Cousins Across Continents

In 1991 my great-aunt Mary, the oldest daughter of Nicholas and Catherine Szpet, received a letter from Jelenia Gora, a small city in Southwestern Poland.  Nicholas and Catherine had immigrated to the United States from Europe in the early 1900s and met for the first time in America.  The letter was from a Katarzyna Pawliszyn and addressed to my great-grandfather Nicholas at his home in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Though Mary still lived in the house where her parents raised their family for a time, her father Nicholas, unfortunately, no longer lived there.  Nicholas had died in 1957 of carcinoma, most likely from a life spent below ground in the coal mines that pockmarked Pennsylvania’s share of the Appalachian Mountains.  I was told he suffered from black lung, an incurable disease that is caused by prolonged exposure to coal dust[1].  Catherine would die in 1972.  None of the remaining family had heard of Katarzyna and, because no one could read the language the letter was written in, the letter got shuffled away in grandmother’s house for more than 20 years.

Letter

In the Fall of 2014, while I was pregnant with my second daughter, my mother casually mentioned a family letter that had resurfaced and was written in what Great-Aunt Mary assumed was Ukrainian since that is what she remembered her parents speaking.  The contents of the letter were unknown and Mary was very curious about what it said.  Being that I was having a tough pregnancy and was not employed at the time, I badly needed a project and asked my mother to send a copy of the letter.  My interest was not only in the contents of the letter, but also in whether or not I would be able to translate the letter for my family.

Catherine and Nicholas
Photographs from family archive, also found at https://www.findagrave.com

After I received the letter and began work on it, I realized something very quickly – that in my excitement over the letter and the translation, I had been very naïve.  I would not be able to translate this letter.  The Slavic language of Ukrainian was too different from my native English, combined with the fact that the letter was written in cursive and hard to read.  So I set it aside for 3 more years while I began a new life as a mother of two and a new career as a Reference Librarian here in Denton.

While working in the Special Collections and Genealogy department at the Emily Fowler Library, the thought of the letter floated back into my brain.  Perhaps I could reach out to someone to translate the letter for me and finally solve the mystery of what it said.  I did a random Google search on Slavic language professors and found one at a university in Indiana.  I had no idea how much time the translation of a 2-page letter would take, in addition to a professor’s usual workload, but I took a chance and emailed her a copy of the letter and asked her if a translation was possible.

She was very nice and agreed to translate the letter for me.  I was so excited and shared the news with my mom.  Unfortunately, I was unable to share this news with my Great-Aunt Mary, as she passed away in June 2016 at the age of 93.

In December 2017, several months after I first emailed her, I heard back from the professor.  The language of the letter, it turns out, is a mish-mash of Ukrainian and Polish.  Luckily, the translator spoke both!  She told me that, in her opinion, the writer was a Ukrainian speaker as a child, but then grew up to speak mostly Polish.  The boundaries of Eastern Europe shifted a lot historically and the Ukrainian and Polish languages, both from the same Slavic roots, have greatly influenced each other as a result.[2]

Map
An example of the changing borders of Eastern Europe. [3]

The letter turned out to be from Nicholas’ cousin Katarzyna.  In the letter, Katarzyna tells the family that her father Mykhaylo Shpyt is the brother of Nicholas’ father.  Interestingly, she addresses Nicholas as ‘brother’ and refers to herself as his ‘sister.’  Terms of endearment I am assuming.  Also, her father’s name is another spelling of the family name ‘Szpet,’ which is good to know when doing genealogy research.  The letter, however, is very sad to read.

Katarzyna, it seems, is 73 years old at the time and very sick.  She states that her husband died 6 years ago and, with the exception of a grown son and two teenage granddaughters, she is alone.  She had written to Nicholas before and it seems he had written her letters while he was alive.  She said her son had written to the family after his death, but did not receive a reply.  She figures this is because no one could read the language that the letter was written in and admonishes the family for forgetting their roots.  Those who forget the native language “have not a heart but a stone.”  She does say that she hopes to see them and hear back from them.  Of course, she never did.

I did a search for Katarzyna Pawliszyn in several Genealogy databases and only found one potential match.  However, the birth year on the record does not match the birth year that I inferred using the date of our family’s letter and Katarzyna’s statement in the letter that she was currently 73 years old.  This doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but at the present time I do not have enough information on Katarzyna to take my search on her any further.

As I finished reading the translation for the first time that December, my first cousin twice removed, Katarzyna, this woman whom I will never know, became a new member of my family.  She knew my great-grandfather who died some 20 years before I was born.  My great-grandfather helped give life to two of the most important people in my life – my Great-Aunt Mary and my grandmother Sophia – whose presence in my life became as familiar to me as the presence of my parents.  And my grandmother, of course, helped give me my mother.  And so to Nicholas and Catherine, to Katarzyna and her son, and to her grandchildren – Hello.

If you are interested in finding out more about your European ancestors, here are some great books that can be found at Emily Fowler Library’ Special Collections Department to get you started:

And don’t forget that with your library card you get access to great genealogy and history databases that include Ancestry LibraryEdition, Family Search, Fold3 and more!

Dawn Terrizzi
Public Services Librarian

[1]https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/respiratory_disorders/pneumoconiosis_134,162
[2] The Polish and Ukrainian Languages: A Mutually Beneficial RelationshipMICHAŁ ŁESIÓW, Robert De Lossa and Roman Koropeckyj Harvard Ukrainian StudiesVol. 22, Cultures and Nations of Central and Eastern Europe (1998), pp. 393-406.
[3] https://tracingthetribe.wordpress.com/2010/04/25/los-angeles-changing-eastern-european-borders-april-26/

 

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In The Weeds, 8/22/18: Ford-A-Palooza!

We’ve been working with Herbert Holl and Meredith Buie of UNT on the Square, City Historic Preservation Officer Roman McAllen, City Planner Sean Jacobsen, The Chamber of Commerce, TWU and UNT Special Collections, The Alexander Architectural Archives at UT Austin, and many others over the last year planning the new exhibit at UNT on the Square focusing on the life and works of noted Texas architect and former Dentonite, O’Neil Ford. This has been an amazing journey with some very passionate and dedicated preservationists, historians, and archivists.

We are incredibly fortunate in Denton to have so many historic O’Neil Ford structures to enjoy, both private and public. Every book about and expert on Texas architecture lists Ford near the very top in influence. We have become custodians of these important, one-of-a-kind buildings and it is hoped that we will continue to preserve them for generations to come.

As part of this celebration, we have a small exhibit at the Emily Fowler Library dedicated to Ford collaborators; brother Lynn Ford and Martha and Beaumont Mood of San Antonio.

There are so many facets to the O’Neil Ford story, that eliminating works or people for space considerations is not a fun task. Lynn and the Moods were so integral to Ford’s vision that they deserve tribute generally and especially because so much of their work is still very visible in Denton.

           The details of the exhibit are as follows:

     “O’Neil Ford: The Architect In His Works and Words”

    August 24th-Sept. 22nd. UNT On The Square, 109 N. Elm St.

   Opening Reception and Gallery Talk by Architectural Historian

   Stephen Fox, Friday August 31st 6-8:00 pm.

      Panel Discussion on Ford, Saturday, Sept 1st, 10:00am-12:00pm.

As a brief refresher on O’Neil Ford in Denton, the following is a representative list of buildings and homes extant as of 2018: Little Chapel in the Woods (TWU 1939); Civic Center Complex (Quakertown Park 1967-69); First Christian Church (1959); Gertrude Gibson House (1929); Selwyn School campus (1965-1969); etc. We have a collection of books, pamphlets, and news articles on the life and works of Ford at the Emily Fowler Library, as well.

Our exhibit at the O’Neil Ford-designed Emily Fowler Library focuses on Lynn’s wood carving and the ceramic fixtures designed and manufactured by Martha and Beau Mood. Here are a few pics of that exhibit and some Lynn Ford and Mood lighting visible here at the Fowler Library to whet your appetite:

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IMG_7750

IMG_7760

MoodPatioLightFowler

If you decide to come by the Fowler Library to view these works, please come to the Special Collections Desk and speak to a staff member and we’ll be happy to point them out and provide access, as some are in the staff area and others may not be obvious to folks who are not as familiar with our library.

We plan to add to this blog post as the main exhibit at UNT on the Square progresses through September 2018, especially to document the Opening Reception and Panel Discussion on Labor Day Weekend. Please stay tuned!

 

Written by Chuck Voellinger, chuck.voellinger@cityofdenton.com

 

 

 

 


 

Finding a Family Legend or a Sly Stone Story

Working in the Special Collections research area can lead to its own set of frustrations and rewards. Sometimes when people contact us they have run up against a “brick wall” while researching their family history.  They have exhausted all their known resources and have reached out to contact libraries and other organizations in the area where their ancestor lived, hoping for help finding more information.  From time to time we are unable to help them. Even though we have checked every resource we have access to – newspapers, birth and death records, land records, local histories, city directories, family histories, census records, and more – we just cannot find any trace of the person in question. (As you might imagine this is really frustrating; it is amazing the number of people who just disappear off the face of the Earth.)  Then there are times that all the pieces fall into place and we are able to find that missing bit of information that helps make the connection.

One such instance happened this spring. I was contacted by Kierra Benson, a UNT student, who needed help verifying a family legend. She said she was going to use it as the basis for a podcast. I was a little unsure about her request at first because family legends are a funny thing. Many times they are based on fact, but occasionally they are proved false, which may, or may not, cause more than a little consternation in a family.  In her own words, here is a description of Kierra’s research into her family legend:

“I am currently a senior at the University of North Texas at Dallas in pursuit of a bachelors in Communication and Technology. This past semester, in one of my classes I was assigned to create a podcast on a subject that interested me. After considering a few other topics for my podcast, one question lingered in the back of my head for years. That question was based on a claim that my grandfather made about famous funk singer Sly Stone being related to our family. I had always had my doubts about my grandfather’s claim, so I decided to use this project as an opportunity to verify (or debunk) this claim once and for all. With the help of professional genealogist Laura Douglas and past accounts from my grandfather, I pieced together information about my family history and Sly Stone’s family history to see if there is a true connection.”

Was there a connection? Did her family legend prove true? You can listen to her podcast here.

Helping Kierra with her research was one of those rewarding experiences that makes working in Special Collections so much fun. Do you have a “brick wall” or a family legend you would like help with? Email us at genealogy@cityofdenton.com and let’s see what we can help you find.

Oh yeah, if you are in the mood for a little funk from a Dentonite, here’s some of the albums you can check out from the library:

 

Laura Douglas
Emily Fowler Central Library

Toponymy and Cartophiles. In The Weeds, 5/24/18.

Did you know that a person who is interested (obsessed? Not me…) in maps is called a “cartophile“? Did you ever wonder who or what certain streets were named after? That study is called “toponymy“. Combining the two is what we’ll do in this blog post. A tiny sampling of names and stories follow.

Piner Street, located just east of Carroll Blvd (named after Civil War-era Judge Joseph Carroll) between Oak and Hickory, was named for another judge from the 1870s, F. E. Piner, who was also a member of the IOOF. ¹

Sawyer Street, located between Locust and Bell south of the Square, was named after the first mayor of Denton, J. B. Sawyer, who was elected in August, 1869. Wait, you ask. Wasn’t Denton founded in 1857? Why so long to elect a mayor? The Texas Legislature granted the City’s charter in 1866 and only afterwards did they get around to electing a mayor, or “daddy”, as he was called in the 1869 Denton Monitor. ²

Hinkle Street, located off University Dr. going north to Windsor St, was named after a prominent local surgeon who helped open in 1949 the Medical and Surgical Clinic at Normal and Scripture Streets and passed away in 1955.  Here is his obit from the Record-Chronicle: Hinkle DRC 20 APR 1955.jpg

Below is a map from 1922 apparently made by the City Engineer, V.G. Koch.  Please ckick on each image to make it larger. In it you will see some oddities and irregularities:

For instance, Egan St. is spelled “Eagan” on the map but nowhere else that we can find. What happened to all the streets named after states? I think I know the reason why but I’ll let y’all take a guess. Personally, I’m kind of sad that “Lula St.” doesn’t exist anymore (now Bryan St. between Fry and Ponder St.). What other differences from today can you see?

Now, about that word “toponymy”. Here is a quote from a Turkish paper from the 2016 International Planning History Society Conference,

“Cities have a multi-layered and living structure, thus they also have a memory. Therefore, actions such as forgetting, recalling or storing information occur in cities as well. Urban memories sometimes change or disappear due to the rearrangement and reshaping of various components in cities. When the components of the urban memory are removed, the interaction is interrupted, and such components are removed from the urban memory and are thus forgotten.”

And…

“Among the interventions on urban space, those carried out on streets are the  most remarkable. The political, cultural, economic and social interventions on streets wipe out or reproduce certain information in the urban memory.”

What people, ideas, or forces made Dentonites name streets the way they did? What made them change names, as well? Some were named for decidedly important reasons and some for the more prosaic.

Notes:

¹ Bridges, C.A. “History of Denton, Texas From the Beginning to 1960”. Texian Press, Waco, Tx. 1978. p. 65.

² Ibid. p. 111.

Written by Chuck Voellinger. chuck.voellinger@cityofdenton.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bradshaw’s Chili Wagon

CVChiliWagon

Drawing by Chuck Voellinger.

Way back in 2014 the Austin Street Truck Stop opened and Denton was pretty excited that we had a place for food trucks to park near the Square. Well, have you ever heard that saying “there’s nothing new under the sun?”  Denton had a place on the square for a food truck back in the 1890’s. Well, that is using the term food truck loosely, it was actually a food wagon.

In the April 15, 1956 edition of the Denton Record-Chronicle William Edward wrote a column about the Bradshaw Chili Con Carne Diner. (You can read the full article at the end of this post.) On a side note, it was Mr. Edwards who consolidated the Denton Chronicle and the Denton County Record to form the weekly newspaper, the Denton Record and Chronicle in 1899.

In the article he describes the chili wagon:

“Probably twenty feet long, eight or ten feet wide, and high enough to provide headroom for patrons of six feet or taller. For light and ventilation it had glass windows on the sides, and there was an opening in the front through which the driver handled his team. At the rear was a door… and Inside was the chili bar extending the full length of the room, behind it a walkway for use in serving the guests with a concoction of ground meat, much grease, beans (optional), chili peppers and other condiments. Scattered along the bar for those who wanted their chili “red hot” were bottles of “pepper-sass” that were the concentrated essence of hotness. At the front end was the stove on which the food was kept warm with its smokestack protruding through the roof.”

While the “house on wheels” was originally pulled by two horses from Mr. Bradshaw’s home in southeast Denton to the square, it didn’t take too long before the chili wagon “became a permanent if somewhat unsightly fixture just outside the hitching chain at the southeast corner of the courthouse yard.”

And apparently the chili was pretty good and the price was right. Mr. Edwards wrote, “You could get a good-sized bowl with either crackers or light bread on the side for a nickel. But if you were really hungry – and what growing boy wasn’t- for a dime you could get a “big bowl” that was a full meal for even the hungriest.”

So who was this Mr. Bradshaw and what happened to the chili wagon?  In the article Mr. Bradshaw was not given a first name and Mr. Edwards stated he was not sure when the chili wagon disappeared from the square.  Of course, I had to see if I could find more information.

My starting point in the search was the 1900 U.S. Population Census. (You can access this via familysearch.org or though the library’s subscription to Ancestry Library Edition.)  I searched for any Bradshaws in Denton in 1900. Among the results was an entry for M.H. Bradshaw,  58 years old, from Virginia and under the Occupation column it read “Restaurant Pro”, which I interpreted to mean “Restaurant Proprietor.”

bradshaw 1900

That was a good sign I was on the right track.  I used census records, Denton County land records, early Denton newspapers and the Library’s death and cemetery records to find out more information.

Mordecai Hawkins Bradshaw was born in Virginia in 1841 (or 1843, depending on the source) and married Mary E. Wimberley in Lafayette, Mississippi on June 30, 1873. They had five children; Mordecai, Ophelia, John, Lawrence, and David. The March 14, 1901 issue of the Denton County News reported his death on page 4.  “CITY PHYSICIAN’S REPORT – DEATHS. March 7, M. H. Bradshaw, aged 57 years; apoplexy.”  Mr. Bradshaw and other members of his family are buried in Oakwood cemetery

While the only mention of a restaurant I found was in the census, there was another clue I had the right person. Mr. Bradshaw’s daughter, Ophelia Bradshaw, married Asbury Goodson Price. The article by Mr. Edwards mentions that Mr. Bradshaw had a relative, Goodson Price, who sold tamales. As for the chili wagon, one can only imagine that it was put out to pasture after Mr. Bradshaw’s death.

And one last-side note- it seems that Bradshaw Street in Southeast Denton was named after this family.

DRC 15 Apr 1956

Laura Douglas
Special Collections
Emily Fowler Central Library

In The Weeds, 2.20.18: Denton Women’s Interracial Fellowship

In 1964, a group of African-American and White women formed a group to meet regularly to get to know and learn from each other. This was the Civil Rights Era and that Act had been passed in the Summer of ’64 after many years of struggle. One of the main reasons for forming this group was to open dialog to see if problems and concerns could be addressed bi-racially and hopefully help smooth the transition from a Jim Crow segregated society to a more integrated one.

Among the projects undertaken by the group were: tutoring for children, voter registration drives, assistance with finding jobs, and, in particular and what we will focus on here, is the 1968 Street Survey of Southeast Denton. Fifty years ago, very few of the streets in that area were paved. Historically, Southeast Denton, also known as Solomon’s Hill, was the location of the Black population after the relocation of the Quakertown community in the early 1920s. In an effort to rectify this situation, the Interracial Fellowship pushed for and conducted a survey of property owners as part of the Mayor’s Committee for Development of Southeast Denton. It is a fascinating document with hand-drawn charts, a copy of the petition, interviews with the Mayor, City Manager, City Planner, and is a snapshot in time:

Street Survey of southeast denton

The alumnae of the Fellowship were profiled in the February 16, 1994 issue of the Denton Record-Chronicle:

Interracial2.16.94

Interracial2.16.94.2

A series of oral histories from members of the group were conducted by the UNT Oral History Project and the Special Collections Department at the Emily Fowler Library has the transcripts, as well. This oral history project was featured in the  Oral History Review, Vol. 19 No. 1/2 (Spring-Autumn, 1991), pp. 31-53  with an article authored by one of the interviewers, Richard W. Byrd. It offers some additional context both locally and in Texas politics at the time.

We encourage anyone who is interested in this group and Denton history to read the oral history transcripts, as the speakers are far more eloquent about their experiences than we are interpreting it.

Please direct questions and comments to chuck.voellinger@cityofdenton.com

Wheeler’s Goat

Back in the 1870s, before barbed wire fences had become the norm and the Courthouse was much smaller, there was this goat who had all sorts of misadventures in-and-around the Denton County Courthouse-on-the-Square. I am not aware of his breed, name (although it could have been “That Damn Animal”), nor am I positive to whom he belonged, thanks to the fact that are several versions of the story.

At the time, the Square was a pretty dirty place. Imagine Fry Street at the end of a  weekend, but instead of pizza crusts, beer bottles, and cigarette butts there were goats, produce, and chewing tobacco (and lots of poop). According to Eugene L. Fry, who wrote a small pamphlet book about the early days, called Historical Episodes of Denton,

“The square was just: “… a dumping ground for everybody. The country people would come into town after a day’s work and dump their produce into the town square in front of the place of the merchant’s business house… The eternal botheration of stray hogs, longhorn, cattle, and all sorts of domestic and semi-domestic animals, roaming at will from one pile of rubbish or from store to store, proved quite unbearable and otherwise utterly useless.”

“A man named John Ross, owned an unusual Billy goat who … roamed the square like an army general who had just captured the city… He stole large quantities of groceries (ate) and then went in for calico (ate) and leather saddles (also ate). But despite the serious misdemeanors he was respected around town due to his tendency to charge and never miss.”

metapth12610_xl_pf_c-19

Possible scene of the crime: the J. F. Bell Grocery store on the northwest corner of the Denton square. [photo DPL]

Another rehashing of the goat story appears in the Denton Record-Chronicle in several columns by “The Loafer” (W. H. Browder) that appeared in December of 1928. Among the storytellers were Jack Christal, Jack Fry, Bob Evers, Will Williams, Frank Piner, Mrs. Mattie Hawkins and Mrs. Mattie Farris. According to them the goat belonged to a man named Wheeler and it was followed around by three or four nannies (or maybe none). “They made the business part of town their habitat and subsisted, according to popular belief on rags, paper, and tin cans. Their most famous achievement (or credit) was when they broke in to the County Attorney’s office –

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Denton County Clerk’s Office, c1919 [photo DPL]

– and ate some indictments.

Those indictments were against one man and “the destruction of the true bills prevented the charges against him ever reaching trial.”

I have no idea who that man was, but it sounds like he was pretty lucky!

On another occasion, Bob Evers recalled that: “He heard J. W. Jagoe in his office raising a hullabaloo that we could hear upstairs. I went up to see what was the matter and found Jagoe in his office which looked as if a cyclone had just passed thru. It developed that Wheeler’s goats had climbed into Jagoe’s office from the awning and had made a meal off the lawyer’s papers, documents, abstracts and loose books.”

Mused Browder, “In many ways they [the goat(s)] were a nuisance, but they contributed much to the life of the town and their goatesque way, being privileged characters who were willing to fight for their privileges if any attempt was made to deny them.”

Of course, this couldn’t happen today because the Courthouse is so much bigger and the echoes of a goat clickety-clacking throughout the building just couldn’t be tolerated.  I read later  that the goat retired to the Denton County Poor Farm and spent his last days, no doubt,  in quiet turpitude.

goat-2190007_1920

~Leslie Couture

Special Collections