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Saturday, October 31, 2015

What is the real effect of record loss? Work arounds
Genealogists' nightmares include the images of courthouses burning. The image of the burning courthouse is almost always accompanied by the fear of catastrophic loss of valuable genealogical records. This primal fear comes from ignorance. Often, the loss of the courthouse is equated with a complete inability to obtain records concerning family members, i.e. ancestors in the county where the fire occurred. This is more of an excuse for poor research practices than a real inability to find the records.

The fire depicted in the photo above is of the Fannin County Courthouse in Texas. It burned on New Years Eve 1929. There is an account of the fire on the Fannin County TXGenWeb, Fannin County Courthouse page. There is also a prominent statement in red that says, "Few records were lost." Oh, but you say, that was not the case in my county. All the records in courthouse were a complete loss." Yes, that does happen. I wrote about this a couple of years ago in a post entitled, "Lost books, Lost Records, Burned Counties." My suggestion at that time, in 2013, was to consult the Research Wiki page on burned county research. That is still my suggestion, but there is a far more important issue here.

Let's go to the Catalog and take a look at the records in Fannin County, Texas. Here is a screenshot of the categories of records for that particular county:

The question to ask yourself is which of these categories of historical records would have been completely destroyed if the courthouse burned down and all of the records were lost? Lets look at a list of those that I would submit would NOT be affected by a fire in the courthouse:

  • Books in general. Not all the books in the county would be stored in the courthouse. So biographies probably escaped.
  • Cemetery records. The headstones in the cemetery and their accompanying records were unlikely kept in the courthouse. 
  • Census Records. The county may have done a census, but the U.S. Census records for the county were probably not lost. The U.S. Census has its own issues with fire loss.
  • Church histories. Come on now, do you seriously believe that the local church records were kept in the courthouse.
  • Church records. Same response.
  • Genealogy. Interestingly, I can't recall having the idea of genealogical records being raised in conjunction with a courthouse fire at all. This would include, of course, the local citizens' Bible records.
  • History. We are back to books. There may have been some books in the county courthouse, but what about the rest. 
I am going to take a break from the list for a second and give you a list of the histories of Fannin County, Texas in the catalog.

Bonham Public Library. Fannin County Folks and Facts: Fannin County, Texas : A Collection of Historical Sketches and Family Histories. Bonham, Tex.: Bonham Public Library, 1977.
Burleson, Muriel Champion. A History of Ladonia, Texas, 1836-1997. Ladonia, Tex.: Ladonia Historical Preservation Society, [1997], 1997.
Buss, Karen, and California) Southern California Genealogical Society (Burbank. An Every-Name Index to “Fannin County Folks and Facts.” Burbank, California: Southern California Genealogical Society, 1990.
Carter, W. A. History of Fannin County, Texas. History, Statistics and Biographies, Business Cards, Etc. Bonham, Tex., 1885.
Davis, Kathryn Hooper, and Joe E Ericson. East Texas Militiamen, 1838-1839. Fannin County, Houston County, Nacogdoches County, Red River County, San Augustine County, Shelby County Volume 2 Volume 2. Nacogdoches [Tex.]: Ericson Books, 1992.
Davis, Wallace. Index, A History of Fannin County by Floy Crandall Hodge. Conroe, Texas: Montgomery County Genealogical & Historical Society (Texas).
Ericson, Carolyn Reeves. Fannin County, Texas in the Civil War, 2010.
Fannin County Genealogical Society (Fannin County, Tex.), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Bonham Ward. The History of Fannin County, Texas, Churches. [Bonham, Tex.?]: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Bonham Texas Branch, 2003.
Fannin County Genealogical Society (Texas). The History of Fannin County, Texas, Churches: Volume 1. Bonham, Texas: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Bonham Texas Branch, 2003.
Fannin County Historical Survey Committee. Historic Markers of Fannin County. [Bonham, Tex.?]: The Committee, 1976.
Fannin County Museum of History. Civil War Veterans. [Bonham, Tex.?]: Fannin County Museum of History, 1992.
Fannin County (Tex.), Board of Land Commissioners, Gifford E White, Texas, and General Land Office. Minutes of the Board of Land Commissioners, Fannin County, Texas, 1838-1840. [Place of publication not identified]; St. Louis, Mo.; [Nacogdoches, Tex.]: G. White ; Distributed by F.T. Ingmire] ; [Distributed by C.R. Ericson], 1981.
———. The First Settlers of Fannin County, Texas: Minutes of the Board of Land Commissioners, Fannin County, Texas, 1838-1940. Nacogdoches, Tex.: Ericson Books, 1995.
Frair, John. A Pictorial History of Fannin County. Bonahm, Tex.: Pub. Plus, 1990.
Gorom, LaNier Carter, Martha Freeman, Bernice Hill Beaty, and Texas) Daughters of the American Revolution. George Blakey Chapter (Bonham. George Blakey Chapter, 6-039 TX, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, Bonham, Texas, Fannin County. Bonham, Texas: Daughters of the American Revolution. George Blakey Chapter, 1988.
Gribble, Bertha Jane. “Sidelights of the History of Fannin County,” 1939.
Hodge, Floy Crandall. A History of Fannin County, Featuring Pioneer Families. Hereford. Tex.: Pioneer Publishers, 1966.
Ingmire, Frances Terry. Bonham, Fannin County, Texas Log Book, 1885-1889: Maddrey & Hunter Livery Stable. St. Louis, Mo.: Ingmire, 1980.
———. Confederate Pension Applications of Fannin County, Texas. St. Louis, Mo. (10166 Clairmont Dr., St. Louis 63136): F.T. Ingmire, 1981.
Jones, Keith. Fannin County. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2012.;73859188.
Lusk, R. M. A History of Constantine Lodge, No. 13, Ancient Free, and Accepted Masons, Bonham, Texas. Bonham, Tex: [Favorite Print. Co.], 1917.
Morriss, Berniece Howell. “A Literary History of Fannin County,” 1952.
Newhouse, Patricia Armstrong. Fannin County, Texas, Union Veterans, 1890: Also a Few Confederate Veterans Who Were Listed in Error (see Addendum). Honey Grove, Tex.: Newhouse Publications, 1984.
Northeast Texas: Historical Articles about Its Beginnings. Paris, Tex. (PO Box 94, Paris, TX 75460): Wright Press, 1984.
Scott, Tom. Fannin County, the Early Years: Land Grants, Bounty Warrants, Muster Rolls, and Tax Rolls, 1836-1840. Bonham, TX: Fannin County Genealogical Quarterly, 1982.
Sister Grove Association. Minutes of the Ninth Annual Session of the Sister Grove Association, Held with the Sandy Creek Baptist Church, Fannin County, Texas, on Friday, the Thirteenth and Monday, the Sixteenth Day of September, A.D, 1861. Marshall, Tex.: Printed at the Republican Office, 1861.
Smith, David Ryan. “Reconstruction and Republicanism in Grayson, Fannin, and Lamar Counties, Texas, 1865-1873,” 1979.
Spencer, Juanita C. Bonham--Town of Bailey Inglish: Events of People in Bonham and Fannin County. Bonham, Tex.: Spencer, 1977.
Strickland, Rex Wallace. “History of Fannin County 1836-1843.” Southern Methodist University, 1929.
Tate, Ron, and Jodee Stallo. Yesterday Revisited: A Pictorial History of Fannin County, Texas. Marceline, Mo.: D-Books Pub., 2001.
Teachers of Emergency Education (Fannin County, Tex.). History of Fannin County, 1836-1936. [Place of publication not identified]: [publisher not identified], 1936.
University of Texas, Bureau of Business Research, and Texas & Pacific Railway. An Economic Survey of Fannin County. [Austin, Tex.]: Bureau of Business Research, College of Business Administration, University of Texas at Austin, 1949.
Wimberly, Vera, and Montgomery County Genealogical & Historical Society. Index, a History of Fannin County. Conroe, Tex.: Montgomery County Genealogical & Historical Society, 1980.

Well, that is quite a list. Now I will go back to my list. 
  • Newspapers. You can't seriously believe that all the newspaper records in the county were kept in the courthouse.
  • Maps. Again, you think all the maps were burned?
  • Military Records. This one is obvious.
  • Obituaries. Go along with newspapers.
  • Societies. All the organizations in the county kept their records in the courthouse?
That leaves us with these few, but very important records that may have been destroyed.
  • Land and property records.
  • Probate records.
  • Tax records.
  • Vital Records kept in the County.
I have raised these issues before but my questions are still good ones.
  • Did the county residents have to pay taxes to the county after the courthouse burned?
  • Were the county residents able to buy and sell real property after the courthouse burned?
  • Were the people still married when the courthouse burned. 
These are serious questions and the answers would seem to be obvious. So where did the records come from to allow the residents of the county to marry, buy and sell property, and pay taxes? Think about this for a while. 

The real effect of a burned courthouse is that many of the records had to be reconstructed. But the larger effect is that many valuable records were not burned or destroyed by Sherman's March to the Sea or whatever. They just aren't the types of records that most genealogists like to search for. 

1 comment:

  1. This is quite helpful and inspiration to keep digging. Thank you for sharing it! I wanted to tell you that I've included your post in my Noteworthy Reads for this week: