WMGS-Blog

Western Michigan Genealogical Society
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…

Grand Rapids Ryerson Library. Courtesy of Mary Rasch Alt

The fourth floor of the downtown Grand Rapids Ryerson Library is a genealogist’s dream. It is filled with a variety of family history resources from all states, eastern Canada and Europe.

The very best thing anyone can do before going to any library is to research resources. Search grpl.org/history before going to the Grand Rapids’ downtown library.

There are indexes to clipping files, such as biographies and portrait files. You can access indexes to newspapers and magazine articles, which include the Grand Rapids Press and Michigan Tradesman.

The staff on the fourth floor is very helpful and knowledgeable, greeting patrons with a smile. Plus they are very willing to help with searches. Try to share as much information as you can with the staff member, so they can give you the best ideas and show you what information is available. continue reading…

Photo credit – Sue Irvine

Looking for parking at the NGS Conference?  There is plenty of parking in the downtown area, including 620 spaces at DeVos Place where the conference is being held.  Right across the street is the Government Center ramp with over 800 spaces.  These two ramps usually fill up pretty quickly, especially on weekdays.  If they are full, try the City Parking Ramp at Ionia and Pearl, only 3 blocks from DeVos Place.  The prices at City operated ramps are reasonable, $12-$15/per day.  Cheaper options are available west of the Grand River, about a 10-15-minute walk to DeVos Place.  If you don’t want to walk, free bus service is available downtown on the DASH (Downtown Area Shuttle) or SilverLine.

You can find available City operated parking real-time with the “GR Park” app for your phone at iStore or GooglePlay.  This app will tell you the closest available parking, how many spaces are left and the price.  Ellis Parking also operates several ramps and lots downtown.  For more information on getting around downtown Grand Rapids visit http://downtowngr.org/.

– Denise Haviland Fedko

DASH-West lot #9. Photo credit - Sue Irvine

DASH-West Area #9. Photo by Sue Irvine

Time for my second adventure!  No snow.  No rain.  This time from the west side of Grand Rapids.  This time a 10 minute ride and then a 5 minute walk.  Free ride, $2 parking; vs. free parking and a about $3 ride. (See SilverLine) 

dash-West is FREE! It runs 6:30am-10pm.  Parking at the dash-West Parking Lot#9 costs $2 (all day).  Entrance to this parking lot is on Seward Street between Fulton Street and Lake Michigan Drive. Seward Street is west of Grand Valley State University’s downtown campus.  It’s near the railroad tracks.  (Well, yes, across the tracks.)  The lot is very “long” with two card access entrances and one with a big $2 sign.  You get a parking “ticket” when you press the button at the entrance.  

dash-West comes every 15-20 minutes. The shuttle picks up at three places along this long parking lot.  I hopped into a clean looking bus with a friendly driver who said “Hello”.  Again a smile!  (You know I like smiles.)  I decided to ride around the entire route just for fun.  My trip took me past the Grand Rapids Public Museum, the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel’s entrance, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Library street (a block from the Grand Rapids Public Library),  over to the Downtown City Market, and back to Lot #9. Yup – within 20 minutes I was right back where I started at lot #9.  Check it out RidetheRapid blog and learn about dash-South, dash-Hill and dash-North while you’re there.

For the conference, get off the bus at the Amway Grand Plaza stop. Walk into the hotel, up the stairs admiring the beautiful building. Continue thru the Center Concourse where the Society Night booths will be placed  and to the Promenade which is the skywalk to the DeVos Place Convention Center.  The alternate route would be outside walking east to Monroe and then North on Monroe a couple blocks.  

Leaving lot#9 was no problem.  As in most lots I inserted my ticket and the obnoxious voice asked for money.  “You owe two dollars”.  Such an enthusiastic voice!  I stuck in a $5 bill and received back three shiny dollar coins.  Don’t you just love those coins?

Sue Irvine

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is a western Michigan gem. The 158-acre campus, 1000 E. Beltline Ave. NE, has attracted more than 10 million visitors since opening in 1995.

Outdoor amenities include nature trails, a boardwalk, a Japanese garden and a replica of a 1930s farmhouse. Meijer Gardens is home to a permanent sculpture collection and is among the 100 most visited art museums in the U.S. The barrier-free facility also offers a café and a gift shop. There are almost 200 staff members, 850 volunteers and 27,000 member households.

The National Genealogy Society’s annual conference in Grand Rapids May 2-5, 2018 is providing a pre-conference tour of Meijer Gardens, five miles from DeVos Place, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Tuesday, May 1 for $45. Lunch is available on your own at the café. Sign up by April 20.

Japanese Garden Bridge

Japanese Garden Bridge – Photo by Pete McDaniel Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

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Special Announcement!
I am really looking forward to both Spring and the NGS Family History Conference. I hope you are too. Actually, everyone that I have talked to is done with winter and looking forward to warmer weather and different activities.

Speaking of different activities. This conference is different- at least for us. This is the first national conference that we are the hosts for AND this is the first national genealogical conference in the great state of Michigan! We are pleased to be a part of this. Hope you don’t miss out on being in on some of the firsts with us!

National Genealogical Society’s 40th Family History Conference is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2-5 May 2018!

So…. have you registered yet?

Early Bird discount is available until March 20th.
You can register for the conference, tours and special meal events until April 20th.
After that you can register for the conference in person at the DeVos Convention Center. That registration starts at noon on Tuesday, May 1st. continue reading…

Society Night, Wednesday, 2 May 2018, 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. 

Center Concourse, Second Floor, Amway Grand Plaza Hotel

(Updated March 23, 2018)

Society Night is a great way to meet and visit with representatives of state, local, ethnic, and historical societies from across Michigan and other states who will not have booths in the Exhibit Hall. Societies will be able to answer your questions about records and resources in their area, tell you about the benefits of membership in the society, and some will have publications available for purchase.

Center Concourse – Amway Grand Plaza Hotel

Society Night is Wednesday evening, 2 May 2018, between 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. in the Center Concourse on the second floor, between DeVos Place and the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. You can stop by on your way back to your hotel or come by after an early dinner.

A final list of participants for Society Night will be posted a few weeks before the conference. As of today’s update (March 23) the current list includes 2 authors and 31 organizations:

Calhoun County Genealogical Society
Cornish American Heritage Society
DAR of Michigan
Detroit Society for Genealogical Research
Flint Genealogical Society
Fred Hart Williams Genealogical Society
Grand Rapids Public Library
Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council
Hilary Harper, author
Huron County Genealogical Society
Huron Shores Genealogical Society continue reading…

I spent Saturday at the Grand Rapids Public Library’s main branch. A group of wonderful volunteers and staff have created a fantastic series of workshops and talks designed to help a group of eager, new researchers learn more about their African American ancestry. Saturday’s focus was learning how to find information in three databases: Heritage Quest, Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.

Polk City Directories

All of the new researchers were able to come up with a name, residence and birth year for at least one ancestor who was alive in 1940. That’s usually enough information to leap right into the 1940 or 1930 census. From there the volunteers started explaining what information could be found in the census, point out new information and start looking for new records. It’s simple, quick, effective and keeps our new researchers’ enthusiasm high because now they can learn about the research process while they are looking at records about their family. However, in some cases that method ends in failure. That’s when it’s time to return to the basics. Not only do you need to start with what you know, but you may have to close the gap between 1940 and 2018 AND you may have to walk away from the computer.

We had two researchers facing this problem. One researcher hit a brick wall before she found any records. The other hit a brick wall after we quickly found full birth and death dates for his grandmother and great-grandmother. Both of our new researchers had something in common—they knew their ancestor died in Grand Rapids. continue reading…