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. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

New on the Shelf : U.S. Army Unit & Organizational Histories

It doesn't take long as a family or local history historian to learn to appreciate bibliographies.  What is a bibliography?  Simply put it is a listing of resources pertinent to one subject, such as a geographic location or topic of interest.  These listings can be invaluable in locating obscure items in remote places. 

We are pleased to announce the addition of United States Army Unit and Organization Histories : a bibliography, compiled by James T. Controvich.  The set was gifted to the Local History Collection by the Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society (VBRGS) in memory of member & local history volunteer Kenneth Hartman of Dowagiac who passed away last summer. 

Kenneth Hartman
Comprised of two hard-cover volumes, listings in this bibliography are broken down into pre-WWI and WWI to present.   To illustrate, let's assume that we had an ancestor who served in the 17th Michigan Infantry during the Civil War, and that we would like to know all we can find out about not only him personally, but the unit's history. 

Using the chapter entitled "State Militia, National Guard, and Military Histories before 1917" broken down by state, we flip to the Michigan section and follow the numbered units to find the 17th Michigan which is listed on page 317.   Some of the listings for the 17th include:
  • Comrades 17th Michigan Infatry [Communications from the Secretary, Chas. D. Dowles, including a roster of survivors], 1885
  • Roster 17th Michigan Infantry, 1892
  • Roster of Seventeenth Regiment, Michigan Infantry, 1901
  • "The West in the War of the Rebellion, as Told in Sketches of Some of its Generals," Magazine of Western History, 1886
  • Recollections of the East Tennessee Campaign, Battle of Campbell Station, 16th Nov., 1863, Siege of Knoxville, 17th Nov.-5th Dec., 1863, William H. Brearley
  • "Charge of the Stonewall Regiment," Dartmouth Magazine
  •  Stonewall Regiment : a history of the 17th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment, by William Christen
  • Southern Prisons : or, Josie, the Heroine of Florence, by Morgan E. Dowling
  • A Soldier's Diary, by David Lane
  • My Experiences as a Prisoner of War, by Frederick W. Swift
 Excerpts from the book's introduction:
With this compilation the listing becomes the most comprehensive listing of the subject matter yet compiled as it includes an entire spectrum of American wars...The compiler has researched various state and major libraries trying to expand the number of entries.  The unit history is and was often a product that was written and produced for a very narrow audience.  They were frequently distributed in extremely limited numbers by small presses and often instantly out of print...
The following criteria is listed for inclusion in the set:
  • Officially sponsored or produced histories
  • Produced by the unit or command public affairs office
  • Privately sponsored of "unofficial"  histories
  • Photographic or pictorial histories
  • Printed or published personnel rosters
  • Route of Battle maps
  • Posters, broadsides, etc.
  • Personal narratives that are unit specific or identifiable in content
  • Periodical articles 
  • State, county, city and town memorials
 Not included in this bibliography are manuscripts, thesis papers, scrapbooks, etc.   Reference sets, this one included, cannot yet be found on Google Books or any other online environment, but can be viewed at a library.  The true military buffs may consider purchasing a set, albeit pricey.

Patrons may view the set in the Local History Collection anytime during operation hours.  Contact us with any questions.

Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown woman
Photographer - Horton, Gobleville (Gobles)

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.    

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Still More About Connecting People to Places

Continuing our discussion about items that help us place a person, business or site into context by connecting them to an address...The December 10 and December 27 posts featured business cards, matchbook covers, and general correspondence.

Advertising pays a key role in the material from which we can draw historical information, and it has been done in a variety of creative ways over the years.  Remember all of those receipts that you have organized by year, by the box, packed away in the attic?  Perhaps you have the business papers that belonged to your parents or grandparents showing where they bought their first car or the hardware store that they frequented.  In my case, I have every receipt since I was old enough to spend my own money, and my parents have their receipts back 60+ years.  Here's the clue as to where I get my tendency to keep things...

Some of the older receipts and invoices can be fun to look at.  In addition to identifying the business and its location, it likely has the purchaser information, a listing of the goods or services, and some have delightful artwork and logos.

Featured here is a receipt from the Lawrence Lyon manuscript collection.  The Biek Heating Supply Company in the 1950's was located at 212 West Railroad Street in Dowagiac.  Today, this address is occupied by Professional Management Systems.  Doubtless there were other business entities at this address in between.

Real Photo Postcard
If you collect postcards or postcard images, you have seen those that depict buildings, businesses, churches, schools, etc.  Especially fun and rare are the "real photo" postcards that were actually a photograph applied to a postcard backing.  You may have some of these in your family tree items.

Shown here is an example of a real photo postcard displaying several scenes from Thompson's Battery Shop that was located at 115-117 N. Church Street in Kalamazoo.  This one is nice in that it gives you several scenes, the names of the business, the address and the names of the proprietors. 

Advertising card
Something similar was the advertising card which was kind of a cross between a postcard and business card.  These might be a regular paper or card stock or oftentimes that were printed on the front of an ink blotter.  The 4 1/2 x 3 1/4-inch sample shown here is of the clothing store owned by Geo. W. Taylor & Co., located upstairs at 137 Main Street, Kalamazoo.

In addition to these formats, advertising can be seen in any of the following formats:
  • Wall & desk calendars
  • Pencils & pens
  • Bottles & cannisters
  • Magnets
  • Signs
  • Brochures & Pamphlets
  • Placemats & Napkins
  • Decals
  • Bookmarks
  • Wall Fixtures (example: thermometers)
  • Product Packaging
  • Buttons & Pins
  • Paid Advertising in books such as school yearbooks, church directories, plat books
The Local History Collection doesn't have the ability to store much in the line of three-dimensional artifacts, but photographs of the advertising information are just as useful for historical purposes. 

So, keep in mind while you're doing your pre-spring cleaning this winter, not to be over zealous with throwing things in the trash.  Check with local libraries & archives to see if they would be interested in a gift of some of these items.  Of course, we would love to hear about anything with Southwest Michigan ties.  Contact us to learn more.

Nameless Picture of the Day
 unknown woman
Photographer - G. S. Wixson, Plainwell
From the private collection of Sarah (Adams) Jackson

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.