When the descendant of a former Thurber resident contacts the Gordon Center looking for information, the request always makes its way to me. As curator, I use research to identify artifacts, develop exhibits, and dig out the true tales of life in our company town, but I also help people uncover their personal Thurber stories. Let me suggest several easy steps to get you started on your family history journey.
Talk to your parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles and write down or tape record their memories about family births, deaths, burials, marriages, and stories. Note as many specific dates, names, and locations as possible. With this information about the most recent past, you can work backward through time. Because details are often forgotten over the years, you will want to track down the documents that support and enhance the remembrances you have collected. Genealogy software such as the Personal Ancestral File, available free from FamilySearch can help you organize your research.
Become familiar with the history of Thurber. The W. K. Gordon Center website offers timelines, research tips, and photographs that can help you understand the connection between your family and Thurber. Additional background information is available in published histories such as The Birth of a Texas Ghost Town, by former Thurber resident Mary Jane Gentry, and in A Way of Work and a Way of Life, by Marilyn Rhinehart. Along the way, ask yourself if part of your family story could have taken place in Thurber.
Let’s say that your family believes your ancestor, Kate Petty Ready Marrs, lived in Thurber. They remember that her father, Walter Ready, lived in Missouri when she was born in 1875, but the entire family moved to Thurber before she married Mr. James E. Marrs. Kate Marrs’s death certificate could confirm the facts of her birth, death, marriage, and burial. Thanks to the website FamilySearch.org, digital images of many Texas death certificates are available online. The database turns up a 1946 death certificate in Ranger, Eastland County, Texas, for a Kate Petty Marrs born October 30, 1875, in Missouri to W. C. Ready and Lucy Lane. Since Kate’s husband, J. E. Marrs, who knew Kate and her parents, supplied the information for the certificate, it is a reliable source. Not only do these facts agree with the family story, but it places Kate Marrs in Ranger, a nearby town where many former Thurber residents settled when the company moved its offices to Fort Worth in 1933.
1930 Erath County, Texas, census enumeration of persons in Thurber. The Marrs household (line 67) was located in the vicinity of the Thurber Mingus Road and included John [sic] E., a carpenter, Kate P., five of their children, and Kate’s mother, Lucy Ready (click image to enlarge)
One way to determine where a family lived is through the United States Census, which has been conducted every ten years since 1790. Of the surviving census records, the years 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 list the people living in Thurber by name. You can use census databases at your local library or in some cases you can sign up to access selected resources from home. A search of the 1930 census reveals that a Kate Marrs, whose age, birthplace and parent’s name matches the known facts of our subject, did live in Thurber, Erath County, Texas, that year. Her husband’s name was given incorrectly as John instead of James, an example of the common problems in the census that researchers must evaluate and reconcile.
Having confirmed your Thurber connection, there are many possibilities for further research. Explore other census records to determine the length of time the family lived in town and which individuals might have worked for the Texas and Pacific Coal Company. Collect additional birth and death certificates of siblings and parents in order to carry the lineage into the past. Make appointments to visit archives and libraries to dig deeper into company documents that provide insight into the lives of individual employees. For more resource suggestions, visit the Gordon Center's genealogy page. Your Thurber story is waiting to be discovered.