Western Michigan Genealogical Society

Early Memories…


There are times that I just happen across things in my house that have been there for years… originating from a grandparent, distant cousin, or was acquired, stored and forgotten. Sound familiar? This is one of those stories.

My grandfather Kenneth Bennett passed away twenty years ago. Since I was the “family historian” items often just ended up at my house. I have a six-foot “highboy” dresser with drawers full of ephemera and photo albums. I don’t remember opening this particular manila envelope before. In it are several old newspapers, pages folded. They’re faded and brittle. The earliest is from 1918 with a headline proclaiming FIGHTING STOPS; PEACE REIGNS; FOE SIGNS DRASTIC TRUCE TERMS marking the end of the fighting in the Great War.  There were another dozen or so newspapers up through the 1960s. My grandfather, born in 1904, was apparently saving news clips of important events during his life from the time he was about 14 years old.

I recognized that some were articles mentioning him… mostly having to do with his term as president of the Michigan Rural Letter Carriers association in the 1950s. Some included photos of him at association gatherings. That made sense.  In the 1960s… there was the John F. Kennedy’s assassination headline; and the space program and moon landings were well represented.

One headline in the Grand Rapids Press from 4 April 1956 caught my attention because it was very personal to me in my childhood! TORNADO KILLS 18, HURTS 200 IN SMASH AT KENT, OTTAWA. continue reading…

NGS 2018 Family History Conference
Paths to Your Past
Grand Rapids, Michigan

Happy New Year

Even though it is a brand new 2017, we here at the Western Michigan Genealogical Society look ahead with anticipation to the NGS 2018 Family History conference coming to Grand Rapids! NGS has opened the the call for proposals.

DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSIONS–11:59 p.m. EDT on 1 April 2017

From the NGS website

continue reading…

Recently, I heard about the Family tree Webinars hosted by Legacy Family Tree. I decided to check out the offerings and signed up for one called “No No Nannette, What negative evidence is and isn’t” by Judy G. Russell. I was pleasantly surprised by the caliber of class this was. If you are seeking more certification level of learning these are a wonderful and FREE resource.
Michelle Timmer


Coming full circle

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Sue and daughtersI was cleaning out stuff in the attic. I had a thousand black and white negatives with contact prints from fifty years ago. I kept the ones I wanted, about twenty, and the rest I threw away into a box. Since it was the season, I wrapped the box up in Christmas paper and gave it to my three daughters. As they opened it and understood what it was, I said “Look what I saved you from doing. Now when I’m dead and gone you won’t have to sort through old pictures, just throw these away.”

Much to my surprise, they were delighted to go through and pour over the contents. The stories about my daughters’ early years in Africa with my husband and I came to life and they shared them with their children. The grandchildren then selected the pictures they felt were most meaningful. Later my grandchildren salvaged a window frame from our hundred year old farmhouse. They went through the pictures, chose the ones they liked, and put them in the frame.

Coming full circle, they showed me their appreciation of our family story. I was moved and delighted that the pictures meant something to them.
– Sue Swanlund

Reflections on the Gi-Gikinomaage-min 3:00 – 3:45 PM

Reflections on the Gi-Gikinomaage-min (We are all Teachers) Project

Belinda Bardwell

Sponsored by the Western Michigan Genealogical Society & Kutsche Office of Local History

Launched in November 2014, the Gi-gikinomaage-min (We are all Teachers) project aims to document the urban Native American experience in Grand Rapids. The local Native American community grew dramatically in the last half of the 20th century as a result of a little-known federal program still impacting American Indian lives today. The Urban Relocation Program created one of the largest mass movements of Indians in American history. This talk invites you to learn more about the Gi-gikinomaage-min project, based in the Kutsche Office of Local History at Grand Valley State University.

This presentation is part of the 2017 History Detectives program on Saturday, January 28, at the Ryerson Auditorium, Grand Rapids Public Library. continue reading…

The Mid-Century Park School Development Program: Riverside2:00 – 2:45 PM

A Modern Vision Realized: The Mid-Century Park School Development Program

Pam VanderPloeg

Sponsored by the Grand Rapids City Archives

In 1951, a successful Grand Rapids Public Schools millage vote launched a twenty-year building program to solve the crisis of aging, overcrowded schools and the post-World War II baby boom. A collaboration between the schools, prominent West Michigan architects and the Grand Rapids Park Department, led by landscape architect Fred See, created beautiful modern schools set in expansive parks in old and new neighborhoods, and brought national recognition. The story of how that project unfolded, and of the fate of those schools today, will be told through original and contemporary photos and images.

This presentation is part of the 2017 History Detectives program on Saturday, January 28, at the Ryerson Auditorium, Grand Rapids Public Library. continue reading…

stivers-e-from-archives-a-to-z-exhibit1:00 – 1:45 PM

Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Rediscovering Emma Cole’s 19th-Century Grand Rapids Flora

Julie Stivers, Garrett E. Crow, and David P. Warners

Sponsored by the Grand Rapids Public Museum

In 1901, Emma Cole published Grand Rapids Flora, a catalog of plants growing without cultivation in the vicinity of Kent County. Enormous changes have taken place since those days, yet her book remains the most complete account of plants specific to our area. Who was this high school teacher, world traveler and Kent Scientific Institute botanist? Where were her favorite spots for wildflowers? Do they still exist? Julie Stivers will speak about the life of Emma Cole. Professors Warners and Crow will describe their work with Calvin College students to rediscover Emma’s haunts and assess their natural quality today. There are interesting surprises as we observe the changes over more than 100 years.

This presentation is part of the 2017 History Detectives program on Saturday, January 28, at the Ryerson Auditorium, Grand Rapids Public Library. continue reading…

The Two Feet of Haynes

Our research, on the recent bus trip to Allen County Public Library by WMGS, was planned to be a team effort between my wife and me. She would identify exactly what we need to look at, and I could fetch it and review. We would focus with accuracy at the exact sources we needed. Shortly after arrival and getting situated, I was handed the slip with what to get and this whispered assignment, “look up Haynes in 929.2.” continue reading…

vintage boats

Making Waves: Michigan’s Boat Building Industry

11:30 AM-12:15 PM

Making Waves: Michigan’s Boat Building Industry, 1865-2000

Scott M. Peters

Sponsored by the Grand Rapids Historical Commission

Michigan’s late-nineteenth century emergence as the boat-building industry’s hub drew together talented designers, builders, and engine makers to produce some of the fastest, most innovative boats ever created. Entrepreneurs like Christopher Columbus Smith, John L. Hacker, and Gar Wood established some of the nation’s top brands and brought the prospect of boat ownership within reach for every American consumer.  Michigan boat builders also left their mark on history—from developing the speedy runabouts favored by Prohibition-era rum-runners to creating the landing craft that carried Allied forces to Europe and the Pacific. Making Waves explores this intriguing story of people, processes, and products—of an industry that evolved in Michigan but would change boating across the world.

This presentation is part of the 2017 History Detectives program on Saturday, January 28, at the Ryerson Auditorium, Grand Rapids Public Library. continue reading…

10:30-11:15 AM

Grand Rapids' Furniture CitySelling Grand Rapids: Expositions in the Furniture City, 1878-1965

Scott St. Louis

Sponsored by the Grand Rapids Historical Society

Grand Rapids’ late-nineteenth century business leaders were ambitious and optimistic: striving for the greatest profit from available resources, they rationalized production workflows, integrating the latest technologies into their factories. They also took advantage of the railroad network connecting Grand Rapids to an emerging consumer economy, reaching new levels of prosperity through an industry on the verge of unprecedented growth: domestic furniture production. Local leaders established semi-annual furniture expositions and collaborated to make Grand Rapids’ name synonymous with excellent household furniture on an international scale. With the help of a supportive community, leaders also resolved to prevent similar efforts in other cities from eclipsing their own. Their success transformed the physical and economic landscape of Grand Rapids.

10th Annual History Detectives: Sleuthing for Local History

Saturday, January 28, 2017, 9:30 AM – 4:00 PM

 *Limited Seating – Space is limited and seating is offered first come, first served. There will be an overflow room available with a simulcast video presentation. continue reading…