Two-step toward your Texas roots in the Big D and Cowtown.
True to the city’s nickname, bigger is better in Dallas. Boasting more restaurants per person than New York City, a greater concentration of shopping centers than any US metropolis and an airport bigger than the entire island of Manhattan, the town that JFK and J.R. Ewing made famous is Texas’ top visitor destination.
So it should come as no surprise that Dallas-Fort Worth is also the Southwest’s biggest family history hot spot, its genealogical riches flowing like the Texas crude that turned Dallas into one of the nation’s financial centers. While you’re drilling for your roots here, you’ll have fun exploring the area’s heritage of oil, railroads, cowboys and outlaws.
Many historical and genealogical attractions are close to downtown, which means you can take advantage of the city’s excellent public transportation system, DART (214-979-1111, <www.dart.org>). Light rail serves several downtown stops as well as the DFW airport. Buses can take you just about anywhere else. You’ll pay only $2 for a local one-day pass.
The Dallas Public Library (1515 Young St., 214-670-1400, <dallaslibrary.org>) is within walking distance of downtown rail stations. Its genealogy collection is one of the South’s biggest: 80,000 volumes, 42,000 rolls of microfilm, 77,000 microfiche and 700-plus maps and charts that cover all US states and parts of Canada, the British Isles and Germany. Visit the Texas/Dallas History and Archives here, too, for more than 1,500 newspapers and periodicals, Sanborn fire insurance maps, yearbooks, membership directories, oral history interviews and assorted government records.
Shopping is Dallas’ favorite pastime, and a quick walk down Ervay Street will lead you to the original Neiman Marcus store (1618 Main St., 214-741-6911). A few blocks away at the corner of Commerce and Akard streets, the Baroque stylings of the Hotel Adolphus (1321 Commerce St., 800-221-9083, <www.hoteladolphus.com>) are as dazzling — and expensive — as the wares at Neiman Marcus. Established by beer baron Adolphus Busch in 1912, this luxurious landmark has hosted many of Dallas’ celebrity visitors. It’s also renowned for its French Room restaurant. For more affordable lodging downtown, try the Hampton Inn (1015 Elm St., 214-742-5678), the Grand Hotel (1914 Commerce St., 214-747-7000) or the historic Holiday Inn Aristocrat (1933 Main St., 800-231-4235).
From Akard Street you can hop on light rail for a quick ride to the West End Historic District <www.dallaswestend.org>. Warehouses spawned by late 19th-century railroad and commercial growth have been transformed into restaurants, shops and clubs, including the West End Marketplace in the former Sunshine Biscuit building. Among the neighborhood’s other historical buildings are the Old Red Courthouse, built in 1892, and a replica of Dallas founder John Neely Bryan’s log cabin.
West End’s best-known locale is Dealey Plaza, the site of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination Nov. 22,1963. Today, Dallas remembers JFK at the Kennedy Memorial and The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza (411 Elm St., 214-747-6660, <www.jfk.org>), located in the Texas School Book Depository building, where Lee Harvey Oswald is said to have fired the fatal shots.
Just east of downtown is Fair Park <www.fairparkdallas.com>, site of the Cotton Bowl and more genealogical destinations. Look for Texas Methodist ancestors at Southern Methodist University’s Bridwell Library (6005 Bishop Blvd., 214-768-2481, <www2.smu.edu/bridwell>), or explore the DeColyer Library’s history collections (6404 Hilltop Lane, 214-768-2012, <www2.smu.edu/cul/degolyer>). You’ll find the Archives of Women of the Southwest, railroad and immigration ephemera, collections from railroad companies and 300 US and Mexican newspapers covering 1810 to 1939. To learn more about Texas’ railroading history, take a ride into the past at the Age of Steam Railroad Museum (1105 Washington St., 214-428-0101, <www.dallasrailwaymuseum.com>).
Within Fair Park’s Hall of State <www.hallofstate.com> is the Dallas Historical Society’s C.B. Dealey Library (3939 Grand Ave., 214-421-4500, <www.dallashistory.org>). Its 3 million documents, 8,000 photographs and 10,000 volumes on Texas history include Sam Houston’s handwritten account of the Battle of San Jacinto. Contact archives manager Rachel Roberts (firstname.lastname@example.org) to schedule a research appointment during the library’s hours, 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday.
After the Civil War, many former slaves, lured by the burgeoning railroad industry, came to Dallas and built Freedman’s Towns. Explore the area’s black heritage at Fair Park’s African-American Museum (3536 Grand Ave.,214-565-9026, <www.dallasblack.com/channeh/aam>), which has one of the country’s largest African-American folk art collections. For black roots research, check out the historical collection and archives, which houses archives of Texas women, Dallas county politics and Sepia magazine, as well as a Freedman’s Cemetery collection. This graveyard, located just north of downtown at Lemmon Avenue and the Central Expressway, had been almost completely covered by buildings when the Texas Department of Transportation discovered it in 1986. Thousands of African-Americans were buried there between 1860 and the early 1900s. As archaeologists began excavating and relocating graves in 1991, they discovered wooden markers, clothing and seashells from the Atlantic, the Caribbean and even Africa.
You can turn back the clock more than a century by going a few miles west of Fair Park on I-30. On the south side of downtown Dallas, Old City Park (1717 Gano St., 214-421-5141, <www.oldcitypark.org>) re-creates pioneer and Victorian life in a village of authentic 1840 to 1910 buildings, along with a working 1860s farm. You can enjoy soups, salads and sandwiches in an 1876 farmhouse at Brent Place Restaurant (214-421-3057).
Getting to Fort Worth is easier and cheaper than ever — the completion of the Trinity Rail Express line will let you ride directly from downtown Dallas to downtown Fort Worth for a few bucks. It’s a small price to pay for the genealogical fortune you’ll find at the National Archives Southwest Region on the south side of Fort Worth (501 W. Felix St., Building 1, 817-334-5515, <www.nara.gov/regional/ftworth.html>). Get there by bus or take the South Freeway. After you get your researcher ID, you can dig into federal records from Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas, plus the entire US census and passenger records. Of special note: This branch has extensive American Indian materials, including Dawes census cards and enrollment jackets for the Five Civilized Tribes and Bureau of Indian Affairs records (Record Group 75).
After a long day of research, revel in Fort Worth’s cowboy culture at the Stockyards National Historic District (130 E. Exchange Ave., 817-624-4741, <www.fortworthstockyards.org>). As a stop on the Old Chisolm Trail, Fort Worth earned its Cowtown moniker from its booming cattle business. Today, you can catch a rodeo or cattle drive (still done daily) and take a guided tour.
You’ll also find plenty of the Old West in the district’s lodging and restaurants. Cattlemen’s Steakhouse (2458 N. Main St., 817-624-3945, <www.cattlemenssteakhouse.com>) and Riscky’s BBQ (140 E. Exchange Ave., 817-626-7777, <www.risckys.com>) serve up famous Texas fare. Miss Molly’s Hotel (109½ W. Exchange Ave., 800-996-6559, <www.missmollys.com>) is a former brothel turned bed and breakfast. The Stockyards Hotel (109 E. Exchange Ave., 800-423-8471, <www.stockyardshotel.com>) once hosted Bonnie and Clyde.
They weren’t the only outlaws in town. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday once frequented the saloons and gambling parlors of “Hell’s Half Acre,” now known as Sundance Square (512 Main St., Suite 1500, 817-339-7777, <www.sundancesquare.com>). Considering the area’s rowdy past, family historians who hope to find a horse thief or bank robber among their Texas ancestors just might get lucky in Dallas-Fort Worth.
– Allison Stacy
• Vital Records Information
<vitalrec.com/ok.html>: Where to obtain copies of birth and death certificates, marriage licenses and divorce decrees.
Cow Culture Celebration
Experience camp-wagon cooking with 1870s re-enactors and vendors, as well as cowboy music and poetry.
(580) 581-3460 <www.museumgreatplains.org>
Texas State Genealogical Society
2107 54th St. Lubbock, TX 79412 <www.rootsweb.com/~txsgs>
• Texas State Historical Association
2/306 Sid Richardson Hall University of Texas Austin, TX 78712 <www.tsha.utexas.edu>: History links from the University of Texas at Austin.
• Genealogical Records in Texas
by Imogene and Leon Kennedy (Genealogical Publishing Co., $35)
• “Gone to Texas: Migration Patterns in the Lone Star State” lecture by Sammie Townsend Lee (Audiotapes.com, $8.50)
• Research in Texas by Lloyd Dewitt Bockstruck (National Genealogical Society, $6.50)
• A Guide to Texas Genealogy
<geneasearch.com/states/texas.htm>: Links to visitor-submitted obituaries and marriage records, plus a surname registry.
• Handbook of Texas Online
<tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online>: Search more than 23,000 articles on Texas history and culture.
• Lone Star Junction
<lsjunction.com>: The Texians database documents more than 10,000 early Texans (1835 to statehood in 1845) through land and voter records.
• Republic of Texas Claims
<www.tsl.state.tx.us/arc/repclaims>: Search for your ancestor in this index of more than 48,000 names of citizens who submitted payment, restitution or reimbursement claims between 1835 and 1846.
• Texas GenWeb Project
<rootsweb.com/~txgenweb>: Offers transcriptions of the 1850 census, as well as county resources and research helps.
• Texas Mailing Lists
<rootsweb.com/~jfuller/gen_mail.states-tx.html>: Network with other researchers using state and county mailing lists.
• The Texas Ranger Research Center
<texasranger.org/Library/Genealogy.htm>: Online form for fee-based research requests.
• Texas Resources at RootsWeb
<resources.rootsweb.com/USA/TX>: Search for your ancestor in multiple databases.
• Vital Records Information
<vitalrec.com/tx.html>: Where to obtain copies of birth and death certificates, marriage licenses and divorce decrees.
• San Antonio
Texas Folklife Festival
After visiting the Alamo, check out this festival and museum dedicated to 27 ethnic and cultural groups that played roles in Texas history.
(210) 458-2300 <www.texancultures.utsa.edu/new/tff/tff.htm>
First mostly extant federal census: 1870
Statewide birth, death and marriage records begin: 1909
First mostly extant federal census: 1870
Statewide birth and death records begin: 1911
Statewide marriage records begin: 1968
First mostly extant federal census: 1850
Statewide birth, death and marriage records begin: 1920
First mostly extant federal census: 1860
Statewide birth, death and marriage records begin: 1908
First mostly extant federal census: 1850
Statewide birth and death records begin: 1903
Statewide marriage records begin: 1966