Home - Genealogy
Doing Research at the Grand Rapids Public Library
Although this article was written in 1981 and applies specifically to the GRPL, it can be used more broadly. I have updated this booklet to reflect the influence of the Internet on genealogical research.
The biggest difference in the last 30 years at the GRPL was the new library director who placed the "I-Hate-Genealogy" librarian in charge of the Genealogy Room who promptly blackballed most of the active members of the Western Michigan Genealogy Society as well as disposing of many of the genealogy books and eventually the genealogy room itself.
Doing Genealogical Research at the Grand Rapids Public Library
by Barbara Vander Mark, Western Michigan Genealogical Society 1981
Published by: WESTERN MICHIGAN GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY
Grand Rapids Public Library, 111 Library St, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503
Library Services Committee: Barbara Vander Mark, Chairman
Kathryn Green, Bill Hill, Janice Hulbert, Roma Nowak, Barb Ter Meer
Special thanks to Percy Brown and Barbara Trowbridge, two novices who read it for clarity to the novice.
The purpose of this booklet is to provide a basic reference tool for both the novice and experienced genealogist to use in the Grand Rapids Public Library. All information refers to the Genealogy Room except as noted in the text.
(The genealogy room no longer exists. Many of the books are gone or in storage so sold or thrown away.)
(The Michigan Room no longer exists. It's called something much fancier; lots of big words. I can't find anything).
TABLE OF CONTENTS
How to Begin……………………………………………………. Page 1
How to Locate and Use Records……………………………… Page 2
Using the Library ……………………………………………… Page 3
Common Sources……………………………………………… Page 4
Further Help…………………………………………………… Page 5
Services Provided by Your Local Genealogy Society……… . Page 6
Michigan Sources……………………………………………… Page 7
Kent County and Grand Rapids Sources…………………… Page 8/9
Internet......,,…………………………………………………..... Page 10
Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is............................... Page 11
- Page 1
HOW TO BEGIN
So your Grandfather was from Germany - maybe, but at least from Pennsylvania and his surname sounds German. So you start by looking through books on Germans, right? WRONG!!!!
Even if it sounds dull, you must start your search with - YOU!
Where were you born? What state, county township? How long did your family live there?
When were your born? What month, year, day?
What is your name? Surname, (woman's maiden name), first name, middle name?
These are the three necessary requirements for searching:
1. A specific place - state, county, township
2. A specific time - year, month, day
3. A specific name - surname, first, middle
Now you are ready to begin your search. You must determine what records existed for that place and time you are interested in, where these records are today and how you can gain access to them.
USE THE FOLLOWING BOOKS FOR QUICK REFERENCE:
Lippincott's Gazetteer R910.3 L666
Use this book to look up names of towns throughout the world.
Encyclopedia Brittanica of the World R912 En19e
The Canada Gazetteer Atlas M912.73 (Michigan Room)
Use this book to look up names of places in Canada
Township Atlas of US R912.73 An28t
Use this book to look up names of places in the United States and to locate townships within a county.
City, County, Town, and Township Index to the 1850 Federal Census Schedules R312.0973 P226c 1850
Place name books for individual states:
Illinois R917.73 Ad17L
Michigan M917.74 R664n (Mich Room)
Minnesota R917.76 Up3m
- Page 2 -
HOW TO LOCATE AND USE RECORDS
Even if your ancestors never lived in the area where you now reside, local and regional public libraries, genealogical and historical societies, and the Internet will have information you can use. Start locally first, then contact libraries and societies located in the regions where your family lived. Only after you have learned basic skills should you attempt to use the internet and the special collections in advance research libraries, archives and universities and public records kept by busy government employees concerned with current problems.
1. Contact your local genealogical/historical societies and take advantage of their many programs and services available.
2. Visit your local library
3. Take advantage of classes, lectures, workshops and seminars. Genealogy is neither quick nor easy; it is a skill which must be learned.
4. Contact genealogy societies and libraries located in the area where you family resided. They will advise you, when you write to them, if you include a stamped, self-addressed envelope.
5. New. The internet. Just because it's on the internet doesn't mean its accurate. Anyone can say anything, anonymously. Just think of it as the wall of a public bathroom stall. Do you really think that phone number will get you a good time? Or will it get you mugged?
6. New. E-mail. Make sure that you include a specific name, specific date and specific place. And ask a specific question from the recipient's point-of-view.
USE THE FOLLOWING BOOKS FOR QUICK REFERENCE:
Directory of Genealogy Societies in the U.S. and Canada R929.106 M575d
Directory of Historical Societies and Agencies M906.2 Am35 (Michigan Room)
American Library Directory R020 Am4
Do Your Letters Beg for Attention or Do They Command It? R929.1028 G286d
Use this booklet as a guide in writing letters for information.
Handy Book for Genealogists R929 Ev27h
Use this source to determine the availability of vital statistic records –
birth, death, marriages – for the counties where your family resided.
Genealogical research often involves using rare books and original documents. Extreme care must be taken not to damage this fragile, irreplaceable material. Most libraries, county clerk offices and other institutions restrict its use.
Grand Rapids Public Library requires all researchers using the Genealogy/Michigan History collections to register with the librarians. All items in the collection are reference and do not circulate. Nothing may be taken from the room or photocopied without the librarian's permission. Damaged books may be removed from the shelves and placed in storage until repaired. It is to everyone's advantage to prolong the availability of records by proper care and use.
- page 3 -
USING THE LIBRARY
Genealogy Room Card Catalog
Cataloging is the inventory system used by libraries. The GRPL uses the Dewey Decimal system. See an explanation at: Dewey. Each book is identified by a unique Call Number. An index to the books is called a Card Catalog.
This catalog is on 3x5 cards in the drawers with the orange labels in the card catalog cabinet. Cards are alphabetized by the title of the book, the author's name and the subject. Once a card is found for a book you would like to use, copy the COMPLETE number which is usually found in the upper left hand corner of the card. It will look something like: R929.3774 B78. Copy ALL of it.
The card catalog for the genealogy room includes only those cataloged books in the genealogy room and does not include books in other areas of the library. Although most of the books are cataloged, manuscript items, such as newspaper clippings and handwritten notes, are not cataloged and no card will be found in the card catalog for these items.
Books are shelved in numerical order according to the complete call number. Some of the most popular items, census indexes, how-to books and Michigan material, are shelved in special areas for easy accessibility.
Card Catalogue Index
In order to make the genealogy collection more accessible for genealogical research, the Library Services committee of WMGS had developed an additional card catalog index. It includes the same reference as the Genealogy Room card catalog but cards are arranged differently, not by title, author, subject. In addition, references are included for manuscript material and selected works from the Michigan Room and other library departments. Also, unlike the library card catalog, there is limited cross-indexing and duplications.
Geographical Index - is the major index. Much of the information useful to genealogists is recorded locally - by township, county, state. It is necessary to know where your family lived in order to find their records. Cards are arranged according to geography. Look up the country, then state/province, then county/town.
Family History Index - includes references to family histories, arranged in alphabetical order by major surnames.
General Reference Index - includes references to material if place is irrelevant. Includes lineage, directories, general how-to books, bibliographies, etc.
Unfortunately when the I-hate-genealogy librarian was put in charge of the Genealogy Room this index was ignored. Recently I noticed that it has been added to by someone who had no idea of what it was.
There is an abundance of material useful to genealogists in the Michigan Room. Much of the material covers Michigan but there is also material on New York, Canada, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin and other places which were important to Michigan's early development. There is a separate card catalog for this room.
Circulating - Main Library
There are items of genealogical importance, many of which circulate, in other library departments. The main card catalog on the first floor lists books through 1979. More recent books are in the CLSI computer. Ask the librarian at the front information desk for assistance. See also my article on Dewey
- Page 4 -
Census - The records currently open to the public were compiled every 10 years from 1790-1910 (now 1930). These are arranged by state, county and township. Since there is no national index (now on-line and that's a new problem), and each page must be read, it is best to narrow down the area to be searched.
Each year contains different information.
1850 - First census to include names of wives and children.
1880 - Gives birthplace of parents. It is partially indexed by Soundex.
1890 - Destroyed. A partial census is available for Civil War veterans.
1900 - Gives year of immigration to U.S. Indexed by Soundex.
1930 - Tells you if they had a radio!
Census records and soundex for all states are available at the Federal Records Center in Chicago, the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, IN and the Mormon Library on inter-library loan as well as other locations. (Now on-line for money). Canadian censuses are available on inter-library loan.
Census Indexes - More and more census records are being indexed by state, but a few are indexed by county. This library's Census Indexes are shelved in alphabetical order by the name of the state. Look up you family name; it will be followed by an abbreviation for the county and township. Also given is the page number of the actual census record on which this entry is listed. An explanation of the abbreviations used is usually presented in the front of the indexes. From the index, use the roll number, county, township and page number to locate your family on the actual census.
Cemetery Inscriptions - Information from tombstones has been recorded in many areas and contain valuable information. Check library collections and write to libraries and societies in your geographic area of interest for the availability of these records. Kent County was read by the DAR and is available on index cards.
Obituaries - Old newspapers are usually available in the local library or the state library. Some have been indexed; if not, the date of death must be known. For Western Michigan, see the Muriel Link Collection on index cards.
County Histories, Atlases and Portrait and Biographical Albums - These generally date from the late 1880's and can provide valuable information on early settlers and a history of the area. Many were compiled for PROFIT. Oftentimes, the families listed were the ones willing to PAY for the listing. These often fall into the category of Vanity Press. So be careful. Don't believe everything you read. Contact a genealogy society or library in your geographic area of interest for the availability and reliability of these records.
Passenger Lists and Naturalization Records - Many people, eager to find their immigrant ancestor, waste valuable time searching for passenger lists and naturalization records. These records are hard to find, hard to use and provide scant information. If you know the person's name, their port of arrival, their exact date of arrival and the name of their ship; you will discover how many pieces of luggage they had.
Internet - New see page 10
Locating Your Immigrant Ancestor: A Guide to Naturalization Records - Neagles, R929.1 N249L
Passenger and Immigration Lists Index - Filby, R929.373 P266
Dutch Emigration Records 1847-1877 and 1835-1880 - Swierenga R929.373 D951
Dutch Immigration and Emigration Records 1820-1880 - Swierenga R929.373 D951
- Page 5 -
General How-To Books
Searching for Your Ancestors - Doane R929.1 D65
Know Your Ancestors - Wiliams R929 W671
Who Do You Think You Are? - Hilton R929.1 H567W
These books present general how-to-begin information and reference material and are available in three different locations. Reference copies are available in the genealogy room. Circulating copies are available in the biography section on the second floor of the main building. Copies may be purchased at the WMGS monthly meeting.
4-Generation Charts - useful in listing your ancestors. A quick and easy way to organize basic information
Family Group Sheets - useful for listing children, cousins, descendants.
Census Record Sheets - useful for recording information when searching census.
All of these forms are available at low cost from WMGS.
It is VERY IMPORTANT to reference all information found. Note place found, date found, names of persons, titles and authors of books, call numbers, page numbers. It is too easy too forget where information was originally found and it is a waste of time to backtrack through records already searched.
Refer to Cite Your Sources - Lackey 929.1028 L118c or consult my essay on footnotes
Spelling Variations and Discrepancies
Think for just a moment - how often have you received junk mail with your name misspelled? How many times does a bill arrive with your name completely distorted? And computers have made it worse.
Spelling variations are common. Learn to recognize and anticipate spelling variations when searching through records. Also, learn about changes in handwriting over the years. Learn how to predict changes in penmanship. The Handwriting of American Records for a Period of 300 Years - Kirkham R929.1 K635ha
Discrepancies occur often. A Bible record may give your grandmother's birthplace as Delaware. The census records give the place of birth as Pennsylvania. Which is right? BOTH! She was born in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Record information EXACTLY AS FOUND. Do not make assumptions or correct "mistakes".
Talk to your parents, grandparents, aunts, cousins – anyone and everyone, and the older the better. Plan on a pleasant visit where your elderly relatives can relax and talk about their memories. Don't rush them or ask so many questions that they become confused. Much of the information given will not be accurate but will provide clues which you can clarify by record searching. Exact dates aren't necessary just try to get them to remember what was happening at that event. My Aunt Carrie couldn't remember when her grandfather died but remembered she had to care for her baby sister.
- Page 6 -
SERVICES PROVIDED BY YOUR LOCAL GENEALOGY SOCIETY
Free Beginner's Class
This class is held usually on the first Saturday of each month with some exceptions. Always check with the librarian to be sure of the exact date. The class starts at 10 a.m. in the 2nd floor conference room. Class covers 4-generation chart, family group sheet and how to use the library. Materials are provided.
Lectures are usually on the first Saturday of each month at 1:30 p.m. in the Zonta Room of the Grand Rapids Public Library. The Western Michigan Genealogical society presents guest lecturers who speak about a variety of subjects of importance to the novice and to the experienced genealogist. A short business meeting precedes the lecture. Anyone may attend.
WMGS was founded in 1954. Membership is open to anyone interested in improving the study of genealogy. New members are welcome.
Printed intermittently, the newsletter contains current information on lectures, seminars, programs and projects. It is mailed to members. Extra copies may be available in the library.
WMGS publishes a quarterly containing information about Western Michigan and other pertinent genealogical information. It is available through membership in the society.
There used to be bound magazines published by other genealogical societies throughout the world arranged in alphabetical order by location. Maud Quigley developed an index for all of them. The "I-Hate-Genealogy" librarian threw many of these in the trash. We retrieved them and sent them to other societies.
As I just happened to be down at the library the other day, for the first time in 20 years, the genealogy collection has really shrunk. The "I-Hate-Genealogy" librarian has been very busy. .
This is a collection of miscellaneous information donated to the society but not in book form. It is not confined to Family Histories. Much of this was available in the vertical files or on 3x5 cards in the card catalog cabinet.
How-To Books and Charts for Sale
Books on a wide variety of genealogically related subjects are for sale at a reasonable cost, as are charts and other aids. A complete exhibit is shown at each meeting.
WMGs used to have a number of committees working on various projects and members were encouraged to participate. The Research Committee founded by me is still going.
The Acquisitions Committee was founded by Jan Hulbert. We selected and purchased the books we wanted, then donated these books to the library. When the "I-Hate-Genealogy" librarian was hired he said, "give me all your money." We said no, purchased our books, donated them to the library, he threw them away. When we complained to Mr. Raz he said, "The library has the right to choose what it wants to keep". (Obviously, he didn't choose us).
The Projects Committee was founded by Barb Madison. They published a local land record book.
The Library Services Committee was founded by me. I used to volunteer for Martha Seamon, who was in charge of the cataloging department, and catalog the genealogy books for her. We had worked on a number of booklets that the library was going to publish until the "I-Hate-Genealogy" librarian tried to take credit for these booklets on genealogy. We stopped him cold. We won that battle. He won the war. Suddenly the library would not publish our work or allow them to be in their collection. Martha left.
We used to have five or six volunteers manning the Genealogy Room every Saturday Morning so each and every newbie received free hands-on help. The 'I-Hate-Genealogy" librarian threw us out.
There is a web site that I thought was WMGS but my services were not welcomed and so now I have my own site for what its worth This site is not WMGS but actually .Kent County Michigan GenWeb Project Some of the information on this site is useful and easily available but some of the information is an inaccurate conglomeration of apples and oranges that mis-leads. Don't believe everything you read even mine. Use your own judgment and research, research, research.
The actual WMGS site is www.wmgs.org run by Don Bryant. There are now some new members who were untouched by the now retired "I-Hate-Genealogy" librarian and WMGS is beginning to recover.
- Page 7 -
Genealogy in Michigan, Anderson and Bender, R929.1072 An23g
Tracing your ancestors in Michigan, Williams, R929.1 W671t
Index to Michigan Research Found in Genealogical Periodicals, Quigley, R929.3774 Q4I
Michigan Cemetery Compendium, R929.3774 H212m
Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections, M9 M58
(duplicate set which circulates available on second floor)
Muriel Link Obituaries - manuscript on 3x5 cards and more recently in bound computerized lists by year.
Michigan History Magazine - periodical - 1917 to present
Federal Population Census, Michigan - microfilm
1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910
Early Michigan Census Records - R929.3774 J137e
1830 Federal Census: Territory of Michigan - R929.3774 Un3e
Index to 1840 Federal Population Census of Michigan - R312.09774 1840 M177I
Index to the 1850 Federal Population Census of Michigan - R312.09774 1850 M582I
Index to the 1860 Federal Population Census of Detroit and Wayne County, Michigan R312.0977433 St91
Michigan Military Records - (Revolution), Silliman, R9293774 Si35m 1969
Family Trails, "American Revolutionary Soldiers in Michigan ", Vol 5, No. 2, 1976
Michigan in the Mexican War, Welch, MR929.3 W445m
Michigan Soldiers and Sailors Individual Records - (Civil War), M9 M58ri
(Use information from this source to send for military/pension records from Washington, DC. Ask librarian for proper form)
Michigan Soldiers Obituaries and Index - manuscript
GAR - Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery Index - manuscript
- Page 8 -
KENT COUNTY AND GRAND RAPIDS SOURCES
Kent County World War I Veterans
Kent County World War II Veterans (incomplete)
Early Kent County Land Records
Early Kent County Birth Records
Early Kent County Marriage Records (separate index for brides, on cards)
Early Kent County Death Records
Portait and Biographical File
In addition to those listed below, there are nineteen daily and weekly Grand Rapids Newspapers from 1841 through 1933, eight neighborhood papers from 1909 through 1955 and some ethnic and trade publications.
Grand Rapids Herald - 1891-1959
Lowell Ledger - 1905-1939
Grand Rapids Press - 1893-Present
Rockford Register - 1907-1955
Grand Rapids Legal News - 1936-1956, 1969-Present
South Kent News - 1915-1952
COUNTY/CITY HISTORIES (Michigan Room)
History and Directory of Kent County, Michigan, 1870, Dillenback M977.455 D582 (currently being indexed)
Memorials of the Grand River Valley, Everett, 1878, M977.4 v26
History of Kent County, Michigan, 1881, Chapman M977.455 C366
(This index for this book is on cards and available on the WMGS web site.)
History of the City of Grand Rapids, 1891, Baxter M977.456 B333
(Index is available on the WMGS web site)
The City of Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan, Up to Date, 1900, Bowen
History of Grand Rapids and its Industries, 1906, Goss MKG9 G69 Vol 1 & 2
The Men Behind the Guns in the Making of Greater Grand Rapids, 1909, Altenbrandt MKG92.AL7
Grand Rapids and Kent County, 1918, Fisher M977.456 F532 Vol 1 & 2
The Story of Grand Rapids, 1967, M977.456 L984s
The Yesterdays of Grand Rapids, Belknap, 977.456 B412
- Page 9 -
KENT COUNTY AND GRAND RAPIDS SOURCES
Directories usually include sections on civic organizations, description of streets and wards, alphabetical listing of residents, a business directory, and a listing of residents by address. By checking names and addresses for successive years, families can be constructed. Sometimes a date of death is given.
The 1876 county directory can be used as an index to the 1876 Atlas.
In 1912, the city established a street numbering system which is still in use today. The 1912 directory lists the new numbers with the corresponding old addresses. The City Directory was NOT the authority for those changes. Addressing Rules
The 1900 city directory can be used as an index for the 1900 federal census. Look up the name to find the address, then look up the address in the front of the directory to find the ward number. Then get the appropriate census microfilm roll for that ward and look for the street. The streets will appear in each ward more than once.
Some of these early directories are available to the public only on microfilm.
Kent County Directory MKG 910.3 P75
1870, 1876, 1882, 1884-85, 1888, 1890, 1892, 1896, 1898
Grand Rapids City Directory MKG910.3 P75
1859, 1865, 1867 through present
Grand Rapids Business Directory MKG 910.3 G76
Grand Rapids Suburban Directory 1957 to present
ATLASES: (Michigan Room)
New Map of Greater Grand Rapids - posted on bulletin board. Ward boundaries are marked for 1850, 1871, 1890, 1892, 1916
(This now appears to be in pieces and I have copied what I could find) Ward boundaries
Illustrated Atlas of Ottawa and Kent Counties - 1876 MK912 B41 1974
Atlas of Grand Rapids and Kent County - 1894 M912 P75
Standard Atlas of Kent County - MK12 Fog3 I think this might be 1907 Ogle (The call numbers were changed by new out-of-state director)
Plat Book of Kent County - 1919 M91277455 G761p
Plat Book of Grand Rapids and Kent County - 1924, 1939 MKG 912 H64
Atlas and Plat Book of Kent County - M912.77455 R591
1966, 1971, 1974, 1977, 1982
- Page 10 -
How to Google http://www.tedpack.org/googleua.html
I have to admit I love the ease of using the internet. I love sitting home in my comfortable chair and accessing information easily instead of having to plan a trip, drive hundreds of miles through congested traffic to a library or archives out in a barren wasteland and searching old hand-written non-indexed hard-to-read documents, page by page by page for hours and hours and hours. Genealogy attracted only those hardy souls willing to do so.
But with the ease of the internet, genealogy appears easy and has attracted the gullible, the lazy, the ignorant and the money-grubbers. What used to require hard work and education now appears simple, convenient, easy. See my essay on Name Matching.
Not what you expected? You jumped right to this page expecting something easy. Yes the internet is easy but dangerous. The DANGER: Copy, copy, copy. See it, take it, copy it. Why even bother to confirm that its accurate? After all it's public domain. All you have to do is take it and then just lie. You can show off "your" work and brag to your friends and family or even to yourself and hopefully they will be too polite to tell you off to your face. So I will. If you copy without confirming or doing additional research you are a gullible idiot. If you copy without giving credit you are guilty of plagiarism "to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own." Are you a thief? Are you a liar?. Are you an idiot?
HOW-TO-USE-THE-INTERNET - NOT
1. Enter a surname into Google, let's use Smith as an example and hit enter.
2. Wade through hundreds or is it thousands of hits?
3. Enter all the spelling variations, two? ten? twenty?
4. Wade through thousands or hundreds of thousands of hits.
I do like to use Ancestry.com's actual census records displayed on-line. For a fee. But I don't like limiting the search to a name. Just enter a name. Get dozens of hits, get hundreds of hits, get thousands of hits. This is a contest? See how many hits you can get. I like to narrow it down to a time, a place and the most unusual first name in the family. Then I only get a few hits and then I look up the actual records to double check the accuracy of the index for myself. And I document: the census year, the state, the county, the township, the actual census page, the line number, the dwelling number and the family number, the name of the head-of-household "as spelled" in the actual census. Then you can find it again. Then anyone looking up your information can find it for themselves. Yes I borrow information posted by others but I look up the original records, if available, just to make sure and I document, document, document.
And frankly, some of these indexed "names" are just awful. For example: Reo as the first name instead of Rev. as a title. Or Vander, John Mark for John Vander Mark. Mark is part of the surname NOT a middle name. But the indexers don't know that.
Now Ancestry.com has bought out Genealogy.com and has posted many books on-line but no way to enter a title or author just subject and NAME. So I get 500 hits. I don't want 500 hits. I want a specific book with a specific title written by a specific author. I want ONE hit but I'll accept a dozen but not hundreds of dozens.
And Ancestry.com has bought out Rootsweb.com and Family Tree Maker. When are they going to buy the Mormon church? And I'll put my money where my mouth is. I posted my family at Rootsweb.com, a still free site so you can check out the accuracy of my work for yourself. See links on Page 11. And all databases are WORKING databases. It's okay to put in speculation (inconclusive, not done, maybe, hopefully, perhaps) just say so.
- Page 11 -
My Money - My Mouth
Putting my money where my mouth is. I just wish that I had enough money to fill my big mouth.
My maternal grandfather's very English family: http://wc.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?db=babschase
My maternal grandmother's pioneer family: http://wc.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?db=babscole
My paternal born-in-the-Netherlands family: http://wc.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?db=babsmark
Residents of White Cemetery: http://wc.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?db=whitecem
Families connected in someway to the topics on this web site: http://wc.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?db=grcity
Families connected to early burials in Fulton Street Cemetery: http://wc.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?db=fultoncem