03 August 2016

Researching at Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan

Researching at a university library may not be the first place genealogists think of for finding family history records, but I have had researching at the Bentley Historical Library on my genealogical research trips-to-take list for a couple of years. Finally, I went.

Bentley Historical Library is on the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was a beautiful summer day and the view from the windows of the library was enjoyable.  There are a few things researchers need to know before researching at the Bentley.

  1. Request an online research account before going.  This isn't mandatory, but it will save you time if you do.  You will have to create one when you get there, so you might as well do it at home.  Requesting an online research account is easy.  You go to Register for a Research Account to request it.
  2. Create a "New Reading Room Request" for materials you are interested in viewing.  Once you are all set up with a research account you can create this request by using their online card catalog "MIRLYN"  You can request materials from home, or any computer, or in the research room.  I chose to create my list from home and print a copy to take with me.  Some materials are stored offsite.  Requesting materials ahead of time lets you know when your materials are available for viewing.
  3. Read the Reading Room Rules. Knowing ahead of time what you can and cannot take will save you the trouble of lugging materials that aren't allowed. Lockers are available, if needed.
    • Allowed
      • laptop computers
      • cell phones
      • cameras
      • notebooks
      • pens or pencils
    • Not Allowed
      • coats
      • food and drinks
      • books and newspapers
      • briefcases, handbags, backpacks, and computer cases
      • purses
      • scanners
   4.  Arrive at Bentley Historical Library, 1150 Beal Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI    48109.  The library is located on the North Campus of the University of Michigan.
    • Parking is free and next to the library, south side.
    • No charge to research.
    • Check in at the Reference Desk to the left of the entrance as you enter the research room.
    • Tell staff what records you would like to have pulled for you. The staff will get them and bring them to your table. 
    • Staff will stop retrieving your material 30 minutes before closing time.

Pull slip that came which each delivery of records to the table.  I photographed it first as a reference for what records were to follow. A great guide for source information, too.

My Experience
I found the Bentley Historical Library to be a wonderful place to research. What is it about University campuses that exude such energy?  Requesting materials went smoothly.  The staff is very responsive to emails sent.  One staff person contacted me because I had requested an inter library loan (ILL) record and she was clarifying if I needed it, as she saw I had requested other materials for onsite research. Yes, some of there materials are available for loan.

My view while I waited for records.

I cannot say enough good things about the staff.  Everyone was very friendly, professional, and helpful.  The day I was there, a Wednesday, researchers filled about seven tables.  I never waited more than a couple of minutes for my records to be pulled, except once, which was a 30 minute wait, but they warned me about it at the time.  It was around lunch time and I guess they were accommodating everyone's lunch time.

One item is pulled at a time and brought to the table.  My materials consisted of books, folders, and boxes of material.  I was never so happy when I opened one box to find four scrapbook/photo albums.  

I took a note book with my list of references, my driver's license, a couple of pencils, a pen, source sticky notes, research logs and my tablet with me.  It was all that I needed. I had my research on my tablet for handy reference, if needed.

I arrived around 10:15. a.m and left about 3 p.m.  I didn't break for lunch, but there is a room available for sack lunch-ers, if needed.  I had requested 15 items before I went.  I was able to get to 13 of them, before I called it quits.

Jackpot!  Begole Family Photo Albums and Scrapbooks

The list below gives you an idea of the type of genealogical related resources that are available at the Bentley.  I think you will be surprised when you search their online catalog. The items I requested, and I will be blogging about, were:

  1. Livingston county marriage records
  2. Index to wills of Livingston County
  3. Early history of the town of Lima, Michigan
  4. Samuel Clements photograph series
  5. First Congregational Church (Chelsea, MI) records
  6. Lima Township, Michigan records 1836-1974
  7. Sylvan Township, Washtenaw County, Mich records 1834-1925; Poll list statements of votes and other records 1834-1853
  8. Begole-Miles family photograph albums
  9. Begole-Miles family papers
  10. Washtenaw County Mich. records 1824-1946: Poll lists 1837-1844, 21 folders
  11. Samuel Clements papers
  12. Lima Congregational Church records
  13. 125th anniversary First Congregational Church of Chelsea founded 1849

The two I didn't have pulled were:
  1. Ypsilanti Mich township records 
  2. 1824-1974 A trail through time, 150 years, a brief history of the Dexter area.
The main reason I went to the Bentley was to find information on my Daniel Fenn family before I head to New England.  I am trying to exhaust all 'local' records before I leave, freeing up my New England time to search for records only available in New England.

Bentley Historical Library is a great place to research for Michigan ancestors and more and with a little planning it can be a very successful trip.

The following items can be found on the Bentley Historical Library Homepage
    • Hours and Location
    • Researching in Person
    • Register for a Research Account
    • Helpful Guide to Requesting Materials
    • Search the Collections
    • MIRLYN Catalog
    • Policies and Procedures for Using Research Room
    • More Policies and Guidelines
    • Family History and Genealogy
    • Donate Your Archives
    • Ask an Archivist
Be sure to add University Libraries as a repository for researching your ancestors. I am glad I did.


  1. Sounds like a great day. The box full of albums made me practically swoon. Great post because the planning step is so important no matter what library or archive we visit, important to know the rules ahead of time.

  2. Anna, it was a great day. I think the planning is what made it so successful. I am still going through the pictures I took of all the material.

  3. Anna, it was a great day. I think the planning is what made it so successful. I am still going through the pictures I took of all the material.