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
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
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
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.
state census transcriptions for Wakeshma,
Ross, Prairie Ronde, Schoolcraft,
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.
Grindol edited a soft cover publication Family History
Michigan in 1994.
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.