Business Records: Introduction

Primary-source materials documenting the history of American commerce and industry survive in many forms and are known as Business Records. Michigan Historical Collections at the Bentley Historical Library represent businesses from the recent past to those that pre-date American independence.

Especially in early eras of Michigan history, business records often reflect personal histories as well as company records. There is an inherent interconnectedness between entrepreneurs and their business organizations.

Broadly interpreted, business records reflect the social life and customs of their day in two ways: 1) social life and customs often influence business decisions, and 2) successful businesspeople often influence society through additional elected or appointed roles in politics and/or government.

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A Guide, Not an All-Inclusive Resource

The goal of this subject guide to business records is to introduce readers, through a historical narrative, to some of the areas of richest research potential at the Bentley Historical Library. The Guide is not an all-inclusive listing of business collections, but rather a sampling of holdings arranged by topic.

A note on guide organization and arrangement: As archivists, researchers, and others interested in interpreting historical records soon learn, the unchanging nature of archival materials can present challenges as their current context changes over time. For example, terms and descriptions popular in one period may be unknown in another. In some cases, a given term may remain in use over time but with a different meaning or significance than originally understood by most users.

In providing digital archival access by topic, terminology from the collections themselves is used whenever possible to describe and delineate industries. In addition to catalog subject headings, secondary sources beyond this guide can also help to provide background and contextual knowledge helpful in understanding primary historical documents.

Finally, lists included in this guide are in alphabetical order by collection title for organizations or by author name for individuals. Business records included among personal papers of an individual, i.e., where the author's *first* name is the first word of the collection title, have been arranged in alphabetical lists under the author's surname.

Note to electronic library catalog searchers: MIRLYNsearch "results list" output appears in alphabetical order by collection title; for collections identified by the name of a company (or for anonymous collections), collection title and author name may be the same.


This subject guide was created by volunteer, Sandy Kortesoja.