An Inside Look at the Archives of Michigan

If you’re a Michigan history buff or just love to discover new things at Michigan museums, then a visit to the Archives of Michigan or the Michigan Historical Museum  in Lansing is sure to pique your interest! Today, Mary Detloff from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources takes us deep inside the Archives of Michigan for a look at Pure Michigan way back when. 

Outside the Michigan Historical Museum in Lansing, MI

Tucked into a light grey archival box on a shelf in the Archives of Michigan, organized neatly in manila folders, the yellowing onion skin typing paper represents the loving correspondence of a Michigan man and woman, a World War II soldier and his wife.

“Dearest, You know now that the invasion has started …” starts a letter from Charles Westie, a Michigan solider, writing to his wife Ardith on June 6, 1944 – D-Day. During the coming weeks, Westie would serve in combat in France as part of the invasion force that turned the tide in Europe in the Allied Forces’ favor.

The Westie correspondence, between two ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances, shows the difficulty of the life of a soldier, waiting in England for his orders to go to battle in Europe, and his wife, waiting anxiously in Michigan for any news from her husband.

Archivist Bob Garret sorting through a photo collection recently donated to the Archives of Michigan.

These letters, along with hundreds of thousands of documents, maps, records, photographs and other ephemera, make up the Archives of Michigan. The Archives holds more than 120 million records that tell the story of Michigan from the encounters of Europeans and Native Americans to records from Governor Jennifer Granholm.

The Archives, the Michigan Historical Museum, and the Michigan Historical Commission all marked their 100th anniversary this past year, coming into existence in 1913 with a law signed by then-Governor Woodbridge N. Ferris.  The law created the Michigan Historical Commission, and directed the body to collect, arrange and preserve historical material related to Michigan and the old Northwest Territory.

”The Archives of Michigan serves as Michigan’s memory.  It holds the historical documents, maps and photographs of state and local governments and private citizens,” said Mark Harvey, state archivist.  “The Archives collections document the tragedies and triumphs of the government and individuals of the State of Michigan.”

Archivist Bob Garrett with an original blueprint for the Michigan State Fairground from 1922.

With documents dating back to 1792, the Archives of Michigan holds a vast selection of historical documents ranging from the original blueprints and architect’s drawings of the Michigan Capitol Building to the papers of former state legislators, to naturalization records from the turn of the century, to more personal collections, such as the Westie letters and a rare diary from a Michigan soldier who witnessed the Philippine-American War in 1899.

The public can access materials from the Archives in a couple of different ways.

Archivist Bob Garrett assisting a researcher in the Archives of Michigan Reading Room.

First, you can visit the Archives of Michigan, located in the Michigan Historical Center, 702 West Kalamazoo, in Lansing. The Archives has a reference room open to the public from 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. The reference room is always manned by two Archives staff members, who are available to assist visitors with records requests. Visitors of all ages are welcome, and typically include attorneys, academics, graduate students, staff from legislators’ offices or state agencies, persons doing genealogy research or younger students.

Some of the more popular records in the Archives have been digitized and are available to the public on the website www.seekingmichigan.org, which is a partnership between the Archives of Michigan and the Michigan History Foundation. Seeking Michigan features 1.2 million records, including items such as searchable Michigan census records from 1884-1894, death records from 1897 to 1920 and a lot of Civil War material.

Seeking Michigan also features an online shop called Michiganology that offers unique products with a tie to the Archives, such as t-shirts and prints featuring brewery labels from early Michigan breweries, which were required to register their labels with the state. The store also sells notecards featuring old trout stamps, items highlighting the Proud Robin (once a symbol of Michigan Week) and many other items. There is also a blog maintained by archivists and staff from the Michigan Historical Museum featuring stories from Michigan’s past.

Have you visited the Archives of Michigan or the Michigan Historical Museum? What interesting items did you see during your visit? 

Mary Dettloff is senior advisor for communications for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and a native of Northern Michigan.

Birthday Celebrations at The Henry Ford

The Henry Ford in Dearborn is geared up to celebrate what would have been Henry Ford himself’s 150th birthday this summer. Today, Lish Dorset of The Henry Ford fills us in on what’s happening.

Summer is always a busy time at The Henry Ford, from families enjoying a visit together at Greenfield Village to kids enjoying a mid-day, school’s-out-for-summer matinee at our IMAX Theatre. This summer is shaping up to be especially busy thanks to a packed schedule as we celebrate what would have been the 150th birthday of our institution’s founder, Henry Ford.

We’re celebrating Henry’s legacy all year at The Henry Ford, whose birthday is July 30. Starting in June and running through August, pay a visit to Miller School in Greenfield Village and step back in time to the days of Henry’s youth as he experiments with clock parts, machines and principles that challenged him.

You can also visit Henry’s T, a 15-minute dramatic play and hear how this ultimate maker was inspired to build his universal car. Follow up the play with a visit to Henry Ford Museum and learn how to build a Model T yourself.

Both Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village are offering guided tours to guests with an emphasis on Henry’s work. Join our master presenters and learn more about his great body of work.

As one of the partners for this year’s celebration of Henry, we’re proud to be among such great Michigan organizations, like the Ford Motor Company, celebrating one of Michigan’s own. Follow the latest Henry Ford 150th news here.

Probably one of the best celebrations of Henry’s vision is Driving America. It’s been more than a year since our revamped automobile exhibit opened back up to the public and we couldn’t be prouder of it. Make sure to visit one of our interactive kiosks located within our Driving America timeline to access our online collections as well as games and fast facts.

It’s more than perfect timing that our fourth (can you believe it!) installment of Maker Faire Detroit happens just a few days before Henry’s birthday. Expect to see some of your favorite makers, like Lifesize Mousetrap and Eepy Bird (AKA “The Coke and Mentos) guys mixed in with new makers and tinkerers July 27-28. We’ll also be celebrating Henry’s birthday by showcasing a few of our own artifacts along with special programming.

While there’s a lot going on this summer, we’d love to hear from you. During your next visit, make sure to share one of your favorite Henry Ford quotes or innovations with us.

Lish Dorset is the social media manager for The Henry Ford in Dearborn. She lives in Royal Oak with her husband and cat, Ronnie. When she’s not sharing some of her favorite artifacts from the collections of The Henry Ford with fans on Facebook, she’s at home crafting. You can learn more about upcoming summer activities by checking out The Henry Ford’s blog.

Pure Michigan Indoor Fun

Spring is just around the corner, but there’s still that lingering chance of chilly days where you’d rather stay inside. We all know there are tons of fun things to do outside in Pure Michigan, but there are also great places to go for some indoor fun throughout the state.

We’ve put together a roundup of just some of Michigan’s best things to do indoors below.

Museums

A visit to Michigan’s art, science and history museums can be a great way to spend the day, and with over 400 museums in Michigan one may be closer than you think. There is also plenty of variety in the types of museums across the state. Many areas have local history museums like the Marquette Regional History Center/Marquette County History Museum that showcases the Marquette area’s rich history. Children’s museums like the Grand Rapids’ Childrens Museum are educational but also hands-on, which can be fun for both children and their parents. The Motown Historical Museum located in Detroit is devoted to the legendary music that was started right in “Hitsville USA,” where the museum is located. Also in Detroit is the world class Detroit Institute of Arts, which features over 100 galleries with art from ancient to modern times. And we can’t leave off The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn – America’s greatest history attraction and the #1 cultural vacation destination in Michigan.

Indoor Water Parks

With a number of exciting indoor water parks right here in our state, there’s no need to travel far for some fun! Whether it’s a day trip or a full weekend getaway, nothing brings families closer together than a Pure Michigan water park adventure. Just a few of the indoor waterparks in Michigan include the Fairview Beachfront Inn & Waterpark in Mackinaw City, The Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City and Zehnder’s Splash Village Hotel & Waterpark in Frankenmuth.

Movies

Photo credit: John Robert Williams

Catching a flick is a great way to spend the day, and there are many movie theaters around Michigan to choose from. If heading to the normal theater isn’t your thing, Michigan is home to several classic movie houses that aren’t your normal cinema. The State Theatre in Traverse City was originally built in 1918 and rebuilt in 1923 after a fire. It showed the first talking movie seen in Northern Michigan in 1929 when it was known as the Lyric Theatre. Now it is home to the Traverse City Film Festival and is open year round showing art house films. The Redford Theatre is Detroit was opened in 1928 and shows “classic movies the way they were meant to be seen,” accompanied by organ and all. 

For more ideas, visit michigan.org. Where’s your favorite place to visit for a day of indoor fun?