I wrote in an earlier post about the importance of skepticism when doing genealogy/family history research. Here’s a good example. This is a death certificate I found yesterday while doing some research for a new cousin. What do you see recorded as the full name for the subject of this official death certificate? How would you transcribe this name?
The indexer for this collection saw this name as “Edith Van Connie Drury”. What did you see? Here’s what the indexer should have seen and recorded: Edith Victoria Drury.
Be cautious and tenacious when doing your research. A future fellow researcher will rise up and call you “blessed!”
If you have family or research family history in North Texas, this blog post is for you. These resources will make your research more productive.
Dee and I recently used the genealogical sectionsof three North Texas libraries. One was a surprise, one was status quo in our experience and the third one was a gem. Here’s our report with some basic information on these resources plus tips for researching any library in any place.
We were in McWright Cemetery in Hunt County, Texas looking for the final resting ground of my 2 x great grandfather William Henry Price. Three of us were looking (including my sister Debbie from Collin County), but we could not find him. It’s a large cemetery and has been in use since the 1800’s. It’s possible his burial marker had been destroyed by time. I wondered and then hoped someone had recorded the graves earlier before there was a Find A Grave. That’s when a car pulled into the cemetery occupied by two elderly sisters. They had lived near the cemetery all their lives, but they could not recall the Price name. They did remember there was a book in the Greenville library with a listing of all of the graves in the cemetery at the time the book was published and suggested we look in that book for William Henry Price.
I was surprised by such a large, modern facility in such a small place. I was also surprised by the generous genealogical holdings secluded in their own room. The library has a public break area with vending machines, very nice for long hours of research. The staff on duty this day did not seem particularly knowledgeable in the field of genealogy and appeared to be pre-occupied with preparing to watch basketball on the computer. So, be prepared. You may have to provide for yourself. (see below). We found the book our good Samaritans told us about but did not find William Henry in it. We did however find several other useful facts about other family members. If you’re researching family in Hunt County, you’ll want to visit this facility.
The Status Quo
We were looking for old Collin County, Texas tax records. When I say old, I mean from the beginning of the county (1846). I was looking for evidence my 2 x great grand father Samuel Byrd made it to Texas before his death. I was pleased to discover the microfilm of the earliest tax records was available in McKinney near my family’s residences. It would not be necessary (as we had been told by the county officials) to travel to the library at the University of Texas at Arlington. (BTW, I found no evidence that day or any other day that Samuel Byrd made it alive to Texas in spite of what someone posted on the Find A Grave website.)
Hours: Mon.-Thu: 10 am – 9 pm, Fri.-Sat.: 10 am – 6 pm, Sun.: 1 – 5 pm
This library is modern and spacious, pleasing to the eye. The genealogical section is good on Collin County and fair on the surrounding counties. There is, as there is in most Texas libraries’ genealogical sections, as smattering of books on the states from which Texas settlers came. The second floor space is shared by an open computer room where it appears mostly young adults are checking Facebook and playing computer games. There has been an attempt to tuck the research tables back into a corner away from distractions. This provides a place for others to talk and text away from the crowd. The staff from which we requested assistance did not come across as knowledgeable of their genealogical holdings or how to operate the microfilm viewers. It was a fairly standard experience and thus the term “status quo”.
And then you find that special place with special people. I’m talking about the Haggard Library in Plano, Texas. I speak specifically of the basement in this library and the people who work there. The basement? Sounds rather dark and damp. I assure you it’s neither.
The genealogical section of the Haggard Library is in the basement. It’s large, comfortable, well stocked and well staffed. I could spend a long time here and I did spend most of a day and part of another. You need to plan your visit or you’ll be going from “one shiny thing” to another. There’s plenty here for the history hound and the family historian. And then there’s the staff. They are knowledgeable, courteous and considerate. Considerate? Yes. When I’m researching I generally have goals and don’t have time for chit chat. I need the staff to be knowledgeable, but share with me only the knowledge I request. Otherwise I need them to simply give me space and solitude. I’ve just described the five staff I met working the basement in my two days at the Haggard Library. And the gem of this gem was Genealogical Librarian Cheryl Smith. She is a wonderful and respectful resource for family historians and genealogist researching North Texas families. She is especially knowledgeable of Collin County. Thanks Cheryl! I smile when I think of the staff — and that basement!
My one complaint about Haggard is the lack of a public break area. Researchers may be in the stacks for long hours and need regular breaks to stay nourished and hydrated. This would be a nice addition to the library and provide additional income.
Preparing to research a library:
Have research goals. What do you hope to find or accomplish with you visit?
Know before you go. What is available? What is allowed? What are the hours? Where is it located?
Search the online catalog. Have your titles and call numbers ready. What questions do you have for the staff? Prepare your research log in advance.
Don’t forget your equipment. Notebooks, computers, cameras (know their policy) and money for the copier
When you’re there:
Be courteous to the staff and considerate of others. Allow them to do their work. Don’t distract others around you.
Follow the library’s protocols. Don’t reshelf the books. Place your used materials on the carts if they’re provided. Know how to use the equipment and properly use it. Ask for help if you don’t.
You’ll probably be a sucker for the hobby (obsession) of genealogy. If you don’t want to be trapped, back away. Leave now and don’t ever look back!
Genealogy is like filling in the blanks I didn’t know I had.
I wish I could remember who said that. I would love to give them credit.
There are many reasons we enjoy genealogy and family history. Each family historian or would be genealogist will have their own explanation or perhaps not be able to explain it at all. I recently came across one person’s take on genealogy and I wanted to share it with you.
Kris Williams has loved history since her childhood. She “blames” her father. She was a sucker for genealogy and was hooked by a school class assignment when she was 11 years old. Her love for family history and background in research helped her land a job as the historical researcher for Syfy’s Ghost Hunters. She’s also served as a contributor to Ancestry.com for over a year. You can follow Kris and gain from her knowledge at The Key to You Tree. The link is in our blog favorites list to the right.
I’ve asked Kim’s permission to link to a recent blog post she wrote on the “why” of genealogy. I like her “take”. Check it out. Genealogy: What’s the Point? Thanks Kris!
How do you get the most out of your “on the ground” research time?
I previously blogged about a trip Dee and I took to North Texas backtracking my Roberts, Byrd, Horn, Laningham and Ingram family lines. This was an aggressive agenda of five counties in five days. If you haven’t seen the post, you may want to read about the scope of our discoveries.
How does the genealogist/family historian get the most done in the least amount of time? In a word, it takes PREPARATION.
I love being able to research our family in my pajamas. The internet has made this possible. There’s nothing like the comfort of my easy chair and laptop for making new discoveries. But then, there’s nothing like walking the ground on which our ancestors walked. The fact is it takes both for us to do our “due diligence” in documenting our family histories. To do it right, you’ll have to get out of the house.
We’ll eventually have to (and want to) take to field in order to backtrack our family’s trail. Here are some tips to make this time more productive.
Goals, Goals, Goals
Have goals for your research trip. Review your work and know what information you’re missing.
Know what you want to do on your trip. Be specific.
Write it down. Aim at nothing and you’ll hit it every time.
Plan, Plan, Plan
Now that you know what you want to do, how will you accomplish these goals?
What will be done and when will it be done in order to reach your goals?
Where, at what physical location, can you complete each goal?
What has to be done before I leave?
If you’re not a planner, please invite someone to help you plan. Tell them what you want to accomplish in your research and let them help you.
Preparation, Preparation, Preparation
Research the resources. What family members need to be contacted? What interview questions do I want to ask? What courthouses will be visited? Cemeteries? Libraries? Research Centers? Have I made my appointments? Have I checked the open and closed hours? Will they be closed during lunch?
If I’m going to a library, why? Do I know what’s available? Have I searched the online catalogs? What about their microfilm holdings? Have I written down the titles and call numbers of those resources?
Have I planned my schedule? Do I know when I’m going where? Prepared my maps or GPS coordinates?
Do I have my notebooks, maps, and cameras, contact information, etc? (I once prepared my camera equipment, had all of my batteries charged, extra memory cards and then left it all! Dee bailed me out with her IPhone.)
Do I know what I want to accomplish at each stop? If I have a research partner, do we know what each other will do at each venue?
Things rarely go exactly as you plan them. This is not a reason not to plan. It’s simply a realistic expectation.
Plan and prepare. Work hard at making the things happen that you want to happen. When it doesn’t, go with it. It helps to have a partner to remind you of this outlook.
Enjoy your time and space and especially the people in that space!
You can go on a trip and enjoy it without doing all of these things. But if you want to have a great family research trip, have goals, plan and prepare.
One reward for the family historian is discovering and walking the ground of their ancestors. I did this last week with my best friend. My wife is an incredible person. I’ve spent the last 40 plus years getting to know her. In the past three years she’s revealed her hidden talents as a research assistant and photographer. Dee’s my best help when chasing family “ghosts”.
Below is a recap of what we did and how we accomplished so much in a limited time, valuable tips for genealogists everywhere.
In five days we traversed five counties. (The other three days were spent visiting family, porch sitting with Debbie and Jim and antiquing with David and Cheryl. Family should be fun!) Here are some of our unearthed treasures:
Located in Collin County and took my mother to visit the grave of her two x great grandfather. Before last week, she didn’t know his name. (William Brumley Price)
Located in Wise County and visited the grove of trees where my great grandfather pastored a Methodist church for 16 years. (Pleasant Grove) In the adjacent cemetery we visited the graves of my great grand aunt and her family. (Narcissus Byrd Curtner)
Located in Wise County and visited the graves of my two time great grandmother’s family. (Elizabeth Norman Ashlock Byrd)
Took Dee to see the grave of my great grandparents Pleasant Wesley and Rachel Marinda Byrd, in WiseCounty.
Located in Collin County and visited the graves of my great grand aunt Malissa Jane Byrd Spradley, her husband James Reed Spradley and her first husband Charles H. Gough.
Narrowed the date of my great grandfather John Anderson Roberts’ arrival in Texas by the use of microfilmed tax records from Red RiverCounty.
Located and visited the grave of my great grand uncle Samuel Zedock Byrd and his second wife Martha Josephine Vicars in Collin County.
Located in Hunt County and visited the grave of Samuel Z. Byrd’s first wife my great grand aunt Sina Canzada Burke Byrd. (Does anyone know the origin of “Sina” and if it is short for something else? Her marker reads “S. C. Wife of Samuel Z. Byrd”. No help here.) This also gave me previously unknown birth and death dates!
Located in Lamar County and visited the grave of my 3 x great grandfather Wiley Laningham. I only learned his name doing research last month! (We also enjoyed lunch with my cousin Glen Gambill and his precious wife Sarah! I’ll write more about Glen in a later post or two,)
Documented my great grandfather John Charles Wesley Ingram’s first land purchases in Kerr County further confirming the errors on several historical markers and online historical accounts of Ingram, Texas.
Further documented the correct arrival date of my 3 x great grandfather Jeremiah Horn to Texas and when he and others actually began the Swayback Methodist Church and school in western Collin County.
Documented my 2 x great grand Uncle John Horn’s 1846 Collin County enlistment to fight in the Mexican – American War. (We had located and visited his grave in Stillwell, Oklahoma this past December. While looking for his grave we also met and visited with his g-great grandson!)
Meeting Genealogy Librarian Cheryl Smith of the Haggard Library in Plano, Texas. (I’ll write more about this wonderful resource in a later post.)
Finding the surprise resource of the genealogy room in the Walworth Harrison Library in Greenville, Texas.
While this is only part of what we learned, I think it’s the best part!
My post has run a little longer than I intended. Let’s finish it later. Come back for those tips on getting more genealogy done in a short amount of time.
Consider pressing the Follow button and registering to be contacted by email when we post here. Happy ghost hunting!
I guess you could call me a reluctant genealogist. The craft/hobby/obsession has been trying to draw me in for half my life. I finally capitulated these past two years.
Here’s how it all started thirty years ago this fall. I had just finished conducting a graveside service outside of Fairfield, Texas when I was approached by a couple who appeared to be in their late forties or early fifties. They introduced themselves as Lawrence and Juanita Uhl. They thanked me for the service and my kind words and then asked me a question I had never been asked before or since at a funeral service. “What do you know about your father’s family?” That’s where it all began. I didn’t know it then, but I know it now.
The truth was, in spite of my insatiable curiosity about most things, I knew nearly nothing about my father’s family. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to know. It wasn’t because I hadn’t asked. I think I can sum it up in two ways. First, my dad and his dad knew nothing about their family and its roots. Second, unlike a good genealogist, I took their “No” for an answer. They had nothing to tell me and I accepted their lack of information as the final say on the matter. I lived with this false reality until the fall of 1985.
The Uhls were professors at a small college in East Texas and they both had been bitten by the genealogy bug. They were passionate amateur sleuths, using most of their free time in the hobby (read obsession) but had hit a roadblock in following Lawrence’s father’s line. They lost the trail in Virginia. They later confessed to me they hoped by helping a minister that God would help them get past their brick wall and pick up the trail.
I told them only a few things at the cemetery that day. This was all I knew. My dad was raised in the Ft. Worth, Texas area by Gus Roberts. While badgering my dad one day for information about his family he blurted out that all he knew about his dad’s family was that they were from a small community outside of Paris, Texas. That’s not much to go on.
Lawrence and Juanita Uhl took those crumbs and went to work. Two weeks later I received a call. The Uhls asked permission to drive to our home in Nacogdoches and share what they had found. In a few days they arrived with a notebook and large envelope in hand. They weren’t sure how I would take the news they had to share and thought it would be better delivered in person.
Here’s what I heard and saw that day. My grandfather, the man I knew as “Papoo”, was the offspring of his father’s second marriage. Great granddad John A. Roberts had a nice farm in Lamar County and he worked it with his son and son-in-law from his first marriage. His wife had been deceased for a few years when he married one of his farm workers. She was about 29 and he was 66. My granddad arrived in 1898. In 1901 my great grandmother Mary Laningham Thompson Roberts and one of the hired hands named John Killian were accused and convicted of murderingmy great grandfather. They were sent to the Texas Penitentiary. Witnesses claimed my grandfather Gus, then only three years old, was in the room when the deed was done. He would be raised by the Masonic Home in Ft. Worth until he graduated their school at the age of eighteen.
In a flash I saw it. I knew why my grandfather was the way he was. I was moved with compassion for him and my dad. My father had once described his dad as a “mean old bitter SOB”. Dad would not escape the malaise. He left home at 16 to wrestle with his own demons the rest of his life. Now I understood.
My great-grandmother was convicted of murdering my great-grandfather in 1902. Was this bad news? Sure. Was it sad news? Yes. A jury of 12 men said it was a fact. They said it was the truth. (I’ll have more to say about this on another day. Hint: They were both pardoned by two different governors!) For now, all we had to work with was the decision of that jury. Knowing the story allowed me to share with my father about a man he never met (his grandfather) and a man he never really knew (his father). I saw a light in his eyes that day and an emotional expulsion from his chest. He would live with these liberating facts for less than three years. They were good years.
I think often of a pair of dedicated amateur genealogical detectives who made this possible in our family. I never really properly thanked them. I’m just now, after thirty years, understanding the impact of what they did for my family. Thanks Lawrence and Juanita Uhl wherever you are! May your tribe increase! I dedicate this blog to you, your memory and people like you who are committed to the facts and will follow them wherever they lead. I hope we all break down our brick walls together and continue to backtrack the common until we meet in a place where there is no sorrow.