Most residents in cities the size of Brownwood are forced to travel to much larger cities to do serious genealogical research — even with the wealth of information available online.
But here, members of the Pecan Valley Genealogical Society routinely see those roles reversed.
“We are very fortunate to have a library like this in a town this size,” Clay Riley, webmaster for the library and a familiar face to those visiting the genealogical library at 213 S. Broadway, across the street from the Brown County Courthouse. “It’s quite unique. We have a backup supported by the municipal library. You have to go to a larger city to try to find anything like this.”
The library holds bound reference works cataloging family histories and U.S. Census data from not only Texas, but also from across the nation. Books written about Brown County history are also available. The genealogical collection was held in a small room at the Brownwood Public Library on Carnegie for several years, but as interest and the collection grew, and as the genealogical society thrived, the site on the courthouse square dedicated to genealogy was opened.
The society has been especially busy during the past week conducting its primary fund-raiser, a sale of hardbound and paperback books. When the sale started Tuesday, the library had 40 boxes full of materials, all for less for $1 or less.
The library has two part-time employees, but unless a visitor knows it, they would be difficult to pick out from among the group of 16 volunteers.
Those volunteers exhibit a love of genealogy that can be contagious. If a visitor doesn’t know where to begin, they are eager to assist.
“We help anyone interested on how to find or research their past,” society President Bobbie Hamer Hubbard said. “We offer our services for free. We only charge for the printing.” The library offers three computer stations dedicated to genealogical research.
“The computer age has really speeded things up and has made a world of difference nowadays,” librarian Edwin Glaspie said. He and archivist Amanda Sonnenberg are the library’s only paid employees, and they work part-time.
“But the Internet is a blessing and a curse,” Riley added. “There is a lot of incorrect information out there, and those mistakes sometimes become gospel.”
Finding assistance from experienced researchers like members of the genealogical society can help families discern facts from misinformation.
The library has a large number of research books, microfilm from the Brownwood Bulletin; volumes listing Brown County marriages, obituaries and history; and Howard Payne and Brownwood High School yearbooks. The library also has U.S. Census rolls and data on almost all the states. Information about families in Hawaii isn’t as plentiful, however.
The society was started around 1978 and has 62 members.
Members are working to create a database for military veterans buried at Greenleaf Cemetery. Almost 1,300 veterans from several wars are buried there.
The society is participating in “Wreaths Across America,” which places wreaths on the graves of veterans in correlation with those being placed at Arlington National Cemetery. A ceremony is planned for Dec. 15. Society members became involved with the project after learning that the United Daughters of the Confederacy group in Goldthwaite was doing it. Even with a late start in 2011, the society placed 200 wreaths last year.
Some local groups the society works with include the Daughters of the American Revolution, Friends of Greenleaf, and Daughters of the Republic of Texas.
The society is in the process of becoming an affiliate library for the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah— the largest genealogical library in the world, with copies of millions of original records
“I first became interesed in genealogy when I saw the TV series “Roots,” and I thought it would be neat to show my son where we came from,” Hubbard said. “Back then, it would take at least a month, if not longer to get information.”
The library is always accepting donations of old photos, family records or albums. Current projects include microfilming a local church’s records.
The library recently completed a pro-ject that sent society members to all gravesites in Brown County and took photos of the headstones and matched them with death certificates —when possible — and posted to FindAGrave.com.
That includes documenting burial sites that may not be readily identifiable.
For example, a cemetery was located where Brownwood Regional Airport is now located.
Members are now working on processing boxes from the estate of Tessica Martin, former Brownwood Bulletin writer, Howard Payne University journalism professor and local historian. Among her collection are articles on Molly Armstrong, first woman optometrist in the state and only the second in the United States, who began her practice in Brownwood in 1899. An historical marker about her is located at the Comolli and Ethridge practice on Austin Avenue.
Martin’s collection is on loan, and those items are being scanned and copied.
During their meetings at 6:30 p.m. on the second Monday of the month, members share information with each other regarding any new techniques or programs they have learned that will help them.
Each year, members of the society travel to the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah. The one-week trip is usually made in August, and members pay for their own way and expenses.
“We’re always happy to have new members or guests at the meetings,” Hubbard said.
“We’re happy to help you get started.”
“We are very willing to teach,” Glaspie said. “And we get very excited when our patrons find things they were looking for. We like to help.”
But he said it wouldn’t be possible without the large group of volunteers who are routinely at the library.
The library is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, but members are willing to meet people outside those hours by appointment. The library telephone number is (325) 646-6006.
“It’s tough for someone to perhaps travel several hours to get here and then find us closed,” Riley said. “We’re happy to meet them.”
One of the advantages in doing family research at the library is that it pays for memberships to several research websites, which visitors are welcome to use. Those include Ancestry.com, Newspaperarchive.com, Fold3.com (historical military records), genealogybank.com, and archives.com.
Common questions heard from people beginning their research are “Where do I look?” and “Where is my family buried?”
While the library is much stronger on Brown County information, it can still access information from other areas to obtain those answers.
Other officers of the society are Ann Stevens, vice president; Bill Owen, secretary; Sharon Crowder, treasurer; Geneva Garrett, librarian; Ed Walker, reporter/editor and lead volunteer archivist; and Ruth Pierce, volunteer coordinator.