Van Zandt County Genealogical Society and County Courthouse

In searching for information on the death of William McGuire (1794-1837), I made a planned visit to the Van Zandt County Genealogical Society’s library as well as the Van Zandt County Clerk, both in Canton, Texas. William’s bounty land from service in the Texas Militia was located in Van Zandt County.

Van Zandt County Genealogical Society

The library is in the Courthouse Annex, and is open for general business hours six days a week; it’s hours are better than the the county library. This is a great library and has a large book collection of both local and regionally useful books. The library has several computers with Internet connections and access to the library version of Ancestry. The volunteers are knowledgeable about local materials and genealogy in general, but may not be able to assist with technology questions. The Wi-Fi password is a random string on an unlabeled post it. Two of the items in the collection were very useful to me:

  • Van Zandt County Court Minutes, which have name indexes.
  • Transcripts of Texas Militia muster rolls.

County Court Minutes

In early Texas, the Court Minutes are as much a record of county administration as they were of what we now think of as court cases. In the court minutes, I found references to the executor of William’s estate; the executor was part of several road building crews authorized by the county court. The court minutes are fascinating reading, and offer an interesting perspective on 19th century life in Texas. Do not stop at the name index entries for your ancestor; make sure to read some of the surrounding entries and record names of others to establish a FAN club for your ancestor.

Transcripts of Early Muster Rolls

The muster roll transcripts are useful in finding ancestors who served in the Texas Militia during the republic. Today, much of this information is available on the Texas General Land Office web site, but the book form is helpful when you are looking to develop a FAN club for an ancestor who is known to have served in the militia.

Van Zandt County Courthouse

The courthouse is short walk from the Annex and is where all of the County Clerk records are held. The indexes are on the main floor while the individual records are in the basement. Land records are well indexed for both Grantor and Grantee back to the early days of the county, but probate record indexes exist only for 1952 and later. Copies are $1 per page. The

Yes, we've been out of touch for a while, but for a good reason. We've been relocating, and it's taking a lot of time and energy. The good news is that once we get settled, we'll have more time to work on genealogy -- intentionally! -- and to post more frequently.

My first project will relate to my paternal great-grandfather, William H. Gay. Of my ancestors, I have the most information and documentation on him. Of course, it helps that he wrote his autobiography and had a distinguished military career. He moved with his family from Vermont to Illinois in 1836, and my objective for the summer is to have him recognized as a Prairie Pioneer by the Illinois State Genealogical Society. I'll have to share my "WDYTYA" moment (as Bruce describes it) regarding him and his family and an 1838 letter back to family in Vermont. 

So stay tuned! 

Day 17–July 3–Train from Glasgow to London and London to Brussels

Our last day in the UK was a train trip from Glasgow Central to London Euston station, a walk to London St. Pancras station, and the Eurostar train to Brussels. Flying would have been cheaper, but we both wanted to see more countryside and I wanted to take the train under the channel. We were happy with our choice. We got up early to get to Glasgow Central in time for the 8:05 Virgin Trains express service to London; we arrive early and had time for coffee and people watching of morning commuters while waiting.

The high speed train to London uses an old right-of-way that has been upgraded for high-speed trains; since the radius of the curves was designed for much slower trains, the new trains lean in to the corners like you do on a bicycle or motorcycle. We did not know to expect this and were a little surprised the first time. There were a couple of points with S-curves that were really pretty cool.

The Virgin Trains staff clearly have seen it all and still have a sense of humor, as shown by the label on top of the toilets:

Please don’t flush Nappies, santitary towels, paper towels, gum, old phones, unpaid bills, junk mail, your ex’s sweater, hopes, dreams or goldfish down this toilet.
Glasgow to London Train

The walk from London Euston to St. Pancras was easy with wheeled luggage, but if it is raining or you have kids in tow, get a taxi. St. Pancras is not in Scotland and thus does not have natural air conditioning. It does not have artificial air conditioning, and was quite warm.

The Eurostar was fun if a bit of a let down. I thought going through the tunnel would be a big deal, but it is like a twenty-minute flight at night with no turbulence. Once in Brussels, we took a taxi from the station to our hotel and the official end of the genealogy portion of the trip; and the beginning of the statistics conference portion.

Day 16–July 2–Paisley Abbey

On our last full day in Scotland, we deliberately took a day off from tourist stuff and went to church–the church where Kristin’s great-great grandfather and mother were married. The pews do not have hymnals; you are given one as you enter the sanctuary. We did not know to ask for the version with music; the standard version only has words. We will remember this the next time as we would have loved to sing; we have long been fans of John Rutter and other modern British composers, and attending a service made it very clear from which traditions their melodies and harmonies derive.

After church, we went to the parish hall for coffee and had some very interesting conversations. All of them started out with a few minutes of delicate questions and discussion that could be summarized as “did you vote for the idiot Donald Trump?” followed by a frank series of questions that can be summarized as “how on earth did elect an idiot like Donald Trump?”

When coffee time was over, we walked through town and visited the high church on the top of the hill in town to walk the cemetery. Like the Greyfriar’s cemetery, the monuments were very interesting; you could tell when money flowed freely and when times were tough. We had a late lunch/early dinner at a pub before heading home to pack for an early train to London and then the Eurostar to Brussels.

When you attend a service in the Church of Scotland (and probably England too), make sure to ask for the big hymnal with music, as the standard hymnals only have words.
The high church cemetery has some beautiful rose bushes–a welcome spot of bright color in what is otherwise a relatively harsh landscape.
Paisley--High Church
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