Saturday, June 30, 2012

Husband, Schmusband: Divorce Records

Some of the more interesting records I have come across in my genealogy research are divorce records. By “interesting,” I mean juicy. Of the ten or so divorce records I have examined, all but one of them included some pretty “interesting” reading. There was the wife who “did not perform her marital duties,” nudge, nudge, wink, wink. There were many accusations that husbands and wives were carrying on with other people, if you know what I mean. I quote from one such case in which the husband stated that his wife "disregarding the solemnity of the marriage relations. . . indulged in violent sallies of passion."  There were even a few in which the husbands were accused of occasionally being physically abusive.

I should note that the records I have perused encompass the first 25 years or so of the 20th century. Divorce was becoming more common, but it was still difficult to obtain a divorce in those days and some states had stricter laws than others. Grounds for divorce at the time were limited and included cruelty and abandonment. No-fault divorce was only introduced in 1970, first appearing in California. Therefore, it is important to remember that some claims may have been exaggerated to increase the odds of obtaining the divorce.

My family, not to be left out of a current trend, jumped on the bandwagon. Divorce seems to have been a way of life for one group of sisters in my tree. Between the three of them they married a total of twelve times and divorced eight times (another husband died and one deserted). One of these records even cleared up the mystery of why I could not find one of these women in the 1900 census. While the divorce complaint itself contained nothing to tell me why the marriage broke up (she just moved out), it did include the name my relative married under. It was time to create a new spouse in my family tree and hunt her down in the census (success at last).

The winner for most husbands in the shortest period of time goes to Ada Wallace who married five times in total. She seems to have gone through husbands like a snake sheds its skin. She married for the first time when she was just fourteen to a man 29 years her senior, Charles Hoard. Five children and 15 years later she apparently left her husband. Unfortunately, only the final divorce decrees exist for this time period in Branch county, Michigan so I don't know the details. Next she married George Alger to whom she remained married for 4.5 years. Their divorce records indicated that her husband, George, periodically went away for days at a time. When he did, Ada sometimes went out dancing (all night) with Charley Carr. Barely a month after the ink had dried on her divorce papers Ada married husband #3, who surprisingly, (to me, at least) was not Charles Carr, but Henry Miner. Within six months he was also history. A year and a half later she married husband #4 and again the marriage lasted about six months before the court approved her fourth divorce. Again, Ada had been seeing Charley Carr, who even spent the night (when her husband was gone) according to the landlady. A year later she finally married Charles Carr, and to her credit, remained married to him for thirty-four years until his death. I can't help but wonder why she married husband #3 (who was not mentioned in the divorce records with George Alger) or even husband #4 if she was frequently going dancing with Charley. Was she trying to make him jealous? Or at ten years her junior did she think he was just too young to marry? I'll probably never know.

One question that might come to mind after finding so many divorces is why some of these women married so often. It is easy to snicker, but it is useful to remember that although times were changing, women still didn't have many options. These probably included moving in with a relative and/or getting a job, becoming a domestic servant or getting remarried.

So, now that I have piqued your interest, where can you find divorce records for counties in southwest Michigan?

Records can be found at:

WMU Archives: chancery records (which include divorces) for Kalamazoo and many neighboring counties which may include: Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo, Kent, Muskegon, Ottawa, St. Joseph, and Van Buren . To make sure they have the records covering the county and time period of interest I recommend contacting them to ask before planning a visit.

Van Buren District Library: Allegan, Cass and Van Buren (on microfilm)

Kalamazoo county court house (201 W. Kalamazoo Ave, Kalamazoo, MI): chancery records starting about 1934 (earlier records are at the WMU archives).  For a practical guide to viewing records here (what's onsite, copy costs, etc.) be sure to read my post about doing research at the court house.

Your first step will be to consult the index (usually on microfilm). Be sure to select the roll with the year range in which you believe the divorce occurred. While indexes may be organized differently, the ones I have seen (Kalamazoo county) are organized as follows. For each initial letter of a surname there are many pages broken down into names beginning with the same two or three letters (e.g. Gary, Gardner, Garson, etc.). I advise starting in the appropriate section, but don't despair if you don't find the record you are looking for. I have frequently seen names entered in the wrong section so you may want to peruse all pages for that initial if you aren't already woozy from staring at microfilm for too long. If all else fails check a different year range or a different county.

Once you have identified the record, be sure to take note of the item number or any other information in the index. The last thing you want to do is hunt for the entry again. While you are already there, be sure to note any other court cases pertaining to your family. You never know what you might uncover. Armed with this information you can select the appropriate roll of microfilm and scroll through the records until you find the correct case number. If you are lucky the file will include both the initial complaint as well as a cross bill (so you can read both sides of the story). While a divorce is probably never fun it can make for interesting reading and above all, teach you more about your relative's life and character.

If you would like to know more about divorce around the turn of the century, including acceptable grounds, you may want to read The Rise of Divorce in Michigan.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

More Newspapers Online at the KPL!

Since I first wrote about the Kalamazoo Telegraph coming online at the Kalamazoo Public Library website, more digitization has been completed. The year range of the Telegraph now extends into the 20th century. In addition, some new titles have been added. As of late June, 2012 the following newspapers can be searched at:

Published with generous permission of the Kalamazoo Public Library

Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph (1868-1901)
Kalamazoo Saturday Telegraph (1893-1909)
Kalamazoo Evening Telegraph (1901-1912)
Allegan County Record (1869-1871)
Otsego Union (1897-1922)
The Weekly Union (1875-1888)
The Progressive Herald (1912-1913)

If you have not yet searched this database and would like a few pointers please see my original post on the subject. (Kalamazoo Telegraph is Online) For those who have searched here, I haven't noticed any differences. Unfortunately, you will still need to sort through the irrelevant text in the search results to determine if it is a good hit.

There's not much more to say on the subject so I'll let you get on with your research and I'll see what else I can dig up.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Research at NARA in DC

For those in the Kalamazoo area, the Kalamazoo Valley Genealogical Society is planning a bus trip to Washington, D.C. this September. For those of you who have never done research in DC, this is a great opportunity to look at some records only available there. The three repositories that are magnets for genealogists are the National Archives, the Library of Congress and the DAR Library.

Of the three, the only one I have not stepped foot in is the DAR Library. Unfortunately, I'm still looking for a relative who was involved in the Revolution. Maybe someday

While I haven't done research in the Library of Congress I have taken a tour of it. If you have never visited, let me tell you that it is beautiful inside! The architects who designed it wanted to demonstrate that Americans could build something in the classical style that compared to the great buildings of Europe. If you want a break from your research I recommend taking a guided tour of the LOC.

(Sonja Hunter, copyright 2001)

I have, however, done genealogical research in the National Archives. In fact, this is where I got my feet wet. This was back in the days when the only indexes to census records (1880-1920, for heads of household only) were soundex cards on microfilm. For everything else you had to guess where your ancestors lived and scroll through page by page and hope you got lucky.

It is probably needless to say that NARA has a large collection of records on microfilm in addition to the many paper records they house. The microfilm catalog is available online.

As I had only recently begun my genealogical journey when I was there I never delved into any but the most basic records. The notable exception was the Civil War pension application files (for Union soldiers) that I was fortunate enough to review. These records can provide a goldmine of information. Of the thirteen or so files I have looked at, probably 2/3 of them were thick files (over 100 pages). Yes, of course, there are many doctors' statements describing the ailments of the soldiers, but these records possess so much more. You will also find depositions from individuals who knew the soldier before his service to state that he was hale and hearty before the war. There are also depositions from the soldier describing how his ailments are linked to his service. Widows' pensions have even more information including death certificates, marriage certificates and birth records for minor children.

To view these records you will first need to obtain a NARA research ID card (and watch a short presentation on proper handling of records). You can register for your card in the microfilm reading room, a process that takes about 20 minutes. Card in hand, you then need to fill out a form containing information about the soldier whose file you wish to view (e.g. name, unit, application number). This information is found on pension application index cards that are now available at FamilySearch, and Fold3. You can request several files in one pull and I would recommend this in case some files cannot be found. Retrieving your soldier's file usually requires several hours.

To peruse the files you will go to the reading room. To ensure that documents from NARA stay at NARA you are not allowed to bring in anything that could conceal original documents. Computers, loose notes and wallets are allowed. Blank paper and pencils are provided. Lockers to stow your other items (coats, purses, backpacks, etc.) are located down the hall and cost a quarter.  Be sure to see the specific regulations on what you can bring into the reading room.

Depending on how thick a file is and the type of information contained therein it may take a couple of hours to go through the file and make your copies. If you can refrain from reveling in touching documents your ancestor did and sort without getting sucked into the depositions you may be able to get through the records faster than I did. If you are running out of time you can return the file to the attendant and resume your perusal the following day.

Don't make the mistake that I did and be stingy about what you copy. When in doubt, make a copy. After all, you already paid for this trip. While you can obtain these records by mail it costs $75 for the complete file (up to 100 pages) and a per page rate beyond that. To make copies, leave your rolls of coins at home. Your researcher card doubles as a copy card. Machines to add money to your card are located within the research rooms. However, you may want to bring several denominations (or a credit card) because you cannot get a refund if you don't use all the money on your card. Copy prices are 25 cents for paper to paper and 50 cents for microfilm to paper.

Occasionally, the NARA staff is unable to locate a particular pension file. In this case, you may want to request the Compiled Military Service Record for that soldier. While these records usually do not contain very much information, they sometimes possess more than the standard fare. Don't get me wrong, these records are valuable, but knowing that an ancestor was present for duty in July of 1863 only tells so much, though it may help to determine if your ancestor was in a particular battle.

If you go on this trip, I hope you uncover all sorts of great information and if you're lucky, break down some brick walls as well.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Kalamazoo Nee Bronson

First, I would like to thank Titus Bronson for visiting the place now called Kalamazoo and deciding that it should become a city. Second, I would like to thank him for leaving so that it could be re-named. Somehow, I don't think a song with the lyrics “I've got a gal in Bronson” would have captured nearly as much attention. But I digress. I came across this description of Bronson's first look at the valley in the Kalamazoo Telegraph.

“Half a Century.
Kalamazoo is now forty-six years old. It is nearly half a century since Titus Bronson passed his first night, his head pillowed upon the village mound, a lonely sleeper in all this valley – if we are to believe the chronicles which record the incident. About this time in June, 1829, that adventurous spirit, following the pathway from Ann Arbor westward known as the St. Joseph trail, worn only by the foot of the Indian and his pony, reached the summit of the hills now embraced in the Riverside Cemetery a little before sundown. Below him nestling on a shelving nook on the hill side, was the trading post even then gray with age, but silent as the woods, for the trader was away at some other point. Halting for a few moments, Bronson looked over the wide valley and took in the magnificent panorama presented to him, and his practical mind recognized this as the proper site for a town. 'Here is the place to build a city.'
Descending the hill to the Indian fording place he waded the river and followed the trail still onward, far into the bur oak plain, till he came to a large mound about which were many ancient and grass-covered garden beds. Here he rested for the night, resolving to explore the valley next morning. His carpet bag was stored with such sustaining comforts as a pioneer needed, and breakfast taken after a sound sleep, he proceeded to look over the land. It proved no mirage, but his favorable views were more than once confirmed.
He examined the place on all sides and was entirely satisfied with it and set himself at work to obtain a proper right to the ground, within a few weeks he had erected a rude cabin and took the proper steps to secure his claim. This cabin was built at a point on what is now Kalamazoo Avenue, a little west of West street not far from where Arcadia creek flowed through the meadow. It was of logs, roofed with rails and covered with grass; and, in dimensions, was about 12 feet wide by 14 feet long and one story high.
Mr. Bronson did not live here during the ensuing winter, but sojourned at the Prairie Ronde Settlement, what time he was not looking out land for himself or others. As soon as the land-office was opened at White Pigeon he obtained a patent of the Government for the land he selected here, viz: The east half of the southwest quarter of section fifteen, in town two south of range eleven west; and Stephen Richardson, who was interested with Bronson in the proposed village, took the west half of the southwest quarter of the same section.
Such was the beginning of Kalamazoo. What it has since become is it not recorded in the history of the old settlers, and the inhabitants of to-day – in its splendid history – in its present beauty and importance – in its splendid blocks and handsome houses – its institutions of learning – its admirable civilizing influences, and all that makes her the loveliest, the most delightful and the greatest village in the world?” [1]

While the above appeared in the Kalamazoo Telegraph, its information was taken liberally from the account presented in the 1869 Kalamazoo county directory (available for free from While the above account does allude to the spare nature of Bronson's abode, the 1869 directory provides additional details which I feel add to our understanding of what living in “Kalamazoo” was like for Bronson's family.

The cabin “was built of small logs one upon another grooved at the ends so as to fit all around closely, the chinks being stopped with wood and filled with mud – with small oblong apertures for windows on the side, another and larger in front for a doorway, and still another in the roof for the chimney – made of sticks and clay (but often there was only a hole in the roof through which the smoke, after lingering with the family and the household goods till 'all was blue,' would wander out at its own sweet will).
“The roof flat, but sloping, was composed of poles and thatched with straw. When the weather was inclement blankets would be put up at the windows, or the head of the family found it a convenient place to stretch a coon-skin to dry, with “the wooly side out and the fleshy side in.” At night a blanket or sheet would serve as a door, and often the house-dog, watching at the threshold would arouse his master when the saucy wolves, whose howl made darkness hideous, approached too near.
“Within the hut comforts seemed entirely wanting. There was no floor, the furniture comprised a camp-kettle, frying-pan, knives and forks, and some tin plates, two stools, and a bedstead made by inserting two poles into the side of the house, and supporting the other ends, (kept apart by a cross-piece) from the ground, by wooden legs – bark of the elm or basswood being used in place of bed-cord. Beds were made upon the ground for the children; the cooking was performed outside when the weather would permit, the fire-place inside being a mere space of ground in the corner set apart for that purpose under the hole in the roof.
“A little patch of ground had been planted, near the house, to corn and potatoes – but in many respects the life of the pioneer was, for some time, but a little above that of the Indian; he relied more upon his rifle than his harvest. In this dwelling was a family of five, the father, mother and three children.” [2]

This was the humble beginning of our city. How did Bronson become Kalamazoo? Apparently, Bronson had a falling out with other early landowners and moved away in 1836. For a little more of that interesting story I refer you to a one-page article in the Fall 2011 issue of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum's publication, Museography (just re-named MuseON). The Bronson article can be viewed on page five at:

  1. Kalamazoo Telegraph, 1877-6-28, P4, Col3
  2. Kalamazoo County Directory With a History of the County From its Earliest Settlement. 1869. James M. Thomas, compiler and publisher. Stone Brothers, Book and Job Printers. Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Devil in the White City

I recently finished reading Erik Larson's book, “The Devil in the White City,” about the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. I know, I know, it has nothing to do with Kalamazoo. However, reading about the fair made we wonder if any of my people traveled to Chicago to wander the Midway, stroll the paths of the wooded island, gaze in wonder at the beautiful white city or take a ride on the first Ferris Wheel.

Now, you can actually check to see if any of your Kalamazoo folk went to Chicago and stayed at the Kalamazoo Columbian House.  The Kalamazoo Valley Genealogical Society has indexed the guest book and added the names (you can click to view the actual image) to their online database.  While you can't check this index separately from the other items in their database, you just might find something else of interest while you are there.   To start your search click here.

Despite the tough times sweeping the country in the early 1890s (failing banks and increasing unemployment), many people made the trip to Chicago anyway. Attendees were awed by the sheer size of some of the buildings. Larson described the clock tower within the Manufactures and Liberal Arts building. It stood about 100 feet tall, its face seven feet wide. Yet the top of the clock remained over 100 feet from the arched glass roof. The peristyle hall and the other buildings gleamed in the sun and provided a lovely contrast to the varied shades of blue of Lake Michigan.

The story of the fair and the difficulties overcome to build it was intriguing. In addition, Larson provides us with a sense of what walking around Chicago or any other city must have been like at that time, from the stench of garbage (and worse in areas without sewers) to the marvel of electric lights which lit up the park at night (gas lamps were used elsewhere).

Another relatively new phenomenon was single, young women moving away from home to try their luck in the big city. Unfortunately, some of them encountered a man whose story is also chronicled in the book. He was an attractive young man who also happened to be a serial killer who particularly preyed on naïve young women. A few young ladies from my family tree actually did go to Chicago and elsewhere to earn teaching credentials. Reading this book made me wonder how they adjusted to life in the big city after having lived in sleepy Kalamazoo.

In addition to these two stories, Larson tells many interesting little tidbits of information and drops names of people tangentially related to the fair. One example was Elias Disney (yes THAT Disney). Elias, father of Walt and Roy, helped construct some of the buildings. Larson suggests that his stories of the beauty of the buildings at the fair may have influenced the vision that eventually resulted in Walt Disney World.

This book has a little something for everyone. From architecture to Chicago history, from the story of a psychopath to a slice of life in the early 1890s you are sure to learn something new. If you haven't read this book (and are actually reading this blog) I think you'll find it a worthwhile read.

Court of Honor and Grand Basin of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition (Chicago, Illinois)
From Wikipedia.  This media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923. See this page for further explanation.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Lost Boys of WWII

“What happened to my son?” “Did he know he was about to die?” “Did he suffer?” These are questions my great-grand aunt surely asked herself for the last thirty-something years of her life. Nearly 70 years ago today Lulu (Flynn) Elson lost her only son during World War II. While this was understandably a blow to her, the worst part was that she spent the rest of her life wondering how he died. Sadly, she went to her grave without answers. It is some consolation to me that I now know what happened to him thanks to declassified information.

Harris W. Elson was a Sergeant in the Air Force's 11th Bombardment Squadron stationed in the China Burma India theater of operations. Early 1942 was a tense time in the region. Japan had recently invaded Burma, pushing out Allied forces. The invasion severed the Burma Road, 717 miles of narrow road winding through the mountains from Lashio, Burma (now Myanmar) to Kunming, China. The only supply line for carrying war materiel into China was now gone. The Allies feared that with China isolated, the Japanese could divert resources from China toward fighting the Americans in the Pacific. [1] With Burma lost and a ground assault out of the question, the Allies presumably hoped to limit Japanese air power in the region.

To that end, on June 3, 1942, Harris Elson's plane and five others left Dinjan, India. Their mission was to bomb the airfield in Lashio, Burma before continuing on to Kunming, China. Shortly after take-off they were immersed in clouds and the planes lost sight of each other. Five of them managed to regroup, one of them Elson's, and despite the heavy clouds, bombed the Lashio runway from a height of 1,500 feet.

Less than a minute after the main group struck the target squarely, the sixth plane arrived and successfully dropped five bombs down the middle of the second runway. Two enemy fighters pursued the sixth bomber, being an easier target than five planes flying in formation. The bomber's top-gunner quickly disabled one enemy aircraft, but the other engaged the Americans for about thirty minutes. The enemy made over ten passes, before finally desisting. Sergeant Zeuske was an early fatality in this skirmish, but fortunately, the bomber safely reached Kunming.

Meanwhile, the other five planes were flying in formation at an elevation of 10,000 feet. Due to the mountains and frequent rain, they soon found themselves again engulfed by clouds. Only two of the five bomber crews and only one of the planes eventually reached Kunming. Through the mist, the soldiers must have watched in horror as they glimpsed the lead plane crash into the side of a mountain. Blinded by cloud cover, two of the other planes did the same. “The other two aircraft missed the mountain by only a fraction, the crews, for just a moment, were close enough to observe grass and trees through the heavy cloud, and they observed the flash caused by the others' crash.” [2] Despite the enshrouding weather, one plane managed to arrive in Kunming in one piece. The other ran out of fuel en route and crashed in the jungle. The crew jumped from the plane and finally reached Kunming two weeks later. Fortunately, those who perished probably never saw it coming.

The  B-25 Mitchell, shown below, may have been the type of plane flown on this mission.

 This photo came from Wikipedia.  According to that site: "This file is a work of a sailor or employee of the U.S. Navy, taken or made during the course of the person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain."

I found the information about Harris Elson's plane in the Missing Air Crew Reports at Fold3. These records were declassified in 1982. That was too late for Lulu, but I'm happy I can finally answer Lulu's question, “what happened to my son?” Unfortunately, Harris Elson's remains may never return home.

According to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) there are still more then 73,000 Americans from World War II who remain unaccounted for. Harris Elson, is among them. I am probably one of only a handful of people who would wish to see his remains repatriated as neither he nor his siblings had children.

Should relations between the US and Myanmar improve it could eventually pave the way for search and recovery operations to take place, assuming there is good information to indicate where to search. Even if relations improved and remains from his crash site were recovered and returned to the US one obstacle would remain to be surmounted. His remains would need to be positively identified. This can only be done through a mitochondrial DNA test. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is used because it is smaller in length and more prevalent in the body than genomic DNA. Therefore, more material is present in the remains to yield a useable sample. The other good thing about mtDNA is that anyone who descends through the same female line could provide a comparison DNA sample with a simple swab of their cheek.

Currently, there are 2360 servicemen (from the WWII, Korea, Vietnam or the Cold War conflicts) for whom a DNA sample is urgently needed (as of June 5, 2012). If a sample is a match it could return a serviceman's remains to his family for burial. If it is not a match, it could still narrow the field. Even if you have no MIAs in your tree or are not an eligible donor you can still help. If you can find, through reverse genealogy, someone who has the same mtDNA sequence as the deceased, they could submit a sample and possibly send a soldier home. If you want to help, I encourage you to visit the JPAC website which allows you to search a list for each conflict in either PDF or Excel format.

As genealogists, part of what we do is to bring the dead back to life by learning their history. I think that is a worthwhile thing, even if only a few of my relatives see the results of my work. Here is our opportunity to make a bigger impact. If we each spend a little time trying to identify a DNA donor, something that is made easier with the 1940 census, perhaps we can help to bring a dead man home and give him back to the living.

For those who are interested, the comrades of Sgt. Harris W. Elson who perished on the mountainside in Burma are:
1st Lt. Langdon D. Long, 1st Lt. Robert W. Martin, 1st Lt. Fred S. Olson, 1st Lt. Eugene F. McGurl, Sgt. Lee E. Allen, Sgt. Fitchew D. Sims, 1st Lt. James F. Holbrook, 1st Lt. John H. Herzog, 1st Lt. James M. Chandler, S/Sgt. Omer A. Duquette, Sgt. Frank J. Fasanell, Sgt. Marlow W. Kaufmann, Sgt. Edgar P. Loomis, Maj. Gordon C. Leland, 1st Lt. Roy H. Mink, 2nd Lt. Jack W. Kincheloe, M/Sgt. Anthony J. Dominiak, S/Sgt. Melvin J. Gardner, Sgt. Charles R. Hedge and Sgt. Charles R. Thorp.

  1. Clayton R. Newell. Burma, 1942. 12-1-1994. Center of Military History, CMH Pub 72-21.
  2. Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) of the US Army Air Forces, 1942-1947, M1380. Original records held by NARA. Microfilm images accessed through MACR 15936.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

WMU Archives' Big News!

Not just one, but two exciting announcements were reported last week by Rex Hall Jr. at MLive. First, the WMU Archives will finally have a new home! A proposed 36,000 sq. ft. building, with proper temperature and humidity control, of course, will be built just north of the Oakland Dr./Howard St. intersection. [1,2] A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for July and the building is slated to be completed in the summer of 2013. [1] In order to make way for the new building and parking, we hope, Noble Lodge, once part of the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital, will be demolished. [3]

Once the building has been completed the materials currently located in East Hall will be transferred to the new facility. This will undoubtedly necessitate a temporary cessation of research, but I'm sure the wait will be worth it.

So what will be the fate of East Hall you may wonder? Last October, WMU announced that it is looking to turn the East Campus into a mixed-used development. According to the proposal, East Hall would house a boutique hotel, conference center and health club. [4] Other buildings on East Campus would be converted into office space and condo/apartment units. A parking structure would be built into the side of the hill and disguised with vegetation. The character of East Hall will be maintained and in fact, several columns that were previously removed are slated for re-installation to bring the historic building, the first one built on the campus, back to its earlier appearance. [4, 5]

 (from Wikipedia, This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication )

The second announcement was no less thrilling than the first. The entire archive of the Kalamazoo Gazette was donated to WMU by the MLive Media Group. [6] This collection contains approximately 1,500 cubic feet of material. [6] According to Lynn Houghton, curator at the WMU archives “the collection includes 66 shelves of bound volumes of the Gazette dating back to 1934; 41 drawers filled with 4 inch by 6 inch photo negatives; 30 to 40 boxes of photo negatives; a large number of cartons filled with newspaper clippings; 40 cabinets filled with clippings; 98 card-file boxes; about 70 boxes of photos; numerous three-ring binders filled with photo negatives and a collection of microfilm of the Gazette’s pages from as far back as the 1830s when the newspaper first began publishing.” [6]

The Gazette archive is presently located in the old Kalamazoo Gazette building on Burdick street, but will begin the move to East Hall in June 2012. [6] The staff of the WMU archives will then begin the laborious task of cataloging the materials, a process that is expected to take months. Once cataloging is concluded the collection will be opened to the public. Those items anticipated to be the most popular will be housed in East Hall, with the remaining materials located off-site.

I don't know how easy it will be to find any particular item in the collection once it is available, but it is never too early to start working on your wish list. I know I have a few things that come immediately to mind. The count-down has begun.

For more on this story see:  Groundbreaking for WMU Archives.

  1. Ursula Zerilli. Noble Lodge to be demolished at Western Michigan University. Published 5-30-2012.
  2. Paula Davis. New life for East Campus? 10-1-2011. Kalamazoo Gazette.
  3. Jeanne Baron. Restored grandeur, adapted use planned for East Campus. Published 2-13-2012. WMU News.

Friday, June 1, 2012

I Love FamilySearch

I thought everyone knew about the wonderful, free information available at until I was listening (if I recall correctly) to an episode of the Genealogy Gems podcast last summer. Lisa Louise Cooke met someone who had never heard of it. At least, that's what I remember hearing. I was so hung up on the fact that this person had never heard of the site that it took me several seconds before I realized that the conversation had continued.

So, for anyone out there who is unfamiliar with the free resources at let me just say that you are about to discover your new best friend. And did I mention that everything on the site is free? For those of you aware of the site, check back periodically because records are always being added or updated.

There are currently ten record collections specific for Michigan, though they fall into five categories: births, marriages, deaths, Detroit arrival manifests and the 1894 Michigan census (a transcription, but now you can look for the images at Seeking Michigan.  Click here for more information.). A few of the record sets have been updated in the last several months. If there is a camera icon to the left of the title it means an image of the actual record is available. All others are transcriptions.

Whenever I visit the site I usually go the bottom of the home page where it says “Browse by Location.” I click on “United States” so I can scan down the list of all record collections to see what is new or updated for the states where my people lived. Some of the newer collections added may not be searchable by surname so you will have to browse if you can't bear the wait until it has been indexed. If you really can't stand it you can become a volunteer indexer and select the collections you would like to assist with. The more of us who help, the faster the 1940 census will be indexed.

Even if your people didn't live in states toward the end of the alphabet, keep scrolling so you don't miss the United States collections. In addition to federal census records, there are many military records, mostly but not exclusively from the Civil War.

You never know what you might find next. One day I noticed there were death records from Pittsburgh, PA. I found one of my people unequivocally and I found three more records that I believe to be my people (all of the pieces fit). I did the happy dance. My husband rolled his eyes while the cat just rolled over.

As I mentioned, you too can become a Family Search indexer. While many of us are busily working on the 1940 US census, there are many other projects just waiting for indexers. Each batch shouldn't take too long to complete. In the case of the 1940 census, one page is one batch. All an indexer needs to do is key the information into the blank sheet provided. Each record is indexed twice with an arbitrator brought in to reconcile any differences. I know we are all busy, but if enough people index one or two batches per week we can make a difference. To sign up go to:

As of June 1, 2012, Michigan was 24% indexed. I did a couple of batches from Kalamazoo county last night!