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Victoria resident contributes African-American history project to VC/UHV Library

June 18, 2012 at 1:18 a.m.

James Lucas, seated, spent 11 years compiling research on African-American cemeteries. His database is now available online through the Regional History Center at the Victoria College/ University of Houston-Victoria Library. With Lucas is Library Director Joe Dahlstom,  left, and Associate Director Karen Locher.

James Lucas' retirement in 2001 from Union Carbide Corporation was the beginning of his tireless work compiling a database that chronicles genealogical and area cemetery information on the local African-American community.

The African-American Cemeteries database is now online and available to the public through the Victoria College/University of Houston-Victoria Library's Regional History Center.

Joe Dahlstrom, director of the VC/UHV Library, is pleased that the library is now providing online access to this detailed historical information in an easy-to-use, searchable format.

"This information is a tremendous resource for genealogical research," Dahlstrom said. "James Lucas has done an amazing job of collecting this data and the library is proud to make his work accessible to everyone."

Genealogical research began as a hobby for Lucas after he retired, but grew into something much larger when he began researching some of his own family history for a reunion in 2003.

Over the past 11 years, Lucas visited funeral homes to research records and stomped through overgrown fields that were once tended cemeteries while looking for forgotten headstones.

Last December, Lucas began working with the VC/UHV Library's Regional History Center staff to merge his data with theirs and to make his cemetery database available to the public online.

In February, Lucas turned his spreadsheet data over to Web Services Librarian Berika Williams, who converted the information into a searchable online database that went live on May 30.

Since then, Lucas has already received feedback from users updating his database and at least one user confirmed the resting places of her ancestors.

VC/UHV Library's Special Collections Librarian Sheron Barnes hopes that the African-American Cemeteries database will prompt further exploration for users looking into their family history.

"Hopefully, those who use the database to investigate their ancestors will be encouraged to continue exploring the Regional History Center's collections of photographs and other historical documents and records," Barnes said.

While conducting personal interviews, Lucas has also collected genealogical information on many of the 39,000 people in his database, including relationships, marriage dates, children and birth dates.

As a result, Lucas experienced firsthand how important connections to the past are to those in the African-American community.

He tells of interviewing a 95-year-old woman in Cuero who greeted him while leaning heavily on a cane and politely invited him into her home to learn about her family history.

"She was so pleased to have someone listen to her talk about her memories of the past and her loved ones," Lucas said. "When I got up to leave, I moved to shake her hand, but she said, 'No, you have to part with a heart to heart,' and she hugged me so that our hearts met."

Lucas' wife, Judy Lucas, encourages the community to take advantage of the database to learn about local black history.

"This information is a great resource to document what the black community contributed to the history of this area in addition to helping people connect to the past and discover their family roots," she said.



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