Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Did Your Ancestors Make The Cut?

For about fifty years the Kalamazoo Gazette employed its own librarian who reviewed the paper every day and clipped articles for later reference. [1] From the mid-1940s to the mid-1990s these clippings were put in labeled envelopes and filed away in a series of cabinets in the “Scraparium” where many a reporter went digging for information on a variety of local topics. [1, 2] Now this resource is open to the public for perusal. 

Before their removal to the Western Michigan University Archives, the clippings file was a resource available only to the Kalamazoo Gazette staff, most often to research a person before writing an obituary. [1] According to Lynn Houghton, the Regional History Collection Curator at the WMU Archives, there are no written accounts to explain why some articles were selected over others. It may just come down to the whim of the librarian. If so, the librarian must not have been a sports fan because few sports articles are found in the collection. [2]

While you can look for your family in the clippings file, there is a slight catch, you can't just rifle through the cabinets to your heart's content. You will need to fill out a form at the reference desk and wait while a staff member searches the envelopes for the topics you requested. You can also call ahead at (269) 387-8490 to see if any files of interest to you are in the collection before you make a trip to the Archives' new home in the Zhang Legacy Collections Center. If you find something noteworthy staff will make copies for 20 cents per page.

1. Mickey Cilkajlo, “Kalamazoo Gazette archives now publicly available at Western Michigan University,” MLive.com December 06, 2013, [http://www.mlive.com/opinion/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2013/12/kalamazoo_gazette_clips_now_pu.html]

2. Lynn Houghton, email communication.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Time Travel & Farm Inflation

Lately, I've had a funny feeling that in some ways I'm traveling back in time. It has been a slow process, but here I am with six baby chicks in my garage. It all began innocently enough when I got my first bread machine nearly twenty years ago (I'm on my fourth one now). I know it's kind of cheating, but I do make my own bread from scratch at the rate of about a loaf a week. After I got married we started a garden (something new for me). A few years ago I took up home canning to preserve our tomatoes and make pickles, among other things. This year, my husband wanted to try raising chickens (for the eggs) so here I am with 6 rapidly growing chicks in the garage.

Now, I can compare notes with my grandmother, well, with her notes anyway. She kept log books with purchases for the house and garden. Here is a sample.

I found notes on my grandma's chickens for years between the mid-1940s and the early 1960s. As you can imagine, prices have increased in the past seventy or so years. In 1949 my grandma bought 50 chicks (presumably unsexed) for $7. We purchased 6 female chicks for about $18. 100 lbs. of starting mash for the chicks cost $4.10 in 1949 versus $8 for a 20 lb. bag of feed now. In 1949, I also found entries for building a chicken coop. For $53.25 my grandmother bought 650 feet of sheeting and 241 2x4s. Eleven pounds of nails cost a mere $0.80. We haven't built a coop yet, but I can guarantee it will cost more than my grandmother paid.

My grandma kept chickens for two reasons: for the eggs and the meat (chicken dinner every Sunday). While I'm willing to try raising chickens for the eggs I'm not quite ready to kill my own chickens. After all, a city girl has to draw the line somewhere.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Extra! Get Your Kazoo Obits Here

You have an ancestor who died in Kalamazoo County and you desperately want to find an obituary. Where should you look? I'm happy to report that there are many options, depending on the time period. Not all of them are free, but depending on how many you are looking for there is probably an option to fit your budget.

Free Options:

KPL Digitized Newspapers. The Kalamazoo Telegraph and several other area newspapers have been digitized by the Kalamazoo Public Library. The years covered vary by newspaper, and sometimes there are holes in the coverage, but in general the years span 1845-1922. In addition to several Kalamazoo papers (not the Kalamazoo Gazette), newspapers for Allegan, Otsego, Fort Custer, Scotts (newly added) and Climax (newly added) can be searched by keyword here

Kalamazoo County Rootsweb Message Board. More recent obituaries (along with a handful of older ones) can be found on the Kalamazoo County Rootsweb message board.  While message boards are waning in popularity, the Kalamazoo County board is going strong thanks to some dedicated contributors. As of March 2014, there are a whopping 30,000 or so posts, many of them obituaries.

Kalamazoo Area Newspapers On Microfilm. Note: this is only free if you can make the trip to the Kalamazoo Public Library in downtown Kalamazoo. You can see the list of the many Kalamazoo area newspapers available on microfilm at the KPL here

Fee-Based Options:

GenealogyBank. The Kalamazoo Gazette (1-23-1837 to 12-31-1922) has been digitized and is keyword searchable. Kalamazoo Gazette obituaries from Jan 1, 2005 to the present are also available. The cost is about $70 for a year or $20 for a month. If you have never subscribed you can get a 30-day trial for about $10. This is the way to go if you have many relatives in the area (or in other areas covered by their newspapers). You can view the complete list of newspapers by state.

Kalamazoo Public Library Look-Ups. Library staff will conduct look-ups in the Kalamazoo Gazette if you can provide a death date or if you have the publication information from their online newspaper index (there is currently a gap that has not yet been indexed from 1890-1938). Copies are $3/look-up. You can find more information about this service here. To look in the newspaper index go to the Local Information Database page.  I recommend you read their tips on searching the database

If you think your person died in Kalamazoo county, but you don't know when, you have several options for finding an exact date of death (to the present day) and even a death record (1867-1933). For more information see Sources for Kalamazoo Death Records

I hope you find some great information in these resources. I sure have!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Missing House

I regularly drive past this location, but only this spring did I notice that something else probably used to be here, namely a house.  I noticed two lines of daffodils.  The simplest explanation to me is that these flowers used to line a walkway.  And what would a walkway be doing in the middle of a field?  Nothing.  There probably used to be a house here.  The rest of the year one would never notice anything amiss.

 I wonder how many other absent houses are only exposed by spring flowers.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Bringing Them Home: How Should We ID Lost Soldiers

NPR and Propublica recently published a report in which they investigated the process by which unknown U.S. soldiers from WWII, Korea and the Vietnam wars are identified with the goal of returning the remains to family members. My ears pricked up because, as I wrote about in Lost Boys of WWII, I have a WWII soldier who died when the aircraft in which he was flying crashed into a mountain in Burma (now Myanmar). His mother went to her grave never knowing how her son died or if he suffered in the process. The records were only declassified after her death.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

It turns out that the methods used by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) to identify remains are outdated. In this age when DNA testing is routinely used to positively identify remains, including victims of the 9/11 attacks and even massacre victims buried in mass graves in Bosnia, the U.S. Government only uses DNA to confirm matches already made by other means. Methods such as examining teeth and measuring bones to determine height can only lead so far in the identification process, assuming the remains have been disinterred at all. The current process proceeds in the following manner:
  1. Historical records are analyzed to determine if identifying remains in a particular area (battlefield, crash site, etc.) is feasible.
  2. Archaeologists disinter remains.
  3. Physical remains are examined in the JPAC laboratory.
  4. DNA is used only to confirm an identification made based on the previous work.

In contrast, a DNA-led strategy would involve disinterring available remains, conducting DNA tests on them as well as on living family members of the deceased and then comparing the two data sets to identify matches.

Of the approximately 83,000 people listed as prisoners of war or missing in action, the Pentagon estimates that about half could be identified and returned to family members. At the current rate of about seventy identifications per year, the chances of returning very many within the lifetime of anyone who actually knew them is. . . well. . . not very good. In addition, during the several hundred years it would take to identify all of these lost soldiers at the current rate, living family members appropriate for DNA testing could die out making positive identification next to impossible. While I am sure that those charged with the difficult work of examining the bones of the fallen try their hardest to reunite them with their families, it seems crazy to me that we spend over $100 million dollars each year using outdated methods with so little to show for it, especially when DNA-led techniques used in other recovery missions can quickly produce many more results. As an example, the effort in Bosnia to identify victims in mass graves yielded about 400 identifications per month at the height of the project. 400 identifications per month or 4800 IDs/year versus an average of 70 per year. Hmmm. If the goal is to bring soldiers home I know which method I would choose.

Other problems with the process of identifying POW/MIAs include several layers of bureaucracy and a reluctance to disinter multiple remains in the hope of identifying a single soldier. Some families have done their own investigations into the available records to try to narrow the field. Even in cases when the families believe their loved one is among a set of remains the powers that be have refused to remove them for testing apparently because they didn't want to disturb men who had already been honorably buried. According the NPR/Propublica report only about 4% of the cases for disinterment move forward. While I can only speak for myself, if my soldier's remains were in a group grave I would be happy to have the remains disinterred if it meant that DNA testing could be done to possibly bring my man home.

My soldier and his comrades will likely never be repatriated because of poor relations with Myanmar, the uncertainty of the crash site and the fact that any remains are surely long gone. But for families who have soldiers buried in group unknown graves, I wish they stood a reasonable chance of bringing their loved ones home. Unfortunately, unless the current state of affairs changes, most will never be able to obtain closure by laying to rest their men who gave their lives in defense of their country, in marked graves.

You can read more about this story here.