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Open letter to a records “borrower”

To the person who stole… uh um er… “borrowed” the 1854-1860 Marriage Book for Johnson County, Texas:

May I make one simple, gentle, quiet, dignified request, genealogist to genealogist?



Louisa's pension application

According to pension applications each of them filed, my second great grandparents George Washington Cottrell and Martha Louisa Baker were married on 6 December 1854 at Long Creek in what is now Parker County, Texas.1

Parker County was created in December 1855 from Bosque and Navarro Counties and the county was officially organized in 1856. That was definitely the Wild West then and there. Parker County was under Indian attack throughout the late 1850s, 1860s and into the 1870s — the last Indian raid there was in 1874.2

The area where my second great grandparents lived — called the Baker Community — was in Navarro County at the time they were married. In the ordinary course of events, I’d certainly have been very grateful for the quirk of history that delayed the creation and organization of Parker County until after that marriage.

The Parker County Courthouse burned in 1874, taking with it every scrap of the county’s legal history to that point.3 The Navarro County Courthouse had a fire in 1938 — but it was quickly extinguished and didn’t affect any of the county records.4 Marriage records there are intact from the county’s formation in 1846.5

But this particular marriage wasn’t recorded in Navarro County, or even in 1854. It was recorded, instead, on 29 January 1855 in Johnson County.

Looking at a map, it’s pretty easy to see just why it was recorded in Johnson County. The Baker Community was right on the southern border of a chunk of Navarro County that was separated from the rest of the county by all of Hill County (created in 18536) and all of Johnson County (created in 18547). Distance from the Baker Community to the Navarro County seat of Corsicana? A little more than 100 miles. Distance from the Baker Community to the Johnson County seat of Cleburne? Less than 30 miles.

And sometime before 1985, somebody made off with the Johnson County Marriage Book that recorded marriages between September 1854 and sometime in 1860. How do I know it was before 1985? Because 1985, of course, is the year the Genealogical Society of Utah got to Johnson County with their marvelous magical microfilm machines.

Now obviously I know the details of this marriage. It’s all set out in the pension papers. And I know about the marriage record because, before Mr. or Ms. Light-Fingers got to the courthouse in Cleburne, those particular marriage records had been transcribed at least twice that I know of. Weldon I. Hudson, former president of the Fort Worth Genealogical Society, transcribed the records; his transcription was later republished by the Johnson County Historical Society.8 And they were transcribed before 1961 by Marion Day Mullins and Norma Rutledge Grammer.9 Several transcriptions, including theirs, have been collected by the Fort Worth Genealogical Society in its fabulous new CD, The Texas Marriage Collections of FWGS.10

And don’t get me wrong. I certainly credit the transcriptions. Weldon Hudson was one of the most highly-regarded Texas genealogists and transcribers of his day; Marion Day Mullins, alone or in combination with Norma Rutledge Grammer, published dozens of volumes of transcriptions.11

But what was said in the pension records doesn’t completely agree with what’s in the transcriptions. Maybe there was a little mark on the original record that might tell me more. Maybe a tick mark that would help prove if they were actually married at Long Creek in December 1854 or maybe had to travel to Cleburne in January 1855. Maybe there was a piece of paper giving a hint at whether this record was created from a minister’s return or something else.

And maybe I just want to be able to sit there in the courthouse, the records in front of me, and see the old script and touch the old paper and smell the distinctive odor of old old records.

So to you, the records “borrower,” or perhaps after so many years to your heirs, assigns, legal representatives or other successors… give it back. It belongs to every single person with ties to Johnson County or ties to the couples whose marriages were recorded there. It’s not yours.

Give it back.


  1. Survivor’s Brief, George Washington Cotrell, 17 Feb 1890, pension application no. 7890 (Rejected), for service of George W. Cotrell of Texas; Mexican War Pension Files; Records of the Bureau of Pensions and its Predecessors 1805-1935; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C. Also, Declaration of Claimant, Louisa Cottrell, 21 Jan 1897, widow’s pension application no. 13773 (Rejected), for service of George W. Cottrell of Texas; Mexican War Pension Files; RG-15; NA-Washington, D.C.
  2. Parker County,” Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association ( accessed 2 Mar 2012.)
  3. Mark Riley, “Courthouse captures county pride,” Weatherford (Tx.) Democrat, online edition, 29 August 2011 ( : accessed 2 Mar 2012).
  4. “Fire Damages Courthouse,” Dallas Morning News, Dallas, TX, 23 Apr 1938; transcription by Linda Hudson, “Corsicana, TX Courthouse Fire, Apr 1938,” GenDisasters ( : accessed 2 Mar 2012).
  5. See “Navarro County,” Handbook of Texas Online
  6. Hill County,” Handbook of Texas Online.
  7. Johnson County,” Handbook of Texas Online.
  8. Weldon Hudson, Marriage Records of Johnson County, Tx. (Cleburne : Johnson Co. Historical Soc., 2002).
  9. See Marion Day Mullins and Norma Rutledge Grammer, “Marriage records, Johnson County, Texas, 1854-1880,” manuscript; FHL microfilm 227498 Item 5. And see “Johnson County Marriage Records, First Book,” Footprints vol. 11, no. 4 (November 1968) 125-128.
  10. My copy of this new CD just came in yesterday and it’s worth every penny of the $15 and $3 shipping the FWGS is charging. Get the order form here.
  11. A search for any of these names in the author field at produces impressive results.
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