“To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.”

                                                                                                            –Chinese prove

The Dallas Genealogical Society and the North Texas genealogical community remember with gratitude their ancestors in the discipline who founded the Local History & Genealogical Society in Dallas fifty years ago.

Their first meeting was held on January 17, 1955. The thirty-some members met at noon in the Downtown YMCA. Under President John Plath Green, annual dues for the new society membership were set at five dollars, and a monthly bulletin was approved. The meeting was reported in the first one-page newsletter, called The Bulletin.

The masthead reads: Local History & Genealogical Society, cooperating with the Dallas Public Library, Volume 1, Number 1, February 21, 1955.

The society’s statement of purpose was prominently featured:

  • To create, foster and maintain interest among citizens of Dallas County in the Genealogy and Local History Section of the Dallas Public Library.
  • To collect and preserve information relating to those pioneers who settled Dallas County and to the early history of this City and County.
  • To preserve church, cemetery and land records, testamentary documents, diaries and manuscripts, and other source materials wherein are chronicled the achievements of those who laid in the wilderness the foundations of this great community.
  • To copy and index all such records, and to catalogue them so as to make this information most readily available to present and future generations.
  • To collect and make available through the Dallas Public Library the published records of other States, whence came the Texas pioneers.
  • And to exchange ideas and collaborate in devising efficient methods for genealogical and historical research.

Thus began the fifty-year history of leadership provided by the Dallas Genealogical Society. Mr. Green served on the board of the Dallas Public Library, advancing the interests of the genealogy section and paving the way for other society members to perform this service. DGS leadership has been instrumental in raising the standards of genealogical research in this area through its publications, workshops, and seminars.

The society’s first project was the compilation of a bibliography of all books and pamphlets in the Dallas Public Library dealing with genealogical material. The project was patterned after one in St. Louis that was published in book form in 1953, a copy of which was available in the Dallas library. It was noted that the book was a most valuable help in simplifying research by historians and genealogists in the St. Louis library and that the inventory of material in the Dallas library would soon be such an aid to researchers here.

DGS periodicals have enhanced the Dallas genealogical environment over the last half century. The newsletter continued as The Bulletin until 1988. At that time, under the presidency of Sammie Lee, The Bulletin went from a one-page legal-size newsletter, printed front and back, to a four-page newsletter with a new name and masthead, DGS Newsletter.

It was in 1957 that the society established the first quarterly, to be published in March, June, September, and December of each year. The Dallas Quarterly, which published records related to Dallas County, retained the same format until December 1995 when the it became the annual Dallas Journal. Members were promised a new format that would improve the quality of published materials. The Journal would consist of about 152 pages of Dallas County records and instead of having abstracts of records “chopped’ into bits to fit the old quarterly format, members would now receive their information on full-size pages in easier-to-read print, fully indexed.

A most important contribution to the genealogical community has been the society’s monetary support of the Genealogical Section of the Dallas Public Library. The DGS has made large donations for the acquisition of materials, expansion of the section, and even the purchase of furniture. To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the society is conducting a campaign to increase the number of books in the Genealogy Section from 96,000 in January 2005 to 100,000 at the end of the year.

True to its statement of purpose, the society has copied, indexed, and published Dallas County records. In addition to its periodicals, the society has published such books and microforms as Marriages in Dallas County, Early to 1850,  six volumes of Dallas County Marriage Books, Abstracts of Dallas County Divorces, 1846-1905, Dallas County Probate Packets from 1846-1900, five volumes of genealogical data from early cemeteries, newspaper abstracts for the Texas Methodist, Texas Presbyterian, Texas Baptist, and Southwestern Presbyterian, an index to witnesses in Dallas County Court Civil case papers from 1846-1900, a historical list of Dallas County Justices of the Peace, and, to celebrate the Dallas Public Library’s 100th anniversary in 2001, a book listing all the Dallas County Records of interest to the Genealogist at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library. These projects were accomplished through the work and dedication of society volunteers including Helen Mason Lu, Gwen Newmann, Margaret Smith, Jim Monaghan, Adrienne Bird Jamieson, Dr. Alan Miller, and Shirley Sloat.

In addition, society members have been instrumental in acquiring supplemental funding by identifying and obtaining grant monies for special acquisitions such as the City Directories collection. And member Mike Basham ushered the Genealogy Section into the computer age. Attendance at the Computer Special Interest Group meetings now rivals that at the society’s general monthly meetings. Hundreds of volunteers have staffed the 8th floor sign-in desk  and welcomed and gently steered new researchers into genealogy.

The purpose, although expressed more succinctly today, remains at the heart of the society the same as it did fifty years ago:

The object of this society shall be: to create, foster, and maintain interest in genealogy; to assist and support the genealogy section of the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library in Dallas, Texas, or its legal successor; and to collect, preserve, copy, and index information relating to Dallas County and its early history.

As the Dallas Genealogical Society continues to build on its heritage, may its members keep in mind those who will follow in the next fifty and the next fifty years. To this end, may the Society live long and prosper!

–Margret Hancock Pearce

Sources:

  1. Local History & Genealogical Society Newsletters and Quarterlies, Dallas Public Library;R929.10973 L 811L
  2. Interview with Lloyd Bockstruck, Dallas Public Library, 30 September 2005, Margret H. Pearce