Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Michigan School Records

Genealogy is so local. If you didn't know Michigan and needed to consult school records, you might despair. These records are often lost; if not lost, they tend to be scattered in local repositories; and if in repositories, they are rarely catalogued and even more rarely indexed.

So you would be very happy to find Archives of Michigan's five-year-old circular listing its holdings from two dozen counties, with records as early as 1843 and as recent as 1982. And if your folks happened to be around Grand Rapids a century or so ago, you'd be overjoyed to find the Western Michigan Genealogical Society's on-line index to annual school censuses of Kent County 1903-1925 (over 200,000 listings). But that's only the beginning. Lansing and Grand Rapids are good destinations, but so is Decatur.

Decatur? In Van Buren County? Population under 2000? Not even the county seat (that honor being reserved for Paw Paw)?

Yes, because Decatur is also the home of the Van Buren District Library's Local History Collection, which in turn is the home of the Bess Britton One-Room Schoolhouse Collection: eight wide-body file drawers of material covering 80 of 83 counties, 4770 schools, and 58,616 records.

I hasten to add that not all the schools have records and not all counties have equal coverage. The VBRGS blog has more information on the collection in three posts from earlier this year: part one, part two, and part three.

The collection itself is not on line, but various indexes are. For researchers who can pinpoint their family in a target county (or better, township), the geographical index may work best although it is reported to be partial. There is also a 954-page PDF available listing all the schools in alphabetical order (browseable only).

Those hoping to do a broadcast name search are not going to do so well. Ancestry.com hosts a spreadsheet of names and locations, which can be browsed or searched. As far as I have been able to tell, the browse function is slow (100 names at a time and you have to start with A), but the search function pulls up results from all of Ancestry's institutional holdings. So browsing may be the better choice. Going to Decatur may be the best.

And if you have figured out how to work around those browse and search functions, let us all in on the secret before you take off on that road trip!

Harold Henderson, "Michigan School Records," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 21 August 2012 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

1 comment:

Richard Warner said...

The process of access genealogy records at ancestor.com is slow, but when you search for any individual then it will work well and provide appropriate results.