Since she began volunteering for the Smith County Record Services Department in January, Jacqueline “Jackie” Gilreath has started to become a history buff.
When she took the unpaid job working three afternoons a week, she expected to be collapsing boxes, sorting, filing and retrieving records. But in addition to that, she has been doing some special projects, uncovering Smith County history.
Since January, several projects that the three-person staff has not found time for have been completed at the Records Services Department, thanks to the help of Mrs. Gilreath, as well as a Texas College intern.
In March, Mrs. Gilreath completed the Cartographical Collection Inventory, which contains records from 1940 to 1987, and has a volume of 80 linear feet of 140 rolled items, held in three storage bins. The collection includes drawings and blueprints of structures and buildings, maps of cities, counties and highways, diagrams of land and land titles.
Some of the noted facilities contained in the records include the Bergfeld Shopping Center, the Carlton Hotel, the Cotton Belt Building, the Texas Tuberculosis Hospital of Tyler (now UT Health Northeast), the Fair Parking Building, a Smith County Traffic Map, Telephone Company Boundaries, the proposed plans for a section of Highway U.S. 155 and Interstate 20.
“No one knew what they were,” she said, adding that she identified each document, some which are rather large and some that are brittle. She also wrapped them in acid free paper, made identification sleeves for each and broke them up into three groups for better storage.
“It was an interesting project that included a lot of history of Tyler,” she said.
Her second project was a set of files containing index cards. Again, no one knew what was on them or from where they came. She soon found hundreds of birth records, dating back to 1868. The majority of them are handwritten from the early 1900s. In the group, she found three sets of twins, she said.
“The fact that they’re a reflection of county history – the actual records – that kind of blows me away,” Mrs. Gilreath said. “It’s fascinating.”
Mrs. Gilreath grew up in Chicago and worked with computers, as a programmer, a systems analyst and designer for a bank for 16 years. She and her husband moved to Tucson, where she continued doing computer work. After getting laid off, she became a rural mail carrier, a job she held for 29 years.
An ill friend led her to Tyler in 2014, after she and her husband retired, and they soon began volunteering. She volunteered for the East Texas Medical Center for more than a year before she saw the ad for a volunteer needed in the Smith County Records Services Department.
“I have an analytical mind. I’m detail oriented. I print and write pretty and I’m organized,” Mrs. Gilreath said of why she thought she’d be good working with records.
She recently began her third special project — processing a small collection of late 19th century naturalization documents. Opening only one card about a Russian man becoming a United States citizen in the late 1800s astonished her.
“I’m looking at living history,” she said. “I can’t wait to look at the rest of them.”
She counts herself lucky to be able to look at the original records.
“These side projects make it exciting to come to work,” she said. “You never know what you’re going to find.”
Luis Sandoval recently completed an internship with the Records Services Department through Texas College’s Criminal Justice Program.
Sandoval was born in Brownsville, but was raised in the Mexican border town of Matamoros Tamaulipas. He attended high school in Brownsville, and moved to Tyler in 2012, to attend Texas College on a soccer scholarship. In May, he will earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He recently began working as a correctional officer for the Smith County Sheriff’s Office and plans to attend graduate school at the University of Texas at Tyler.
Sandoval said he learned a lot during his internship at the Records Services Department, where he worked 10-15 hours per week from January through April. He said the three special projects he did required time, patience and perseverance. His work will help the public find county records more easily and more accurately, he added.
“It was an amazing experience,” Sandoval said.
He worked on compiling inventories for two microfilm collections, which include 35 mm media used for larger format documents, such as engineering drawings and newspapers. It also includes 16 mm media, the standard size microfilm used for letter and legal-size papers.
Sandoval compiled the Reference Microfilm Inventory for records spanning 1850 to 1985. Its volume is 5 cubic feet and contains 367 reels. The records include assessor abstracts from 1880-1942; assessor block books from 1915-1973; oil tax rolls from 1950-1985; Smith County – state dockets from 1850-1903; tax rolls from 1901-1985; personal tax rolls from 1965-1985; and duplicate records such as district clerk civil cases.
Sandoval also compiled a Main Microfilm Collection Inventory, consisting of records from 1972 to 1993 and with a volume of 20 cubic feet. It includes 2,930 reels. The collection covers civil and criminal case records from the 7th, 114th, 241st, and 321st District Courts, as well as deed record books, land records, divorce records, probation, tax records, nurses records and joint stock company records.
The records inventories compiled by Mrs. Gilreath and Sandoval are primarily used for public research.
Both Sandoval and Ms. Gilreath found work at the Records Services Department through the Smith County Volunteers Coordinator Heather Stoner.