Collin County Genealogical Society
Promoting, preserving, supporting genealogical research
By Sonia Duggan
For 50 years the Collin County Genealogical Society has been committed to helping members discover their roots while raising funds to champion projects dedicated to support genealogical research.
Started by a group of six local residents in October 1970, the efforts of this nonprofit to preserve local genealogical records and historical archives, and support the Plano Public Library System, will be everlasting.
The groups’ beginnings started with a simple notice in the newspaper announcing a genealogy club was being formed. When Jan Samuels saw the announcement, she said she was already entertaining getting more involved in genealogy after moving back to Texas from Oklahoma. Although she was newcomer to the Plano area, her mother was born in Dallas and the family’s Collin County history dated back to the 1840s.
The contact person for the new club was Plano resident Gwen Neuman.
“Her address was on the next corner from my house,” Samuels said. “I thought it was a coincidence.”
Samuels said she didn’t know the first thing about doing genealogy, but she, Neuman and four others formed the group.
“They were so nice to take me under their wing and show me the way to do things,” she said. “I fell in love with it. They taught me how to do research.”
The group, originally named Plano Genealogical and Historical Society, put meeting notices in the paper each month. The meetings were initially held in someone’s home, then three months later, they were given the opportunity to permanently meet at the Gladys L. Harrington Library in Plano.
Over the next nine years the society would not only flourish under Neuman’s leadership, says Samuels, but it would change names two more times before becoming Collin County Genealogical Society in 1979.
Today, the society formed by those six charter members includes individuals from all over the U.S. This year, CCGS will celebrate its 50th anniversary at the June 2021 meeting.
Past president and CCGS eNewsletter Editor Paula Perkins said she was first introduced to the group when she attended the annual fundraising seminar in the 80s. Lloyd Bockstruck, former supervisor of the Genealogy section at the Dallas Public Library, was the speaker. He was talking about Kentucky and Tennessee ancestors, and Perkins, whose paternal ancestors came from Georgia, made a connection.
“I went and I had the best time,” she said. “I made new friends. They invited me to come to the meetings and then come election time, I was asked to serve on the board.”
Perkins, a 6th generation Texan with Collin County ancestry dating back to 1854, served as membership chair, a position for which she felt well-suited.
“I loved promoting the organization and I loved helping people,” she said.
One key goal of CCGS is to have ongoing projects to benefit the amateur to the professional genealogist such as Perkins.
At their annual June fundraising seminars, CCGS brings in speakers, says Perkins, to speak about topics that members want to hear that are “not only Texas or Collin County related, but also general research.”
Members also have access to free informative monthly programs with guest speakers that are currently held virtually on the second Wednesday of the month from September through June until Haggard Library lets them meet there again.
“We send out meeting notices to all local publications and what the topic is, so anyone can register to join a Zoom meeting,” Perkins said, adding “Guests are always welcome to join us.”
The social part of the meeting starts at 6 p.m. before the Zoom starts at 6:30. Perkins said prior to the pandemic they averaged around 200 hundred members, including some from out of state, but now it’s somewhere between 50-100 people.
“I’ve really enjoyed the virtual programs,” she said. “I’ve been able to attend more genealogical programs and seminars that I have in the last four years. It does have some advantages.”
Each program’s educational topic can be found on the society’s website along with information on joining the meeting virtually. The topic for the upcoming March 10 meeting is Texas State Library and Archives. Past lectures include “Telling stories of women in your family” and “Beyond the Census: What else is out there?”
Perkins says a lot of their members do not have Collin County ancestry at all. ‘We’re there not only to preserve Collin County records, she said, but also there to educate people and help them with the research.”
There’s no doubt that the Collin County Genealogical Society has helped lay the foundation for future generations to research genealogy in the county.
Members have volunteered, and continue to volunteer, numerous hours working on various projects and assisting library patrons in their genealogy quests and conducting look-ups from email and mail-sourced queries. CCGS says they also assist and mentor individuals wishing to gain knowledge and experience in family history research.
Since 1971, one of the biggest benefactors of the society’s efforts has been the Plano Public Library System.
“We were the first group to put any sort of genealogical books in the (Harrington) library in 1971,” Perkins said.
The collection was later moved to the W.O. Haggard Library’s Genealogy Center which has books and records from all over the U.S.
Money raised at the society’s annual June seminars has been donated over the years so libraries such as Haggard could purchase books to add to their collections.
Katie Madsen, former member and past president now living in Utah, recalled CCGS having garage sales to raise money to buy funds to access records to digitize.
To date, over $100,000 worth of reference books and microfilm equaling more than 10,000 volumes, equipment, maps and other items have been gifted, says CCGS.
Thanks to a $100,000 cash donation from an anonymous society member, CCGS was able to direct the gift to the City of Plano for the benefit of the Genealogy Center.
Through society member donations over the years, Perkins noted, “the group gave more than 200 Family Maps land patent books to the Genealogy Center, and received and reviewed, hundreds of family history books donated by authors across the United States which were donated to the Genealogy Center at the Plano Public Library.”
The society started a newspaper digitization project in 2009 when Perkins was president to identify and preserve all known Collin County newspapers of any type that are still in existence. CCGS partnered with the Portal to Texas History and the University of North Texas.
“They host the Texas Digital Newspaper Program to digitize and preserve the valuable resources for all citizens to use,” Perkins said. “The society has raised funds and donations with additional grants from the Collin County Historical Commission to make this possible, with over 6,000 pages now available to researchers and educators.” There have been over 356,000 usages to date.
“We’re working on a new project to do the McKinney Examiner,” Perkins said. “We are looking for donations for our next set of newspapers.”
In addition to the newspaper project, CCGS has raised funds and purchased equipment to scan historical items. The equipment is now housed at Haggard Library.
The society has published historical collections including multiple volumes of Collin County marriage records, three volumes of Ancestors of Collin County Genealogical Society members and Collin Chronicles: Records of Collin County, Texas. The chronicle is the CCGS journal that preserves the history of Collin County. Anyone interested in accessing the records can view them on the Portal to Texas History website.
Let the search begin
Perkins said her interest in family history began as a young girl when her parents took her to visit elderly “cousins.” When she expressed an interest in researching the family, she remembers her maternal grandmother sharing her knowledge and placing notes on family letters and photographs which she gave to her.
The genealogist said she loves helping people connect with people.
“I have more fun helping people or teaching how to research their families or what resources are out there.”
She advises individuals to begin with family group sheets or records and interview family members and relatives.
“I ask questions,” she said. “As a member of CCGS, I found relatives which led me to a family reunion.”
Samuels remembers her grandmother doing genealogy when she was in high school in the 1950s. Though she wasn’t interested at the time, she later began actively researching her family history when her children were small.
She said she would drop them off at Mother’s Day Out on Thursdays, then zip off to the library as fast as she could. “And for those few hours I would frantically do research then come back and pick them up,” she said.
Later when her kids were in high school, she got back into it.
“You can pick right up where you left off,” she said. “It’s a wonderful hobby and something you can put down and pick up.”
She suggests “to just start out really simple” when beginning a search. “Just write down what you know. Birthdates and where your parents were born,” she said, “and if you have relatives who are still alive, ask questions.”
Madsen said she remembers her grandmother having only handwritten family records so “in order to have a copy I had to handwrite another copy,” she said. “I came across a person with a wrong date showing he got married before he was born. That’s how I got interested.”
After she got married, Madsen said she typed the family history, then once she got a computer, she typed them again.
“It strengthens me to know I came from strong people, she said. “Whatever happened to them they just didn’t lay down and die. They persevered.”
If you’re a member of CCGS, there’s a wealth of information and people to aid in a search. Perkins said they teach members how to research newspapers, military records, probate records. Basically, “anything that would apply to anybody.”
When it comes to surnames, Perkins said, names may have been changed by error or intentionally when coming to Ellis Island.
“Names change over time,” she said. “You have to keep an open mind. Compare census records.”
Aside from the impressive collection of historical documents and research area at the Haggard Library, many libraries in Collin County offer varying degrees of material related to genealogy.
Madsen fondly remembers library nights where society members were allowed to come in on a Friday. “We could stay until midnight or 1 a.m. in the morning researching,” she said. “It’s a perk – we have people interested in it. It gives you motivation to keep going.”
All three women credited the Dallas Public Library for its extensive genealogy collection.
The collection at the Dallas Public Library, now named in honor of Lloyd DeWitt Bockstruck, “is one of the largest and most comprehensive collections for family history research in the Southwest,” the website states. “The collection encompasses resources from every U.S. state and many countries throughout the world.”
“If you have a question or want someone to do a lookup – you can call right now, and a librarian will help,” Perkins said.
For anyone who’s toyed with the idea of joining Ancestry.com, Samuels recommends going to a local library and using Ancestry.com for free at first.
“You don’t want to invest in Ancestry unless you’re sure you’re going to be using it,” she said.
Samuels pointed out that researchers – especially those using Ancestry – shouldn’t believe everything they read. “Ancestry is not it all,” she said. “You still have to go to libraries and use the books.”
Her suggestion is to look in history and heritage books on counties, census records, land exchanges, courthouse records and make sure dates match up right and you have the proof.
“Most genealogists have proof on the tree,” she said. “Take a picture of the title page in the book. Make a copy of info you got – you will need it as proof.”
A popular and free family tree application, FamilySearch.org, is the world’s largest online family tree with 14.6 million users and 5.17 million contributors.
Madsen’s husband is a software engineer and works for Family Search in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
“Familysearch.org is a not for profit organization run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is not affiliated with ancestry.com” she said. “It is free – all you have to do is set up an account.”
Madsen said the church has Family History Centers, one of which is in Plano, where anyone can go and conduct research. They are considered a non-circulating branch of the FamilySearch Library in Salt Lake.
GenWeb is another free source run by volunteers. Perkins has been the Collin County volunteer coordinator for 25 years. The company provides free online genealogy help and information for every U.S. state and county.
CCGS is also a partner society with the Texas State Genealogical Society, says Perkins. The TSGS has had roots in the Lone Star state since 1960 and partners with other genealogical societies throughout Texas to offer programs, conferences, webinars, grant opportunities and much more.
For those looking to dig a little deeper into science, CCGS hosts a DNA genetic genealogy project through Family Tree DNA for members seeking to gain more insight into distant ancestors and find new cousins.
“It is the only company that offers all the tests,” she said. “We’ve got quite a few members in our project from that.”
Perkins admitted she’s tested with multiple companies. “I’ve actually toured the labs at Family Tree DNA and they are about genealogists – they have volunteer project administrators for surname projects, genealogical societies and much more.”
Thanks to repositories and resources on the internet and genealogical societies like Collin County committed to piecing together puzzles from the past, the search for family history can be an exciting and rewarding endeavor.
“Life is sweeter when you know about your ancestry,” Madsen said. “It makes you feel connected.”
To join or donate to Collin County Genealogical Society:
CCGS-Membership, PO Box 865052, Plano TX 75086-5052