Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ross Coller Had the Inside Scoop on Kalamazooans

People are sometimes asked the question “If you could only invite a single dead person to a meal who would it be?” Though I would love to talk with certain of my deceased ancestors, if I could only select one person, I would choose Ross Coller because he seems to have known everything about everyone.

Ross Coller worked as a reporter in Kalamazoo for many years, at least from 1915 (when he worked for the Telegraph-Press) up until about 1942 when he returned to his hometown of Battle Creek. However, if your ancestors lived in Kalamazoo prior to 1915, never fear. Though only born in 1892, he used a variety of sources to compile information about locals at least as early as 1875 (possibly earlier, but I have not looked beyond my own family).

Ross Coller's notes on Kalamazoo people, in addition to a few businesses and general topics (e.g. horse racing), are on 3 x 5” cards at the Western Michigan University Archives & Regional History Collections in Kalamazoo. As I understand it, the cards came to be in their possession after some wonderful person discovered them in a dumpster and rescued them. They are also available on microfilm at the Kalamazoo Public Library.

Being a newsman, he documented information about those who made the headlines for good or ill. If your people lived their lives below the radar, you likely won't find anything, but if you have any prominent families or colorful people in your past then you may be rewarded.

I should say that you will not find life histories here. These are only 3 x 5” cards, after all. What you will find are snippets from their lives. I am including a couple of photos to show you the sorts of things you might find, including one for my favorite bad boy, Henry Harrigan.

This resource may be particularly useful if you have recently uncovered a new branch of your tree. But even if you believe you know everything about your family, it is worth looking into as you may find a tidbit to lead you to something new.

For those of you with ancestors/relatives who lived in Battle Creek you may want to visit the Willard Library website. It seems that after returning to Battle Creek, Ross Coller made a similar catalog of local people as he had done in Kalamazoo. As I don't live in the area and have not had reason to use this resource I can't tell you how far back his Battle Creek notes extend. This collection was donated to the Willard Library by his family and has been indexed. You can find Coller file references by searching their newspaper index. The search function at the Willard website appears to be the same as that used by the Kalamazoo Public Library so anyone accustomed to searching the KPL website should feel right at home. 

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