I’ve just returned from several days at the Archives of Michigan in Lansing. I was the featured speaker for the annual Abrams Foundation Family History Seminar. There were a number of other speakers, and a great turnout. While I was there, I got to explore the archives and the Library of Michigan, which are both parts of the Michigan Historical Center in downtown Lansing. If you have Michigan ancestors, a visit here (at least virtually, if not in person) is a must.
The library’s collection focuses on printed sources. They have an extensive collection of local and country histories, and transcriptions of records (cemeteries, etc.) from all over Michigan. Many of these were small print runs or typescripts that might be difficult to find elsewhere. There is also a large collection of city directories.
One of my favorite parts of my day at the library was working with the extensive collection of newspapers. So many older newspapers are available online now, but there is still a giant hole between the start of the twentieth century and the 1990s when newspapers started going online. I found a large number of obituaries in this time period that has helped me identify and located modern-day Franklin descendants. Unfortunately the library is a bit behind the times. The only microfilm scanner produced images that were so bad that I ended up printing out the obituaries because they were so much better.
The Archives of Michigan is on the other side of the building from the library. In contrast to the library, the archives has taken steps to implement technology to improve the customer experience. Starting with registration, where you are assigned a photo identification card with a bar code, which allows you to be processed in and out of the facility very quickly. They have a state-of-the-art scanner for microfilm. Even more interesting is their setup for digital images of manuscript items. They have an iPad on a flexible stand holds it above the items at whatever distance you like. When you are done photographing the manuscripts, a PDF file is created which can be downloaded to a flash drive or emailed to you (your choice).
A few years ago the Abrams Foundation Historical Collection was transferred from the library to the archives. Over the past thirty years, the Talbert and Leota Abrams Foundation has donated more then $2 million for the collection and for creating resources for genealogists, including the annual seminar.
Over the last few years, the archives has been actively working to provide resources to genealogists through a new website, Seeking Michigan. In addition to advice on getting started, there are dozens of guides to help with many different types of records in the collection. They are also working to digitize records and make them available online, such as Michigan death records and the Michigan state census.
If your ancestors spent any time at all in Michigan, spend some time with the library and the archives. You will find a plethora of records to assist you in your search.