Monday, January 2, 2012

Kalamazoo Public Library

We are very lucky to have the wonderful resource that is the Kalamazoo Public Library! Not only do they have a variety of books, photos, maps, local newspapers on microfilm, yearbooks and city directories on site, but they also have a useful and informative website which is quite user-friendly. The Research page has a list of subtopics. Choose “Genealogy” and it brings up news, events and select books. Along the right margin are links to articles and other resources especially useful to beginners. For those who have the basics under their belts, navigate to the “Local History Collection.”

While there is quite a lot of information about resources available I will highlight a few of them.

The Local Information Database is a good place to begin. Items in the database include names from many resources in the local history room as well as vital records found in the Kalamazoo Gazette (check the website to see the types of entries available by year and note that indexing is ongoing). I usually begin with a surname search. Click on the link to see more information (the citation includes page and column number). You may start a list to print or email simply by checking the Print/Email box. When you finish searching click on “Print/Email Temporary List” at the top of the results page. Select “Full” from the “view of records” drop down box under options to be certain the name you are looking for is present on your list or you may find yourself wondering who you are supposed to be looking for once you hit the microfilm. Finally, remember to print the list before you navigate away from the page or you will have to start over. If you live in the area simply bring along your list and plenty of dimes. Even if you cannot visit, don't despair. Obituaries can be ordered from the library for the ridiculously low price of $2 each (as of Jan 2012). If you have ever searched through days of microfilm to find an obituary, you know that this is a bargain.

For those able to visit the library there is much more available. The website should be your starting point to prioritize your time once you are there. Unlike many other library websites that have a sentence or two indicating they have many local history resources the KPL website does an excellent job of describing their holdings of city directories, yearbooks, maps, newspapers on microfilm, etc. As you may suspect, materials from the local history room cannot be checked out, but additional copies of more general books may be available in the circulating portion of the main library (check the catalog or ask a volunteer).

In addition to the above, the KPL also has an ever increasing number of articles discussing items of local interest. You may know that Kalamazoo was known for celery, Checker cab and Gibson guitars, but did you realize that horse racing was big in Kalamazoo or that there was a corset factory there? The “All About Kalamazoo History” section, which was recently awarded the 2011 State History Award, is the place to go. Each topic has several articles. Even better, references are listed at the end of each article for those who want more information.

If you are relatively new to genealogy and live in the Kalamazoo area, I encourage you to check the KPL website for the date of their next “Intro to Genealogy” session. While I have not been able to attend one, as I now live out-of-state, from the caliber of the website I am sure it would be valuable to those unsure where to begin or to anyone wishing to better understand the resources available at the KPL.

In addition to the books, etc. found in the local history room you may also wish to utilize their online resources. The KPL has subscriptions to AmericanAncestors.org (website of the New England Historical Genealogical Society), Ancestry.com (library edition), HeritageQuest and a few others. A few of these can be accessed from home with a library card.

More exciting still is the recent digitization of the Kalamazoo Telegraph and several other local papers.  To read more about these projects see The Kalamazoo Telegraph is Online and More Newspapers Online at the KPL.

In my opinion, anyone with ancestors in Kalamazoo should avail themselves of the resources provided by this wonderful library. And if you haven't gone to the website lately, I recommend that you spend some time looking it over. Don't forget to check back periodically; every time I do, I seem to find something new.

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