Monday, April 14, 2014

Extra! Get Your Kazoo Obits Here

You have an ancestor who died in Kalamazoo County and you desperately want to find an obituary. Where should you look? I'm happy to report that there are many options, depending on the time period. Not all of them are free, but depending on how many you are looking for there is probably an option to fit your budget.

Free Options:

KPL Digitized Newspapers. The Kalamazoo Telegraph and several other area newspapers have been digitized by the Kalamazoo Public Library. The years covered vary by newspaper, and sometimes there are holes in the coverage, but in general the years span 1845-1922. In addition to several Kalamazoo papers (not the Kalamazoo Gazette), newspapers for Allegan, Otsego, Fort Custer, Scotts (newly added) and Climax (newly added) can be searched by keyword here

Kalamazoo County Rootsweb Message Board. More recent obituaries (along with a handful of older ones) can be found on the Kalamazoo County Rootsweb message board.  While message boards are waning in popularity, the Kalamazoo County board is going strong thanks to some dedicated contributors. As of March 2014, there are a whopping 30,000 or so posts, many of them obituaries.

Kalamazoo Area Newspapers On Microfilm. Note: this is only free if you can make the trip to the Kalamazoo Public Library in downtown Kalamazoo. You can see the list of the many Kalamazoo area newspapers available on microfilm at the KPL here

Fee-Based Options:

GenealogyBank. The Kalamazoo Gazette (1-23-1837 to 12-31-1922) has been digitized and is keyword searchable. Kalamazoo Gazette obituaries from Jan 1, 2005 to the present are also available. The cost is about $70 for a year or $20 for a month. If you have never subscribed you can get a 30-day trial for about $10. This is the way to go if you have many relatives in the area (or in other areas covered by their newspapers). You can view the complete list of newspapers by state.

Kalamazoo Public Library Look-Ups. Library staff will conduct look-ups in the Kalamazoo Gazette if you can provide a death date or if you have the publication information from their online newspaper index (there is currently a gap that has not yet been indexed from 1890-1938). Copies are $3/look-up. You can find more information about this service here. To look in the newspaper index go to the Local Information Database page.  I recommend you read their tips on searching the database

If you think your person died in Kalamazoo county, but you don't know when, you have several options for finding an exact date of death (to the present day) and even a death record (1867-1933). For more information see Sources for Kalamazoo Death Records

I hope you find some great information in these resources. I sure have!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Missing House

I regularly drive past this location, but only this spring did I notice that something else probably used to be here, namely a house.  I noticed two lines of daffodils.  The simplest explanation to me is that these flowers used to line a walkway.  And what would a walkway be doing in the middle of a field?  Nothing.  There probably used to be a house here.  The rest of the year one would never notice anything amiss.

 I wonder how many other absent houses are only exposed by spring flowers.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Bringing Them Home: How Should We ID Lost Soldiers

NPR and Propublica recently published a report in which they investigated the process by which unknown U.S. soldiers from WWII, Korea and the Vietnam wars are identified with the goal of returning the remains to family members. My ears pricked up because, as I wrote about in Lost Boys of WWII, I have a WWII soldier who died when the aircraft in which he was flying crashed into a mountain in Burma (now Myanmar). His mother went to her grave never knowing how her son died or if he suffered in the process. The records were only declassified after her death.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

It turns out that the methods used by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) to identify remains are outdated. In this age when DNA testing is routinely used to positively identify remains, including victims of the 9/11 attacks and even massacre victims buried in mass graves in Bosnia, the U.S. Government only uses DNA to confirm matches already made by other means. Methods such as examining teeth and measuring bones to determine height can only lead so far in the identification process, assuming the remains have been disinterred at all. The current process proceeds in the following manner:
  1. Historical records are analyzed to determine if identifying remains in a particular area (battlefield, crash site, etc.) is feasible.
  2. Archaeologists disinter remains.
  3. Physical remains are examined in the JPAC laboratory.
  4. DNA is used only to confirm an identification made based on the previous work.

In contrast, a DNA-led strategy would involve disinterring available remains, conducting DNA tests on them as well as on living family members of the deceased and then comparing the two data sets to identify matches.

Of the approximately 83,000 people listed as prisoners of war or missing in action, the Pentagon estimates that about half could be identified and returned to family members. At the current rate of about seventy identifications per year, the chances of returning very many within the lifetime of anyone who actually knew them is. . . well. . . not very good. In addition, during the several hundred years it would take to identify all of these lost soldiers at the current rate, living family members appropriate for DNA testing could die out making positive identification next to impossible. While I am sure that those charged with the difficult work of examining the bones of the fallen try their hardest to reunite them with their families, it seems crazy to me that we spend over $100 million dollars each year using outdated methods with so little to show for it, especially when DNA-led techniques used in other recovery missions can quickly produce many more results. As an example, the effort in Bosnia to identify victims in mass graves yielded about 400 identifications per month at the height of the project. 400 identifications per month or 4800 IDs/year versus an average of 70 per year. Hmmm. If the goal is to bring soldiers home I know which method I would choose.

Other problems with the process of identifying POW/MIAs include several layers of bureaucracy and a reluctance to disinter multiple remains in the hope of identifying a single soldier. Some families have done their own investigations into the available records to try to narrow the field. Even in cases when the families believe their loved one is among a set of remains the powers that be have refused to remove them for testing apparently because they didn't want to disturb men who had already been honorably buried. According the NPR/Propublica report only about 4% of the cases for disinterment move forward. While I can only speak for myself, if my soldier's remains were in a group grave I would be happy to have the remains disinterred if it meant that DNA testing could be done to possibly bring my man home.

My soldier and his comrades will likely never be repatriated because of poor relations with Myanmar, the uncertainty of the crash site and the fact that any remains are surely long gone. But for families who have soldiers buried in group unknown graves, I wish they stood a reasonable chance of bringing their loved ones home. Unfortunately, unless the current state of affairs changes, most will never be able to obtain closure by laying to rest their men who gave their lives in defense of their country, in marked graves.

You can read more about this story here.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Amazing Civil War Atlas At KPL

The Kalamazoo Public Library local history blog recently posted an article about what looks like an amazing book for anyone interested in the Civil War.  I say amazing, though I have not had the opportunity to really look inside this volume.  However, from the few images I viewed on the website here, I will definitely be spending some time perusing an "Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies."

If you love good maps (in this case battlefield maps); photographs from the Civil War era, including buildings and soldiers; diagrams of war paraphernalia and drawings of military uniforms then you too will want to visit the Local History room and take a look.  I encourage you to follow the above link to watch the slideshow of approximately 30 images from the book.

If visiting the Kalamazoo Library is more than a a short drive for you, you'll be happy to know that I also found the book freely available at Internet Archive here.  While I will still probably look at the book at the KPL, it is nice to know that I can compile a list of the battles I am particularly interested in and the places where my soldiers were during the war and examine the maps in this book sooner rather than later.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Scaling Source Mountain

Every time I started trying to clean up my sources I got endlessly frustrated between trying to find a source template to exactly match my document and working with a software program that just wasn't intuitive to me for inputting sources. Now that I've made some changes in my approach, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel (granted, it's still a long way off). I also realized that the process won't be as painful as I had originally anticipated. In fact, though I admit it sounds geeky to say, when I have some free time I want to race to the computer to continue adding sources.

So, what changed? Several things.
  1. I changed family tree programs. While I was content using Family Tree Maker for adding information and generating reports I just didn't like the way it handled sourcing. I watched a RootsMagic (RM) video on source documentation and decided to try the program. In FTM I found it difficult to tell what was the master source and what was the source citation (the specific information that applied to one person). In contrast, the way RM approaches sources feels much more user-friendly and makes sense to me.
  2. I have accepted that the source templates are often not going to exactly match my document. When I began adding sources with RM I ended up scrapping many sources halfway through, or even after I had added several citations because I decided that I needed to change the template. I still don't understand why there are so many templates for U.S. census records, 28 of them, but that only one is for online images. While I do have census records copied directly from microfilm, they probably don't number more than thirty in total, while all of the rest come from an online source. I still don't understand it, but I just made all of my census master sources from the one template and moved on.
  3. I made a conscious choice that it was better to have sources that can lead others to find my documents than to make sure that every source is in Evidence Explained format. I know there are some who may take issue with this, but for me it's the right decision. I've had enough hair pulling over source documentation already. I probably could work on crafting source templates to fit EE standards, but it would take a lot more time and I don't aspire to becoming a board certified genealogist.

So, now that I am happily on my way, I have some advice for others in a similar situation.

  1. Find a program that makes sense to you. If adding sources feels like going into battle then you are using the wrong program and you probably won't get very far.
  2. Decide how important it is to you that your sources are in the proper format down to the last punctuation mark. If you want to become a BCG then you may want to take the extra time to make sure your sources will be in EE format. If all you care about is being able document your data then you might choose to do as I did.
  3. Take care in choosing your source templates because you'll keep using those master sources over and over. When you are about to select a template ask yourself “what kind of record is this?” Is it from an online source or not. You want to make sure you can add the website name and URL if it is.
  4. Try to add all of the information to the master source when you create it. Ask yourself if you could find the document in question again if it weren't in your hand or on your computer. If you don't add the information to your master source now you may forget to do it later. Yes, it can be time consuming at the outset when you would really rather be adding sources to your tree, but when you know your master sources are complete you can add citations with confidence. Besides, isn't blazing ahead without proper citations what got you into this mess in the first place?
  5. Try to identify the original repository. This is actually a corollary to Number 4, but I think it deserves emphasis. The only problem is that with an online collection it can be difficult to do. To me, the repository is where the original records (not the microfilmed version) are housed. Both Family Search and have a “Learn more. . .” link for each collection, that may or may not be helpful. Some collections at Family Search state “It is not necessarily intended to index
    any specific set of records.” If I wanted to find a copy of a record from one of their indexes this would bring me no closer to finding what I want. Throw me a bone, people! When I find an entry like this I just heave a sigh and leave the repository blank. Because I'm familiar with Michigan records I have been able to add the repository sometimes. For Michigan Deaths 1867-1897 I know the records are state level records sent from the counties starting when the state began civil registration and going until the advent of death certificates so I can add the repository.

I spent quite a bit of time up front creating master sources for some of my most frequently cited items: census, newspapers, vital records and frequently used databases. It was tedious, but once I had many of those in place I took a break and began adding source citations to my ancestors. I was delighted to realize that with the master sources done adding individual citations went quite quickly, which is a good thing, because I have A LOT to add. Then I went back and added more master sources. After my ancestors are in good shape I'll branch out to siblings, etc. Another time saver is being able to “Share” a fact along with it's source to multiple others with a few clicks of the mouse. This is great for adding census records to large families.

A fringe benefit of all of this is that now when I come across a new item to add to my tree, I don't hesitate to add the source citation immediately because doing so is simple. This makes me more determined to spend some time adding master sources for less frequently used sources so that adding source citations becomes both natural and painless. Now, I can see that I can do this. I'm a long way from sourcing everything in my tree, but I can see a pinpoint of light way at the end of the tunnel. No more will my sources be woefully inadequate (e.g. obituary, Kalamazoo Gazette or Michigan death certificate).

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Glimpse of Sixteen

Randy Seaver at Geneamusings suggested that for this week's Saturday Night Fun we choose one of Lisa Alzo's blog prompts for Women's History month.  I decided that the one for today worked for me. It is: “Did one of you female ancestors leave a diary, journal or collection of letters? Share an entry or excerpt.”

I am fortunate enough to have a journal, of sorts, my grandmother and her friend wrote when they were about sixteen. There are just under 50 pages, and in it the girls recreate dialogue, write a very short play and occasionally include sketches. At the time, the fall of 1934, Peggy and her friend Caroline were living near the Buchholz resort on Long Lake. The girls liked to go out almost every evening, build a fire and roast apples or marshmallows. When they didn't do that they sometimes played bunco.

One entry is as follows:
“Peg and I went for a walk looking for cocoons. It was very uncertain days so of course Peg & I got caught in a rain & hail storm (mostly hail). We walked and ran by turns all the way home but it didn't help and 'cause we were soaked and frozen when we arrived at Pegs. [sic] The hail stung our faces so that we had to hide our faces under our collar. Peg's mom told us it was good for us if we were dumb enough to go out in such weather.”

Even though the entries only describe a few months in my grandmother's youth, I treasure it for giving me a glimpse into her life. I also appreciate the mention of my great-grandmother and her no-nonsense comment after the girls went for a walk when a storm was brewing.

The girls included the following exchange:
“Are you putting everything we do in there?” asked Peggy the other night.
“Of course. Why not?”
“Gosh, if anyone reads that they'll think we are crazy.”

Well, I don't think they were crazy, but I sure am glad they wrote down what they did for a few months and, more importantly, that it survived to come to me.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

More Michigan County Research Guides

Seeking Michigan now has County Research Guides for 26 of Michigan's 83 counties available on their website.  The counties included are:

Alpena County
Arenac County
Bay County
Calhoun County
Clinton County
Eaton County
Genesee County
Grand Traverse County
Gratiot County
Hillsdale County
Ingham County
Ionia County
Jackson County
Kalamazoo County
Kent County
Livingston County
Monroe County
Muskegon County
Oakland County
Ottawa County
Saginaw County
St. Clair County
Sanilac County
Shiawassee County
Washtenaw County
Wayne County

Keep in mind that these are guides to the records you can locate for these counties.  If there are specific records you are looking for I recommend calling the repository to confirm they have them for the years you are researching before you plan a trip to view them.  When examining the Kalamazoo guide I noticed that a few of the years were slightly off from what I found in the actual records located at the WMU Archives.