Digitized church records reclaim genealogy research for Peshawbestown families | News
TRAVERSE CITY – The Traverse City Area District Library digitized over a century of marriage, birth, and death records from the Immaculate Conception Church in Peshawbetown for genealogy.
As part of TADL’s efforts to improve access to materials, the library published a collection of 18 PDF documents, scanned from three rolls of microfilm, containing various archival documents used by the Immaculate Conception Church, also known as St. Kateri Tekakwitha or The Immaculate Conception Indian Church, collected from Peshawbetown, from 1850-1953.
The digital copies were made from a microfilm copy donated by Northwestern Michigan College in the Spring of 2020. All original records are privately owned by the Diocese of Gaylord and are not available to the public without permission.
“It is very exciting to be making these records publicly available,” said Michele Howard, director of TADL.
Before digitization, the process of going through roles was incredibly time consuming and required one person to go through role by role, Howard explained. This format makes them available anytime, anywhere with working internet, and she hopes this will help “connect the community to more resources.”
Adult services coordinator and project leader Melissa McKenna said the idea of formatting them into digital copies was pretty straightforward. “These are not our records,” she said, adding that it is important for families to make their own stories their own.
The project is a close partnership between the library and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and both Howard and McKenna said TADL is giving all of the original historical documents to the tribe.
For Vicki Wilson, who has been researching Michigan families and tribes for the past 48 years, this is a monumental step in the “Information Age”.
Wilson has owned a copy of one of the roles for more than 20 years and said she loves the idea of making it visually accessible and documented for the community.
Now retired and with a hard drive full of archival material, Wilson spends a lot of time helping many GTB families research their ancestors. She runs a blog called Honoring Native Ancestors, which uploads critical historical documents, including photos and records, with detailed family histories of the requested ancestors.
Wilson believes that above all, all indigenous materials should be publicly available.
Samantha TwoCrow, Anishinaabe, who is federally recognized by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, agrees.
She stated that large gaps in history and Anishinaabek’s ability to know where they came from and to keep track of who their ancestors were remain unknown.
“My family suffers from knowing that there are boxes with important stories in the basements of private collectors or institutions and we may never see them,” she said.
Ultimately, TwoCrow declares that any privately owned documentation about indigenous peoples or tribes should be returned to their tribal nations.
“We know what’s best for our people,” said TwoCrow. “Our history must be in our hands.”
She stated that the availability of these special records, brought into digital format for the public, was “life changing” for her and her family and possibly other Anishinaabek in the area. TwoCrow took an interest in genealogy years ago while in college and began her own search for family records to relate more to her identity.
She said she rummaged through piles of documents over the years, but like many others in her community, she came up against dead ends.
“The system was built not to rebuild us,” she said, referring to systemic oppression, boarding schools, children adopted from the tribe, changed or misspelled names, and incorrectly documented dates of events.
TwoCrow said she praised the efforts of the Traverse City Area District Library and those involved in making these important, historical documents easily accessible to the public.
“The meaning of indigenous history is vital for everyone to fully and fully understand our history,” TwoCrow said.