Friday, January 27, 2012

Kalamazoo Valley Genealogical Society

On their website the KVGS states: “we serve historians and genealogists who are interested in the Kalamazoo River Valley Region of Michigan.” To explore what the KVGS has to offer start at their home page where news items and upcoming events (from local society meetings to the occasional research trip) are posted. Note that not all events are listed here so be sure to navigate to the “calendar of events” page for a complete and current listing. You can also subscribe to the KVGS mailing list from the home page.

The real meat of this website can be found by clicking on “Historical Records.” Here you can view a list of searchable records. Most are not commonly used records. The bad news is that this decreases the chance that you will find your ancestors in them. On the flip side, you may not have thought to look through these records so you may find something you never would have found otherwise. The search function is not very sophisticated. You can search the entire database by name or you can page through the entire alphabetical list for all categories. As the latter would take a while, it is easier to do a surname search. Most of the results are transcriptions of the actual records (though some allow you to click to view the scanned image). For those records not viewable here you can now track down the originals.

Even if you don't believe you will find some of your people in the database it is worth checking all of your surnames. I was shocked when I found that my gg-grandmother died in the county poor farm. She had been living with her husband in her daughter's household a few years previously so it is not as though she had no family. I know that she died of rectal cancer so I wonder if her condition deteriorated so much that the family was unable to take care of her, but that is mere speculation.

Scroll down the Historical Records page to find other helpful information, such as epidemic time frames, Kalamazoo government heads, a Kalamazoo County Pioneer Society photo (1905), the miscellaneous ledger (1856-1907), German POWs buried at Fort Custer and maps of four local cemeteries as well as downloadable PDF files listing burials in those cemeteries. This is a great resource and I know that as I have found additional relatives, I have referred to these cemetery lists more than once.

The miscellaneous ledger is also worth a look. As the name states, it is a laundry list of receipts, articles of association, land contracts and the occasional probate record. While the website has only the list itself, digital photos can be obtained by contacting the society. While I haven't found any of my people in this database there are quite a few entries so if you have a number of families living in Kalamazoo in the 1856-1907 time frame you may get lucky. If nothing else, it is interesting to see the different items included.

Many of the KVGS holdings are stored at the WMU Archives and Regional History Collections [currently housed in East Hall at WMU, see my blog post for more information], but you can download the list to peruse at your leisure and actually conduct a surname search of these resources from the “Historical Records” page.

The KVGS has a lot of offer so if you are not familiar with them, I suggest you take a look.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Life in the Children's Home

After finding that my great-grandmother's nieces, Nellie and Emma Allion lived in the Kalamazoo Children's Home for seven years I was curious about what their lives there were like and how they ended up there despite having two living parents. Unfortunately, the records from the home do not state who placed the children there. I do know that their mother moved to Ohio during this period to establish residency to file for divorce. The girls' maternal grandparents lived in the Kalamazoo area at the time, but likely did not have the means to provide for them. Their father's whereabouts are unknown to me between his last appearance in the Kalamazoo city directory in 1895 until he removed the girls from the home in 1902. Though the girls clearly had a troubled home life, it seems they were fortunate to be accepted into the Children's Home because mere months after they were taken in, twelve applicants were turned away for lack of room and funds. [1]

While I may never know more about how the Allion girls came to reside at the Children's Home, a search of the Kalamazoo Gazette (1895-1902) turned up a few details of their time there. A matron lived in the home and supervised the day-to-day lives of her charges. While most of their days involved going to school and presumably helping to keep the home clean, the tedium was occasionally broken.

In 1895, the Children's Home girls enjoyed multiple Christmas celebrations. A few days before Christmas the People's Sunday school held a Frolic for the children of the public kindergarten and the girls of the Children's Home. The children participated in a “pretty entertainment” and then assisted Santa Claus in distributing presents from under the tree. [2] A few days after Christmas, the girls gathered around the tree in the Children's Home to entertain former inmates as well as patrons and friends of the Home with “pretty songs.” Each girl received a gift from the St. Luke's Sunday school. [3]

The new year began with frosty noses and smiling faces when the girls were treated to a sleigh ride one morning by Chauncey Bonfoey. “It was greatly enjoyed.” [4]

In August, the girls enjoyed a picnic. A “carryall” picked them up along with their matron and took them to Gull Lake where a banquet was laid out for them. Afterward, the steamer “Crystal” ferried them around the lake. The excursion was provided through the generosity of Messrs. J.J. Morse, H.B. Peck, Dr. W.E. Upjohn and Dr. J.T. Upjohn. [5]

Later in the year, the home received a number of food items. After losing an election wager, John Galligan wheeled a barrel of flour to the home, led by a drum corps. Passing the hat along the route he received in addition $8.42, a chicken and a half bushel of cookies. [6] A liberal supply of “potatoes, apples, squash, cabbage, cooked meat, bread, cake, pies, etc.” was donated to the Children's Home after the Sunday School convention concluded to find an “immense amount” of perishables left over. [7] They also received many offerings at Thanksgiving. [7]

In January of 1897, the children of the home threw a small party to which each girl could invite one guest. Everyone enjoyed the evening playing games and eating the chocolate, sandwiches and cake served by the girls. [8]

After the street fair in the fall of 1897, the girls of the Children's Home were the lucky recipients of a dozen eggs, four barrels of potatoes, more than 2 dozen loaves of bread, in addition to the $109.40 cash donations brought in for maintenance of the house. The girls were also the beneficiaries of 50 garments made for them by the ladies of the Church of Christ. [9]

In November, 1897, a food sale for the benefit of the Children's Home and the Industrial school was successfully held. “The fine Portland cutter” donated to the home by M.H. Lane (founder and co-owner of the Michigan Buggy Company) was on display. [10] A Portland cutter is a type of one-horse, open sleigh that could easily accommodate two adults.

The Christmas celebration was held December 28th. The girls sang songs and performed recitations to the managers of the home as well as members of the public that attended the reception. All guests were “expected to bring a pound of something.” [11]

In May there was a bit of a kerfuffle at the home. A new matron had not long been in residence when she was accused of ill treating the children by a woman whose two step-children lived in the home. The nature of the ill treatment was not described, but the matron was “allowed to tender her resignation” and a member of the board stayed at the home until a new matron could be found. [12]

The Christmas celebration of 1898 was apparently one to remember. “The tree was beautifully decorated and each child received a number of presents. The exercises throughout were very pleasing and consisted of songs and recitations. The children range from 3 to 12 years of age and Christmas is an event each year to which the little ones look forward to with great pleasure and anticipation. The presents distributed were donated by Kalamazoo people, who gave abundantly. The ladies who had charge of the institution have worked diligently towards making this Christmas a happy one for the little ones who unfortunately must face the world alone, and their efforts were crowned with success.” [13]

A big event that clearly demonstrated the public sentiment for the Children's Home culminated in April 1900. Over half a million votes were cast by residents of Kalamazoo to award a piano to the institution of their choice. The overwhelming favorite was the Children's Home which received 177, 275 votes. Borgess Hospital came in second with 136, 885 votes and Kalamazoo College third with 54,818 votes. [14] I can only imagine the delight of the girls upon seeing such a marvelous gift arrive. I imagine it provided much occupation and hours of enjoyment for the girls.

While some of the benefits held to raise funds for the Children's Home were clearly adult affairs, I hope the girls attended the Ed. F. Davis show when it came to town. The notice in the paper said “the performances to be given for the benefit of the Children's home.” The show billed itself as “the most colossal amusement enterprise of its kind in the country,” with acrobats, trapezists, contortionists, jugglers, clowns, bands and performing animals. [15] It would certainly have been a highlight of the year for the girls of the home whose lives likely held few pleasures.

A sad event for the home occurred in the fall of 1900 when Mrs. Jane Dewing died. A founding member of the Children's Home, as well as a member of the board of managers, she was likely a frequent guest and probably knew many of the long-time residents there. As reported in the Gazette: “'She always watched and guarded with unceasing vigil the present and prospective welfare of the 'little ones' sheltered in the home, and many are indebted to her for their comfortable homes and honorable and lucrative positions.'” [16]

There were likely eighteen residents of the home for Christmas in 1900. [16] The home had been forced to re-do the plumbing during the year so funds were low. The managers appealed for donations and among others, “hoped that the merchants of the city who have had a prosperous Christmas business will remember the score or more of orphan girls at this season.” Those attending the Christmas celebration, another “pound social,” were asked to “bring an offering of a pound of any useful commodity or a can of fruit.” The girls sang and performed recitations. [17] The tree “was beautifully decorated with ornaments which were also donated. The gifts were numerous and pleasing and consisted largely of mittens, stockings, ribbons and handkerchiefs. Each child received candy, of which 15 pounds were given, and an orange, apple and banana. The merchants were very generous in their gifts. One merchant gave each little child a little pocketbook and the board had placed 5 cents in each purse. The parlors were filled with guests who each brought a gift of some nature. There were many cans of fruit, groceries, etc. The program... was well rendered. At its close Miss Jennie Fish played a march and the children marched in and circled about the tree. Certainly there was a company of happy hearted children for this one evening at least. Among the guests were a number of former inmates who each received a gift also. The board deserve special thanks for their labor in preparing the tree which required no small effort to make it so pretty.” [18]

In January, 1901, the girls entertained members of the board of supervisors (of Kalamazoo) with their Christmas program in an appeal to receive an appropriation from the city. The board was also served dinner by the girls followed by a tour of the home. [19] The next day the results of this effort appeared in the paper. “The old adage that a man's heart is reached by way of his stomach, certainly proved true in the case of the action of the board of supervisors, when the matter of an appropriation for the Children's Home was considered.” The original resolution for $300 was increased to $400 and passed. [20]

The girls were also likely excited by the new furnishings in one of the rooms which were provided by the Ladies of District No. 6, Portage. They provided an iron bedstead and other articles, “making the room very pleasant and comfortable in case of sickness.” [16] “The ladies also furnished a beautiful Christmas dinner for the children at the Home, and an Easter offering of eggs.” [21]

The inmates may have enjoyed other events as well, but the ones mentioned were merely those that arose during my newspaper search. It seems clear that although their families may have experienced difficult times, the girls fortunate enough to live in the home were not forgotten by the Kalamazoo community. The diligence of the board of managers not only brought in donations, but through their fundraisers kept the girls in the public consciousness, as shown by the vote to award them the piano. It is nice to know that although my Allion girls had family problems they seem to have been well taken care of during their stay in the Kalamazoo Children's Home.

  1. Kalamazoo Gazette, 10-2-1895
  2. Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-22-1895
  3. Kalamazoo Gazette, 1-3-1896
  4. Kalamazoo Gazette, 1-13-1896
  5. Kalamazoo Gazette, 8-14-1896
  6. Kalamazoo Gazette, 11-20-1896
  7. Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-4-1896
  8. Kalamazoo Gazette, 1-22-1897
  9. Kalamazoo Gazette, 10-29-1897
  10. Kalamazoo Gazette, 11-19-1897
  11. Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-17-1897
  12. Kalamazoo Gazette, 5-18-1898
  13. Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-30-1899
  14. Kalamazoo Gazette, 4-25-1900
  15. Kalamazoo Gazette, 4-29-1900
  16. Kalamazoo Gazette, 11-14-1900
  17. Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-23-1900
  18. Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-28-1900
  19. Kalamazoo Gazette, 1-10-1901
  20. Kalamazoo Gazette, 1-11-1901
  21. Kalamazoo Gazette, 4-24-1901

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. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Kalamazoo Children's Home

In your research have you found someone in an unlikely place? While I have found a couple of people in prison, in this instance I found two sisters in the Kalamazoo Children's Home. Allion is not a common name and the only ones I have ever found in Kalamazoo were “my” people. I was looking for my great-aunt and her family and was surprised when I came across her two young daughters in the Children's Home in the 1900 census.

I was puzzled because I knew that both of their parents lived for several decades beyond this time. I assumed that the Children's Home was strictly for orphans, but I discovered that in some cases the inmates were from troubled or broken homes, as it turns out was the case for my Allion girls. And so began my search for more information. As described later, the Children's Home eventually morphed into Lakeside Academy. I contacted Lakeside to determine if there were any records circa 1900. Don Nitz very kindly searched through old record books until he found an entry for my girls. It turns out that they entered the home in 1895 when they were six and not quite four years of age. In 1902 their father removed them.

The origin of the Children's Home dates to 1872 when Mr. and Mrs. William Dewing along with Eliza (Fisher) Goodspeed saw the need to teach girls “industrial” skills (e.g. knitting, sewing, etc.). [1] In a talk given at the Twentieth Century club in 1896, Mrs. Dewing stated that one reason for beginning the home was to “break up child begging and interest them in sewing.” They began doing so with six children once or twice per week in a rented room above Green's harness shop. “Their interest was aroused and the number increased rapidly to 60 or 70.” [2] In February, 1877, Mr. and Mrs. Dewing established the Children's Home, the purpose of which was to teach girls whose parents were unable to provide them with a basic education. [1] In 1888, the Children's Home was incorporated to better manage it. The charter states the purpose of the home as “the maintenance of home for vagrant children without friends and for the instruction of indigent children generally in the various occupations of the life by training them in virtue and usefulness and for finding them permanent homes in suitable families, and also to give them a common-school education and a moral religious training.” [3]

The location of the Children's Home changed several times in the early years until 1885 when a three story Second Empire style building at 827 S. Westnedge was constructed at a cost of nearly eleven thousand dollars. [3,4] The home had fifteen bedrooms to house a maximum of 32 girls between the ages of five and fourteen. Over the years the average number of girls was twenty-eight. [4]

In the 1930s, with the advent of the adoption agency, the Children's Home became a place for “troubled and homeless adolescents.” [5] Over the years the house on S. Westnedge served as a home to over 800 girls for approximately 78 years. Eventually, this too came to an end in 1964 when the Children's Home merged with the Lake Farm Boys Home to become the present day Lakeside Academy. [5]

During the years that my Allion girls lived in the home (1895-1902) it was supported by donations, fundraisers, interest on a small endowment and the occasional appropriation from the city. In 1900, the average yearly expense to run the home was about $1500. At the time the endowment of $8100 brought in about $500 in interest per year. [6] This was a nice increase in the endowment from November 1895 when it only amounted to $3100. [7] Donations to the home came from individuals (sometimes bequests), churches, and collections at schools and at least on one occasion (from the chief of police) the proceeds from the sale of stolen goods. [8,9] In addition to donations of cash the home benefited periodically from gifts of food and clothing from various sources. A search of the Kalamazoo Gazette produced the following.

In June of 1896 a large event was held on the midway with live entertainment and many other attractions, including a German village (serving supper), a Japanese booth, and a gypsy tent. Despite inclement weather, the Children's Home netted $348.54 after disbursements. [10]

In 1897 a May festival was held for the benefit of the Home. Afternoon and evening receptions took place at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Sebring. Pfeiffer's orchestra performed and “a series of living pictures” were among the other attractions. Ices and cakes were also served. [11]

In April of the following year the lady managers of the Children's home organized a grand ball to be held at the auditorium on Portage street. Both square and round dances were on the program. For those not inclined to dance, card tables were set up in a separate room. Refreshments were provided by friends of the home. “The temperature of the evening was such as to make the lemonade bowls particularly attractive. The music of fifteen pieces by Keyes' orchestra was very enchanting and the ball was one of the leading social events of the season.” Tickets were $1 per couple, though many gentlemen paid with $5 bills. 200 people attended and “several times that number of tickets were sold” all of which made the event a big success for the Children's Home. [12, 13]

In May, 1898, a base ball benefit for the Children's Home featured a game between the Kalamazoo House and the American House. The game “was preceded by the most unique and original parade that has been allowed on the streets here in many years. The hand organ which was used to call the animals into Noah's ark was at the head of the parade on a dray and the crank was kept going round and round by Michael Egleston who never gets tired. The parade started at the American house. The mascots were drawn on a house moving wagon... An ox team drew the omnibus loaded down with the Kazoos until they reached the South Haven track when they switched off to graze. A mule team drew the American infantrymen on a hayrack, and they lost all of their bats before they entered the battle. The umpire was armed with rifles, muskets and horse pistols, but all were loaded, so no one was hurt. The line of march was lined with people, most of whom survived the attack. There were several hundred people in the grand stand to witness the game, but the boys did not see much of it on account of the bewitching smiles of one of the swell young ladies who occupied a seat with the other girls from the hotels.” [14]

In the spring of 1901 a novel way to earn money for the home was launched: collecting old rubbers. Barrels were placed at each area school to receive any old rubber items which could be sold to a Cincinnati firm. $1000 was raised in Topeka, Kansas by this method and the board of the Children's Home hoped to do likewise. [15]

For information on life in the Children's Home stay tuned for another blog post.

  1. History of Kalamazoo County, Michigan. With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers. 1880. Everts & Abbot. Philadelphia.
  2. Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-4-1896
  3. Compendium of history and biography of Kalamazoo County, Michigan. David Fisher and Frank Little, editors. 1906. Chicago, Ill.:A.W. Bowen & Co.
  4. Kalamazoo Lost and Found. Houghton, Lynn Smith. 2001. Kalamazoo Historic Preservation Commission.
  5. Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-12-1971
  6. Kalamazoo Gazette, 12-21-1900
  7. Kalamazoo Gazette, 11-16-1895
  8. Kalamazoo Gazette, 2-7-1896
  9. Kalamazoo Gazette, 11-14-1900
  10. Kalamazoo Gazette, 6-26-1896
  11. Kalamazoo Gazette, 4-30-1897
  12. Kalamazoo Gazette, 4-3-1898
  13. Kalamazoo Gazette, 4-13-1898
  14. Kalamazoo Gazette, 5-27-1898
  15. Kalamazoo Gazette, 4-14-1901

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Digging for Dirt in Newspapers

I find it interesting that in marketing their website focuses on what we'll find in obituaries and leaves it there. While it is true that you can find quite a bit of information in an obituary, if you are lucky, I think they could expand their efforts to let people know that there is so much more to find.

My first real foray into newspapers began with a bang. It all started with a clue I found in the Ross Coller files, about one of my distant relations at the WMU Archives, Henry Harrigan. Henry had been arrested in New York City for whacking a man on the head with his cane, a blow that proved fatal. Needless to say, I wanted to learn more. My first stop was the online New York Times Archive. I knew the incident occurred in 1889 and was able to narrow my search accordingly.

I found several articles describing the incident. In a nutshell, Henry left a saloon in the wee hours of the morning when he was accosted by Patrick Reedy, who Henry claims was a stranger. Another account suggested that they were already acquainted and had argued. Either way, a scuffle ensued, Henry struck Reedy over the head with his silver-headed cane. A nearby policeman apparently heard the altercation and took both men to the police station, with Reedy resisting arrest. Reedy died days later after refusing a trepanning procedure to relieve the pressure on his swelling brain. Henry was called before a coroner's jury and claimed that Reedy tried to rob him. The attractive, athletic, dapper Henry was readily acquitted.

Another interesting tidbit that came out of the newspaper account was that Henry had “dropped $6000” on a horse race between the time of the assault and Reedy's death. In 1889, $6000 was equivalent to between approximately $730,000 (based on the amount of work by an unskilled laborer required to reach that amount) to $1.2 million (based on economy's average output per person and closely related to average income) in 2010 currency, depending on which calculator is used at Measuring Worth.

Although these newspaper accounts showed me but one slice of Henry Harrigan's life, it gave me much more than that. First, it gave me a physical description of the man. I also learned that he was interested in horse racing and gambling. Other minutia included his silver-headed cane, his friendships with a known sprinter and a baseball umpire and that he had been making a tour of New York (apparently attending other horse races). The newspapers also gave his current address in the city and mentioned that he was from San Francisco, a place I have yet to place him in any records. Clearly, the man got around. If you want to read more about Henry's run-ins with the law (as discovered in newspapers) read No Stranger to the Law.  And for a clue that led me to believe Henry probably never lived in San Francisco see Little Clues, Big Insights.

The big question I had from all of this was: where did he acquire all of that money? I have a better idea now and it required more digging in newspapers. But that is a story for another day.

For more information on what you may find in newspapers see: Beyond ObituariesAdding Context, Casting a Wide Net and Search Tips & Tricks.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

One-Stop Shopping for Kalamazoo Records

Happy did not begin to describe my feelings when I discovered the page set up by Joe Ferrara at Kalamazoo Genealogy. Joe has spent countless hours working on this page which contains copies from the Kalamazoo County vital records books, among other things. Civil registration began in Michigan in 1867 for births, marriages and deaths, though for the first decade or so after that, I have found birth and death records to be a bit spotty. Some marriage records were recorded as early as 1831. The records available on this site are as follows:
Birth Index: 1867-1909 (birth records are closed to the public for 100 years to protect privacy)
Birth Records: 1867-1903
Marriage Index: 1831-1975
Marriage Records: 1831-1941
Death Index: 1867-1975
Death Records: 1867-1933

Before you jump right into the actual records you will first need to look up the person in the index so that you can make note of the book and page number. Armed with this information you can then go to the appropriate book and page to view the record. Right-click to save to your computer. In cases in which you need to scroll down to view the second page of the record you will need to right-click again in order to save the second page.

Another place you should be sure to check out is at the bottom of the Kalamazoo county vital records page. Where it says “Other Records” you can click on a link to the Kalamazoo Public Library Vital Records. Joe describes it as follows: (1800s-1940s) burial, biographic, & obit citations. Church records: baptisms, marriages, adoptions, & membership. Here, Joe has copied the card file from the library. The church records are only from a few of the older congregations in town, but if your family attended you may find a wealth of information. Search by surname and click on the highlighted section to bring up a photo of the card. For a key to the abbreviations on the card click on the drop down menus at the top of the page. Be sure to check alternate spellings of the name.

But wait, there's more. Joe has also added cemetery records (various throughout Kalamazoo county), some family trees, select city and county directories (1860-1935, usually every 5 years), basic maps (1861, 1873, 1890, 1913), school yearbook records, WWI veteran information (from books at the library), transcribed obituaries from the Schoolcraft Express (1917-1972) and some probate records (1831-1857). These may all be searched individually or you can use the search function to look across all non-vital records by surname.

Be sure to scroll down to see Joe's links to other helpful Kalamazoo sites as well as some from southwest Michigan and state-wide. As of the writing of this blog there are 240,000 files on the site. Joe deserves a great, big thank you from all of us who have benefited from his hours of work on the site. As I live out-of-state, I can easily say that I would not have made nearly so much progress on my own family history if not for the information I have found here.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

1884 Didn't Foresee Big Brother in 1984

While perusing my search results at last year I came across an article written in July 1884 that imagined the 4th of July celebration in 1984. Living in Kalamazoo at that time I can tell you first hand that it looked nothing like what was envisioned in the article. I'm sure we all wonder at some time or other what things will be like 100 years in the future. While it is funny how wrong they were about certain things, I'm sure I wouldn't do much better. As the article is quite long I'll give you the highlights.

A lot has changed in the past 100 years. Kalamazoo grew since its establishment while Battle Creek, Grand Rapids and other “small towns” have “fallen far behind in the race of city growth.” Some of that growth was undoubtedly fueled by the widening of the Kalamazoo river to accommodate boats from Lake Michigan. Warehouses line the river and the “miles of docks” were swarmed by boats carrying those arriving for the 4th of July festivities. “The shipping in the river from the smallest sailboat to the massive government ship “Grover Cleveland,” were gaily decorated.” River traffic was not the only mode of transportation near capacity for the exciting events of the 4th. “The scenes at the depots of the pneumatic tube [Pneumatic tubes? I wonder where they came up with that idea?] and baloon [sic] routes were animated. The running time to Detroit and Chicago via the tube had been reduced to seven minutes, and to N.Y. and the east to twenty minutes [I know people who would kill for a commute time like that]. The trains arrived every two hours, bringing thousands of people. The baloons [sic] brought nearly as many more from the villages within a radius of one hundred miles.” With the throng of visitors to the city the normal population of 300,000 was estimated to be nearly double. The underground railway was very busy as well. Some “individual electric carriages” also brought revelers into the city. [Keep in mind that Karl Benz didn't even patent his Motorwagen until 1885 so they did well to add in such a new-fangled idea.]

Independence Day activities began at midnight with “the explosion of dynamite/bombs … and the sending up of baloons [sic] [hot air balloons] from which were displayed fireworks.” [I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to be up in the air with fireworks going off around me.]

A large crowd assembled to watch the ceremony to remove the corner stone of the court house laid 100 years before. “The building which has stood so many years . . . has been found inadequate to the demands made upon it and a new one is being erected to cover the whole block on which the old one stood. . . The ceremonies connected with opening the old stone were very impressive, but the operation was witnessed with breathless interest.” The little box was finally removed “from its century's hiding place” and the contents “read to the assembled multitude.”

“What a contrast in the sight today and that of a hundred years ago. These lofty buildings lifting their half dozen stories [they imagine miles of docks, but only double the height of the buildings?] and marble fronts to the sky for miles in every direction, contrast strangely with the little two and three story wood and brick arrangements which they called “blocks.” The massive city hall lifts its huge body where before was a little seven by nine park which could be put inside the horticultural grounds of any of the present city parks. Long since the old Dutch and Baptist and Congregational and Episcopal churches were destroyed and the imposing edifice which occupies the whole block is unsectarian [sic] and preaches no gospel of narrow creed, but a religion of humanity to men. The little wooden buildings and the one or two brick ones which ornamented Main street then, have given place to the elegant marble structures which furnish abiding places to a few of the immense wholesale interests of the city. The high iron ampitheatre occupies the corner formerly used by Israel's dry goods house and . . . it furnishes under its gilded arches nightly, amusement to ten thousand people.

After the reading from the corner stone, some wandered over to the former site of Bronson park, now replaced by “the beautiful and massive city hall. . . [it] shone splendidly, its white marble facing contrasting with the decorations and the colored electric lamps which in the evening made the building look like a fairy palace.” [These people are really hung up on marble buildings.]

The houses in the city were also bedecked with electric lights of every color of the rainbow, creating quite a spectacle. [I'm guessing they never imagined the houses and lawns these days would be covered with snowmen, elves, reindeer, Santas in sleighs with music and animation to boot as we have all so recently seen during the holidays. I wonder if “tacky” was in their vocabulary.]

The grand ceremonies of the day were viewed by the US President as well as the President of Ireland [I don't know how large the Irish contingent in Kalamazoo was then, but clearly enough to make it into the article and take a jab at England “which in the last fifty years has lost so much power and prestige.”]

Comstock, “now among the handsomest residence portions of the city,” [I didn't see that one coming. No offense to Comstock, it just seems a random choice to me.] was the starting point for the five-mile-long parade. “The old Mardi Gras procession at New Orleans are [sic] the only ones to which it may be likened.” The 500 city police led the parade followed by three regiments of state troops. “One thousand young ladies from the female seminary [oops, it closed in 1907, KPL1, see below] rode in gilded cars, and 2,000 students of the Baptist college [now Kalamazoo College, but they got that number about right]” came next. Then four more regiments in addition to the Kalamazoo artillery companies marched before the dignitaries passed in procession. “A hundred bands were interspersed in the long line, the rear of which was brought up by 3,000 electric carriages containing trade displays.” [These sound like floats to me, though they make no mention of pop or C&W stars singing on board.]

After the official ceremonies concluded things soon broke up “each seeking his pleasure in the avenues which suited him best.” Many enjoyed balloon rides, though “an accident occurred to a baloon [sic] on the Grand Rapids line, but the prompt application of the gravitation cut off, held the vessel in mid air until the break in the apparatus was repaired.” Others packed the ampitheatre or flocked to the hippodrome which “offered its startling racing program and with the [horse] racing at the National Park, in which a mile was made in 1:58 ¾ , the base ball game which stood 0 to 0 in 21 innings and the thousand smaller sources of amusement the day was passed pleasantly.”

Notes from the 1884 corner stone include the following:
Climax: “About 150,000 bushels of wheat, 100,000 pounds of wool, and large quantities of lumber, cattle, hogs, sheep, and oats are shipped each year” through Climax on the Chicago and Grand Trunk railroad.
Oshtemo Township: “the census just completed gives the following statistics: Population, 1295; families, 301; farms, 220; libraries, 23; acres of wheat in 1884, 4212; acres of corn in 1883, 2758; acres of oats in 1883, 763; acres of potatoes in 1883, 113; acres of hay in 1883, 2898; horses, 718; cows, 640; hogs, 1647; sheep, 519; acres in orchard, 539.
Comstock Township: “In 1829 wheat was first sowed on Toland prairie which commenced the agricultural history of the town. . . In 1837 the population was 1390; in 1850 1200. From 1850 to 1865 the population more than doubled.”

I so often wonder what our ancestors would think if they could visit us for a day. I also wonder if anyone knows about the box that was apparently buried under the corner stone of the court house and if it has ever been opened.

Kalamazoo Gazette: 7-11-1884, page 6

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 (website of the New England Historical Genealogical Society), (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.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy Hunting in 2012

The more I search in Kalamazoo for my ancestors, the more information I find. A large part of my success is because of the fantastic genealogical community in Kalamazoo. Although I no longer live in the area (I'm in Tennessee now) I can still accomplish quite a bit from my sofa. This is in no small part due to the ongoing efforts of the staff of the Kalamazoo Public Library and the members of the Kalamazoo Valley Genealogical Society. I wish to personally thank them for taking the time to make so many records available on the internet!

For those of you new to hunting for ancestors in the Kalamazoo area I hope I can provide you with a few helpful websites and tips. As for the Kalamazoo area genealogy veterans, perhaps you'll enjoy the tidbits I have found about Kalamazoo history.

Why bushwhacking, you might ask? Well, when you do a search on or do you ever have the feeling that you need a machete to hack through all of the results that clearly aren't what you are looking for? Sometimes you get lost and have to back track. At other times you run into a dead end and are forced to try another approach. As a result, I have come up with a number of tricks that I have used to find some of “my people.”

My genealogical obsession began about ten years ago when my mom and I decided to start investigating our family history. We headed down to the Kalamazoo county clerk's office with a blank legal pad and a couple of pencils. We had no list of names or death dates, just my mother's memory as our guide. The volunteer behind the counter must have snickered, as it must have been obvious we had no clue what we were doing. It turned out our trip was not a completely wasted effort. We did find a few records that pertained to our family, but there were a lot of names we weren't sure of. Once I purchased family tree software and began typing in all of my information things really started to take shape.

It is difficult to believe that we have made so much progress in a mere decade. Over the years I have delved into Civil War pension application files, newspapers and court records, among other things and found a gold mine of information. I only hope that I can help others with a few of the tips and tricks that I have used to get where I am. Along the way, I have learned a lot about history, both in Kalamazoo in particular and more broadly as I delved into the lives of “my people.” I have found some pretty colorful characters as well. I'll share some of their stories as well because some are just too good to keep to myself.