Western Michigan Genealogical Society

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The welcome mats are rolled out at DeVos Place

Decor reflects Secchia family history and Italian immigrant experience

One local spot about fifteen-minutes from DeVos Place is Pietro’s Italian Restaurant. A sentimental favorite in Grand Rapids originally opened in 1980 by Peter Secchia (former Ambassador to Italy from 1989-1993), the restaurant is named after his Italian immigrant grandfather who came to the United States in 1906 armed with family recipes. 

Pietro’s has an old-world charm combined with a great menu. You can order traditional Italian favorites like homemade spaghetti and meatballs, Fettucine Alfredo, lasagna, eggplant Parmesan or different offerings such as hand-breaded tilapia or crab stuffed mushroom caps. The food served here is made from scratch and purchased from local farmers whenever possible. continue reading…

The Mitten Brewing Company, formerly Engine House #9 at 527 Leonard St., NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Courtesy Mary Rasch Alt

The Mitten Brewing Co., at 527 Leonard St. NW in Grand Rapids embraces history, especially the history of its own building. Owners Max Trierweiler and Chris Andrus, seen in the photo with their wives and Oprah, chose the historic Engine House No. 9 as the home for their brewery in 2012 and have spent a good amount of time restoring the building to honor its past.

The street level taproom is where the wagons and steam engines were housed, while the brew house and kitchen were the stables for the horses. The upstairs taproom was the living quarters. It was a fire house from 1890 to 1966.

Courtesy Mary Rasch Alt

The Mitten is a vintage baseball-themed microbrewery/pizzeria/restaurant with a focus on community involvement and charitable giving. Andrus and Trierweiler were dedicated homebrewers who saw an opportunity to broaden the city’s craft beer scene and also have an impact on the community at large. continue reading…

Grand Rapids History & Special Collections

Grand Rapids Public Library – Main, 111 Library St. NE, Grand Rapids, Mich. 49503
Phone: 616-988-5400; E-mail: Contact us
Hours: Sun 1-5p.m.; M-Th 9a.m.-9p.m. F-Sat 9a.m.-6p.m.

“The Grand Rapids History & Special Collections area of the library, including the archival collections, is one of the largest collections of historical [& genealogical] material in the state. Included are more than 30,000 books and periodicals, plus holdings on microfilm. Collecting emphasis is on the Grand Rapids and Kent County area, with additional sources on Western Michigan, Michigan and the Old Northwest. County and state histories, atlases & maps, family histories & biographical information, census data, city directories, local newspapers on microfilm, and vertical files are just some of the items to be found.”

City Archives & Research Center (Grand Rapids)

City Archives and Research Center
223 Washington Street SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Phone 616-456-4127 or 616-456-3114
Email mellis@grcity.us or awright@grcity.us

We are open to the public by appointment only. Our hours are Monday – Friday from 8am until 5pm.

City Archives & Records Center n Grand Rapids

City Archives & Records Center in Grand Rapids

“The City Archives and Research Center stores all the City’s government records. We make sure they’re preserved and accessible to citizens and employees to research.”

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It is springtime on “The Ridge” and the orchards are in bloom. 

The Ridge is an agricultural area northwest of Grand Rapids. This time of the year is the most beautiful as the orchards are in bloom with apple, peach, pear and plum trees setting their crop for the year. The agricultural area northwest of Grand Rapids is called “The Ridge”. For many generations on the farms, May is the month of bloom in all the orchards.

Apple Bloom from The Ridge

Apple Bloom from The Ridge. Courtesy of Mary Rasch Alt

There are three township historical commissions on The Ridge that met for Christmas two years ago to share their work and ideas on their historical collections.

Larry Carter, Sparta Twp. Historical Commission, was so impressed with how interesting, productive and fun it was to share within this group, that he suggested they meet quarterly. It was unanimous, everyone agreed, getting together on a regular basis has been good for everyone involved. continue reading…

Further away from West Michigan, enjoy the trip to other parts the Great Lakes State to see these significant repositories. 

Michigan Historical Collections, Bentley Historical Library
University of Michigan, 1150 Beal Avenue, Ann Arbor, Mich. 48109-2113 
Phone: 734-764-3482; E-mail: 
Hours:  M–F: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sat.: 9 a.m.–1 p.m. 
E-mail: contact us

“From the gubernatorial records of Jennifer Granholm to the letters of a Michigan cavalryman serving under Custer, the Bentley has countless materials related to state of Michigan history. Accessing these powerful holdings reveals the historical sources that shaped the state’s past—and its present.”

Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University,
Mount Pleasant, Mich. 48859
Phone: 989-774-3352; E-mail: clarke@cmich.edu 
Hours: M-F: 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; 
Certain Saturdays: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. (check website) continue reading…

We’ve assembled a list of important repositories & archives located in Michigan. Here are three you’ll find that are an hour’s drive or less of Grand Rapids. 

Archives of Michigan 
702 W Kalamazoo St., Lansing, Mich. 48915
Phone: 517-373-3559. Phone Hours M-F: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. 
Research Hours M-F: 1-5 p.m. Sa: 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Email: contact us

“The Archives of Michigan is responsible for preserving the records of Michigan government and other public institutions. The collections also include documents, maps, photographs and film from private individuals and organizations.”

Kris Rzepczynski -Abrams Foundation Historical Collection tour

Kris Rzepczynski leading a tour thru the open stacks of the Abrams Foundation Historical Collection – Photo by Roger Moffat

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1845 map of Ottawa County

1845 map of Ottawa County from”Grand Haven and Ottawa County.” Courtesy of Mary Rasch Alt

The Grand Rapids History & Special Collection Department was established in 1904 as the Ryerson Library-was being completed. When planning this “new” library, board members ensured that a “Michigan Room” be set aside in which to preserve collections. Currently, the archives contain over 450 processed collections, accessed with a request slip. My favorite is the photo collection, with over one million images & negatives. Check grpl.org/history for the list. The collection of maps is another favorite of mine and important in any family’s history. There one can find Lewis G. Stuart’s collection of maps of the Old Northwest Territory.

By the early 1950s, this archival collection had grown to include a great amount of local and Michigan collections such as the papers of local surveyor, politician and land developer Lucius Lyon, plus the personal papers of John Ball, who was a local settler, educator, surveyor, lawyer, politician, and early promoter of the city of Grand Rapids.

The library has obituary files and vital record indexes, as well as a wide variety of genealogical periodicals, including some that are from national sources. Volunteers from Western Michigan Genealogical Society have helped in many areas, this one in particular. continue reading…

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. Photo by Don Bryant

On the west bank of the Grand River stands the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and, just to the north, are the grave sites of the late president and first lady.

Ford, the only un-elected president of the United States and the only president from Michigan, and his wife, Betty, both grew up in Grand Rapids. Ford was our 38th president, serving from August 1974 to January 1977.

The museum at 303 Pearl St. NW is across the Grand River from DeVos Place, the site of the National Genealogy Society’s national conference in Grand Rapids May 2-5, 2018. It’s accessible by foot using the Gillett Bridge, which connects DeVos Place and the museum, which is the location of Western Michigan Genealogical Society’s Host Event at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 4, $25, featuring dessert, coffee and the Schubert Male Chorus. Price includes museum admission and exhibit areas.

In 1981, the museum’s dedication was a pivotal event in the reshaping of downtown Grand Rapids, which has seen more than $1 billion of investment since that event, which drew political dignitaries and celebrities. continue reading…

Some are amazed to find that many libraries in Kent County have local historical organizations involved with a room of their own, right in the library!

When checking federal census records or plat maps, you might find an ancestor from one of the cities or townships in Kent County, Michigan. A look into one of the area libraries and their historical rooms could give you information or photographs that you might not find anywhere else!

Kent County libraries are run by Kent District Library (KDL) in Comstock Park. Michigan. There are 18 branch locations and one phone number (616) 784-2007. Each branch has its own hours, so check online at kdl.org to see when they are open. Check Facebook for each library’s additional information.

Many area cities and townships have historical organizations with their own libraries and research offices, like the city of Lowell or Alpine, Sparta and Tyrone Townships.  Information can be found on Facebook or at an Internet website.

Kent District Libraries with History Rooms

Caledonia Township branch

Ken Gackler Local History Room at the Caledonia Library. Courtesy of Mary Rasch Alt

The Ken Gackler Local History Room is a repository for local historical items and can be reserved upon request for small group meetings.

“The Ken Gackler room is the finest in the KDL system.” said Shirley Bruursema, KDL  Board of Trustees. “Ken is fantastic; he is organized down to the last detail. Ken was born and raised in this area, so he is dedicated to this library.”

The room is very well equipped for research. There are study tables, computers, information and many books. Ken has collected and organized a good amount of items for the family historian or genealogist. continue reading…