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. 


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