Genealogy room open for research

Wendy Byerly Wood Associate Editor

August 19, 2013

Banner. Bunker. Wilmoth. Goins. Lowe. Marion. Tucker. Vaughn. Taylor.

Hundreds of Surry County families are highlighted in the Surry Community College Genealogy Room, housed on the second floor of the campus library. And all the resources are available for the public to peruse and research at no charge.

“That was one of their goals was to have a research room,” explained Esther Johnson, president of the Surry County Genealogical Association, of which she is speaking.

Shortly after the association formed in 1981, it was approached by Hunter Publishing Company about the opportunity to publish a genealogy book on the families of Surry County. Johnson said the cost to publish was $70,000 and the amount of money “scared them,” but they went forward with the project, “The Heritage of Surry County, Volume I.”

A few years later a second book on families in the county was published, “The Heritage of Surry County, Volume II,” and Johnson said the group “made enough off of them that they had the first one reprinted, and they published a church history book on the churches in Surry County.”

A fourth book, “Images of America, Surry County,” was done through Arcadia Printing on the townships in Surry County.

“All the money made from those books was used to buy materials and equipment to go in that room,” said Johnson of the genealogy room at SCC.

The family resource room at the college came about following a course on genealogy taught in 1980 by the late Carlos Surratt. “He was the night dean at Surry Community College, and he was always interested in genealogy. Everyone who came into the college, he’d want to know who’s your daddy, who’s your granddaddy,” said Johnson. “So he taught a genealogy class in the winter of 1980, and from that class, they decided they wanted a genealogy association.”

The association had its first meeting with 50 people in attendance in May of 1981, and of the first officers elected, Surratt became an advisor, a position he held until he died.

“The group started with only one book case of research books,” Johnson said. “And the collection grew until the association now has a genealogy room named The Carlos Surratt Room in the library. (The association) started because of Carlos Surratt and his love for genealogy and his love for people.”

Johnson said the family resources have moved around some over the years, going from upstairs in the library to downstairs, and now back upstairs.

“We moved downstairs, and then we just all of a sudden had bookcases of materials, and so they moved us into our own room,” she said.

Sabrina Mabe, resource assistant for the SCC library, helps manage the genealogy room as part of her duties with the library.

Most recently she’s been busy inventorying what’s available in the room as it has just moved into a new home on the campus.

“This is our new room, and I’m really excited about it,” Mabe said.

In addition to the genealogy room, a small archive room is adjacent to the room which houses information on the Dobson Woman’s Club, the Surry County Bicentennial Revolution Commission, Surry Community College items, and more.

“We are wanting to reach out to the community,” Mabe said of a desire to collect old archives, minutes and items from clubs, groups and families across the county, rather than see them thrown out or destroyed.

“Dr. (David) Wright (associate dean of learning resources) is really wanting to start a digitization program,” she said of the future of the archives.

Of the genealogy room, Mabe said, “Anybody can come any time and use the room for research. You just sign in downstairs.”

Use of the room is free to the public, but the college does charge for copies made to offset the cost of ink and paper.

“We have people from Oregon, California, Florida … all over,” she said. “But please call before you drive 1,000 miles because in the summer we have shorter hours for holidays and between sessions.”

Once in the room, those interested in family backgrounds can find hundreds of books of family histories arranged in alphabetical order by the family names.

“People put these books together and then they donate a copy here,” Mabe said of how the genealogy room was built up over the years. “If you have a family history like that, please donate it. Here, it’s well taken care of and you can make copies of what you want.”

“Over the years, we’ve had a lot of good writers to donate materials to go in that room, too,” said Johnson.

Mabe said part of the difference in archiving and genealogy is, in archiving there’s a move toward a specific way of logging items, whereas in genealogy there are no rules on how family histories and trees are written. It’s just how the author decides to put it together.

In addition to the books of family histories, the room includes state records for North Carolina and other states. “Most of them are North Carolina and Virginia, but we have some for almost all the states,” Mabe said.

“A lot of our families would go to Hillsville, Va., and Carroll County and get married and then some from Virginia would come here, so those records would be at those courthouses, but they are in books in (the genealogy) room, too,” Johnson said. “There are clippings on weddings, deaths, births in that room. We have Civil War books, Revolutionary War books. Some of that material is valuable … they are old and probably could not be replaced, because they are sold out and may not be published anymore.”

The Moravian records are included in the room. The Moravians are noted for their tedious logging of even minute details in their history records.

There are county records for all 100 in North Carolina, with the most on Surry County. There are family newsletters, church histories, new and old maps of counties and states, and census records back to 1790.

The genealogy room has a complete set of The Mount Airy News on microfilm, with the modern way of microfilming using a machine to read the film and project it onto a computer screen.

There is a subject file on numerous topics like the Allison Tree in Dobson, where people were hanged.

“Then we have general genealogy research books and how to do research,” she said. “We have family files … just stuff we’ve collected.”

Johnson said the room includes 200 of the Family Tree Maker disks.

Typically people coming to the room are looking for something specific for their family tree, said Mabe, while others who come just want to explore the plethora of information available.

“Usually when they go to the Register of Deeds, they tell them they need to come here, too,” Mabe said recently. “We had a guy come in this week from Hendersonville to look through our Mercer County, Mo., book.

“There was one guy in here looking for oil rights in Texas, and if he was able to find something, he could get paid,” she said. “We have people wanting to know if they have Cherokee heritage. We’ve had people come in who were adopted and want to learn who their biological grandparents and family are.

“But most people just want to learn about grandma and grandpa,” said Mabe, who has been working as the resource assistant for six years.

In addition to the hard copies of resources, Mabe and Johnson said the Surry County Genealogical Association has a web page on the SCC library website dedicated to genealogy,

“I want to start an oral history program, and I hope to be able to use the history department to help with that,” said Mabe, of her desire to record people in the community tell the history of the area and their families. “I hope the (SCC 50th anniversary) coming up will help jump start that.”

If people are new to genealogy research or don’t know where to start, Mabe said she can help them get started on their research in the SCC Genealogy Room.

Also, the Surry County Genealogical Association meets the second Monday of each month at 7 p.m. at Surry Community College, Dobson. Visitors are welcome. Memberships cost $15 for an individual and $17 for a family each year. Members receive quarterly copies of the association journal.

Reach Wendy Byerly Wood at or at 719-1923.