Researching Scout History

In 2010, we had the 100th celebration of the Boy Scouts of America.  During that year, we attempted to identify some of the first Scout Troops in each community in Texas, plus also the first Scout Troops in Texas. We managed to find some 292 troops that were first in their community. In addition, we found nine Lone Scout Tribes. Click below to go to the home page of that effort.

First Scout Troops In Texas

Researching the Scout history of your area or local unit can be lots of fun. It is not hard to do and can provide you with many interesting facts about your community. Here are several ways that have been found by this author to be helpful in researching that history.

1. Get Yourself Organized - Find a place to keep all the materials, photos and interviews that you will accumulate in your research.  It could be a file folder, box or album. Label the file folders to indicate the various sections of your research such as "Leaders", "Unit Members", "Events", etc.  You may want to keep a three ring binder with tabs for each year, such as 1928, 1929, etc.

2. Talk To Local Folks -Your first place for research is to visit with "live" folks in your area.  Let them tell you about people they know who were in Scouting "away back then." Let them play "I remember when" games that will help you identify other people in your community to visit. Ask them to show you any photos they might have.  If possible get copies made for your file.  Do not overlook local nursing homes and retirement centers. These people would have been involved in Scouting back in the 20's, 30's and 40's as youth.

3. Microfilm Of Local Newspapers -If you are unable to look at old newspapers of your community, see if there is microfilm of the newspapers.  Normally this would be at the newspaper office or the local library. Some genealogy groups subscribe to online newsppaer archives that you can use.  This is tedious work, but it can result in some great stories and pictures. Some of the papers can now be searched by subject, which will save you a lot of time. The stories about the troops in Comanche, San Angelo and Brownwood, Texas were found on newspaper microfilm.

Don't look at microfilm by starting on January 1 and going through the entire year.  Normally a person can only look at microfilm for a couple of hours before one gets a headache or tired of looking.  A better way for you to research  microfilm is to start with important dates, such as Scout Week around February 8th, or summer camp, around June 1. However, in the early days of Scouting, a lot of camps were held late in the summer, around August 1st. October is a good month to look at as a lot of scout groups had activities in the fall such as campouts, Court of Honors, etc. April is another good month because there were outdoor events that were reported in the paper. Most events were held at the same time each year so once you find one it will be repeated each year about the same time of the year.  The Twenty-fifth Anniversary of Scouting in 1935 might have some information for you, the Fiftieth Anniversary in 1960 or the Seven-fifth Anniversary in 1985.  This material would normally be found in early February.  Much was made about the 90th Anniversary of Scouting in the U.S.A. in February 2000.  Maybe you can play a part in making that happen in your local community in the future!

4. Photos - Some newspaper offices keep file folders of old photos and newspaper stories of specific areas.  See if you newspaper has a file on Scouting that they have kept over the years.

5. Local Council Service Center-Some Scout councils still have copies of the original charters of their units filed by unit. A few have all the original Eagle applications filed away, or at least a list of their Eagle Scouts.  This will give you names of persons who were in Scouting in your area.  Councils usually do not have charters of units prior to their being a council as these units registered directly with the National Council.  Also be aware that the unit numbers may have changed.  In the early days every town had a Troop 1.  As councils were formed or merged together, those numbers changed to Troop 10, 101 or 201, etc. Cub Scouts were not registered officially until 1930 although some communities had experimental groups as early as 1929. Sea Scouting became a part of BSA in 1912. The Explorer Scout program was authorized in 1933, Air Scouting began in 1942 and Venturing in 1998.

6. Written Histories -Many people have written the history of their local Council, their Order of the Arrow Lodge or local camps.  Check around and see if such a history already exists.  If so, they could give you some valuable information for your research.  Most of these histories had very limited printing and may not be found in your local library.  Ask your council service center if they know of any histories that have been written about their area.  Each council keeps a history file in their master file. 

Recently, each council received a CD-Rom disk from BSA with a list of all the Eagle Scouts in their council since records were kept.  This list can be sorted by Unit or Community.  A great resource for one looking for former Eagle Scouts in their community or area.

7. Local Historical Society or Commission - This is a good resource for articles and photos of early Scouting.  A lady who was wheel chaired bound found an early troop in Sonora, Texas while she was laminating old newspapers for the local historical society.  She found a single story that resulted in locating a man who was in the local troop in 1915 which resulted in a photo taken of the Scouts doing first aid.  When the man was interviewed he related many funny stories about their troop going camping.  See if a local County History book has been published.  There might be a section on early Scouting in it.  Check with your local museum or county/parish museum.

8. National Council and National Scouting Museum - Sorry, you will not find information from the National Council, BSA or from the National Scouting Museum that will be of help to you. The National Council does not keep records of individual units.  The National Boy Scout Museum has very limited resources and few documents but have now opened a "Youth and Family Research Center."   However, when you complete your history, be sure and send the National Scouting Museum two copies for their files.  One copy should be directed to the archive and a second copy directed to the "Youth and Family Research Center."  The National Scouting Museum has been relocated to Philmont Scout Ranch.  See:

9. Regional Offices -The four Regional offices do maintain such backups to the National files.  Researching their files is extremely limited and they would rather you make an appointment to come and view specific files.  They maintain records on every Scout and every Scouting unit within their regional area.

To contact the Regional office, you have to request the information from the local Council office.  They will give it to you.  Set up the appointment well in advance and be ready to spend two to three days at the Regional office conducting your research.  Again, be specific about which records/files you wish to review as they do not have much staffing and you do not want to overspend your welcome with them pulling file after file because you "think" that the unit or Council existed "between this time".

The material at the four Regional offices goes back to the middle 30s. That's as far back as most of the BSA's official records go; there are some records going back to the 20s, but Councils were not organized until the late 20s.

Note:  Our "Thanks" to Major Mike L. Walton for this information!

10. Publish - Once you have gathered your material, publish it. It may not be much more than a few pages typed out on a typewriter or computer. Make copies of the material and give one to your local library, historical society, local council, and send two copies to the BSA National Museum. By sharing your researched material you will help insure that it will be around for others to read and enjoy.

11. The Chase -You too can enjoy "the chase of Scout history."  Once someone has given you a name or fact, the fun comes in seeing if you can find more information on the subject.  A story that appeared in the Brownwood Bulletin in 1930 mentioned that a troop was organized in 1911.  The chase was on!  Eventually this author found  the date the troop was organized and a lot more.  You can see the results of that lead at "First Brownwood Troop - 1911."  You too, can have fun in discovering the early Scouting history in your area!   Good hunting.  Let me hear from you about your results and any tips you have found that can be added to this section.

12. Results -Troop 201, Longview, Texas,used the above methods to write a history of their troop from 1917 to 2002 for publication of a book on the 85th Anniversary of the troop in October 2002.  They had 176 pages of information in the book, a lot of it taken from the microfilm of the local newspaper, and from the old charters found at the East Texas Area Council, BSA office in Tyler.  They have many pages of "Personal Remberances" from former members of the troop, starting in 1932.

Paul Yater, the author of the book, was a Scout and Scoutmaster in the troop, and had gathered and written the history over a four year period.  He found many old photos of the troop from various sources and he put 90 of them in the book.   By the way, a copy of the book is now in the BSA National Scouting Museum! 

Last updated: November 16, 2018
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