Wednesday, February 15, 2012

WMU Archives & Regional History Collections

I wish I could tell you more about the resources available at the Western Michigan University Archives in Kalamazoo. Unfortunately, the truth is that living out-of-state, I have not been able to spend as much time there as I would like. Toddlers only nap for so long and a couple of hours doesn't even scratch the surface of their holdings.

The Archives is currently located in East Hall, one of the oldest buildings on the Western Michigan University campus. Their holdings total over 17,000 linear feet, some of which is located off site. They hope to move to a larger facility in the future.

The Archives holds several different types of records. To learn more about their collections you can search their online catalog (be sure to select the WMU Archives as the location in the drop down menu).

The large manuscript collection can be searched through the online catalog and encompasses letters, photos, business records and much more. Due to the large number of records and the variety of records within a particular collection you should not expect a detailed description of every document within a given collection. After conducting a search you can click on a particular collection to learn more. Here you will find a brief description of the contents of the collection as well as names of individuals, businesses or general subjects mentioned therein. So far, I have not found information directly pertaining to “my” people in the manuscript collection, but perhaps you will be more fortunate than I.

If you cannot find much in the manuscript collection to aid you in your research, if you have ancestors from almost anywhere in south west Michigan you should certainly find something in the governmental records housed here. Records from the counties of Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo, Kent, Muskegon, Ottawa, St. Joseph, and Van Buren can be found here. It is also worth mentioning that the records available vary by county. Many of these records, which include tax records and court records, are on microfilm and are available in the LDS catalog. For more specific information on the government holdings (at least for some of these counties) you can refer to the Archives of Michigan circular, but note that while this lists most counties in Michigan, only records with a single asterisk are located at the WMU Archives. You will also notice that though WMU has records from the twelve counties listed above, some counties are not included on this list. I have not found an online source that specifically lists which governmental records are available at the WMU Archives. I would suggest identifying the records microfilmed by the LDS (search by county name at FamilySearch) and then calling the Archives to verify they possess them before planning a visit.

One thing that I discovered the hard way is that the LDS did not microfilm every court case. I was searching for a chancery case in which a mother sued two of her children (more on this in another blog). I found the docket and case number in the index. I then began scrolling through the microfilm only to find that the case I was looking for was absent. A staff member informed me that at least for chancery cases, the LDS only microfilmed divorce records and cases in which the people had different surnames. It seems to me that suits within a family might be some of the more interesting cases (i.e. dishing up family dirt). While the archives did possess the records they were located off site so I was unable to obtain them before driving back to Tennessee. Luckily for me, my mother still lives in Kalamazoo and could go back later to page through the documents and flag them for copying.

In addition to the manuscript collection and government records, the WMU Archives has an extensive collection of books, city directories, many local newspapers on microfilm, a large photo collection, the Ross Coller card file (see my blog post) and many maps, including plat map books for surrounding counties.  They also recently made several Civil War era diaries and letters available on their website.  See here for more information.  For more general information on their holdings I refer you to the “Collections” page on the WMU Archives website. While the exact holdings are not listed on their website, they do have binders on site that list which records/newspapers they have in their collection. An email or a phone call can quickly inform you if they have what you are looking for. You should also ask if the resources you wish to examine are on site, as retrieving them may take a couple of days if they aren't held in East Hall.


  1. Welcome to the GeneaBloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories" and family saga novels:
    "Back to the Homeplace" and "The Homeplace Revisited"

  2. Thank you! I hope so too. I too enjoy ancestor stories and I have some good ones, I think. I'll post some of those later on. I'll be sure to check out your sites.

  3. I had to use 'grandma' to get in some decent research when my boys were young. :-)
    Theresa (tangled trees)

  4. Grandma, my genealogy partner in crime, usually came with me so Daddy usually worked on the computer until my daughter woke up.