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History of KVGS

As published in the Kalamazoo Valley Heritage by Avis Keene, May 2008

In the early 1950s Alexis Praus, then Museum Director, had the idea to form a group interested in genealogy, but decided the time was not right.  A few years later, Ethel Williams had the same idea. Together they talked about forming a group on genealogy and contacted Hazel Dean and Faith Jackson to plan a meeting for the public to be held in the museum in May 1958.  Seventy-two people attended. Ethel Williams gave a talk on “Introduction to Genealogy.”  There was much interest in forming a genealogical society.  Hazel Dean was appointed temporary chairman and proceeded to plan for an organizational meeting.  The committee members Hazel Dean, Alexis Praus, Ethel Williams and Faith Jackson investigated costs and a place to meet in June 1958.

Royena Hornbeck, Mrs. Walter Hershey and Alexis Praus were asked to prepare a constitution and by-laws to present at the June meeting. Eighty-six were present at the meeting.  Officers were elected, the constitution and by-laws adopted, and the name “Kalamazoo Valley Genealogical Society” was approved. The first officers were: President, Hazel Dean; Vice-President, Faith Jackson; Recording Secretary, Mrs. Edward Ryan; Corresponding Secretary, Mrs. Mortimer Lewis; Treasurer, Roger Gibbs; Editor, Ethel Williams; Executive Secretary, Alexis Praus.

Members volunteered to work on compiling information on Centennial Farms.  A Family Name Register was also compiled and sold. Ethel Williams wrote and edited the quarterly magazine Michigan Heritage from 1959-1971, using only documented material which had never been published.  It was a scholarly magazine in the field of history and gained national stature.  In 1961 the society received an Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History at its association meeting in San Francisco.  The award was given for the society’s aggressive program to compile, collect and preserve local and family histories of Michigan, and for the magazine Michigan Heritage.

After Michigan Heritage ceased publishing due to Dr. Williams’s illness, a second quarterly was edited by Arthur Kerr from December 1971-June 1982.  It was called Kalamazoo Valley Family Newsletter and contained information on many Michigan counties and several counties in other states.  For a short time a monthly news bulletin was edited by Avis Keene and Joyce Bonnes. Marjorie Gant was the editor in 1979-80.

Mary Grindol was editor of the next publication.  At the society’s twenty-fifth anniversary celebration in 1983, the winning name for the new publication was announced, Kalamazoo Valley Heritage.

Esther Clapp was the chairman of the 25th anniversary celebration of the society in 1983. Barbara Madison spoke on “Past, Present and Future.

Barbara Cousins was asked to be chairman of the Bicentennial Committee and to record the county cemeteries, with the help of members and other volunteers.  It was a big undertaking and was completed in 1980 with the publication of two volumes as a bicentennial project.  Later the Richland Cemetery was redone and published in 2001.

Over the years, members worked on many projects:

At one time Esther Clapp and Avis Keene taught classes at the Kalamazoo Public Library for children interested in genealogy.  Esther and Avis were also once on a WKZO radio call-in program answering listeners’ questions on genealogy.
 
In 1986 the Index to the United States Census of Kalamazoo County, Michigan, 1860, 1870, 1880 and the Veterans’ Rolls of 1890 was compiled by members of the society, assisted by the staff of the Kalamazoo Public Library Reference Division.  Catherine Larson was the editor.
 
Michigan Sesquicentennial Pioneer Certificates involved many volunteers in 1986-1987.
 
The 1884 Michigan state census transcriptions for Wakeshma, Portage, Ross, Prairie Ronde, Schoolcraft, Vicksburg, Pavillion and Texas Townships were published as supplements to the Kalamazoo Valley Heritage.  Jeanette Getz, Barbara Cousins, Pam Green, Sue Norton, and Ruth Lange were major contributors to this project.
 
Ardis Pierce and Sue Sanders transcribed “Foreign Death Index 1931-2002.”
 
“Index to the Record of Licenses Granted to Ex-Servicemen to Peddle or Vend 1922-1939” was edited by Sue Sanders in 2003.
 
“The Kalamazoo County Invoice Book and Substitute for Death Records 1895-1898” was edited by Ken Baker.
 
Mary Grindol edited a soft cover publication Family History Research in Kalamazoo County, Michigan in 1994.
 

Another successful project was started in 1996 by Ardis Pierce and Pamela Greene, at the suggestion of Ardis’ sister, Elaine Van Niman.  With the permission of Kalamazoo County Clerk Jim Youngs, society members began volunteering at that office to help family history researchers find death, marriage and birth information. Volunteers continue to work at the clerk’s office, with the wonderful cooperation of Tim Snow, the current County Clerk and Register of Deeds. Because some of the index books were in poor condition, the society’s board voted to donate funds for their repair, and the total amount donated has now exceeded $5,000!

In September 1984, the society and the Michigan Genealogical Council co-sponsored a seminar, “The Genealogy of the Great Lakes Area,” held at the Kalamazoo Center and attended by 266 people. U.S. Archivist Dr. Robert Warren spoke about “The National Archives at 50” at the banquet. Esther Clapp was the General Chairman for the seminar.

Consistent with its goal to collect, compile and preserve records, KVGS established a library from its earliest days. This collection was initially housed at the Kalamazoo Public Library but was moved to the Comstock Public Library in 1986. In 1997, the board voted to move all library materials to the Western Michigan University Archives and Regional History Collection in East Hall, since the room in Comstock was no longer available.

In its early years, KVGS had no permanent meeting place. The Van Deusen Auditorium at the Kalamazoo Public Library was frequently used, however the Gagie School Preschool and the Portage Community Outreach were also meeting locations. In 1988, the society began meeting at the Portage Senior Center on a regular basis, and in the fall of 2004, the meeting site was changed to the Portage District Library with the help of Steve Rossio, Local Historian of the Heritage Room there.

Many people became interested in their own family history after watching the television program on Alex Haley’s Roots. Later, as computers became more common and made research easier, there was another big increase in interest in genealogy, so membership in the society grew. The KVGS Heritage of January 1996 reported that the society now had a site on the World Wide Web, and that Jackie Hanna was the first webmaster. The first web site was on Compuserve, and the site was moved to RootsWeb in about April 1997.  In February, 2010, the website moved to it's own domain of www.mikvgs.org.

KVGS was recognized by the IRS as a tax-exempt organization in 1973, and is currently classified under section 501(c)(3) of the IRS Code. KVGS was also incorporated in 2006.

Vice President Sue Sanders initiated a number of spring seminars and conferences. Amy Johnson Crow was the speaker at the Portage District Library in 2004, Curt Witcher spoke at the Holiday Inn in 2005, and John Konvalinka was the speaker at the Fetzer Center in 2006.

Genealogy Saturdays, held in 2007 and 2008 at the WMU Archives and Regional History Collection, were well attended with many members assisting in numerous subjects. This program is an effort to reach out to the entire community and acquaint them with our society.

Genealogists are always interested in traveling to do research. Judy Spencer spent many hours planning bus trips to the Allen County Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, for society members. In 2007 and 2008, many KVGS members had the opportunity to travel together to Washington D.C.and Salt Lake City on research trips.

KVGS members have always been active and generous with their time for the many projects undertaken, which makes for a successful society. May we continue to do as well in the years ahead to keep the Kalamazoo Valley Genealogical Society as interesting, helpful and active as the founders did 50 years ago.










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