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How to prove you’re a pioneer

Article by Jeanne Englert

Colorado Status – September 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

IT WON’T MAKE YOU a better driver, but it’s fun to sport a Colorado pioneer license plate if you qualify for one.

Zoe Hubbard, a descendant of four pioneer families in southern Weld County, established the pioneer plate program two years ago to honor Coloradans whose ancestral roots go back 100 years. The State of Colorado agreed to make these pioneer/settler plates as long as 250 of them are in use. The program has been hugely successful. Over 7,000 such plates have been approved since its inception.

Hubbard said she initiated this program in reaction to unbridled population growth in Colorado and what she perceived, as a native, to be the rootlessness that accompanied it. Not only has she found the response overwhelming–she gets over 100 letters a week–she is particularly gratified about the interest it has sparked among young adults. “I figured that nobody under 35 would be interested in applying for pioneer plates,” she said. “History doesn’t mean anything to you until you’ve got some history of your own.”

Application forms can be obtained at any Department of Motor Vehicles location or directly by writing to Descendants, 709 Tundra Place, Longmont, CO 80501-3937. (Or call 303-776-8311 on Mondays and Wednesdays except holidays. E-mail address is: Hubbard is working on establishing a website.

The cost to apply is $10, but it will be $25 next year so it’s advisable to apply soon. The cost of the plate is a one-time fee of $35, which is over and above the fee for your annual license-plate renewal sticker.

Many kinds of documentation will suffice except family trees and other self-generated items, which do not constitute proof of Colorado ancestry, Hubbard says. These documents may include, but are not limited to, birth and death certificates, property deeds, census records, and cattle brand registrations.

I used a number of records from the Willoughy family archives to substantiate my claim to being a direct descendant of Edmund A. Willoughby, who arrived at the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte in September of 1858 before it was Denver. He became Denver’s first contractor, invented the “famous Willoughby brick,” according to an early history of Denver, ran the relief effort in 1859 for the stranded Pike’s Peak or Busters, and in 1874 became sheriff of Arapahoe County. I copied his original business card, his first ad, which was published in Volume One, Number One of the Rocky Mountain News (available on micro-fiche at the Denver Public Library), his certification as a Master Mason of Union Lodge, No. 7, A.F.&A.M, and the receipts for his annual dues to the Society of Colorado Pioneers. I included my birth certificate and that of my son, John Englert, as I was applying for license plates for him too, using the same documentation.

But there was a hitch. Hubbard readily accepted the documentation for E.A. Willoughby. Obviously my son and I exist. Nor was there any doubt who my father was. My birth certificate states his name along with place and year of his birth in Hotchkiss, Colorado, 1907. But what about his dad, Fred Delano Willoughby? “What are we gonna do?” I joked to my second cousin Audrey Willoughby Kutz, who was also applying for the ancestral license plates. “Have E.A. exhumed from his grave in the pioneer section of Denver’s Riverside Cemetery to get a sample of his DNA?”

DELVING AGAIN INTO the family archives, I found an obituary article about Fred Delano Willoughby in The Mountain States Banker, June, 1943, which named my father, Fred Thomas Willoughby, as a surviving son, and an old Denver Post article about Fred D.’s demise, as a mining man in Aspen. “That should take care of it,” I told my son.

And it did. Shortly thereafter, Zoe Hubbard mailed me our certificates. I’m No. 821; my son, No. 822.

Later I learned I could have gotten my grandfather’s birth record at the State Archives, 1313 Sherman Street, Rm. 1B-20,Denver, CO 80203. (Tel #303-866-2358 or 1-800-305-3442) because Fred Delano Willoughby was born October 28, 1870, in Denver. The birth index for Colorado denizens from 1863 until 1899 is housed there, and is open to the public.

Birth records after that date cannot be obtained without compelling reason. Nosy neighbors, curious about how many years you may have shaved off your age, cannot indulge their curiosity because state law restricts who has access to birth and death records, according to Linda Eisnach, certification section chief.

OTHER GOOD SOURCES of documentation Hubbard recommends are the Federal Center, Building 48, Archives, West 6th Avenue, in Denver (303-23-0817) and the Denver Public Library, which has a wealth of information on family history, including census records. The Colorado Department of Health/Vital Records Section is at 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South, Denver CO 80222-1530 (303-756-4484). And don’t forget local museums and historical societies as good sources of documentation, Hubbard adds.

It was my cousin Audrey Willoughby Kutz who went to the Federal Archives Building in Denver to document our common ancestor. She had to don white gloves lest finger sweat damage those fragile old documents. She found “E.A. Willobought” on page 360 of the 1860 federal census. A typical misspelling of the family name. Willoughby (pronounced “Willobee”) is easy to say, but hard to spell. Conversely “Englert” is spelled as it sounds, though telemarketers insist on adding more syllables to this neat, short name, like, “May I speak to Mr. Engle (pause) bert, please?”

The 1860 census document that Audrey obtained lists the “Free Inhabitants in the County of Arapahoe, State of Kansas.”

“Heck,” I said, after she sent me a copy. “We’re not Coloradans. We’re Kansans.”

Jeanne Englert grew up in Aspen when it was still part of Colorado, and she is a former editor of the Southern Ute Drum in Ignacio. She now lives in Lafayette.