Even those vanity books
Yes, of course, those local histories are mostly vanity books.
You know the ones I mean.
Some of them are prepared by the local Historical Society or local Historical Commission and their primary purpose is to record the history the town wants people — especially potential residents and businesses — to believe.
Some of them are prepared by commercial firms with information that local families submit because it’s what they want people to believe — and that they may even sometimes believe themselves.
And even those local histories contain nuggets.
Little bits and pieces of information that may be just what we need to help nail down something in our own family histories.
Case in point.
My great grandfather Jasper Carlton Robertson worked for a time as a guard in the Texas prison system. His employee ledger reflects that he worked at as many as eight different locations over a period of about as many years.1
As of 1900, he was enumerated in the U.S. census as a guard of convicts at Dunovant’s Camp No. 1, located in Justice Precinct 8, Colorado County, Texas.2
So… where exactly is that?
You see, William Dunovant was one of the biggest landowners in all of Colorado County, Texas, around the time when Jasper was a prison guard — and he hired convict labor to work on his sugar and rice plantations.3 Somewhere on the thousands upon thousands of acres he owned were the camps where Jasper was assigned.
There may be a precise answer somewhere in the land records of Colorado County, or perhaps the tax records. There may be a contract between Dunovant and the state prison system. All of which is important and should be sought out… when there’s time.
But when you’re on a flying trip in to Texas and you’ve got to try to find an answer on the fly, you don’t want to overlook the nuggets wherever they may be found. I may have just a few hours to try to walk the land where my great grandfather served… and narrowing down the location as soon as possible is a priority.
So where do you look?
In every corner.
For every nugget.
I had the great good fortune to spend most of yesterday at Houston’s Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research. It’s a treasure trove of genealogical information ranging from early historical newspapers to — yes — those vanity books.
And in one of those vanity books, a history of the town of Eagle Lake in Colorado County, put together by the Eagle Lake Historical Commission, comes this little nugget.
“Two prison camps were located on the J. U. Frazar Estate, three miles south of Eagle Lake.”4
In one sentence the geography has gone from somewhere on thousands of acres somewhere in Colorado County to one area south of the town of Eagle Lake. Somewhere, I suspect, in the shaded zone on this map.
It isn’t perfect.
But it’s a place to start.
And a place I didn’t have before mining even a vanity book for the nuggets it might contain.
- Texas Prison Guard Ledger 1: 95, entry for Jasper C. Robertson (1893-1900); “Texas, Prison Employee Ledgers, 1861-1938,” Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 6 Mar 2015), citing Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Records 1849-2010, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin, Texas. ↩
- 1900 U.S. census, Colorado County, Texas, Justice Precinct 8 (Eagle Lake), population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 26, p. 224(A) (stamped), dwelling 81, family 83, Jasper C. “Robinson;” digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 May 2013); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 1622. ↩
- William S. Osborn, “A History of the Cane Belt Branch of the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway Company,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 101 (Jan 1998): 303. ↩
- Eagle Lake Historical Commission, A History of Eagle Lake Texas (Austin : Nortex Press 1987), 116. ↩