Phyllis Bingham continues chronicling the lives of Craig
Craig resident has been researching the area since 1989
June 2, 2016
Craig — When Phyllis Bingham decided to compile a work detailing the lives of people who have lived and died in Craig throughout the years, she knew she was embarking on a new path. She'd seen a similar project in Telluride, and when she discovered that one didn't exist in Craig, she decided to act.
"I didn't know anything about research," Bingham said. "I was a wife and a mother and a homemaker, and I taught 4-H stuff. I taught music — I taught the piano and accordion."
But as that list of activities suggests, Bingham was deeply entwined in the life of the community — as she is today. And so, in 1989, she began to document the lives of the people in Craig and surrounding communities.
She calls it "Not Forgotten."
Bingham has created volumes of work from 1989 to the present, along with volumes beginning with the area's early days — before Craig was even a city — through 1948. It's the middle 40 years that she's working on now.
The volumes are in binders that are available for viewing at Museum of Northwest Colorado and Moffat County Library.
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She talked to Craig Daily Press about her project in 2007, when her work was at an earlier stage.
The method of research
Much of Bingham's method has involved scrutinizing newspaper obituaries, but she's used other methods, as well, such as trekking through the Craig Cemetery with her mother and her daughter to write down names of people buried there.
"Let me tell you, that was a job," she said.
The next step, she said, was to go to the mortuary to crosscheck names with the ones from the cemetery.
She alphabetized the names according to years, and when she found any of those names in her research she crossed them off.
"When I didn't find them, I left the name in there simply because, if nothing else the name's there, and the date," she said. "That's why I named it 'Not Forgotten.' I wanted people to remember."
She also combed through documents in the Museum of Northwest Colorado and Moffat County Library.
The first entry in her compilation is for M.J. (Mary) Banks, who died in 1876. The obituary paints, in rich detail, the way Banks' coffin was honed from old wagon boards. Still decades before Craig's incorporation, the entry snatches a look at the early farming community that would later coalesce into a city.
Bingham said she expanded her reach to all of Moffat County and to Snake River. She also worked to include people who died outside of Craig.
"I also included the boys in the service who were killed overseas and buried," she said. "I included people that started Craig that died somewhere else, like the doctors. They worked out of their wagons or on horseback and went out in the country, and then when they got old and unable to do their job they moved to the city and passed away and were buried there."
Finding the work
Bingham's work is available to see in the Craig branch of the Moffat County Library and in the Museum of Northwest Colorado. She's received help from other quarters, as well.
"At the historical society's meeting, they voted to put everything in page protectors," she said. "And Beth Gilchrist … volunteered to buy the albums. She did that for me, and I thought that was pretty neat."
The local historical society is called "Preserving the Last Frontier."
Dan Davidson, director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado, noted the parts of Bingham's work that extends beyond Craig — something that helped him find out about people who lived in Maybell.
"Most people don't do projects for over a quarter of a century," he added. "She's tenacious."
Christy Gonzales, library services supervisor for the Moffat County Library, said the volumes are especially helpful for people who want to seek out information about their relatives and who prefer hard-copy to microfilm. Eleven volumes of Bingham's work are available in the library's reference room, Bingham said, as well as in the museum.
"Instead of looking through three or four years of microfilm, people can look through the book," Gonzales said. "Some people are a little intimidated by microfilm."
Bingham said Gonzales also assisted with the research by letting her research information at home with a flash drive.
Delving into technology
Bingham began her work without the aid of computers.
"I'd copy it by hand and bring it home and type it," she said.
Then came a word processor with floppy disks, followed by more sophisticated technology.
"My son (Dan) and his wife bought me what was called a Dragon," Bingham said. "I speak to it, and it types it for me."
Dan is Bingham's youngest child. She has three others: Bill, the oldest, Suz and Rose Marie. Her husband, Vincent, passed away in 2008.
Bingham said the work goes faster with the new technology, but one "glitch," she said, involves shorter newspaper obituaries than in past years. She also gathers information from families, especially when she knows them, or when friends deliver information to her from the funerals.
"If it's someone I know real well, I'll call them," she said. "Or I'll have someone take me, and we'll visit."
Bingham said she created indexes for the earlier years, she said.
Sometimes Bingham gets feedback from people affected by her work.
"There was one gentleman, and he called me one day," she said. "He'd been to the library and he'd run across my work. He was so impressed he called me. He said that is such a nice thing you're doing. I found my relative's name that I didn't know I'd be able to find, and I appreciate it."
Not forgetting the dead — or the living
Bingham's massive compilation of the lives of area residents is only one of the contributions she has made. She and her husband have also taken in more than 25 foster children thorughout the years.
"I've always loved kids," she said. "We heard there was a need for foster parents. We took in three at a time, 25 total, and I loved each and every one of them."
About six years ago, she met with one child — now an adult — who lived with her for four-and-a-half years.
"I was introduced to his family, his wife, and his kids," she said. "What a thrill that was. It had been 30 years."
As with her research, Bingham's work with foster children helped to bring people into the fold of the community — an endeavor to see that they were cared for, and to make sure that they were not forgotten.