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Collections & Research

Mackinac State Historic Parks collects objects to preserve and interpret the history of the Straits of Mackinac and Upper Great Lakes. The collections of Mackinac State Historic Parks fall into two broad categories: archaeological objects and historical objects. The first group consists of the objects excavated by MSHP at our historic sites. The historical material consists of original items donated to or purchased for the collection. It includes three-dimensional objects, archival material and photographs.

Major themes guiding our collecting activity include the military activity of the French, British and Americans, the fur trade, missionary activity, Victorian tourism and Great Lakes transportation. The objects collected include furnishings, textiles, art work, decorative art objects, tools and equipment, personal items, archival material and photographs.

Many of the items in the collection are exhibited at our sites, either in formal exhibits or as part of recreated period settings. Objects are also collected for research purposes. Information on using the collection for research can be found below.

Collecting activity of the Mackinac Island State Park Commission began in 1914 when a portion of the Fort Mackinac Officers’ Stone Quarters was set aside as a museum. Artifacts were exhibited here documenting early Mackinac and the Old Northwest. After World War I, the exhibits included objects documenting Michigan’s military history. Although collecting was sporadic, a cataloging program was introduced in 1937. Systematic collections management began after 1958. Professional museum staff introduced standard collections management procedures. The bulk of the historical collection has been gathered since that time and today includes nearly 20,000 objects.

Collections Management

Mackinac State Historic Parks’ collecting activity is governed by a formal Collections Policy, following standard museum practices. Each acquisition is reviewed by a staff Collections Committee. Final approval is made by the Park Commission. Decisions are based on a scope of collections within the collections policy. We seek to provide the highest level of care possible for our collection items. Light and humidity levels in exhibit locations are monitored and controlled as much as possible. Highly sensitive and noteworthy objects are exhibited in climate-controlled galleries or specially designed cases. Items not on exhibit are stored at the fully-climate controlled and secure Heritage Center on Mackinac Island or the Petersen Center in Mackinaw City.

Collections Donations

We are always searching for relevant Mackinac objects and photographs to add to the collection. If you have something you are interested in donating, please contact Brian Jaeschke. We also maintain The Patricia and Martin Jahn Collections Development Fund to support acquisition and conservation.

Researching Mackinac History

Mackinac State Historic Parks is pleased to make its historical resources available to researchers. All access is coordinated through Registrar Brian Jaeschke at 231-436-4100

Historical Research

Keith Widder Library at the Petersen Center, Mackinaw City. Mackinac State Historic Parks maintains a library of books, research files, photos, maps and microfilm on Mackinac history. The materials are accessible at the Widder Library in Mackinaw City. The library is open to researchers by appointment, Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. It is a non-circulating research library, not a general collection. Appointments should be made at least two weeks in advance. Use of the library is free of charge.

Due to limited staffing levels, we are unable to conduct extensive general research requests. We will be happy to do quick reference checks to determine if we have a resource to help you and whether it would be beneficial to schedule a research visit.

Research requests must include the specific topic or topics being investigated to allow staff to prepare any necessary materials. All researchers must complete a research form. Researchers will be provided with access to the book card catalog, microfilm collections and photo files. Photocopying of printed materials is available at twenty cents per copy. Photo Collections Researchers can access a wealth of Mackinac images through our library photo files. This collection, arranged by topic, includes copies of MSHP collection images as well as copies of images from other depositories and private collections. In addition to a library visit, photo research requests are also available by contacting our office. Photo files and a search of the glass plate negative and historic print collections will be checked by staff. The researcher will then be notified if a particular image or subject is available. Photo copying services are available. Use of images in publications, exhibits or other media is governed by a use policy.

Image Reproduction Policy
Photo Fee Schedule

Genealogical Research

The Petersen Center library does house a limited amount of resources that may be helpful to individuals researching their ancestors who lived at Mackinac. These include:

* Microfilm copies of the Ste. Anne’s Parish register (1695-1821)

* Microfilm copies of U. S. Army Muster Roles for Fort Mackinac from the National Archives (1796-1895)

* Microfilm copies of City of Mackinac Island Records, including borough, township, village and city records (1817-1939), assessment rolls (1889-1920), Tax Rolls (1900-1939), Ordinance and License Information (1875-1899)

* Microfilm copies of Mackinac County Tax Records (1884-1888)

* Biography Files: This is not a comprehensive collection, but includes information on Mackinac individuals and families for whom we or someone else has completed research.

We do not have vital records data (birth, marriage, divorce, death). Individuals must consult the relevant county, state or federal agency. These include the Mackinac County Clerk’s Office in St. Ignace, The Library of Michigan, The Michigan State Archives, The Michigan Department of Community Health and the U.S. National Archives. Many local libraries also offer genealogical resources, including access to federal census records.

We strongly recommend all beginning genealogists consult The Library of Michigan website which provides a wealth of information including tips on starting your research and online resources. It also provides links and information on what information is available at the State Archives and the Michigan Department of Community Health.

Researchers interested in data on an ancestor who served at Fort Mackinac are welcome to review our copies of muster roles by setting up a visit to the Petersen Center Library. We do not have records of service, however. Such information can be obtained from the National Archives in Washington.

Researchers interested in baptism, marriage or burial records for Ste. Anne’s parish after 1821 must contact the parish directly.

Genealogy Links

Library of Michigan Genealogy Page

Mackinac County Clerk’s Office Information (Library of Michigan Web Site)

National Archives and Records Administration, Access to Military Service and Pension Records

Archaeological and Historical Collections Research Petersen Center, Mackinaw City, Heritage Center, Mackinac Island

We are happy to assist individuals and institutions interested in studying museum objects. Access to the museum collection, including both archaeological and historical objects, is provided to qualified researchers by appointment, Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Access is provided free of charge, unless special handling or setup is required. Some items may not be available due to loans, security or seasonal access. Appointments must be made at least two weeks in advance. The research request should include the specific object or object type being researched. For security reasons, general access to the museum collections is not allowed.

French Michilimackinac Research Project

In an effort to better understand the history of Colonial Michilimackinac and the region, the Colonial Michilimackinac French Translation Project began in 1991 to translate and study historic documents of the period.