Oil & Gas Families

Community museums preserve the many personal and professional stories of U.S. petroleum history.

Whether independent wildcatters, drillers, roughnecks, landmen, roughnecks, geologists, petroleum engineers, pipeline builders, well service companies, refiners, shippers, traders or service station owners (among the countless others), personal histories in family records are important records. Many community oil and gas museums conduct interviews for oral histories; some accept photos and manuscripts for their collections.

If your are seeking research help or want to share information, please see recent posts from members on the historical society’s Research & Artifacts Forum

Working for the Petroleum Industry

AOGHS ad for supportPersonal stories of petroleum careers are important, and the American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS), community museums, professional associations, and many others are creating ways to preserve written and oral histories.

In 2007, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) published Anomalies – Pioneering Women in Petroleum Geology: 1917 to 2017. The Association of Desk and Derrick Clubs (ADDC) was organized by industry secretaries in 1951. 

As workforce diversity continues to become more important as the industry evolves, an excellent 2019 collection of interviews, Breaking the Gas Ceiling, women in the offshore oil and gas industry, by Rebecca Ponton, offers many personal histories.

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Preserving Oil & Gas Family Stories and Collections

Many dedicated people have worked in the U.S. petroleum industry since the first U.S. oil well was drilled in 1859. Many left photographs of their careers. Thanks to family members who saved (and scanned) the images, these histories capture life in oilfields across the 33 producing states.

Son preserves Magazine Ad featuring Dad working in N.Y. Oilfield

While working as a foreman in the oilfield service industry in Pennsylvania and New York, Charles Gerringer’s father operated an innovative diesel-fueled “Caterpillar” D4 tractor. The family kept a trade magazine advertisement featuring Harold Gerringer. Learn more in Oil Well Tractor Keepsake.

A 1941 Question to Con Ed about Light Bulbs

“I have a wonderful short 1941 correspondence from my father Robert asking the Consolidated Edison Company of New York whether you use more energy turning out lights when you leave a room if you know you’ll be back soon…”

Learn more in A 1941 Letter to Consolidated Edison of N.Y. 

A 1948 Lane-Wells 100,000th Perforation Scrapbook

oil family

A permanent home is being sought for the guestbook from the “Lane-Wells 100,000th Gun Perforating Job” of June 18, 1948, preserved by the grandson of Walter T. Wells.

Connie Jones Pillsbury of Atascadero, California, possesses a one-of-a-kind oilfield artifact and contacted the American Oil & Gas Historical Society about finding a museum home for it. 

Pillsbury has the 1948 event’s original guest book (including press-clippings/scrapbook) from the “Lane-Wells 100,000th Gun Perforating Job” of June 18, 1948, at the Union Oil Company La Merced No. 17 well at Montebello, California.

Pillsbury seeks to donate the book to “a good, permanent home” that will ensure its preservation. It comes from an event “attended by most of the top players in the oil industry in Los Angeles during the era.”

The professionally-prepared book has attendee’s signatures, photographs and articles about the milestone in technology event. Pillsbury emphasizes this book needs a home in a museum or university archives.

Learn more in Lane-Wells 100,000th Perforation.

Los Angeles Family donates Father’s Photography  

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A permanent home was found for the photos of Paul J. Thome, who worked for the Los Angeles San Pedro Harbor in the 1960s.

Seeking to preserve her father’s years as an employee of the Los Angeles Harbor authority, Valerie Raynor contacted the American Oil & Gas Historical Society about donating his photographs to a California museum. She emailed an example featuring the Puente Oil Company.

Although it’s just one photograph from a California port, details of the image help reveal both Los Angeles maritime and petroleum histories. Thanks to museum Director Mary Frances, Valerie quickly found a permanent home for her father’s photo collection at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum. She benefits by receiving high-resolution digital copies from the museum.

At the turn of the 20th century, Puente Oil was a part of a rapidly growing southern California petroleum industry, which had begun in the mountains near Santa Clarita as early as 1865. Learn more in Puente Oil at Los Angeles Harbor.

Oil & Gas Industry Heritage and Family Legacies

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The “Safety Derrick Lamp” was patented in May 1870.

The historical society encourages preserving family “oil patch” photo histories – and finding good homes for them in museum or library collections. Many interesting petroleum artifacts – including Yellow Dog two-spouted lanterns – also deserve preservation.

Among this website’s energy education resources are links to oil and gas museums that may help connect historians and curators with industry professionals, their families, relatives and descendants. 

Francis “F.T.” Felty Jr. in 2004 stands beside a family photo of himself at his father’s rig.

Since 2003, the society’s website – with its regularly updated This Week in Petroleum History – has provided milestones and other facts about the industry. Also brought together are people looking for research help, especially those who have documents in their attic and ask, Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything?

In addition to historical postings, AOGHS features regional petroleum histories with interviews with the local oil producers. Among the articles here are many family stories, including the Felty Outdoor Oil Museum.

Preserving local heritage is often part of the mission for state and county historical societies and museums. Location is important for knowing who to contact. For petroleum-related museums, many would be interested in considering images – and objects – from a family in their area.

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An Oil Family, The Albert Jeffreys Collection

California resident Sheila Morshead contacted the historical society about her family’s photo albums – a collection of petroleum-related images documenting her grandfather’s career: “The Albert Jeffreys in Texas, Louisiana, Rumania, Pennsylvania and England, 1904-1913.” Family photography preserved by his granddaughter, in association with the Spindletop Gladys City Boomtown Museum at Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas.

Learn more in Albert Jeffreys Family Collection July 201.

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How to Find and Donate to an Oil Museum

Contact this historical society to learn more about how to locate a museum or library for preserving the photos (or objects) you would like to have preserved. Your images can be posted here for museum curators to review – or directly sent to collection curators at appropriate petroleum museums.

Whether emailing AOGHS or sending to museums, be prepared by reviewing your material for the educational value often sought by museums for their collections. Dates and locations are important but other details help. For example, at the Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC), items (and not just oil-related) offered to the museum permanent collections are evaluated by a collections committee, “to ensure the object fits into our collecting needs.”

The Institute generally only accepts objects with a connection to Texas, although some objects representative of the cultural heritage of Texans are also considered. “To help the committee to make its decision, the curatorial staff needs to know as much as possible about where the item came from, and the people who have owned and used it in the past,” explains ITC, which began in 2013.

If accepted by the committee for the permanent collection, objects donated to the ITC are considered “unconditional and irrevocable gifts” that will be taken care of in accordance with widely accepted museum standards of care for long-term preservation and protection of items.

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“Permanent collection objects may be used for exhibitions, research, loan or examination but, ITC makes no guarantees concerning the frequency or duration of such exhibitions,” the institute concludes. Questions? Use this website’s contact page or email bawells@aoghs.org.

The AOGHS American Oil & Gas Families publications  feature regional oil families and petroleum histories of Ohio, West Virginia and Texas (printable PDFs are below).

AOGHS Booklets feature Texas and Appalachia Oil Families 

Two 2003 special historical society publications help tell the stories of family owned petroleum exploration and service companies. To increase energy education resources, especially for science students, the publications show how the industry’s history technological progress offers a context for teaching the modern industry.

Appalachian Basin Independents

Thousands of people in the Appalachian states are employed by the oil and gas industry, the vast majority by small independent producing companies. Located in a former hardware building, the Oil & Gas Museum in Parkersburg, features a giant mural depicting the state’s historic role in exploration. The museum includes four floors of oil patch exhibits.

This AOGHS publication profiles several West Virginia and Ohio communities built on a legacy of petroleum, and the individuals and families who keep the industry productive, providing our nation with domestically produced energy.

East Texas Independents

With a history as rich as its product, the East Texas Oilfield and the people who made their mark during the oil boom are truly deserving of remembrance, honor, and interest. Columbus “Dad” Joiner saw black gold in the parched and arid land of East Texas, and he wasn’t planning on taking no for an answer. Not from oilmen, not from his friends – not even from the land itself.

The East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore tells this story and much more. Murals, portraits, and antiques educate and fascinate visitors about life in East Texas during the oil boom. This publication profiles the region’s communities and oil families.

AOGHS also features personal oilfield stories, including Oilfield Crew Leader Tamara George, posted in December 2018. 

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Join AOGHS today to help maintain this energy education website, expand historical research, and extend public outreach. For annual sponsorship information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

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