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to Journey to the Past, I'm Brenda (Glover) Leyndyke and I believe researching your family history is a fascinating journey.

Research Facilities in Grand Rapids Michigan

28 March 2018

I am preparing for the upcoming National Genealogical Council's "Paths to Your Past" conference which will be held in Grand Rapids, Michigan on 2-5 May, 2018.  One of the things I do before I go to a conference is to check into research facilities in the area of the conference, especially if I have ancestors in the area.

My husband, Kirk, was born and raised in Grand Rapids and we have researched there for years.  I have visited numerous cemeteries, the library, city clerk's office, St. Andrew's Cathedral, neighborhoods and more.

If you have family history research to do in Grand Rapids, Michigan or Kent county, Michigan here are a few places you need to know about.


1.  Grand Rapids Public Library, History and Special Collections, Level 4 of the Main Library, 111 Library Street, NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503. Their hours are:

    • Sunday, 1-5 pm Labor Day to Memorial Day
    • Monday-Thursday, 9 am to 9 pm
    • Friday and Saturday-9 am to 6 pm
The library is about a ten to fifteen minute walk, .7 mile, from the DeVos Convention Center and the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and .5 mile from the Courtyard Marriot hotel.  Parking is available at the library.  The first hour is free and each hour after that is $1.10.  Weekend parking is free.

The History and Special Collections department offers the researcher a lot.  
  • Books and Periodicals. There are more than 30,000 local and state history books, the complete run of Grand Rapids city directories, county histories, atlases, business histories, government documents, and more.  There are over 5,000 volumes of periodicals for Grand Rapids and Michigan history. Genealogy periodicals, some national in scope, are available for use.
  • Maps. 1,800 or more maps of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Old Northwest Territory are available in addition to plat maps showing early settlers and property holders.
  • Newspapers. Available on microfilm are the daily and weekly Grand Rapids newspapers from 1841 to the present.  A full run of The Grand Rapids Press (1893-Present) and The Grand Rapids Herald (1891-1959) is available.
  • Family Histories. The department collects and maintains a large number of family histories.
  • Genealogy Books. Over 5,000 books pertaining to genealogy from general research to standard references are available.
  • Research Materials. The collection includes obituary files and vital records indexes.
  • Archival Materials. The Archive collections number over 500 and include photographs, oral histories, sound recordings, sheet music, manuscripts, postcard, scrapbooks, and ephemera.  The popular real estate listing cards are images and listing information on many properties in Grand Rapids from 1955 to 1995.
  • Furniture Design Collection. Grand Rapids and Furniture Design has a rich history.  This collection contains over 4,000 items.  Books, periodicals, catalogs are all located in the History and Special Collections department on the fourth floor.
  • Online Collections.  GRPL website has access to indexes for clipping files, subject files, newspapaer articles, magazine articles, photographs, and maps.  Their digital collections include over 7,000 archival images (1850-1990's); Robinson Studio Collection, almost a million negatives and photo's from 1930's-1960's; The Grand Rapids Herald from 1894-1916, is fully digitized and searchable; and Women's Defense Cards, 1918, contains over 23,000 cards that were filled out by women offering to help in the war effort.
Plan your trip using the library's website, www.grpl.org/history and set aside some time to browse the wonderful collections of the library.

2. Grand Rapids City Archives and Records Center, 223 Washington St., SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 616 456-4127 or 616 456-3114. email: mellis@grcity.us or awright@grcity.us  Open to the public by appointment only. Hours are Monday – Friday from 8 am until 5 pm.

It is a .7 mile from the Courtyard by Marriott hotel and 1 mile from the DeVos Place Convention Center and Amway Plaza Hotel.

Grand Rapids is the second largest city in Michigan and it has its own city archives.  The archives is the holder of all city governmental records, many that would be of interest to genealogists with Grand Rapids family history.

Genealogical Resources Include:

  1. Board of Trustees, Common Council, and City Commission records (1838-2010)
  2. Polk Directories (1865-2007) but missing 1866,01867,01869-1874,1877, 1880, 1889, 1890, 1893, 1894, 1906, 1908, 1915, 1947, 1952, 1989, 1999, 2004-2006.
  3. Court Records-a variety of records, some from early Grand Rapids.
    1. Mayor's Court (1850-1857)
    2. Police Court Felonies (1874-1979, some gaps in those years.)
    3. Justice Courts (1886-1889)
    4. Police Court State Records
  4. Cemetery Records-the city's six cemeteries records (Greenwood, Fulton, Oak Hill, Oak Grove, Woodlawn and Fairplains are available at the Archives. The information may be found online now.  For more information on the cemeteries check  https://www.grandrapidsmi.gov/Government/Departments/Cemeteries  One of my favorite cemeteries in Grand Rapids is Oak Hill.  The history and architecture is lovely. A couple of articles were printed and are interesting to read. http://www.therapidian.org/oak-hill-cemetery and http://www.therapidian.org/oak-hill-cemetery-ii  Although the city is relatively safe, please use caution when visiting city cemeteries and don't go alone.
  5. Police Records-includes the police department fingerprint cards from 1913-1974.
  6. Personnel Records-are available with a FOIA(Freedom of Information Act) request. They are not open to the public.
  7. Tax and Assessment Rolls-Grand Rapids Tax Records (1860-1971) are available.  Various cities, townships and villages in Kent county records (1876-1944) can be found here as well.
  8. Assessor's Cards-a 1936 Works Progress Administration (WPA) project created cards for homes in the city, complete with a picture.
  9. Grand Rapids Public School Archives-class pictures, yearbooks, attendance records and more are housed at the Archives.
This is just a few of the records one will find at the City Archives, please check their website for others.  Remember, research is by appointment only.

3.  Kent County Clerk's Office, Administration Building, 300 Monroe Ave., NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503. 616 632-7640.  Open to the public, Monday-Friday 8 am-4:45 pm.

County research is central to finding your Michigan ancestors.  Each of the 83 Michigan counties have a county clerk.  The county clerk's office is where you will find vital records-birth, marriage, and death.

If you are attending the 2018 NGS " Paths to Your Past" conference at the DeVos Place and have Kent county research to do, you won't have far to go to the county clerk's office.  It is across the street from the DeVos Place!

A few things you will need to know about researching at the clerk's office.  They do allow genealogists to research in their office.
  1. There is a two hour research limit if others are waiting to research.
  2. Two researchers at a time are allowed research privileges.
  3. No young children allowed.
  4. Only pencils are allowed for writing.
  5. Certified copies cost $10 for the first copy and $3 for second copies.
  6. Birth records, less than 100 years old, are closed to the public.  An heir may see a birth record with a copy of a death certificate for those less than 100 years old.  Birth Indexes are closed and limited help is available.
If you find yourself with an hour or two and need to look up Kent county births, marriages and deaths, you won't have far to travel to do it at the conference.

4. Western Michigan Genealogical Society, one cannot forget the host society for the NGS conference, the Western Michigan Genealogical Society (WMGS).  The WMGS website has repeatedly earned the Family Tree Magazine Best State Websites award.  The gem of the website is their online databases.  http://data.wmgs.org/  Currently, the website has over three million records online.  The newspaper database has over one million records.  All database are of interest to those researching in Kent county.  A complete list is available on their website.  Look for school census records, church records for churches in existence before 1876, Grand Rapids Home for Veterans Index, WWI Veterans Census, Black Monument Company records, death indexes, marriage indexes, Latzek Funeral Home records, and more.  Check the website out for your ancestors names.



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