County genealogy library hosts a wealth of information

One corner and a small percentage of many books, newspapers, documents and much more at the Bryan County Genealogy Library. Staff photo.

CALERA – There is much historical information about Bryan County to be researched and used for family purposes and more. But not all of it can be found via the Internet.

However, some diligent volunteers in Calera are doing their part to make sure it is readily available to the public.

The Bryan County Geneaology Library is open weekdays (and Saturdays by request) with easy and handy access to the history of the families and businesses of Bryan County and more.

The library opened in 1983 by Olivia Barton, Clara Nash and Linda Massey Nash, and has had a few homes before landing in its current location at 203 N. McKinley.

Olivia Barton is one of three founders of the library. Staff photo.

Barton, who is 74, said doing history of Bryan County and other counties is her life, and talked about the beginnings of getting something like this started.

“I had gone to a genealogy group one night a lady was there from the Oklahoma City library,” Barton said. “I had brought some of the books I had done and she said, ‘Would you mind me telling a publisher about you? I would like for him to talk to you.’ And then she asked is there any thing you would like to see in your community.

“I said, ‘Yes, I’d like to see us have a genealogy library, where older people could go and not have to travel so far to Oklahoma City or Utah or wherever to do their family history.’

“One lady said, ‘No. We can’t do it. And you can’t do it. And I said, ‘Don’t tell me I can’t do it. When you do that, I’ll do it.’

“The first publisher didn’t work out and we got another publisher and we did a research book on Bryan County history and we took the money we made off that and established the library.”

That book, Bryan County History, can still be viewed at the Genealogy Library.

And there are history books about the counties in Oklahoma, as well, along with history books about the 50 states.

More than 30 years of effort have brought the Library to where it is today, but its beginnings were more humble.

“When we were doing the history book, the people who owned the Bryan Hotel in Durant let us have a room in the hotel until we got the room done,” Barton said. “Once we got it done, we couldn’t stay there. And we knew that. But we didn’t have any place to go.

“So I came down here (to Calera) and talked to the mayor, James Eaton or Dwayne Simpson, at the time. The police department had two rooms in a little metal building and they gave us the back room for the library. All we had were telephone directories that we had collected from all over.

“But we mailed out 10,000 brochures for people to tell their family stories to put in the history book. The stories didn’t cost anything, but the pictures did. Once we got the book done, Arthur Alexander, started me out with $1,500 and then Durant Bank and Trust did the same. And then Caddo donated to us and Bokchito Bank did. And that’s how we got the money to buy the supplies. To print the brochures and mail them out.”

The current location on McKinley has had many previous incarnations. Barton said she thinks it was at one time a cotton gin, and more recently the building has housed a grocery store and a café.

“All the school kids would come down and eat dinner, since it was just a block away,” Barton said.

Jan Wallbaum volunteers at the library five days each week. Staff photo.

The Library houses vertical files with obituary information from many years back, and Barton herself sees to much of that. There are microfilm and microfiche machines to search even further.

There are all reproductions of old newspapers in the county from the early 1900s when almost every town had its own publication, with newspapers from Sterrett (now Calera), Caddo, Colbert, Kenefic and more.

It is also a place for which the Choctaw Nation sends people to find family historical records and the Library has the lists of the Dawes Rolls.

And Barton said they are still looking to the future as growth and equipment issues have set in.

“Right now, Daniel Thurman (captain with the Calrea Police Departent) is supposed to come down today and write a grant. He wrote one for the police department.

“A grant would be for a new copier, new computer and printer. And we would love to have some land somewhere to build a new building, if we could.”

So much information is housed the Genealogy Library, that one day – or week, for that matter – would likely not satisfy inquisitive minds in the county. But the trip to Calera is worth the drive.

Individuals can join the Historical Society for just $20 per year. And the organization is supported through memberships, donations and the purchase of publications.


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