Reflections on 2012

Every New Year’s Eve, before my wife and I watch “To Catch a Thief,” we review the events of the past year and speculate on what the coming year will bring. I look forward to that discussion even more than seeing the divine Grace Kelly onscreen in the 1955 Hitchcock classic.

For this genealogist, 2012 was a particularly good year. My research trip to Chicago revealed that my g-g-grandfather was the first entry in the Cook County tract books for the family’s longtime property, several years before I had originally thought. Subsequent research in the Recorder of Deeds office confirmed this, as well as an earlier marriage.

The other big discovery of the year centered around the Kamp family of western Pennsylvania. For years, I was unable to find any trace of Frank Kamp or his wife Mary following the 1920 Census. Yet with the December 2011 changes to the vital records laws regarding public access to Pennsylvania vital records, the floodgates opened to my personal research. Indeed, I had finally solved my most enduring and frustrating genealogical mystery. As it turned out, Mary Kamp died in 1927, and her husband Frank died later in 1940; both are buried in Mount Lebanon Cemetery, the same cemetery I visited a few years ago researching a different line of the family. As with any discovery, new questions immediately surface. Where was Frank in the 1930 and 1940 censuses, and why am I struggling to find him?

Professionally, 2012 also brought big changes, the most important being a new position at the Archives of Michigan. Now as a Senior Archivist, I work closely with the Abrams Foundation Historical Collection, as well as outreach and programming in support of the Archives’ outstanding holdings. I look forward to the challenges of my new position, learning the intricacies of an exciting and unique archival collection, and maintaining my relationships with the Michigan genealogical community. Recently elected to the Board of Directors, I also look forward to becoming more involved with the Federation of Genealogical Societies.

So what will 2013 bring? With a March trip to Salt Lake City and a fall jaunt to Fort Wayne (IN) already on the schedule, I can hope for an exciting and rewarding year of genealogical discovery.

“Victory” in World War I

With the absence of U.S. Army service records from the World War I-era, family history researchers are faced with scrambling for other extant records to recreate their ancestor’s military career during the First World War.

One such record that can serve as an effective substitute is the Victory Medal application. Designed as a symbol of the Allies’ unity and common cause, the medal was to be awarded to those who saw active duty in the war. In the United States, this included all officers, men, surgeons, clerks, and nurses who served in the Army, Navy, or Marines from 6 April 1917 until 11 November 1918. Here is an image of the medal’s front:

World War I Victory Medal. Courtesy of "World War I Victory Medal (United States) at Wikipedia.com.

World War I Victory Medal. Courtesy of “World War I Victory Medal (United States)” at Wikipedia.org.

Men who later served in revolutionary Russia, including the “Polar Bears,” were also eligible; battle clasps were worn to indicate participation in the major battles of the war, such as Cambrai, Meuse-Argonne, and Ypres.

According to Christina Schaefer’s outstanding book The Great War: A Guide to the Service Records of All the World’s Fighting Men and Volunteers, only a few states have available collections of these Victory Medal applications: Georgia, Maine, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Michigan.

Housed at the Archives of Michigan, the Michigan records are arranged alphabetically, part of a larger collection of material from the Adjutant General Division of the Michigan Department of Military Affairs. Here is one example:

Bowen, Fred C., Application for Victory Medal (RG 85-78, Box ??), Archives of Michigan.

Bowen, Fred C., Application for Victory Medal (RG 85-78, Series 5, Box 27), Archives of Michigan.

Of note, we can see Bowen’s unit, serial number, his signature, as well as his residence at the time of the application in 1920. More importantly, we can see what major operations he participated in (Aisne-Marne), as well as his exact time spent in the Alsace defensive sector. In short, we get a fantastic glimpse into Bowen’s military service in France, information not readily available in other sources from the era.

Michigan is rich with other World War I-era genealogical resources, including a statewide census of veterans and veterans’ bonus files. The Victory Medal application is just one important piece to the larger puzzle of recreating an ancestor’s World War I military service.

The Next Generation of Family Historians

A few weeks ago, the Archives of Michigan was visited by Junior Troop #123 of the Girl Scouts of Michigan.

After a brief introductory discussion about family history, the girls looked at a few selections from the Archives’ collections, including a map of Michigan, Michigan (as Lansing was originally known), a state prison register of inmates (complete with mug shots), records of naturalization from Ingham County, and a Sanborn Fire Insurance map of downtown Lansing and the State Capitol. Some of the more compelling questions included: “How old is that map? – It looks really old!,” “What is Prohibition?,” “What does naturalization mean?”, and “Why is that building pink?”

The real fun started when the girls began their online explorations at Ancestry, FamilySearch, and several other destinations. A few weeks before, I had encouraged the kids to talk with their families to better prepare them for their upcoming visit to the Archives. A very encouraging sign was that many of the girls had filled out the pedigree charts and family group sheets I had left with them; the foundational conversations with the family had clearly taken place. In my experience, success for a beginner – whether a 4th grader or a retiree – can be directly attributed to having spent the time on preliminary research: talking to family members, identifying and charting out the names, dates, people, and places on the family tree. In short, getting a good sense of who was where when.

Some of the Girl Scouts located 1940 U.S. Census records of their families, while others enjoyed looking at the 1860 entry for Abraham Lincoln or the 1940 page with a young Martin Luther King, Jr. Some learned that their family had a radio in 1930 (still my all-time favorite census question), while others identified a grandparent as a child in the 1940 Census. The key with this first foray into genealogy was to discover something that was personal to them or captured their interest; whether they found an actual ancestor or not was almost irrelevant. An enriching and positive first experience makes it more likely the beginner will return, and bringing something home to show their family reinforces that notion.

One of the Junior Girl Scouts in attendance was my oldest daughter, a real treat for me. These last few years, she’s been very interested in my research, even tagging along on a cemetery walk. Although I’m certain it’s a stalling technique to stay up past her bedtime, she will often ask to look at “Daddy’s books” and the family images on my computer. At the Archives, my daughter was thrilled to find her grandfather in the 1940 Census in Detroit as a toddler; the idea of “Grandpa B.” as a youngster was particularly enchanting.

Perhaps the most rewarding outcome from the Junior Girl Scouts visit was that my daughter and I talked at length about my wife’s side of the family. With deep roots in Detroit, that branch of our tree has many discoveries waiting to be made. Indeed, given my work experience at the Library of Michigan and now at the Archives of Michigan – and the ready access to piles of records and resources inherent there – I am ashamed to admit that I have worked very little on that side of the family. With her renewed interest in the family and a relatively blank slate to work from, my daughter and I can make the discoveries together. I can’t think of a better way to spend some time with her.

Spreading the Word in Michigan

With a full slate of programs this week, including stops across Michigan in South Lyon, Charlotte, Davisburg, and Boyne City, I have a number of opportunities to reach out to and interact with library patrons, family history researchers, local societies, and their members.

This busy week comes at a most opportune time. With the transfer of the Abrams Foundation Historical Collection to the Archives of Michigan nearly complete, the time has arrived to promote the terrific collection and the many outstanding resources still available to family history researchers.

One popular misconception is that because it is an archives, all the resources are in closed stacks. False! Approximately two-thirds of the collection will be in glorious open stacks, allowing researchers to browse and discover the resources they are looking for; the remaining one-third will be available for quick retrieval. All of the heavy-use items, including family histories, local histories, and passenger list indexes, will be on the open stacks. Here is a picture of one row of book stacks at the Archives:

Archives of Michigan, Abrams Foundation Historical Collection

After a quick check-in at the front desk, researchers will find family histories (Michigan, too), passenger list resources, military indexes, city directories, getting-started handbooks and manuals, and local history and genealogy resources for dozens of states. States of particular strength include those with strong ties to Michigan and it’s early migration patterns: the New England region, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. All of these resources fit seamlessly with the Archives’ already existing foundational collection of Michigan state, county, and local histories.

Researchers may wish to begin by browsing ANSWER, the online catalog. Please note that the locations in the catalog are still being updated to reflect the Archives’ new holdings. In the interim, researchers are encouraged to contact the Archives staff, who will be happy to assist you in finding the source of interest.

The print resources that have moved over to the Archives are a complement to the already-outstanding collection of manuscript source material for Michigan, including such genealogically rich records as naturalizations, rural property inventories, state prison registers, county court case files, tax assessments, and Michigan vital records.

The digital platform for the Archives can be found at Seeking Michigan. Including Michigan state census records (in-process), Michigan Civil War regimental records, death records (from the Library of Michigan) covering 1897-1920, and naturalization indexes for more than 30 counties, this online destination for Michigan research will continue to grow. Visitor information, including contact numbers, street address, and open hours, can also be found here, at the “Visit Us” link under the Seek tab.

This collection transfer to the Archives of Michigan would not have been possible without the continued support of the Abrams Foundation, the Michigan Genealogical Council, the Records Preservation & Access Committee, and the management team of the Michigan Historical Center. Researchers with roots in the Great Lakes State and beyond owe a great debt of gratitude to these forward-thinking organizations.

With the uncertainty of the last few years now behind us, this is an exciting time for family history research in Michigan. Archives staff will be working hard to make this transition as seamless as possible, and we encourage researchers to stop by, take a look around, and perhaps discover something new. We look forward to assisting you in your family history journey, whether it takes you to Michigan, the Great Lakes region, or beyond. And perhaps I’ll see you this week on the road!

Friday Find: A Civil War Relief Book

As a librarian and archivist, one of the joys of my profession is finding a new source, discovering a hidden collection, or unearthing a mysterious ledger book. Even if it doesn’t tie into my own family research, perhaps it can help me down the road in an unexpected and invaluable way.

Earlier this week, one such resource jumped out at me at the Archives of Michigan. Found deep within a collection of records, largely assessment rolls, from the Ingham County Treasurer’s Office, one resource stood out. Indeed, only 1 volume in a collection of 314, the Civil War Relief Book lists detailed information about the Civil War soldier, the remaining head of household still residing in the area, other family members and their ages, and the amount of relief required.

Here is an example from the volume:

Entry for Milo[w] Smith in Volunteer Relief Book, Fund Report, 1861-1865. Ingham County Treasurer’s Office. RG 80-10, Vol. 312. Archives of Michigan.

And the rest of the entry:

Part 2: Entry for Milo[w] Smith in Volunteer Relief Book, Fund Report, 1861-1865. Ingham County Treasurer’s Office. RG 80-10, Vol. 312. Archives of Michigan.

38 years old at the time of his 3-year enlistment in Lansing in August 1862, Milo Smith served in Company A of the 20th Michigan Infantry. Louisa Smith became the temporary head of the family until Milo’s return, with Fanny Smith and a Harvey Tussell also in the residence. The family required $15 of relief per month while Milo was off at war.

Here is the family in 1860 in Lansing:

Milo Smith and family. 1860 U.S. Census (M-653, r. 545), Lansing, Ingham, Michigan, p. 202.

Milo Smith unfortunately did not live to see the end of the war. According to the 20th volume of the Record of Service of Michigan Volunteers in the Civil War, 1861-1865, Smith died on the hospital boat “Tycoon” on the Mississippi River on 4 August 1863. Here is that entry:

Record of Service of Michigan Volunteers in the Civil War, 1861-1865 (Vol. 20): Twentieth Infantry, p. 88.

This information found in the Civil War Relief Book adds a certain level of context to the home front and the family members those Civil War ancestors left behind. Indeed, many of our ancestor’s stories are not found on the battlefield, but rather back home as those remaining family members endured their own wartime struggles. The volume discussed above is full of other compelling examples and, although some stories end tragically, others end with the veteran soldier returning to family life in Ingham County and beyond.