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CADL research featured on 'Finding Your Roots,' but more historical resources available to patrons

Screenshot of TV Credits with an image of Kathryn Hahn and a shoutout to Capital Area Libraries among other archives and libraries
Finding Your Roots
Actress Kathryn Hahn had some distant relatives who died in Lansing. Their obituaries were found by CADL staff.

A recent episode of PBS’s Finding Your Roots with actress Kathryn Hahn featured research done by employees of the Capital Area District Libraries.

But the libraries’ Local History department does more than just genealogy.

They’ve looked into busing and redistricting in Lansing schools and the use of carrier pigeons by the Office of Civilian Defense among other projects.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with Heidi Butler who is a part of the libraries’ local history staff about the resources they have for patrons.

Interview Highlights

On the work the department did for Finding Your Roots

It was for some obituaries for a couple of people who had passed away in the Lansing area. And my supervisor, Jim MacLean was the one who was able to actually find those and sent them off to them. And then we didn't hear anything. And then a couple of weeks ago, when the program aired, I got a random email that was like, "Hey, there's this PBS program." And I thought, that's a little odd, but I'll just watch it. And then sure enough, at the end, well, I saw the flash on the screen of our actual obituary images, and then we were credited at the end, which was very exciting for us.

On how they tackle finding an answer to a patron's question

We refer them to materials on our website, because we have an online database with thousands of images and documents in it. It's called Local History Online. You know, we have a lot of peers in the community, MSU Archives, the archives or the Library of Michigan, if we need to refer people we will. And then just all kinds of different directories and indexes and individual collections that we go through...

On a memorable research question

We've helped a researcher, an academic researcher, who her entire professional focus seems to be on the use of carrier pigeons. And we just happened to have this collection, a really thorough collection of all the civilian defense activities that happened in Lansing and Ingham County around World War II and following. And within that is a section of photographs of carrier pigeon activities that happened here. And she felt that, she has told us that we have something that is unusual, that doesn't exist anywhere else.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: A recent episode of PBS’s Finding Your Roots with actress Kathryn Hahn featured research done by employees of the Capital Area District Libraries.

But the libraries’ Local History Department does more than just genealogy.

They’ve looked into busing and redistricting in Lansing schools and the use of carrier pigeons by the Office of Civilian Defense among other projects.

Heidi Butler is a part of the libraries’ local history staff. She joins me now. Thank you being here.

Heidi Butler: Thank you, Sophia.

Saliby: Can you tell me briefly about the work you did for that Finding Your Roots episode and what you ended up finding?

Butler: We were contacted by a media organization that does research on behalf of that program, and they were looking for some background information. They didn't tell us what it was for, and like many of our reference questions we don't ask. We just provide the information they're requesting.

They didn't tell us what it was for, and like many of our reference questions we don't ask. We just provide the information they're requesting.

It was for some obituaries for a couple of people who had passed away in the Lansing area. And my supervisor, Jim MacLean was the one who was able to actually find those and sent them off to them. And then we didn't hear anything.

And then a couple of weeks ago, when the program aired, I got a random email that was like, "Hey, there's this PBS program." And I thought, that's a little odd, but I'll just watch it. And then sure enough, at the end, well, I saw the flash on the screen of our actual obituary images, and then we were credited at the end, which was very exciting for us.

Saliby: What resources does your department have for library patrons, people here in mid-Michigan?

Butler: The local history room opened in 1969, when it was still, the Lansing Public Library was still part of the Lansing School District. So, we are quite strong in Lansing schools materials, especially for closed schools.

Anyone researching a family member that might have attended school in this area, we've got a lot of that. And on our website, you can find all of the available yearbooks that we have throughout the entire CADL system in digital form. So, well over 500 digital yearbooks from not just Lansing, but all of our service communities in CADL.

In addition to that, we're also very strong in house research, property research. We have a couple of really great real estate collections. We have some materials from the Lansing City Assessor's Office and a lot of other complimentary materials that help you tell the story of your home, your neighborhood or a business, and just general architectural history, something that we do really well at here and enjoy doing.

Saliby: When people call into your department with a question, what is the process of finding the answer for them?

Butler: You know, I've been here eight years, and my supervisor, Jim has been here longer than me 15, 20 years, and a lot of it lives in our head, which we're trying to get away from. So that obviously, we can hand it on to the people who come after us.

You never know what kind of question we're going to get and how how deep we need to dig to find the answers that people are looking for.

But we have a number of different resources, and it really just depends on what people are looking for whether we refer them to materials on our website, because we have an online database with thousands of images and documents in it. It's called Local History Online.

You know, we have a lot of peers in the community, MSU Archives, the archives or the Library of Michigan, if we need to refer people we will.

And then just all kinds of different directories and indexes and individual collections that we go through to try and find, you know, you never know what kind of question we're going to get and how how deep we need to dig to find the answers that people are looking for.

Saliby: Do you have any other interesting finds you've discovered recently during research?

Butler: That question is always one that when I get put on the spot, it's like [nervous gasp]. You know, I think I mentioned when we were corresponding before this interview about the Civilian Defense collection and the carrier pigeons. That one was another one that just in the last couple years that we've helped a researcher, an academic researcher, who her entire professional focus seems to be on the use of carrier pigeons.

black ad white image of a woman wearing a Civilian Defense uniform holding a carrier pigeon on a wooden deck
This 1942 photo belongs to CADL's Lansing Civilian Defense collection.

And we just happened to have this collection, a really thorough collection of all the civilian defense activities that happened in Lansing and Ingham County around World War II and following. And within that is a section of photographs of carrier pigeon activities that happened here.

And she felt that, she has told us that we have something that is unusual, that doesn't exist anywhere else, and it's pretty obscure. But you know, to learn that about collections that you take care of is always really fun. So that one to me, I think is one of the most exciting things we've done lately and unusual.

Saliby: Heidi Butler works at the Capitol Area District Libraries. Thank you for joining me.

Butler: Thank you so much, Sophia.

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