There’s no telling what Jere Harris discovers in Muskogee Public Library’s genealogy files.
“I probably learn something new every day about our little town,” she said. “It was where a doctor, lawyer and Indian chief could live on the same street. A deputy and an outlaw could be the same person. I think we found it to be kind of a wild, wild West out here.”
Harris, 58, wants library visitors to make the same discoveries. She is a library assistant in the genealogy department. She started there as a part-time clerk in 1998.
“My husband was interested in genealogy, and a friend was working here and told me about the job at the time,” she said. She learned how to use the microfilm reader and genealogy books.
“I eventually learned how to help patrons find what they need,” she said. “It can be overwhelming at first.”
She said she finds many people who are interested in Native American research, so she shows them the Dawes Commission enrollment records.
“I enjoy helping people learn their history,” Harris said. “The people are really grateful when you can help them find things.”
Harris said genealogy helped her learn a lot of things about herself and her family.
“It gives you a sense of heritage to know different ethnic groups may have contributed to your family or personality, how traits and sometimes looks are carried down,” Harris said. “Then you can look at your own children and think, ‘Oh, they look like my dad.’”
The Muskogee native enjoys sharing her family’s history as well as her city’s history.
“Both sets of parents moved from Arkansas to Muskogee,” Harris said. “My mother was 9, and she came here on a train from Arkansas with her family.”
Meet Jere Harris
CAREER: Library assistant in genealogy department at Muskogee Public Library.
EDUCATION: Muskogee High School, 1973; bachelor of English degree, Oklahoma Christian College, Edmond.
FAMILY: Husband, Timothy Harris. Daughter, Laura, and son, Jeremy.
CHURCH: Chandler Road Church of Christ.
HOBBIES: Reading, genealogy, collecting antiques.
links to the past
Jere Harris found interesting things in her family tree.
Exploration of her mother’s lineage revealed a soldier from the American Revolution, she said.
“I was able to find enough information so I could apply for the DAR,” she said, referring to the Daughters of the American Revolution.
“His name was Richard Pennington, and he married Daniel Boone’s youngest sister,” Harris said, adding that Pennington originated in North Carolina, then moved into Tennessee, and then on to Arkansas.
Harris also is looking into her German lineage.
“My father’s side is Leininger, and they are German and they came from Pennsylvania, but I did not know of anything past my great-grandfather for many years,” Harris said.
Then, two years ago, she got a reply from an email she had posted on a genealogy website — eight years earlier.
“A cousin from that line was able to find out who the parents’ names were,” Harris said. “That was exciting, amazing to get answered after eight years. The cousin descends from a younger child. He was able to find a baptismal certificate for the younger person, and that gave us the parents’ names.”
Harris said she discovered that her great-grandfather served in the Union Army during the Civil War. He was captured and escaped from a notorious Confederate prison where most people died.
“He must have been a tough little German because he re-enlisted and was sent out to Fort Gibson,” she said. “He got married in Arkansas and came back to Fort Gibson and lived the rest of his life.”
from her past
Harris’ appreciation of historic things could have started at school. She attended Whittier Elementary School, in a building constructed in 1911. She said the gymnasium on the ground floor was also the auditorium. The cafeteria was on a lower level.
“Beginning in the first grade, I can remember glass milk bottles, individual glass milk bottles,” Harris said. “After lunch we would put up our trays and the milk bottles in the holder.”
She said her aunt was the cafeteria manager, “so I saw my aunt every day.”
Harris recalled that the playground had swings and metal bars. “We all wore dresses to school, but we also wore shorts under them so we could turn flips on the bars,” she said.
Harris recalled a special sixth-grade teacher, Alice Davault.
“She had a piano in her room. She would play it, and we would sing,” Harris said. “She had beautiful handwriting, and she taught us cursive on the blackboard. She wanted us to have pretty handwriting, and even to this day, people say my handwriting is very pretty.
“We also celebrated May Day. Outside, we had a maypole, and we did the maypole dance.”
She then went to Alice Robertson Junior High, where she had to learn all sorts of new things.
“Having to learn the combination on our lockers was a major thing because we had to go between class to change our books, and I was always tense about remembering my combination,” she said.
An appreciation of
remnants of the past
Harris jokes that the first word her children learned was “breakable.”
“I was always saying, ‘Be careful, it’s breakable,’” she said.
The children always had to be careful because the Harris home was filled with antiques.
“When my husband and I were first married, we started collecting Depression glass, a particular color of amber,” she said. “We’d collected piece by piece, and we had a pretty large set of that.”
At first, she was dazzled by the color of Depression glass.
Then she learned of the history behind Depression glass, and she became even more fascinated. Depression glass often was offered as a premium after the purchase of a certain amount of a product.
“Women would get it from, I think it was Quaker Oats,” she said. “You could collect pieces from the carton and get the Depression glass.”
She recalled a Mr. Higbee, who had a shop in a little house on East Okmulgee Avenue.
“My husband would talk to him about collecting antiques, and we ended up putting a china cabinet in layaway so we would have a place to put our Depression glass,” Harris said. “We’d pay it off by the month. We didn’t have much money. From there, we collected all kinds of things over the years.”
Harris passed this appreciation of history and antiques on to her children.
“When we went to see our parents in Ohio, we’d go to Tennessee and see the antebellum homes,” she said. “In Illinois, we’d see all the Lincoln places. We took them a lot of different places that were historical.”
HOW DID YOU BECOME AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?
“I met my husband in college and when he graduated, he looked for a teaching position. He found one in Porter, and we never have moved.”
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?
“I like the friendly people, the small hometown atmosphere. I like the history of it, which I learn more about all the time.”
WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?
“More opportunities for well-paid jobs. What will it take to encourage more businesses to come to Muskogee?”
WHAT DO YOU DO FOR A LIVING IN MUSKOGEE?
Library assistant in genealogy department at Muskogee Public Library.
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?
“I try to do a little bit of reading in genealogy. My husband and my daughter are full-time caregivers for my mother.”
WHAT OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE DO YOU ADMIRE?
“My mom. She was just a great role model.”
WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE THING TO HAPPEN TO YOU IN MUSKOGEE?
“My marriage and birth of my two children.”
HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP MUSKOGEE IN 25 WORDS OR LESS?
“It’s a great place to live. A small-town atmosphere, which I like instead of the big city.”