TGIF: Looking for local information in all the right places
Sometime during my formal schooling, a teacher told me that “being smart” doesn’t necessarily mean knowing all the answers. “Being smart” means knowing where to find all the answers.
Back in the “middle ages” of the previous century, research meant interviewing people with personal knowledge or spending hours in a library. Some may think the internet has replaced the need for libraries, and there certainly is some overlap. But the internet is increasingly becoming an unreliable source — unless you seek evidence about how cruel people can be to each other when they can spew venom from a distance. That’s a subject for another day, although it might be as pertinent as today’s topic. Yet, today’s topic is indeed pertinent.
A writer who lives in another city was working on an article that referenced a former resident of Brownwood, now deceased, and I was called in an effort to pick my brain for some details. I remembered some, but only some, of the information needed. I promised to find out what I could.
A few decades ago, there were a handful of local residents I could ask for information — local residents who had that all important fountain of knowledge that you accumulate just from living in one place for years. However, most of those folks were from a previous generation, and are no longer around to share that knowledge. Back then, I also had easy access to a wealth of back issues and clippings from this newspaper that, in many ways, were like having a massive local history book right in the office.
On the phone call, we discussed residents from the current generation who might know some things, or who might know others with the needed information. While the writer pursued those sources long-distance, I consulted mine, being the Brownwood Public Library’s Local History and Genealogy Branch across from the county courthouse. It’s my primary source for such matters.
It’s said that prophets aren’t recognized in their own hometowns, and sometimes that’s also the case with other treasures. I don’t know many prophets, but when you start listing treasures like the Brown County Museum of History, the Lehnis Railroad Museum, and even Howard Payne University, you shouldn’t forget the Local History and Genealogy Branch. Let’s go ahead and include the primary public library location on Carnegie Street in this list, because that modern facility is a great resource too.
I’m a former member of the local media, but you don’t have to have once-upon-a-time credentials to be treated like a VIP when you walk through the door of either library. Whether you’ve visited dozens of times like me or are a complete stranger, you’ll receive the same welcome. The Brownwood Public Library staff and volunteers from the Pecan Valley Genealogical Society are eager to help.
I can’t count the times I’ve been at the genealogy branch, especially, chasing some rabbit trail for columns like this, or trying to answer a trivia question I dreamed up, or hoping to confirm some morsel of specific information. And I can’t count the times when someone else showed up with a similar quest, and someone there — quite often one of those volunteers from the Pecan Valley Genealogical Society — dropped everything to help.
This little slice of downtown on the courthouse square attracts numerous researchers from across the state and beyond to identify their ancestors, because the resources available at the library branch are simply that extensive.
Those visitors are delighted to find a treasure trove of family and local history, and I can relate. I was asked to write an obituary for my 90-year-old uncle who died in East Texas several years ago, and no one on my mother’s side of the family had enough details to help. Within minutes, the local history library produced everything I needed — including a photo of him as a post-World War II student at a North Carolina college.
Maybe you’ve looked online for family trees or for some tidbit of local history. Even if you find something, it might not be accurate. There are photos, rare documents, self-published histories, rare books, one-of-a-kind publications, cemetery records, and family Bibles waiting for you, if you know where.
In addition, the meticulous records kept by dedicated local historians over the past century are also housed in the library. Those records are vast, and modern technology allows us easy access.
The Brownwood Public Library’s Local History and Genealogy Branch is a treasure trove of information indeed, and one you should visit often. Local history is a treasure, and this is the place to find it.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column “TGIF” appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.