New bookmobile librarian, Toni Benson, January 1988.

The Toni I. Benson Room of Local History and Genealogy is a premiere destination for researchers. Housed in the Webster Memorial Library in Decatur, the collection includes thousands of books, microfilm, periodicals, photographs and manuscripts relating to Southwestern Michigan.

The collection also includes resources for select states and foreign countries, and general Michigan history. The Benson Room is a licensed microfilm loan center for the Family History Center in Salt Lake City and serves as the repository for the Van Buren Regional Genealogical Society’s collection.


The local history collection is open to researchers Monday through Friday, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm; and Saturday, 9:00 am to 3:00 pm. The Benson Room observes all holiday and other closings of the Webster Memorial Branch, Van Buren District Library. Researchers are encouraged to verify access hours prior to visiting. Phone Webster Memorial Library, 269-423-4771, or email

Requests for Information

Brief requests for information are welcome and may be made to Pam Pender, Local History Librarian. A list of independent researchers is available for more extensive research needs.

Planning Your Visit

  1. Call 269-423-4771 or email in advance to verify hours
  2.  Make a list of items to view, including title and call numbers.  Locate local history materials in the library’s catalog and VBRGS
  3. Consult Van Buren County GenWeb
  4. Focus: Make a list of needed records and names to search
  5. Organize: Put your information in order on a family group sheet or genealogical  software program
  6. Upon arrival, consult the Local History Master Index first. The LHMI is an in-house Database tool that can be used to quickly locate materials in the collection.

Main Categories of the Local History Collection

The materials housed in the Toni I. Benson Room are extensive. While not a complete list, those below are the most frequently requested:


  • 1820 – 1940: Federal and State Censuses for Allegan, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren Counties
  • 1850 – 1870: All of Michigan


The collection includes newspapers from 20 different communities in southwestern Michigan including Bangor, Bloomingdale, Covert, Decatur, Gobles, Lawrence, Paw Paw and Marcellus.


Southwest Michigan Obituary Collection: This obituary index is a work in progress and contains over 89,000 entries dating from Southwest Michigan’s earliest history through the year 2000.

Vital Records

Available resources include tax, naturalization and court records for Van Buren County and the adjacent counties of Allegan, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo and St. Joseph.

Special Collections

The Toni I. Benson Room has many specific collections for researchers. If you don’t see a collection that may meet your needs, please contact the local history librarian.

  • Bess Britton One-Room Schoolhouse Collection
  • Family Files
  • Historical Platbooks and Atlases
  • Picture Collection
  • Southwest Michigan Military Registry
  • Yearbooks


Visit the Southwest Michigan Genealogy & Local History Blog and sign-up for a free subscription!  Ancestry Library Edition is accessible inside all branches of Van Buren District Library.