While genealogy is a great adventure, only in Texas does it take on a whole new aspect of adventure.
As part of my ProGen class I decided to look for a newspaper article that might mention the person I am writing about. I was finally able to locate copies of the 1917 newspaper in a little Podunk town in northeast Texas, and decided I would make the seven hour drive to see if evidence I needed was in it.
Now mind you, this paper has not been digitized, and I could not simply ask for a copy because I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for. Besides, I am too cheap to pay for it when I won’t be reimbursed.
I considered writing about the research, but my adventure on that day was much more worthwhile, so here are the events of the Texas Genealogy Adventure. In the stead of a narrative, this story will be told with mostly bulleted points.
- I left before dawn, watching the sunrise about an hour and half later.
- While driving I set the cruise control at 75 mph (you can do that in Texas) and listened to techno music (don’t judge me).
- I would drive 20 to 30 minutes before seeing another vehicle on the road.
- The smell of the fresh pine in East Texas is better than any car deodorant.
- The smell of oak, hickory, pecan, mesquite, and apple smoke from the various BBQ places along the route was prevalent.
- You watch the cows walk single file across the field towards the barn to be fed or milked.
- The Blue Bell ice cream trucks are out making their deliveries.
- You can tell the locals in the small town by the way they drive 5 MPH under the posted speed limit, and you see the local police hiding behind a building.
- You can tell the locals of the town by the way they drive 15 MPH over the speed limit.
- The only cars you see early in the morning are the state troopers and sheriff’s deputies manning their speed traps.
- Those same troopers and deputies wave back to you as you pass them waving.
- You get pulled over in a small East Texas town because you have a brake light that is out.
- You recognize the deputy’s last name as one that fought in the Texas Revolution.
- You spend thirty minutes talking about family history with the deputy that pulled you over and he lets you off without a ticket and he accepts your business card (genealogy does pay off).
- The same deputy directs you to a local diner that is unmarked by any sign save for a placard on the front door that says, “Open.”
- As stated above, you can tell the locals by how fast they drive through the small towns.
- While driving you see a car broken down on the side of the road, and an old farmer on his tractor has a toolbox out trying to help fix it.
- You walk into the unmarked diner wearing jeans, boots, and a cap, and everyone just stops and looks at you like, “You ain’t from around here,” even though they are all wearing jeans, boots, and caps.
- You are the youngest person in the diner, including the wait staff.
- The coffee in the diner is bitter as hell, but the grits are some of the best I have ever had.
- Everybody in the diner wants to talk to you about the history of their area and their families.
- You get a cup of coffee from a small gas station that is so cooked down it is barely liquid.
- You complain about that cup of coffee to another small gas station and they give you a refill for free, saying, “I’m so sorry sweetie. You should never have gone through that.”
- You drop your keys in a small store and the staff and customers all help you look for them.
- The water towers have the local high school mascots painted on them.
- The genealogy and local history department of the library is upstairs and in a room smaller than many dining rooms.
- The librarian manning the genealogy and local history department is 102 years old, grumpy as hell, and probably only has the position because she has lived the history.
- The grumpy old librarian will not allow me to load the microfiche, but will allow me to handle 100 year old newspapers.
- When I find something to print on the microfiche, and get it centered the way I want, the grumpy old librarian insists on re-centering the image to her liking before printing.
- The grumpy old librarian will not let me push the “Print” button on the microfiche. Only she is allowed to do so.
- The grumpy old librarian became friendly elderly lady when I began talking about local history and knew the names of some of the family that settled the area (I knew nothing about the area, but paid attention to some of the names in the local paper).
- You find a Family Dollar store in the middle of nowhere, and the next closest store is a few miles away.
- An old bus is painted bright green, sitting three feet above ground on blocks, plywood on the widows, and a solar panel that is three times the size of the bus mounted over it (someone living off the grid?).
- The water towers have the mascot names misspelled.
- In a farming town you see a bright pink building advertising fashion clothing and accessories. The business is closed.
- The old biker strip club in the middle of nowhere you last saw six years ago is now a church.
There were many other things I cannot think of right now, but these are a few of the experiences I had.
Say what you will about Texas, but we are proud of our heritage, proud of our history, and proud of our state. We want to be friendly as long as you are friendly as well.
And one thing I did learn was that being a historian and genealogists really does make a difference when you are dealing with locals. They generally know their history, and as stated above, are very proud of it.