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The Early Years

[This story about the formation of the Houston Genealogical Forum was submitted by Mary Lewis Ulmer on 1 July 1988.]

The Houston Genealogical Forum was organized October 21, 1957, in the Historical Room of the Houston Public Library.

The first known genealogical society in Texas was The Ancestors Club formed about 1955 by Mrs. Jack Silva in Anahuac.

Several of us thought it was a great idea. After thinking and talking about if for some time, I, as Librarian of the Historical Room, asked Mrs. J. A. Newsome, Mrs. Frank R. Smith and Mrs. Ross Brinley to consider an organization to encourage genealogical research and to serve as a support group for the collections in the Historical Room.

These three ladies were interested and enthusiastic, so on October 21, 1957, an organizing committee was planned. Two other avid and supportive genealogical researchers, Mrs. John R. Barnett and Forest Daniel, were asked to join us.

It was an idea whose time had come. Some People had been interested in their family history always, but now materials and records that had not been available became so, and definite techniques were being devised.

In November, the Historical Room Newsletter issued invitations to join the new society to the several hundred people on our mailing list. As Historical Room activities, we had had three excellent speakers that year. The Mormon Church had sent Frank Smith and Dr. Henry Christiansen, the head of the Reference Department in Salt Lake City, to talk to the local Mormons. These two experts talked to meetings in the Historical Room also.

An election of officers was held in December 1957, as by that time, there were forty-five paid members and by the time of the first meeting of 1958 on January 17th, there were sixty-four members. Mr. Charles H. Lane was elected the first president. He and Mr. J. A. Newsome undertook writing the constitution and bylaws for the new society.

There was much discussion of the name for the new organization. After much, good-natured spirited discussion, the name The Houston Genealogical Forum was decided upon, over my opposition. I wanted it to be called The Houston Genealogical Society. I thought Forum sounded pretentious. Mr. Lane appointed committee chairman. Publicity was Mrs. William E. Whightsel; Hospitality, Mrs. J. A. Newsome; Genealogical, Mrs. Lawrence E. Freeman; Program, Mrs. John R. Barnett; and Membership, Mrs. Frank R. Smith; Mrs. Ross Brinley was co-chairman of the Genealogical Committee.

The February meeting went smoothly with several more new members. The March meeting was something else. Mr. Lane and Mr. Newsome presented the Constitution and Bylaws. The meeting went on and on and at the last only a few die-hards, of which I was one, were still there. People said they belonged to too many clubs with rules and regulations, they wanted this one to be friendly and not too organized. Several quit that night. Finally the Constitution and Bylaws were passed without too restrictive articles. This was later to cause much trouble.

Mr. Lane was an attorney and he prepared the application for the Charter. The application was mailed May 12 and issued May 26, 1958.

In 1959 the Historical Room Newsletter was discontinued to my great relief The Record was started with Mrs. E. W. Fike as editor. She served only a few months and Mrs. Beck Smith became editor.

Mr. B. Elmer Spradley was the second president and Mrs. J. A. Newsome the third president.

Through the 1960’s the Forum grew and aided many new researchers. Numerous gifts were made to the Historical Room collections and later to Clayton Library after it was opened. Two Texas State Genealogical Society’s annual meetings were hosted by the Forum.

Mrs. J. A. Newsome and I gave the silver punch bowl and ladle to the Forum. Mrs. Irl Kennedy gave two dozen silver teaspoons. Also purchased were a silver pitcher and goblet to be used by our speakers.

Among the foremost genealogical speakers brought to Houston to hold workshops and seminars were Fred Dorman, Meredith Colket, Milton Rubicam, John Coddington and Archibald Bennett.

The early years of The Houston Genealogical Forum were fun and very productive of aids and resources for local genealogical researchers.


The last surviving founder of the Houston Genealogical Forum was:

Mrs. Ross Arlin Brinley [Lorine O’Quinn Brinley]

Updated: 16 Nov 2010