man (soldier?)
photographer - Theo Cook, Hartford
Can you identify the man in this cabinet card?  The jacket he is wearing could be a uniform, perhaps Civil War?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Genealogy Society Makes Large Donation to Library

The Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society (VBRGS) has recently announced that it has donated the bulk of their book collection to the Local History Collection of the Van Buren District Library. 

VBRGS, organized in 1987, is a regional genealogical & local history interest group with a focus on the counties of Southwest Michigan including Allegan, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren. 

Although the society's books and those of the library have been housed together in the Local History Collection in Decatur, up until now both had maintained separate ownership and cataloging. 

VBRGS executive board spokesmen indicated that there were several reasons for this gift.
  1. All item records will now be accessible through one online catalog (, allowing search by title, author, subject and keyword.
  2. Items added to the library catalog are also automatically added to the Michigan Electronic Library Online Catalog (MELCAT), where similar searches may be made on a statewide level. 
  3. The books will be under the protection and care of the library system allowing for continuity in acquisitions, maintenance, and oversight.  
Over the years, the society has spent thousands of dollars in the acquisition of books, microfilm and manuscripts to compliment the department's collection policy guidelines which includes not only Southwest Michigan.  Other featured areas include:
  1. New England
  2. Midwest
  3. Western Europe
  4. Canada
  5. General Reference & Guides
VBRGS has played a key role in the growth and success of the Local History Collection and plans to continue its support with gifts of additional acquisitions, money for special projects/equipment, and with volunteer staffing.  They will maintain ownership of their massive yearbook collection (over 1,500 volumes), select special collections, photographs, and their manuscripts - all currently housed as part of the Local History Collection.

"The Van Buren District Library is very pleased to have received this wonderful collection," says Debby Stassek, the library's Assistant Director, "and we will be working the next several months to add them all into our catalog at"

 One of the biggest perks of this merger is the availability of online cataloging in one place.  Many of the items within the Local History Collection are rare or one-of-a-kind, and although it may not be possible to request one of these items on inter-library loan, a search on MELCAT will point to you to the facility that houses that item, allowing follow-up with that library.

When was the last time you made a genealogical-related search for something in an online catalog?  Have you searched by subject using the hometown of interest?  Or, have you simply tried searching the Keyword option for some of your less common surnames?  New records are being added to MELCAT on a regular basis, so be sure to make this site part of your online research checklist.

The merger of the VBRGS book collection with that of the library will be concluded in the coming months.  In the meantime, all items remain accessible for viewing within the Local History department.  For any questions about the merger or the collection in general, contact the Local History Librarian.

Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown residence
real photo postcard, postmarked October 1910, Covert
addressed to Mrs. William Young of Canton, Ohio, from "Aunt Minnie"

Can you identify the location of this two-story frame residence located in Covert?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Southwest Michigan Fire Insurance Maps Collection Complete at Library

Map lovers will be happy to learn that there is now a complete set of Southwest Michigan Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps housed in the Local History Collection of the Van Buren District Library. 

What are fire insurance maps and how are they important to family & local history?  Named for D. A. Sanborn, a civil engineer from Sommerville, Massachusetts, these maps and others like them were designed to "detail the structural characteristics and functions of buildings and their environs as they pertain to fire hazards or prevention." [Fire Insurance Maps : their history and applications, by Diane L. Oswald]

For each community, there are typically a handful of single or multi-page maps representing the 1890 thru 1935 time period.  Streets are identified by name and each structure is hand-drawn, showing such elements as dimensions, how many floors, stairways, windows, and doors. 

Marcellus, 1899
In this portion from the Marcellus map of 1899, we see a wonderful snapshot of a portion of Main Street, detailing the location of the grocery, three barber shops, hotel, meat market, clothing store and variety store, among others. 

The residential areas within the boundaries of the drawn map are similarly diagrammed, however (and this is the negative part of these maps), there are no names of owners.  Some businesses are named, but usually, with some exceptions, there is only a broad category description such as those listed above. 

Fire insurance maps should be a mainstay for those researching historical structures, with businesses in particular.  Larger multi-building companies have some amazing detail including uses of each building, like Martin Manufacturing Company, Berrien Springs, a manufacturer of cue tips & chalk in 1932, shown here. 

Martin Manufacturing Co., Berrien Springs, 1932
Even in the case of a residence, although the name of the owner is absent, these maps can give insight as to the structure of a house.  Using maps over a period of years, it is possible to plot out the addition of rooms or the change of a building altogether.

Maps were not drawn for all communities, but for Southwest Michigan a good majority of them were:
  • Augusta
  • Bangor
  • Benton Harbor
  • Berrien Springs
  • Buchanan
  • Burr Oak
  • Cassopolis
  • Centreville
  • Coloma
  • Colon
  • Constantine
  • Decatur
  • Dowagiac
  • Fennville
  • Galesburg
  • Hartford
  • Hopkins
  • Kalamazoo
  • Lawton
  • Leonidas
  • Marcellus
  • Mendon
  • Niles
  • Otsego
  • Paw Paw
  • Plainwell
  • Richland
  • St. Joseph
  • Saugatuck
  • Schoolcraft
  • South Haven
  • Sturgis
  • Three Oaks
  • Three Rivers
  • Vicksburg
  • Watervliet
  • Wayland
  • White Pigeon
Through an anonymous $1,600.00 gift, the 15 reels of microfilm have been purchased to round out the library's collection of surviving Sanborn maps for the Michigan counties of Allegan, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren.  These reels also include many other communities outside the SW Michigan area.  For a complete list, see the library's Microfilm Listings, or contact us with any questions.

The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps are the most recent addition to the Local History Collection in support of the library's Historic Sites Inventory (HSI) project.  For more information about how to access the HSI or to inquire about donating information, contact the library at

Nameless Picture of the Day
 Barnes School students
Lawrence Township, Fractional District #6

Can you identify the students and teacher in this photo of Barnes School in Lawrence Township?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

20% Off Summer Book Sale!

The Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society (VBRGS) has recently announced a special Summer Book Sale.  Through August 31, 2013, all items listed in their online Book Store will be available at 20% off the list price. 

With over 125 unique items, most of which are Southwest Michigan and out-of-print, visitors to the book store are bound to find something of interest.  Categories include cemetery readings, vital records, family histories, census indexes, yearbooks & annuals, plat books & indexes (some on CD-rom), local histories, church publications, city & telephone directories, and other unique items.  Although Southwest Michigan is the primary coverage (counties of Allegan, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, Van Buren & St. Joseph), there are some listings from other counties in Michigan including Muskegon, Cheboygan, and Kalkaska. 

Featured titles include [new uncirculated editions]:

Michigan Quakers : abstracts of fifteen meetings of The Society of Friends, 1831-1960, compiled by Ann and Conrad Burton.

Published in 1989 and consisting of 589 pages with an every-name index, Michigan Quakers includes records for Quaker societies in Cass, Grand Traverse, Presque Isle, Ogemaw, Wayne, Leanwee and Calhoun counties.

"This book of Michigan Quaker abstracts is designed to make these records known, to publish the location of the records, and to help further the use of these records for research."

 A Scrapbook History of Early Decatur, Michigan, 1829-1876,   by Catherine Howland.   This
softcover two-volume set consisting of over 1500 pages has long been considered the standard for Decatur [Van Buren County] history. 

Ms. Howland, a former area school teacher, meticulously extracted articles from the Decatur Republican and other titles from Decatur's earliest days through the bicentennial...providing a wonderful overview of the pioneers and enterprises of Decatur and surrounding communities.

Van Buren County, Michigan : a pictorial history, published in 2003 by the Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society.

At a never-before seen low price, this beautiful coffee-table book has sold nearly 1,500 copies.  Hardcover with dust jacket, pages are high-quality gloss and provide a photographic overview of Van Buren County's residences, businesses, churches, notable people, mills, organizations & groups, and schools. 

Each photograph has a brief historical caption and the book includes an every-name index, as well as a full-color vintage map of the county.

All titles are original publications and available only while supplies last.  Visit the VBRGS online Book Store to view the entire list with current prices, and contact the society for the discount or with any questions,

Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown residence
Hartford, Michigan

 Can you identify the location/address of this house, taken in Hartford, Michigan?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Library Launches New Mentoring Program

The Van Buren District Library (VBDL) is pleased to announce the initiation of its Mentoring Program for family and local history patrons. 

Are you starting out in your search for your family history and would like to know about how to find more information, or how to better organize it?  Do you have roots in Southwest Michigan and would like to learn all you can about what information may be available about your family?  Have you spent most of your time surfing the internet and would like to know where to go next? 

If the answer to any of these questions is "Yes", then the Mentoring Program may be for you...

Starting this May, experienced volunteers from the VBDL Local History department will be providing a one-on-one opportunity for instruction to its patrons.  The Mentoring Program is a free service available to those who can visit the library in person. 

Using the resources available in the Local History Collection and research tools such as forms & charts and select online subscription databases, volunteers will provide instruction to specific research questions.

Those who sign up for an appointment should plan to:
  1. Select a specific research question or goal 
  2. Bring with you any documents or paperwork associated with your query
  3. Organize information for quick access
  4. Create a checklist of those things that have already been tried or completed
 Each session will consist of at least:
  1. Entrance interview to determine goal(s)of session
  2. Introduction to the Local History Collection and checklist of resources pertinent to session goal(s)
  3. Discussion about organization of data
  4. General information about upcoming events & programs
  5. Exit interview and creation of To Do List
The mentoring sessions are an opportunity to "pick the brain" of experienced family & local history historians, but are not research services.  Visitors will be be provided with valuable instruction in order to continue their research on their own either in the Local History Collection, online or at other sites.
One-hour mentoring sessions may be scheduled by contacting the Local History department by e-mail at or call (269)423-4771. 

Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown man
Photographer - Withey, Bangor

Can you identify the man in this carte-de-visite, taken in Bangor, Michigan?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Getting to Know FamilySearch Online (Part 2)

Last time we talked about three of the four basic search categories of the FamilySearch website, i.e., Records, Books, and Catalog.  Change is the only constant on the internet, and already since Part 1 of this post, the home and search pages of FamilySearch have been updated with some cosmetic uplifts and the addition of a fifth category entitled Wiki. 

Commercial - State Farm Insurance

Under the Genealogies category, which should be searched separately from the Records category for maximum results, you will find user-submitted trees that have been accumulated from the Pedigree Resource File and Ancestry File databases.  As with any user-submitted resource, make it your credo to treat
information from these trees as clues, not as facts, until you can verify it using solid genealogical research methodology.  Too often, misinformation in online family trees mushrooms like a bad virus, and definitely, definitely don't subscribe to the notion that "They can't put anything on the internet that isn't true."

New to the FamilySearch environment is the ability to add your family trees & photographs live.  Enter through the Family Tree link found at the top of the Search page, sign up for a free account using an e-mail address, and you're on your way.  At first glance this morning, it seems that information has to be manually entered, one person at a time, no apparent way to upload a tree or Gedcom file.  Once information is entered, it can be edited, and it can be searched by other users. 

The new Wiki category is equally exciting, serving as an online encyclopedia of genealogical knowledge.  It is not meant to be a place to search for names, but for topics of all types that relate to family history research.  Search on topics such as locations (town, county, state, country), ethnic resources (examples: Italian or Danish research), religious sects, records types (examples:  chancery records, parish chest records), and much more.  I was able to search using the term Shakers (a celibate, extinct religious group), and found an entire page devoted to that religion in Watervliet, New York, where my family was known to live.  The wiki pages can provide social history & links to maps to go along with your family history and also give your useful information about the where, what and how to access records.

To assist with learning about all that FamilySearch has to offer, consider reading The Guide to FamilySearch Online, by James L. Tanner.  Although published in 2011, the information remains current and applicable to the site.  The book even predicts the release of New FamilySearch which was just done during this last month, and talks about many of the features that are now available.  The Guide is available for checkout by any Van Buren District Library patron, or seek out a copy at your local library.  Remember that knowledge is power.

Nameless Picture of the Day
 5th & 6th grade students, Gobleville (Gobles), Michigan
undated [perhaps around 1915]

Can you identify any of the children or teacher in this photograph, taken in Gobles, Michigan?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.   

Friday, April 5, 2013

Getting to Know FamilySearch Online (Part 1)

It's guaranteed that unless you take the time to learn about online genealogical databases, you are missing valuable information.  This is particularly true of the bigger players in the field such as FamilySearch

Launched in 1999 and sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), the FamilySearch website has been a force in the world of online family history, for free.  They currently boast 3 1/2 million searchable names in their range of databases, with 10 million user hits per day. 

When visiting the FamilySearch home page a typical user will zero in on the boxes, quickly plugging in names and dates and with high anticipation selecting "Search."  Some will be rewarded with a hit list that contains potentially positive results.  Others may get a return of a list too large to handle, or no results at all.  Unfortunately, many searchers will stop there, not realizing that learning more about the content of the site and its search capabilities may lead them to the information they seek.

As with most sites, there is more than immediately meets the eye at FamilySearch.  The first thing you should notice is that there are four "tabs" across the top of the search fields:
  • Records
  • Genealogies
  • Catalog
  • Books
Searches have to be made across each of these categories individually, so if you are searching under Records, you are missing the other three.  Although, there is a notation at the bottom of the Records hit list indicating that there may be hits within the Genealogies databases, allowing you to click and move to that category.

Of what use is Books?  Currently, there are more than 60,000 digitized books, sponsored by Brigham Young University (BYU) Historical Books Collection.  Each is full-text searchable, and the images are downloadable.  These volumes are not necessarily the same books that we see repeated on, Heritage Quest and Google Books.  They include titles from the BYU collection, many of which are rare local histories and genealogies. 

And the Catalog?  I use the Catalog more than any other portion of the FamilySearch site.  In addition to being a complete description of all of the millions of books and microfilm in the LDS library, it also serves as a portal to digital items, including collections that have been placed in Records and to the digital Books.  I would recommend conducting searches within the Catalog on a regular basis; by title, subject, geographic insure that you aren't missing online resources. 

Next time we'll talk about more uses of the FamilySearch site and the recently published Guide to FamilySearch Online.

Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown woman
Photographer - Chas. F. Prichard, Decatur 
From the personal collection of Sarah J. (Adams) Jackson

Can you identify the woman in this cabinet card, taken in Decatur, Michigan?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.    

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Victorian Photo Album Makes Way Back to Decatur

There are two things that don't happen often enough.  First, finding pre-1900 photographs with identification as person & place.  Usually, these interesting faces go unnamed and will likely remain so forever.  Second, having the photographs be affordable enough to purchase them for the Local History Collection. 

Ackley Family Album
Not long ago through a listing on Ebay, we acquired a partially filled antique Victorian-style photo album, mostly identified with names, specifically the Ackley and related families of mid to late 19th century Decatur, Van Buren County, Michigan.

Victorian albums are beautiful in and of themselves, the covers typically made of leather or velvet and often, as in this case, adorned with one or more clasps at the side to help secure the contents.  The pages are made of a card stock firm board, sometimes lined with gold color on the edges.  Each page has space to insert photographs of a specified size on either side.  In this case, the photos are mostly carte-de-visite style and a few tintypes.  The carte-de-visite photograph, measuring 4 1/4 by 2 1/2 inches, was introduced in the United States as early as 1859, which supplies us with some clues as to dates.

On the inside cover of the album is handwritten: "Presented to Willis F. Ackley From his Mother To Her Precious Son"

Some of the names written on the photographs include:
  • Gertrude Miller
  • Mr. & Mrs. B. F. Carson
  • Mrs. S. C. Reed of Monterey, Allegan County
  • Thomas B. Woodburg, Fruit Port, Mich "to my daughter Mrs. Sarah Jane Ackley"
  • Sarah Jane Ackley
  • Emmet W. Ackley
  • Willis J. Ackley
  • Lucinda M. Bent
  • Cousin Jennie Wood
  • William Bent
  • Ella Bacon
  • Jessie Reed, Monterey, Allegan County
  • Grace R. Ackley, South Wales, Erie County, New York
An added bonus to this album is the inclusion of some death and marriage dates handwritten in the covers and margins.

Regrettably, some of the photographs were removed from the album before we purchased it.  These were predominantly military-related as I recall seeing these individual photographs being auctioned separately on Ebay before the album was listed.  The hand-written names remain, however, allowing for clues to association to others featured in the album.

The Local History department has acquired a few other albums over the years, sometimes with little identification as to the individuals, but with connections to Southwest Michigan families.  Visit the library's online index to its Photograph Collection to search for names & subjects. 

Anyone interested in viewing the Ackley family album or other photographs should contact the Local History department in advance of their visit to find out access times and policies. 

Nameless Picture(s) of the Day

 Unknown woman
Ackley Family album, Decatur
  Unknown woman
Carte-de-visite photograph
dated July 29, 1880 
Photographer - J. O. Converse, Morenci, Michigan 
Ackley Family album, Decatur
 Can you identify the women in these photographs, part of the Ackley Family album of Decatur, Van Buren County, Michigan?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Upcoming Event : Camp Letters, 1942-1945, March 25

The Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society (VBRGS) is pleased to host  Camp Letters: 1942 – 1945,  to be presented by Robert V. Nightingale, Monday, March 25, 7 p.m. VBRGS programs are presented in the community room at the Webster Memorial Library, 200 N. Phelps St., Decatur, Michigan.

Camp Letters is a compilation of over 200 letters and other documents from Mr. Nightingale’s grandmother Alice to his grandfather Bruno Stiller, while he was in the Alien Enemy Internment Camps during World War II. Bruno was a German national who immigrated to the United States after the First World War. At the time of his arrest, he and his American-born wife Alice ran their family restaurant in Prairie View, Illinois. They had three children and were expecting a fourth. The book details Alice’s struggle to keep the restaurant in business during wartime, care for her children and keep her husband’s spirits up during his imprisonment.

Bob came into possession of the letters after his Aunt Alice Stiller died in 2010. They were found in boxes marked “Camp Letters” in her home. No one in the family was aware of their existence until they were found after her death.  Several family members wanted copies of the letters but after scanning dozens of these letters into his computer and trying to read the handwriting, he realized they would be much easier to read if they were made into a book.
 For the presentation on March 25, Mr. Nightingale will talk about the making of the book, tell some family stories, show the wood craft that his grandfather made in the camps, and will read some of the more endearing excerpts from the book and answer questions.
Immediately preceding the program will be general announcements and updates from the Local History department of the Van Buren District Library.

VBRGS programs are 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 or visit their website at  

 Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown woman
Photographer - P. S. Edwards, Photo Artist, Lawrence

Can you identify the woman in this carte-de-visite photograph, taken in Lawrence, Michigan?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.   

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Upcoming Event : Anatomy of an Obituary, February 25

The Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society (VBRGS) will open its 2013 program year with "Anatomy of an Obituary," presented by Toni I. Benson (yours truly), Monday, February 25, 7 p.m. at the Webster Memorial Library, Decatur.

This is a lecture that I have wanted to give for some time, one that will appeal to historians of all experience levels who may beresearching family anywhere in the United States. Defined as a brief biography published by a newspaper, obituaries can lead to important clues in the search for the history of your family. 

Experience working with visiting patrons and with compiling my own family history over the years has given me some key insight into successful newspaper obituary research.  During "Anatomy of an Obituary," we will discuss:
Decatur Republican, December 15, 1921
  1. Reasons why your obituary research is not complete
  2. Tips for locating obituaries online and offline
  3. Creating an obituary search checklist
  4. List of obituary links websites
  5. Access to & search tips for newspaper digital archives
  6. Troubleshooting those hard-to-find obituaries
  7. Key components of a typical obituary
  8. Taking your research to the next level

To be truly successful with obituary research, one must:

  1. Look in the right place (notice our example to the right here for Nellie Potts Champlin - Nellie was raised in Decatur [Van Buren County], spent most of her adult life in Chelsea [Washtenaw County], and died in New York State)
  2. Verify your information (are you using the right date of death?)
  3. Seek out all versions of an obituary (with Nellie, there is potentially at least three versions of her obituary in three different papers).  Even with present-day notices, information can vary.
  4. Evaluate each peace of information for accuracy 
  5. Follow up with additional resources
There will be dozens of examples to illustrate these and other points, a handout with an outline of the presentation and lists of websites, and a brief question & answer period at the end of the lecture.

As the Van Buren District Library local history librarian, I will also be making announcements regarding new activities and acquisitions for the collection since last October as well as upcoming library-sponsored programs for 2013.   I hope to see you there.

VBRGS programs are free and open to the public and they welcome everyone who may have an interest in family and local history. For questions or more information please contact Ann Flora at 

Nameless Picture of the Day
 "Thompson house" 
Hartford, Michigan

 Can you identify the present-day location or address of the house in this photograph, taken in or near Hartford, Michigan?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Value of Gazetteers for Research (Part 2)

No matter where your family history leads you, gazetteers should be part of your research arsenal.  Last time we featured an 1869 Van Buren County volume.  From there let's talk about some samples from the state and regional  levels.

Michigan was not formerly organized as a state until 1836, and the majority of it was unsettled.  Those who have pioneers who settled in Michigan during those early years will discover boundaries, place names and government was an entirely different animal then.  To assist with that, consult the 1838 Gazetteer of the State of Michigan, by John T. Blois. 

Although not a listing of individual names, the 1838 Gazetteer gives some useful information including brief summaries for each county.  For example, while Van Buren County has 18 townships today, in 1838 there were only seven, namely Antwerp, Clinch, Covington, Decatur, LaFayette, Lawrence and South Haven.  There were only three villages:  Mason, Pawpaw [sic] and Keelersville.  The county, consisting of 633 square miles, was also organized in 1837, and had a population of 1,262 persons. 

Under Topography and Statistics, Keelersville (now Keeler) was situated on the Detroit and St. Joseph road, had its own post office, and was described as "small, and contains a store, a tavern, and a few mechanics." 

If your ancestor was an early settler of the present-day village of Lawrence, you would not that find that name in records of the period.  Originally named Mason, the village wasn't renamed Lawrence until 1846, thus affecting which records would need to be searched.

The Michigan State Gazetteer and Business Directory volumes published by R. L. Polk & Company in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th century are delightful examples of the benefits of gazetteers.  These huge volumes are often more than 4 inches thick and give a summary of each town or village within the state.  The 1895-96 edition in the Local History collection gives the following merchant information for the now extinct village of Pine Grove Mills in Van Buren County:
  • L. D. Canfield, produce
  • Clark Everest, news dealer
  • D. O. Everest & Co, manufacturers of all kinds of woodwork
  • H. C. Harrington, blacksmith
  • C. H. Ruell, general store
  • George W. Smith, musician
  • W. M. Stoughton, railroad and exp agt.
  • Miss Cora Wise, music teacher
South Haven Advertisements - 1895 Gazetteer
Since these Polk gazetteers were published on a regular basis, tracking the history of a town's businesses or an individual merchant would be one use.  And, as typical of directories of the period, these books are chock full of advertisements that are an art form in and of themselves.

As you begin research in other states in the country, consulting a gazetteer will assist with things like boundary changes, obscure or extinct place names, waterways and railroads.  New York state can be particularly challenging and there are two good titles that I would recommend:
  1. A Gazetteer of the State of New York : embracing an ample survey and description of its counties, towns, cities, villages, canals, mountains, lakes, rivers, creeks, and natural topography, by Horatio Gates Spafford, 1824.
  2. Historical and Statistical Gazetteer of the New York State, by J. H. French, 1860.
Both of these titles have extensive geographic descriptions coupled with listings of thousands of names of early settlers.

Records in New England states tend to be organized not by county, as we are accustomed to in the Midwest, but by town.  Using a title such as The New England Gazetteer; containing descriptions of all the states, counties and towns in New England: also descriptions of the principal mountains, rivers, lakes, capes, bays, harbors, islands, and fashionable resorts, 1839, by John Hayward may assist in sorting out towns of same or like names, counties and so forth.

These and other titles in the Local History Collection are just a few examples of the types and coverage of gazetteers.  To locate titles of interest to you, visit some of your favorite larger online catalogs such as MelCat, WorldCat, Family Search, and the Library of Congress.  Make your searches in the title, subject or keyword fields.

Nameless Picture of the Day
unidentified house - perhaps from Bangor area
from the album of Amy (Palmer) Jackson

Can you identify the location of the house in this photograph, probably taken in or near Bangor, Michigan?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Value of Gazetteers for Research (Part 1)

The dictionary defines a gazetteer simply as a geographical index or dictionary.  In the genealogical world, they can be much more and are certainly a tool that can enhance your research.  For those who have a heavy concentration of family in a specific geographic locale, you may want to add a gazetteer to your home reference library.  In my case, I purchased volumes for England, Scotland and Canada, where large portions of my family spent decades if not centuries.

The Local History Collection houses several of these gazetteers, ranging from local, the state of Michigan, other regions of the United States, and some European countries.  Van Buren County Gazetteer and Business Directory, 1869, is one such volume that gets a great deal of use.  The subtitle of the book gives you an idea of its scope:  ...containing historical and descriptive sketches of the several townships in the county, and a directory of the names and occupation of the merchants, farmers and manufacturers throughout the county, to which are added a complete classified directory, and a list of post and money order offices in the State of Michigan

The main section of the book entitled "Land-Owners' and Farmers' Directory for Van Buren County," is an alphabetical listing.  For example we find that Jane Manley was a land owner in Sections 16, 27 & 28 in Hartford.  This entry has all kinds of possibilities:
  • Jane listed as the owner instead of a husband or father, etc.
  • Land ownership in three locations in Hartford Township leading to research in deeds, mortgages, plat maps, probate
  • Puts Jane in a place and a time
  • Other listings in the book for the Manley/Manly name in Hartford
 Elsewhere in the book is the Hartford Directory which gives a listing of the streets and how they intersect, followed by the Village Directory naming the merchants of the including "C. E. Manley, drugs and medicines, e s Center 2 n Main, h cor Maple and Main."  Gazetteers are often flush with elaborate advertisements and with Mr. Manley we find one that tells us a little more about his business on page 71.

Those seeking obituaries and other newspaper items in Paw Paw would learn from the Village Directory that there were actually two newspapers published during the 1869 period, The True Northerner and the Van Buren County Press, the former being a republican publication and the latter a democratic.  In Decatur, a listing of churches for the village tells us that there was a Baptist, First Methodist Episcopal, First Presbyterian, Catholic, and Universalist Church, providing dates of organization, membership numbers, and the name of the clergy for each.

If your ancestor was a carriage or wagon maker, but you are not sure where in the county he conducted business, there is a yellow-page type listing in the back of the book by category showing all of their names and communities.  There are 44 carriage & wagon maker listings for Van Buren County in 1869.

Volunteers in the Local History department have created an every-name index to the 1869 Van Buren County gazetteer including land holders, merchants and advertisements.  It is part of the Local History Master Index (LHMI) and accessible in-house.  

Next time we will talk about some other types of gazetteers and some tips about how to locate them.

Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown woman
from album of Amy (Palmer) Jackson
Bangor area

Can you identify the young woman in this photograph, probably taken in or near Bangor, Michigan?  Please contact us if you any information and we will publish it in a future blog.  Please include the photo's catalog number with your e-mail.