Preserving the history of Grayson County is the mission of Frontier Village and Museum of Grayson County. To achieve that goal the museum has added a genealogy repository to its ranks.
Charla Harris is the president of the museum. For her it’s more than just preserving the history of the county, it’s personal.
“My family helped found Grayson County,” Harris said. “To me this is kind of like family. Every person here at some point has been in contact with my family or touched my family in some way or touched their lives. I feel like this has made me a keeper of the history. It has been an overwhelming responsibility — one I gladly took on, but at the same time it has been overwhelming. It is because of the volunteers that has kept the history alive.”
She said one thing that she found during the process was her grandfather’s employment records from his time working for the Katy Railroad. His name was Joseph Sanford. He was a farmer by trade and worked for the railroad during the off season. She said that was common for the area, as the railroad was a siginficant employer during that time. He worked in the repair yards fixing cars. She said at any given time there would be between eight or nine cars being worked on at a time. The mueseum has railroad records from the early 1940s to the mid-1950s. She said after that the railroad began pulling out, and records are harder to come by.
The records in the genealogy collection range from 1885 all the way to today. Most of the obituaries before 1930 are somewhat scarce. Harris said a major reason for that is death cerficiates were not mandatory back then. She said sometimes all there was to go on was what was printed in the newspaper. She said there are newspapers in the collection going back to the late 1800s.
Most of the obituaries are stores in a collection of books. Those books are organized alphabetically going up to about the mid-1990s. After that, she said most records were not preserved as everything was moving to computers. Starting back in the early 2000s, digital records began to take over.
Harris said it took over 100 volunteers over a year to get the materials ready for the public. Many of the volunteers came from either the libraries themselves or from Preston Trail Daughters of the American Revolution. The volunteers from Preston Trail spent two months hand writing an inventory of every item that was brought in.
“We physically began taking collections around the end of July,” Harris said. “Pottsboro was first, we went out and loaded my van with them. Then, Denison was a bigger undertkaing; we had to bring in volunteers and trucks. Sherman was all stored because of the fire. What was left of Sherman we took in a Uhaul.”
The vast majority of materials came from the Sherman, Denison and Pottsboro public libraries following each library shutting down their respective genealogy departments.
“I couldn’t let the history go,” she said. “I was told it would end up in a basement if we didn’t take it. That it had been offered to another group who didn’t want the responsibility. I can’t see letting all this history go. The increase in our traffic into this museum tells me I was right. There are other people who don’t want to let the history go of Grayson County.”
She said there are thousands of obituaries cataloged, with more than 20,000 books in the collection, not counting photos or films. She said there are 6,000 books in the main space, with more outside in the storage facilities.
“If the obituary cannot be found, it most likely doesn’t exist,” she said. “We were researching an obituary, and we found it but it wasn’t the obituary for one person, it was for three soldiers who died in Vietnam that were brought back to Grayson County. So the obituary actually pertains to three different people. I suspect in the 60s we might have seen quite a bit of that. In the 1940s as well.”
The repositiory has far more going for it than obituaries. There are dozens of books compiling individual family histories, as well as logs of land records, birth, death and marriage certificates — any document that would relate to genealogy including registries from the Grayson County Sheriff’s Office. Beyond the hard copies there are also a large number of additional items on microfilm and microfiche to be browsed.
In addition to the very thorough but still incomplete Grayson County records, Harris said there are additional records from all 50 states. She said if a person wanted to research their own family history even if they aren’t from the area, they might be able to get a good start from the information contained at the museum. She said the goal is to expand the museum’s workable space in order to bring more of the items that are in storage in to be accessible to the public.
“About a third of our project money is heating and cooling these buildings out here to keep them at the right temperatures so the records don’t get destroyed,” she said.
Family histories make up a big portion of the records. She said those include scrapbooks with photos and newspaper clippings.
“We’ve been able to help other libraries out as well with some of our duplicates,” she said. “They went to Howe and Tom Bean. Some went to Brian Hander for his new museum he is putting in. We still have probably 16 boxes of duplicates as well; we’ll save them.”
She said while it is free to research, volunteers are not always able to help due to costs. She said as a non-profit organization there aren’t enough volunteers.
Grayson County Frontier Village are the owners of the genealogy items and maintain the collection.
There is a cost of $.10 for copies.
The project began in August 2018. It was opened to the public on June 28.