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Local History and Genealogy

Not to be Overlooked

The Local History Room is so full of all different kinds of resources that at times it can feel a little overwhelming. Some of the resources that can often go overlooked are the small volumes that touch on very specific genealogical topics for a particular region of a country. One example would be the 21 volume set Abstracts of the Proceedings of the Prerogative Court of Maryland. Although titles of this nature may sound a bit cumbersome, the front of the first volume of each set contains an introduction that explains the material found in the set and how it can be used.  Other volumes may have a more straightforward title such as the recently acquired, Scotland During the Plantation of Ulster: The People of Dumfries and Galloway, 1600-1699. Generally, the sets of this nature are indexed by people’s names so if you have a particular ancestor you are looking for, the search is pretty simple. So how do you go about finding these books when the titles can be so long and you may not know what to enter in the Catalog? You can do a keyword search for a particular state or country or you can browse the history room shelves for these books since the genealogy section is laid out geographically. If talking to a person is more your style, the staff in the local history room are always willing to help you with your search.


Scotland During the Plantation of Ulster

World War II – A Different Perspective

My great aunt served as a nurse during World War II and as a result I have always had an interest in biographies written by women who worked in a similar capacity. The local history room owns copies of two such biographies, Bedpan Commando by June Wandry and World War II Front Line Nurse by Mildred A. MacGregor. Bedpan Commando which was published in 1989 tells of June Wandry’s experiences in North Africa and throughout Europe. The book was so engaging that I’ve read it twice now. World War II Front Line Nurse is a recent addition to our collection. In her time of service, Mildred A. MacGregor also served in various locations in North Africa and across Europe, similar to June Wandry. Her story differs from that of June Wandry in that she was truly on the front lines. In her account she tells of arriving at Omaha Beach 16 days after D-Day, serving near the location of the Battle of the Bulge, and arriving at concentration camps following their liberation. These books remind me of how many other heroic stories were lived out during WWII by the many people who did not publish books. They provide invaluable insight into what life might have been like for medical personnel overseas.


World War II Front Line Nurse

One-Stop Shopping for Local History Events

Kalamazoo is a great place to live if you are into genealogy or history. Not only do we have numerous places close by for doing research, but there are also many area organizations, societies and commissions devoted to preserving or researching history in various ways. Groups like the Kalamazoo Valley Genealogical Society and the Oshtemo Historical Society meet monthly and often offer informative and entertaining programs for the public. The Kalamazoo Valley Museum, Western Michigan University and, of course, the Library all offer events of interest to history buffs. So, wouldn’t it be great if there was one place to look for all the area meetings and programs related to history? Well, now there is! KPL’s Local History Community Events Calendar, which can be accessed from the Local History and Genealogy pages of the website, provides information on events happening locally and even some bigger events taking place a little farther away. Be sure to check it often because new items are added regularly and don’t forget to contact us with information on events you would like included in the calendar. With this new calendar you’ll never have to miss any of the great local history events our community has to offer.


Community Events Calendar

Tracing Your Irish Family History

Has the idea of tracing your Irish roots plagued you but you don’t know where to begin? The Kalamazoo Public Library has recently acquired a book called Tracing Your Irish Family History. It provides details on Irish census records, religious registers, recorded pedigrees and much more. Rather than reading like a textbook the book provides plenty of pictures and many interesting side notes in the margins on topics such as interpreting Gaelic place names, historical events such as the Tithe War, common abbreviations found in Irish documents and other areas of interest. Does the task still feel daunting? Check out a copy and peruse it at your own leisure. Who knows, maybe you too will be bitten by the genealogy bug! The library has many other books on Irish ancestry if you are looking for more information. Interested in genealogy from other countries, nationalities or ethnic groups? Check out the catalog topics listed under the Genealogy topic guide. Remember that if the task feels too overwhelming, you can always contact the staff in the history room, or better yet come in and visit! They can set you on the right path.


Tracing Your Irish Family History

Discovering Local History

Local history and genealogy enthusiasts are fortunate these days. Not only are there great databases available for research, but the ease of self publishing has resulted in more books on local topics than ever before. The only problem is finding out about them. When I find a good source for local history material for an area outside of Kalamazoo it is a huge help. I recently found a source for local books on topics related to Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren counties and have taken full advantage of it. You will notice many new books for that region being added to our collection over the next month or so. Titles like Then and Now: Coloma - Paw Paw Lake - Watervliet, Michigan, Blossomtime Festival Southwest Michigan: A Pictorial History, 1906-1996, and Photographic Memories: South Haven, Michigan are just a few of the great things that will now be available in the local history room. They may not all be newly published, but do we care? After all, it’s history!


Paw Paw Lake

Materials Worth Remembering

Whenever I have an opportunity to acquaint new people with our local history collection there are certain items and sets that I can’t help but point out. One of these sets is Kalamazoo County Records of Soldiers & Sailors in the Great War. This is actually two sets of scrapbooks; a seven volume set for World War I and a 20 volume set for World War II. They were put together during the Wars to keep track of everyone from Kalamazoo County who served. Each page of the scrapbooks is a form with space for the person’s name, address, personal and family information as well as their war record. Newspaper articles are often pasted to the backside containing further information about the service of the soldier or sailor. While not every form is completely filled out, valuable information can be obtained for each person remembered in these scrapbooks. As we get further and further from these monumental events in our nation’s history it is comforting to know that the individuals from our area who took part will continue to be known and remembered through our collection.


World War Scrapbooks

Let Us Guide You

What could be better than having access to all the information you need right at your fingertips? That’s what the Library has done on the website with Topic Guides. With a couple clicks you can find recommended books, periodicals, databases, community resources, and websites on 50 different topics. Guides even include pre-set catalog searches to help narrow your options to only the most useful items for you. Local history fans will find the Kalamazoo, Genealogy, and Architecture and Historic Preservation guides particularly useful. Regular updates keep Topic Guides current and relevant. So, bookmark Guides on your favorite topics and you will be off and running on your research with the best the Library has to offer.


Topic Guides

Abundant Resources – For Now

When it comes to local history and genealogical research, we have always been fortunate here in Kalamazoo. We have many wonderful collections to draw on between KPL’s local history collection, WMU Archives, the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, and the holdings of many other local organizations that collect and preserve historical materials and make them available to the public. We are also lucky to be located within a few hours drive of several excellent large historical/genealogical collections: the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, the Newberry Library and the Great Lakes Regional Branch of the National Archives both in Chicago, the Burton Collection at the Detroit Public Library, and the Library of Michigan in Lansing.

Sadly, one of these institutions is being threatened with closure and the dismantling of its collection. The Library of Michigan may be a victim of cost-cutting measures recently outlined by the Governor’s Executive Order No. 2009-36. If this takes effect, much of the Library’s holdings may end up at Michigan State University and the non-Michigan genealogy materials will be eliminated or dispersed to other institutions. Over the years, I have heard that the genealogy collection at the Library of Michigan is one of the ten largest collections in the country and it would be a tragedy to see it dispersed. However, genealogists are not letting it go without a fight. On August 5th genealogists from around Michigan (and probably other states) are assembling in Lansing to support the Library of Michigan and to show “legislators and fellow citizens that [they] care about our state's past.” They plan to meet at 9:45 at the State Capitol and later march over to the Michigan Historical Center to form “Hands Around the Library.” The event is being planned by the Michigan Genealogical Council and they invite all interested individuals to join them.


Library of Michigan

How to use the Kalamazoo Gazette Index

For over 35 years, staff members from the Local History Room have been indexing the Kalamazoo Gazette.  This has been a wonderful contribution for genealogists, researchers and others just looking for information.  To use this valuable resource:

  • Go to   
  • Click on “catalog”
  • At the top of the page find “Local Information” and click on that link
  • Click on “Local Newspaper”
  • Then type the name or subject that you are researching

REMEMBER…what you are given is a citation. You will need to come to the Library and look at the Gazette on microfilm which can be found in the Tech Center.

If you need to find an article or obituary from a recent issue of the Gazette, talk to the staff in the Local History Room who will be more than happy to assist you.


Local Information Database

Baseball, the American Pastime

How appropriate that two of the new books in the Local History Room deal with a sport very popular now, namely baseball and more specifically, Detroit Tigers baseball. A Place for Summer by Richard Bak (H 796.357640977434  B166.1) deals with Tiger Stadium and includes some great photographs. The Detroit Tigers by William M. Anderson (H 796.357640977434 A5523 2008) is the fourth edition of a comprehensive look at the Tigers. The author also includes statistics on players he feels have been the Tigers’ best outfielders, pitchers, infielders and catchers.


The Detroit Tigers

Another Great Tool!

Genealogists know that no single resource has everything they need to trace their lineage. It can take thousands of individual records, documents, articles, etc. to get a full picture of just one branch of a family. That is why databases that pull together millions of historical records and materials are such fantastic tools for genealogists. KPL offers several wonderful databases for genealogical research including America’s Genealogy Bank that is brand new to us this week. With more than 32 million obituaries, 103 million newspaper articles (dating as far back as 1690), and full text of 11,700 historical books, local genealogists have another amazing resource right at their fingertips. AGB is even available for home access using your KPL library card number. So give our newest database a try. It may be just the tool you need to knock down a genealogical brick wall.


America's Genealogy Bank

The Lights of Michigan

Lighthouses have been a part of Michigan’s history for many years. Many people in this state will take the opportunity over the summer to visit some of the close to one hundred that are still here, some of which are in public hands and even others that have accommodations for visitors. There are many beautiful books in the Local History Room that have wonderful photographs and interesting information about these buildings.  Some of the newer ones that you can find include:

There also is a book that deals with the subject of women lighthouse keepers:

Women Who Kept the Lights by Mary Clifford (H 627.9 C638)

Along with all of these there are many fine websites on this subject:

So, if you plan on traveling around Michigan this summer, visit a lighthouse or two, or three…


Great Lakes Lighthouses Encyclopedia

Kalamazoo has a Gargoyle?

Kalamazoo is fortunate to have many examples of outdoor sculpture throughout the community. In 1980, author Fay Hendry wrote three short books, with photographs by Balthazar Korab, looking at outdoor sculpture in Kalamazoo (H 730 H498), Grand Rapids (H 730 498.1) and Lansing (H 730 H498.2). Even though the books are 29 years old, there is a lot of good information on many pieces that are still around. It was one of the first books that had research on the panels found on the Zelinger House at the corner of S. Rose and Vine Streets. Of course being 29 years old, there are several pieces that are gone, in fact one, the statue of St. Augustine which more than likely was destroyed in the 1980 tornado which came right after these books were published. So where is our gargoyle? If you don’t know by now, check this book to find out.


Outdoor Sculpture in Kalamazoo

Celebrating Vine!

During the month of May (Preservation Month) the local history room hosted a series of programs celebrating the Vine Neighborhood. Early in the month we learned the fascinating history of the neighborhood from the City’s historic preservation coordinator, Sharon Ferraro. Our second program featured Lynn Houghton, local historian and co-author of Kalamazoo Lost and Found, who took us on a virtual tour of Vine’s varied architectural styles. Finally, we discovered the hidden gem, Rose Place. Julie DeLuca, a Rose Place property owner, detailed the streetscape enhancement project which was the result of a collaborative effort between property owners and the city of Kalamazoo.

If you missed this great series, don’t despair. Each program was video recorded along with brief interviews with the presenters, and will soon appear on our website. Additionally, Julie DeLuca has offered a tour of the Rose Place Historic District which will take place on Thursday, June 4 at 7:00 pm. There is still one more opportunity to celebrate Vine. Lynn Houghton will conduct a tour of the Vine Historic District as part of her 2009 Gazelle Historic Walk series. The tour will begin at the corner of Vine and Westnedge at 8:00 am on August 28.


215 Rose Place

What's on top of the cabinets?

Ever wonder what those very large bound volumes are on top of the cabinets in the Local History Room? They are collectively known as the Historical Newspapers. These were special editions of various local newspapers, all laminated and indexed. They were published for such special occasions as the centennial of Kalamazoo County in 1937, the opening of the new Kalamazoo Gazette building in 1925 or our nation’s Bicentennial in 1976. Each edition is filled with articles and photographs on our community’s institutions, organizations, businesses and individuals. Make sure you don’t overlook the advertisements which are fascinating in among themselves. What makes these issues useful is that they are indexed and a physical copy can be found right next to them. So the next time you are in the Local History Room, pick one of these up, leaf through it and see what new bit of information you can find out about Kalamazoo.


Historical Newspapers

The Michigan What?

When you visit the Local History Room, walk over to the shelf that has the 328s. There you will find a series of dark red, unassuming volumes that appear to be filled with useless information. How untrue that is! These books are known as the Michigan Manual and are published every two years by the State of Michigan pursuant to section 24.24 of the Michigan Compiled Laws, meaning it’s required by law. They are filled with a voluminous amount of information on such subjects as Michigan’s history and its government. It has information on all the statewide elected officials including the Representatives and State Senators and each of Michigan’s Departments listing all the members of various boards and commissions. You can get population numbers for each of our 83 counties, the voting results for the previous primary, special and general elections, the members of the constitution convention of 1961-62 and the names of the Michigan Asparagus Commission. For someone like me who teaches Michigan History, these books are amazing. The Local History Room has manuals on the shelves going back to 1925 and in storage ones dating back to 1861. So the next time you are in the Local History Room and don’t know what to do, pick up one of these books. Who knows what you might find.


Michigan Manual

Secrets Revealed in Old Photos

Like many people interested in history and genealogy, I love collecting old photographs. There is nothing better than receiving a group portrait of my family members from past generations with everyone carefully identified and the date dutifully recorded. Unfortunately, many historic photos find their way to collectors without any identification at all. But that doesn’t mean their secrets are locked away forever. Careful examination of historic photos often reveals a great deal about their time period, location, and subjects. The history room has several wonderful books to help you do just that. One of my favorites is Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900. This book breaks down by decade and clearly identifies the clothing and hairstyles popular for each. Styles for men, women, and children are all included as well as clues to society and popular culture of the time. With 272 photographs, Dressed for the Photographer is enjoyable to browse but is also an incredibly useful tool.


Dressed for the Photographer

Kalamazoo and Automobiles

By now we have heard so much about the auto industry in Michigan. Much emphasis has been geared to the southeastern part of the State. For a more local perspective on what this industry meant to Kalamazoo, go to The Kalamazoo Automobilist by David Lyon (H 629.2 L991).  A long-time aficionado, Lyon examines the auto industry in Kalamazoo, focusing on the Michigan Buggy Company scandal. Each chapter has a bibliography and the book has a great deal of illustrations, including thirty-two pages of color photographs from the Locomobile, the first car that ran on our streets, to Western Michigan University’s Sunseeker.


The Kalamazoo Automobilist

So Where Did That Name Come From?

We are known for many things in this community especially our name. If you don’t know where it came from, go to which is one of the many interesting essays on Kalamazoo subjects that you can find in the Local History page on the Library’s website.

Meanwhile, if you are curious about how such communities as Battle Creek, Otsego and Gun Lake got their names, look for the book, Michigan Place Names by Walter Romig (H 917.74 R765) in the Local History Room. There also are copies on the regular shelving if you want to check the book out.  Mr. Romig spent ten years compiling information about the origins of the names of villages, towns, townships and cities that are still here and those that are gone forever, like Singapore which had been located at the mouth of the Kalamazoo River at Lake Michigan.

Obviously dates Mr. Romig gives need to be verified for their accuracy. Kalamazoo became a village in 1843, not 1838, and a city in 1884.


Michigan Place Names

Happy Anniversary…

Over the years, local institutions, businesses and governments have celebrated different numerical milestones. Some have used this as an opportunity to sponsor celebrations, to use it for publicity or to publish books and booklets about their history. Last year, Kalamazoo College celebrated their Sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary and published A Fellowship in Learning: Kalamazoo College 1833-2008 by Marlene Crandell Francis (H 378.774 F8191). Some other “celebratory” books we have in the Local History Collection include Brown and Golden Memories: Western Michigan University’s First Century by Larry Massie (H 378.774 M417) and A Century of Caring: The Upjohn Story by Robert D.B. Carlisle (H 338.8 C283) just to mention two. 

As far as who is celebrating anniversaries this year, so far we have the Kalamazoo Mall which turns 50, the Kalamazoo Country Club which turns 100, the City of Kalamazoo which turns 125, and Kalamazoo Central High School which turns 150.  Happy Anniversary to them and others who will be celebrating in 2009.


A Fellowship in Learning

Family Maps Have Arrived!

We have a wonderful new series of map books in the history room - the Family Maps series by Gregory A. Boyd. Each book covers a single county, township by township and clearly displays the original land owners. Determining if your ancestor obtained a patent in a particular county has never been easier. Family Maps provide multiple indexes that verify the surnames for the county, which townships to find them in and specifically where within each township. “Big Picture” maps are also included that place each county in context within the state and within the region. Most of these map books are deluxe editions, which also include roads, waterways, towns, cemeteries and railroads. The history room currently has Family Maps for Kalamazoo, Allegan, Calhoun, Barry, Berrien, Branch, Cass, St. Joseph, and Van Buren counties. But keep watch – more are on the way.


Family Maps of Allegan County

Play Ball!

Spring is in the air and with that is the coming of baseball. Believe it, or not, this sport has been a part of the history of this community and this state for well over 160 years. If you want to get more details about this, look at Baseball Fever: Early Baseball in Michigan (H 797.1 M877) by Peter Morris. It talks about the first recorded baseball game in Michigan which took place in Jackson in 1845. There is a lot of information about baseball in Kalamazoo including an interesting story about some early games in Bronson Park in the late 1850s when Village President Latham Hull’s concern for the trees led to a new ordinance concerning this sport. 

Another book on the subject is Minor League Baseball Towns of Michigan:  Adrian to Ypsilanti (H 917.74 O414) which looks at minor league teams in the state in communities ranging from Adrian to Ypsilanti as the cover states. Kalamazoo has great photographs and information on the teams and the sites where you could find professional baseball in this community during the last half of the 19th and into the 20th centuries. You will be amazed.


Baseball Fever

The Auto Men of Michigan

With all the recent changes in the automobile industry in Michigan, it’s a good time to look back on the people who were behind it. Billy Durant: Creator of General Motors by Lawrence Gustin (H 921 D949G) has been reissued, more than likely for GM’s centennial not because of its current situation. It tells the story of the corporation’s flamboyant founder who pulled thirty auto-related firms together like Buick, DELCO, Fisher Body and Cadillac under one company. There are many other biographies of the auto men of Michigan including The Dodge Brothers by Charles Hyde (H 629.204 H993) and several on Henry Ford which can be found in the H 921 section.


Billy Durant: creator of General Motors

Have Any Yearbooks You Would Like to Donate to a Good Home?

The Local History Room is filled with a wide variety of books and some of the ones that get used the most by patrons are local high school and college yearbooks. They are a great resource for finding the names of classmates or that photograph of the favorite English teacher. Sometimes people come in to trip down memory lane with family members. The Library has a nice collection but always needs to fill the gaps. If you would like to see what we have, please go to: 

We always are interested in receiving additional copies.  If you have any questions, please contact the Local History Room.


1946 Accolade

Little Books With a Lot of Information

A number of years ago, the Michigan State University Press introduced a new series called Discovering the Peoples of Michigan which features books on the various ethnic groups in our state. Currently, there are twenty-seven different volumes on such groups as GermansIrishLatinosScots and African-Americans. The books are not that large, maybe 100 to 150 pages and include photographs. Some of the volumes also may have recipes and other information. The Local History Room has many of these books, shelved around the 320s. Also there are copies available in the general collection that can be checked out. MSU publishes new volumes every year, so if a book on your ethnic group has not come out yet, I’m sure it will come out in the near future.


Scots in Michigan

But I Really Would Like That Book…

The Local History Room has a wonderful collection of books on all aspects of local, regional and state history along with many on genealogical topics. They cannot be checked out but can be used in the Local History Room. However, don’t despair; there always is the chance that the Library has a second copy in the circulating stacks. Check the catalog and you can find out this information. An “H” in front of the Dewey Decimal number signifies that the book is in the Local History Room and cannot be borrowed. The same book without the “H” in front of the Dewey number is a book that can be checked out. More than likely you will find it on the second floor shelves.


Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State

West Michigan from a New Angle

Being a lifelong West Michigan resident, I was anxious for the arrival of Marge Beaver’s new book Above West Michigan: Aerial Photography of West Michigan. I really enjoyed her first book, Above the North: Aerial Photography of Northern Michigan, and assumed that photos of familiar areas would make it even better. I was not disappointed. The photos in this book are amazing but to my surprise, not particularly familiar. She has captured the beauty of West Michigan in every season, from lakes to urban areas, in totally unexpected ways. I particularly liked the way she brought bright splashes of color into many of the photos using objects like boats, rooftops, and even blankets. Pick up Above West Michigan from the new books shelf in the local history room or the non-fiction shelves on the second floor and thumb through it. I guarantee you will have to sit down and examine every page.


Above West Michigan

Check Out These Beauties….

Okay, okay I know I said you should not judge a book by its cover but I have to say there is a 36-volume set on the Local History Room shelves that are very unique. Titled, Historical and Biographical Records (H 920 M 481), they are filled with entries on local organizations and individuals collected by Reverend Robert E. Meader, a Methodist minister. He stressed in an information sheet found in Volume One about those individuals included that, “Some of them are considered prominent and some consider themselves humble.” Most of these people lived in the Kalamazoo area during the first half of the Twentieth Century and some of the entries were written by family members themselves. The photographs and typed sheets were bound in  “…the most beautiful, full red Russia leather binders with double metal hinges and metal back and gold tracing with lettering,” as Reverend Meader described it.

The volumes are arranged in alphabetical order but you also can access them if you go to and click on “Catalog” then click on “Local Information” and then “All Local Databases” which will bring up a search box. To search this way you will have to have a name or organization you want to find. Also, the books are on microfilm if you would like to view them that way.

If you don’t have anyone particular you need to find, just go to the shelf and choose a volume to look at and be introduced to some of the people who lived in Kalamazoo not that long ago.


Meader Collection

A Michigan Classic

A few miles this side of Ann Arbor is a town of 5000 called Chelsea. While many may not have heard of the place, they almost certainly have seen (and tasted) the brand produced there: JIFFY. The Chelsea Milling Company,, today produces over 1.6 million boxes of biscuit and cake mixes every day. This book, by Ann Arbor author Cynthia Furlong Reynolds, is a very high-quality history of the company, its products, and the family that founded it and continues to run it. The inviting cover leads one into the book itself, where the company story includes many photos of and interviews with family and longtime employees. As one devoted to all things Michigan, I love the fact that a commodity used by my mother, and my grandmother before her, is made right here in my beloved home state.


"Jiffy:" A Family Tradition: Mixing Business and Old-Fashioned Values

Vacation time in Michigan

With our current economy, it seems to me that more people may be looking to stay close to home this summer when it’s time for vacation. Fortunately for us, living in Michigan, there are a countless number of places to go depending on what your mood or interest might be. The Local History Room has several books which can help you pinpoint your destination.  Make sure you look at:

You never know what unique and unusual place you might find…remember Mystery Spot? It’s still there.


Michigan Curiosities Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities and Other Offbeat Stuff

The State Hospital Water Tower

What is more familiar and yet more mysterious to Kalamazoo residents than the medieval looking water tower on the grounds of the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital? KPL recently solved the mystery of the Water Tower with a program in the “This Old Building” series.

Sharon Ferraro, the city’s historic preservation coordinator, was the presenter. She discussed the history of the tower, what has been happening with it recently, and its possible future. The audience was particularly thrilled with the slide show which took them on a virtual tour around, inside, and on top of the tower.


An interview with Sharon Ferraro, followed by the complete presentation.


State Hospital Water Tower

Once Upon an Isle

Do you ever wonder what it would have been like to live on Isle Royale when the fishing industry thrived?  My new favorite local history book is Once Upon an Isle, written and illustrated by Howard Sivertson, a former resident of Isle Royale.  The book feels like a children’s picture book with its many beautiful illustrations but it contains very detailed sketches of life in a fishing village on Isle Royale.  Sivertson’s book tells of winters spent in Minnesota with his family studying his schoolwork, helping to mend fishing nets and making other preparations for the annual migration back to Isle Royale in the spring.  He also recalls laundry day, the Fourth of July celebration and other aspects of daily life spent on the island.  Can you imagine having to pack up everything you own, including all of your appliances, for the twice a year journey across the water between Minnesota and Isle Royale?  It certainly was a different way of life than the ones most of us live now.

If you enjoy reading books of this nature describing life in communities such as Beaver Island, North Manitou Island and others which are no longer in existence, come take a look at what the history room offers!


Once Upon an Isle

During Black History Month Check Out

February traditionally is Black History month and always a good opportunity to highlight some of the resources out there that provide information about local African-American history. One such source, found on the shelf in the Local History Room is titled, Negroes in Michigan History although its real title is Michigan Manual of Freedmen’s Progress (325.26 F 85g).  

In the summer of 1915, a celebration was held in Chicago to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 13th amendment which abolished slavery. The State of Michigan dedicated $5,000 for an exhibit during the festivities in Chicago which would highlight contributions African-Americans in Michigan had made in several different fields including science, art and manufacturing.

A statewide committee, composed of fifty-seven people, also put together a manual which covered the history and contributions of African-American residents in Michigan. This book, reprinted in 1968, contains a variety of information including brief biographical sketches of individuals and organizations in the state, a list of soldiers who fought in the Civil War, and even home and property owners. The book also is peppered with many black and white photographs, a name index and a list of materials that were in Michigan’s exhibit.


Michigan Manual of Freedmen’s Progress

Check out the “New Kids on the Block”

No we are not referring to the singing group but rather the new items that have been added to the Local History Collection. As you enter the room, walk past the desk, staffed by one of our helpful staff members, the four computers and then stop at the shelves, turning to your left. There you will find several shelves of bright new books and even media, like DVDs. There are some really exciting titles out there so enjoy!


The Official Guide to

A Visit to the Place of My Nativity

One of the privileges a library worker has is seeing the new books as they come in. This book of anecdotes about Bronson Methodist Hospital, by retired employee Dick Vander Molen, caught my eye recently. When I browsed through it I discovered an amusing story about the pediatrician who tended to me in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I took a copy to my dad to show him this story and he ended up wanting to read the whole book, which he did, saying he enjoyed the stories about many local people, some of whom are his acquaintances. Anyone interested in the history of Bronson or in the people who worked there in past years will enjoy this collection.


The Bronson I Knew

Don’t judge a book by its cover

Ever hear that expression? Well it’s very appropriate when you look at the 40-volume set in the Local History Room called the Michigan Pioneer Collections (H 977.4 M 62). Bound in black with gold lettering, they don’t look all that impressive, but open them up and you will find them chock full of interesting information about life in Michigan during the 18th and 19th centuries. The books were a product of the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society whose one goal was to collect information and stories from the people who settled in Michigan in between the 1830s and 1850s. Fortunately, there are two indexes which are so valuable especially if there is a certain subject you are looking for in these books. These are at the top of my list when I am doing research. I once found some great information about the construction of Kalamazoo County’s first courthouse. 

You don’t have to have a specific topic to research. Just open them up and start reading. Sue Husband who worked at the Archives and Regional History Collections at Western Michigan University was reading these books one volume at a time. I don’t know if she ever finished them but I admired her for her persistence.


Michigan Pioneer Collections

Don’t miss the Old House Expo...

Do you live in an old house or just like them?  Then mark Saturday, January 24, 2009 on your calendar for the Old House Expo sponsored by the Old House Network.  This annual event held from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. at the Kalamazoo County Expo Center and Fairgrounds on Lake Street will be filled with seminars and classes on such topics as windows, painting, mortar, state tax credits and how to research house histories conducted by Beth Timmerman, Kalamazoo Public Library’s Local History Specialist.  Keynote speaker for the Expo is expert and author Gordon Bock, editor of the Old House Journal magazine since 1991. In addition, there will be a Vendors Hall filled with displays and demonstrations.

Tickets are $5.00 and will be sold at the door.  For further information you can go to the Old House Network’s website at


121 W. Cedar

Get to know the Ross Coller Collection

In 2008 the Local History Collection acquired a wonderful resource called the Ross Coller Card File Collection. Ross Coller worked as a journalist for both the Kalamazoo Gazette and Battle Creek Enquirer. He also left us a valuable historical resource as he read historical issues of these papers and made notes on 3x5 cards on people, places, organizations, institutions…you name it…just about anything you would want to know about these communities from the 1830s until the 1940s. 

The original cards he did from the Kalamazoo Gazette reside at Western Michigan University’s Archives and Regional History Collections. Now you can view the cards here at the Kalamazoo Public Library which is reproduced on 33 rolls of microfilm.  The information is arranged in alphabetical order, with wonderful cross-references.

You never know what you can find in this resource.  Once I was researching baseball in Kalamazoo and found a great deal of information in these cards going all the way back to the 1850s when the first hardball games were played in Bronson Park. The village council was concerned most about the damage this sport might do to the trees.

Look at the Coller Collection and see what gems you discover.


Ross Coller

Cemetery Strolling

I know it may seem a little weird, but one of my favorite pastimes is wandering around old cemeteries. They provide a wonderful park-like atmosphere and are filled with history and art. Finding small old cemeteries can be challenging but years ago the Library of Michigan published a wonderful resource, the Michigan Cemetery Atlas, for locating cemeteries all over the state. The maps are broken down by county, making both large and small cemeteries easily located and identified. Its companion volume, the Michigan Cemetery Source Book, lists tombstone transcriptions that are held at the Library of Michigan for many of these cemeteries.

Unfortunately, cemetery wandering is a seasonal activity so at this time of year I have to be content with virtual strolls. Two sites that provide images of tombstones in Kalamazoo area cemeteries are Kalamazoo County Cemeteries on the Web and the Cemeteries section of Both sites contain burial/tombstone information for thousands of people and many are accompanied by images of the stones. These sites are wonderful resources for genealogists, as well as taphophiles, and are growing all the time. Links to these and other great sites for genealogists can be found on our Genealogy Topic Guide.


Mt. Home Cemetery

So what are those big books on that shelf?

One of the first things people see when they come to the Local History Room are these big books of maps sitting on the map shelf.  They don’t quite know what they are but they are colorful and heavy.

These maps are some of my favorite resources.  They are the Sanborn Insurance Maps which were produced by the Sanborn Map Company originally for fire departments so that they could know the composition of the buildings signified by different colors.  They also were used by insurance companies.  As a researcher, they are a great resource to illustrate the history of a building and all the changes it went through.  The two massive volumes on the top of the shelf are from 1908 and 1932.  In addition, there is a two-volume set from the 1950s in that area.  There also are additional maps on microfilm dating all the way back to 1887, the first map for the city. 

Take a look at these maps.  Not only are they fun to look at, you never know what you will learn.


Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

Do You like Old Photographs?

Well, of course you must if you love local history. But, do you know how you can look at a great number of Kalamazoo photographs from the collection of the local history room from your computer?  It’s so easy.  Just follow these instructions:

  • Go to
  • Click on “Catalog”
  • Then go to the far right of that page and click on “Local Information”
  • This brings up six different categories, you want “Local Photographs”

Now you can search for a whole host of images typing in general search words like “education” or specific search words like “Kalamazoo Public Schools.” Once you get a list, you will notice there is a small icon in the lower right hand corner for each entry. Click on that and the image will appear. If you would like to make the image larger, just click on it. This also includes some images from the Kalamazoo Valley Museum and the Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History Collection.

This is a treat…enjoy!


Lovell Street School, 1884-1895