Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Records at Seeking Michigan

I have seen the Seeking Michigan website on a couple of lists of the best state genealogy websites and with good reason. I have mentioned using the Seeking Michigan website to find death certificates (1897-1920), but there is much more to explore.  The Seeking Michigan website has recently been revised and it appears that they are still adding functionality.  To jump right in, you will find the search box at the upper right of the screen.  Select a category by checking the appropriate box.

When you go to the home page you will see several categories: Seek, Discover and Look, Teach and Buy. If you want to learn a little more about the collections hover over each category.  Seek allows you to select from guides (a list of links to holdings in various categories of the Archives of Michigan), indexes (for a few records) and contact information.  Look contains recent articles on various topics and a search box to locate more (e.g. the Kalamazoo Corset Co. or Malcolm X in Michigan).  Teach has information for K-12 teachers to help them introduce children to the past (e.g. using a pioneer child's account).  The Buy page is pretty self-explanatory.  Near the top of the page you can hover over and select from collections, prints and records.  Discover is where the bulk of the records on this site lie.

Hover over Discover and you can choose from civic history (death records, civil war service records, films and plat maps), family history (civil war manuscripts, civil war photographs, civil war battle flags, early photography, oral histories, music of Michigan, main streets and architecture), death records and civil war.  If you hover over the civil war option you can further select events, the reveille blog original material (the same ones you will find under civic and family history) and resources.  If you have ancestors who served in a Michigan unit during the Civil War a number of collections worth looking at, particularly. Most of these documents have not been indexed, meaning that if you are looking for references to a particular soldier you can't simply type his name into the search box and expect pages of hits. The philosophy was that researchers would rather have access to all of the documents right away rather than have only a few indexed ones. While it is a bit tedious to hunt page by page for your people, it is certainly better than having nothing to hunt through at all.

Some details of the different collections are as follows.  Civil War manuscripts (letters and diaries of soldiers), Civil War service records (monthly returns, muster rolls, etc sent to the Adjutant General), Civil War photographs, government land office plat maps (largely from the 1820s and 1830s), other varieties of maps (1841 to circa 1900), Main streets (old photographs and postcards from throughout Michigan), lighthouses, early Michigan documents and several other categories.

I am happy to report that thanks to the revision of the website, navigating and downloading documents is now straight-forward.  The quirks that made things difficult to find and save in their entirety are no longer issues.  To quickly show you how the new page is set up I'll look at the Civil War service record collection. In the search box, type in the unit you are interested in (I chose the “Lancers”). Click on a particular set of records from the results list.  Near the top of the screen you will see the document identifier (Box 132, Folder 3, Document 1, for example).  Immediately above the document is a slider you can use to increase the size of the image on your screen. You also have the option to "fit to window" or "fit to width."  You can also simply drag the edges of the box (right middle and/or bottom middle) to increase the size of the document window.  You can easily print or save (in one of three sizes) with a click of a button just above the document screen.  On the right hand side of the screen is a scroll down box containing thumbnails of all of the documents within that folder.  Clicking on “Next” will take you to the next document in the folder or you can simply click on the thumbnail.  When you have finished perusing all of the documents in the folder and wish to go to the next hit from the search results page, click the right arrow near the upper right of the screen where it indicates "Results, 1 of 3," for example. 

The Seeking Michigan website is now more user-friendly.  The records are now easy to navigate and save.  I wish to thank them for all of the time and effort it took to digitize the images so that those of us who can't visit in person can still access these records. I know how time consuming it is to scan in family photos and documents, having just finished a bunch in early March.  I hope they continue to receive funding to carry on this valuable work!

Note:  As of September 2012, Seeking Michigan has added 1894 Michigan state census records for nine counties to their website.  To learn more see:  Seeking Michigan's Census Secret.

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