It’s been 50 years since a dedicated group of super sleuths formed the Arlington Genealogical Society. Since then, AGS has donated many of the genealogy books located on the third floor of the George W. Hawkes Downtown Library, as well as maps, large screen computers and other tools to help people delve into family histories.
Although most of the group’s 80 members are from Arlington and some are from Mansfield, Sylvia Hoad, the group’s president, says anyone can join.
Hoad, who worked as a children’s librarian for decades, became interested in the hobby after watching “Roots,” a TV miniseries based on the 1976 novel by Alex Haley. She says the pastime involves searching for answers to questions such as where did your relatives come from, where they went, why and if any records survive detailing what they did personally. Through research, Hoad, who’s lived in North Texas her whole life, learned that some of her ancestors were pig farmers in Denton County. Another relative owned property in North Dallas and one was president of a temperance union.
She says it’s a fun hobby whether people are simply looking for clues to their family history or trying to obtain membership in a lineage society that requires proof of one’s ancestral lineage.
“You have to understand some of these records, they’ve been burned,” she says. “They’ve been destroyed. They got in a flood. The courthouse burned, or it was never recorded.”
For instance, Hoad says one of her ancestors died in 1923, but no death record exists.
And sometimes, a lack of information could mean a dead end.
”You can come in here and tell me you’re related to George Washington all you want to,” she says. “But you’ve got to prove it. And you can’t prove it. He had no children, is what history says.”
AGS hosts programs to help people with their research. In the past, they’ve brought in guest speakers to talk about things like maps and migration patterns, Native American ancestry and DNA testing.
“At Christmas, we have a potluck dinner,” Hoad says. “And we let the members get up and tell their family stories, their interesting things.”
One remarkable story that Hoad recalls was told by former Arlington mayor Elzie Odom and his wife Ruby. Elzie was born in 1929 and grew up in the rural, southeast Texas community of Shankleville.
”They were telling the whole history of the freedman’s colony and how religion and the church were so important to them,” Hoad says. As she talked, 73-year-old Kenneth Weant conducted Civil war research on one of the large screen computers nearby.
AGS meets the second Tuesday of the month from September through June in the Brary room on the first floor of the George W. Hawkes Downtown Library. Refreshments are served at 6 p.m., and the meetings, which begin at 6:30 p.m. typically, last a couple of hours.
Hoad says the group’s next program will focus on funeral home records.
“A lot is online, but not everything,” she says. “Don’t expect to find someone famous in your family. Maybe they’re there. Maybe they’re not there. In genealogy, you find the good, bad and the ugly.”