Saturday, May 12, 2018

Helen and Wylie Smith


Included among the Galveston storm dead from 1900 are Wylie Smith, with his wife and child. They are designated as African Americans with the notation (c) next to their names on the Galveston and Texas History Center list. We can add a few details that characterize them beyond their listing among the many Smiths who died that day.

The 1900 Galveston census names Wylie's wife, Helen, whom he had married four years earlier. She was 45, born in 1855 in Texas. She states that her parents were born in Virginia and Alabama, respectively. She didn't give a month for her birth, although Wylie did: February of 1848. He was a "drayman" in 1900, transporting goods with a horse and wagon. He was born in Alabama, as were his parents. Although both Helen and Wylie could have been born into slavery, in 1900 they owned a home without a mortgage at 3314 Q Street. They were older parents of one-year-old Helen F. who was approaching her second birthday.


This snapshot in time on 8 June 1900 cannot give more than a hint of their past lives. Had they raised or lost more children or spouses in their younger years? Carrying a surname like Smith makes further investigation even more difficult.



Sunday, May 6, 2018

He Was an Inventor


The Galveston and Texas History Center at the Rosenberg Library in Galveston maintains a database of the storm dead from the hurricane of 1900. There are 5,132 individuals tabulated. Estimates are that 8,000, or even as many as 12,000 were killed. Only 215 names were available to be taken from the coroner's records. It was truly "the worst of times" and so many individuals could not be identified, or were never found. We are reminded that only those who were killed during the storm are listed on the GTH Center web site: "This list does not include victims who died of illness apparently received as a direct result of the 1900 Storm, such as insanity, exposure, skull fracture, tetanus, trauma and suicide. Many deaths through the months after the 1900 Storm were a result of malarial fever, dysentery, pneumonia, and tuberculosis."

Each of the victims had a story, although many did not leave records or descendants to tell that story. Many can be found in the census of 1900 in Galveston, taken at the end of June. City directories can add details for some. Some may have arrived on the ships that came to the harbor after June, or were transient workers. The family of Samuel B. Allison is one that leaves us enough clues to stimulate further exploration.

The census tells us that they lived at 2532 35th Street in Galveston in a home they owned without a mortgage. They had also been in Galveston in 1880, living in the heart of downtown on the Strand. Samuel was 29, with his wife Mary at just 19. Their first child, Daisy, was an infant. Their next child, Walter, was also born in Texas, two years later. Sometime between 1882 and 1886 they moved to Louisiana, where their younger children were born: Clarence, Arthur, Herbert, and Alberta. Mary stated in the 1900 census that she had borne 7 children and 6 were still living. They had adopted another son, John, aged 11, who had been born in Louisiana. Mary's Texas-born brothers, Edward and Archie Reagan, were also in their household.

It is the occupation Samuel gave on the 1900 census that led to another discovery: mechanical inventor. He had applied for two patents. In 1898 and again in early 1900 he submitted applications for machines that would more efficiently separate fiber from stalks, such as flax. Both were granted in 1902 and acknowledged that he was deceased.


A few details about Samuel's appearance are found on his application for a passport in 1892: 5 feet 7 inches tall with hazel eyes and graying hair. In 1897 he can be found a the passenger list returning from a trip to Belize to New Orleans. 

When the storm came to Galveston on 8 September 1900, the Allison family had only been in residence again for a short time. Their youngest child had been born in Louisiana in August of 1898. Further research into their life in New Orleans could add more details to their narrative. A C. A. Dorrestein was acting in his behalf when the patents were granted in 1902.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Jaques Ardisson, Carpenter


So many families huddled in their homes during the 1900 hurricane in Galveston, hoping to ride out the storm. They may have raised the structures on stilts to stay dry above the high tides of past storms. The homes near the Gulf of Mexico on S Street were relatively small frame residences on lots that were 40 feet wide. The family of Jaques Ardisson, a French-born carpenter, lived in such a home on S 1/2 Street near 37th Street. The 1899 Sanborn map shows no other homes on the block between their front porch and the Gulf. They could enjoy the view of sunrise over the water.


The census that was taken in Galveston in June of 1900 enumerates the residents of the neighborhood. Jaques was 41, living in a mortgaged home that he owned. His wife was Josphine Falco, who had been born in Louisiana, but stated that her parents were of German and Spanish origin. Her brother Joseph Falco was living with them and was also working as a carpenter at 24, likely assisting his brother-in-law. Josephine said she had given birth to 10 children, of whom 8 were living. At 33 she had a 15-year-old, Joseph, who had left school and was working as an office boy. Did they have an older child, who had already married and left home? The younger six children are listed in sequence: Annie G. 13, James S. 11, Francis M. 9, Russie F. 6, Viola, 4, and Louis 2.

The Ardisson family are all counted on the official list of storm dead, as well as J. A. C. Falco. It is unlikely that any of the small homes could have withstood the power of the hurricane, virtually on the beach, and at sea level before the construction of the seawall.


Sunday, April 29, 2018

Bulanek of Brevnice


Galveston has been called the "Ellis Island of the West," a significant port of entry for Eastern Europeans at the turn of the 20th century. One of the families who sailed to this southern port, seeking a new life, was Vincenc Bulanek, with his wife Anna and six children.

The Bulaneks were Bohemian. They arrived on the steamship Ellen Rickmers on 28 December 1898. They had left the port of Bremen more than three weeks earlier. The manifest of the ship lists their last residence as Brevnice, 50 miles southeast of Prague in what is now the Czech Republic. Vincenc called himself a farmer and stated that their destination was Houston. He had $66 in his pocket.


Their new homeland was not kind to this immigrant family. Within eighteen months, the children had lost their parents and were living in St. Mary's Orphanage, where they are found in the 1900 census of Galveston. Although most of the children in residence were Texans, there were a few others who were foreign-born. The Bulaneks were the largest sibling group found in the list of over 70 children. Had they struggled to learn their new language? Their father reported that the oldest children, Fransiska and Fransisek, were able to read and write upon arrival. They were 13 and 11 in 1900. Then came their father's name-sake, Vincenc, at 9, Marie, who was 8, Josef 6, and Stepan, 2.

There is no reason to assume that the Bulanek children had found another home within the next few weeks, before the devastating hurricane in September. They would have been among the children who died with their protectors at the orphanage that day.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Sisters of St. Mary's Orphanage


A monument in Galveston's Cavalry Cemetery memorializes the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. The first listed is Sister Mary Blandine Mathlin, named as a foundress of the order. With Sister Joseph Roussin and Sister Mary Ange Escude', she volunteered for a new mission in Galveston. They had been invited by the French-born bishop of Galveston, Claude Marie Dubuis, and came from Lyon in 1866.

The Bishop supported the construction of a charity hospital, St. Mary's, and the sisters began nursing in the community. It was an outbreak of yellow fever that took Sister Blandine in 1867. Many children were orphaned by the epidemic, and were taken in by the sisters. An orphanage grew by necessity and was later moved to the west, outside of the City where the sea breezes blew, as a buffer against future epidemics.

A group of ten sisters are listed on the cemetery monument as 1900 storm victims:



















Sister Mary Catherine Hebert 1855-1900
Elizabeth Ryan 1865-1900
Camillus Treacy 1865-1900
Evangelist Sullivan 1865-1900
Raphael Elliott 1873-1900
Genevieve Devalos 1820-1900
Felicitas Rosener 1866-1900
Benignus Doran 1877-1900
Finbar Creedon 1879-1900
Vincent Cottier 1853-1900


The hurricane of September 8th is still called the deadliest natural disaster in the history of the United States. Sea level rose over 15 feet, and as buildings were dislodged from their foundations, became battering rams for those still standing. The dormitories of the orphanage collapsed.

History tells us that the sisters died protecting the children in their care, the orphans of St. Mary's orphanage. Each secured a group of children to her waist with clothesline, and all perished. Only three of the over 90 children in residence were found alive later, washed into the branches of a tree.

The 1900 census was taken just a few weeks before the hurricane, on June 27. Eight of the ten nuns listed above were enumerated at the orphanage on that day. The census tells us that Sister Vincent had come from France. Sister Catherine was French Canadian, as was Sister Genevieve. They listed their occupation as "needlework." Sister Elizabeth Ryan and Sister Evangelist Sullivan were as Irish as their names, both teachers, as were Sister Finbar and Sister Raphael. Sister Benignus was the cook for the home. There were also two servants listed.

There were 78 children meticulously enumerated, with real or estimated birth dates for all. Most were Texas-born. They ranged from 3 to 17 years of age. There was a family of six children who were Bohemian, three Germans, three Scots, who must have been newly arrived. A few were from other states: Louisiana and Pennsylvania.


A Texas state historical marker keeps the story alive to beachgoers who may pause to read its words: 

Children orphaned by a yellow fever epidemic in 1867 were cared for temporarily in Galveston's St. Mary's Infirmary by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. In 1874, Galveston Bishop Claude Dubuis bought the 35-acre plantation and home of Farnifala and Laura Green located between this gulf front and Green's Bayou for use as a permanent orphanage. In early 1874, the sisters of St. Mary's Infirmary founded St. Mary's Orphan Asylum by housing 28 children here at the site of the Green's former residence. A two-story facility for orphan girls was built nearby in October 1874.

The girls' dormitory was all that remained of the orphanage after the storm of 1875. A new residence for boys was built by 1879. St. Mary's was caring for orphans from throughout Texas at the time it was granted a Texas charter in 1896.


The catastrophic storm of 1900 completely destroyed the orphanage. Ten nuns and at least 90 children were tragically killed despite the nun's valiant efforts to save the children by securing them to their own bodies with clothesline. Three orphan boys rescued at sea were the only survivors. St. Mary's orphan Asylum reopened at 40th and Q Streets in Galveston City in 1901 and remained there until closing in 1967.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Drowned, Sept. 8, 1900

I have been accused of becoming obsessed with those who don't have descendants to carry their memories. Without a doubt, the Great Storm of 1900 in Galveston, Texas, truncated the stories of thousands of individuals. So many died in the hurricane on that September night that hundreds couldn't even be counted. Recent immigrants or whole families were swept away without a trace. Estimates of the dead range from 6,000 to 12,000, as much as 1/3 of the population of the booming city known at that time as the "Queen City of the Gulf."


This monument called out to me as I wandered around Lakeview Cemetery, which occupies the area between 57th and 59th Streets, just a block from the Gulf of Mexico. The stained marker reads:
In memory of 
JAMES N. WALSH
Born 1874
EMA WALSH
BORN 1882
Drowned Sept. 8, 1900
I was able to locate them on the 1900 census taken in Galveston in June of that year, listed as James and "Ama." He was a painter, born in Illinois, aged 25. She was only 17, and born in Texas. They were newlyweds, married the previous November. They were living in a rented single-unit home at 4110 M Street. Marriage records indicate her name was Emie Bentinck, likely the daughter of Henry and Eliza Jane (McHugh) Bentinck. Her parents and siblings are also interred in Lakeview Cemetery. They would have erected this memorial in her name, and lived out their lives in Galveston, fearing each storm that came on the horizon.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Chain Migration?


What happened when our ancestors made that decision to leave the land where they were born and make a leap into the unknown? Patterns of migration can be traced to the historic events of those regions: famine, pogroms, wars, feelings of despair over the economic future. Even the earliest settlers of this land that would become the United States were escaping debt, imprisonment, or religious persecution.

My known ancestors came to the US from England, Ireland and Poland. They came with not much more than the clothes on their backs. What they left behind might be considered "shitholes."

Few immigrants traveled alone. Passenger manifests from the mid-1800s often show groups of young Irish men and women in their teens and twenties. They had few career aspirations, most calling themselves "laborers," or "domestics." Passage may have been paid by pooling the family's resources to send one to the "Land of Opportunity" where they might improve their lot.

Let's be clear: before immigration laws were enacted in the early 1900s people from foreign countries needed no visas, no papers, no legal permissions to enter the United States. The boat docked at a port and the immigrants freely disembarked. Where there were screenings, as long as the immigrants were not obviously spreading disease, as long as they professed not to be anarchists nor polygamists, they were allowed entry.

Often new immigrants lived here in squalid conditions until they could earn enough money to afford better housing. And as soon as they had established themselves they paid passage for another relative, brother, sister, wife, parent. The family continued to pool their resources to provide for each other. Ethnic groups in their new country huddled together and provided comfort and support, a sense of familiarity, and financial support through ethnic mutual aid societies.

Now, to our family. When Piotr Szymanowicz, my father's father, arrived in New York Harbor in 1910 his destination was Easthampton, Massachusetts. His country did not exist as a political entity; they were under the rule of the Russian czar. Piotr had served his time in the Russian Army and didn't see a bright future as a fisherman. His brother-in-law Witold Zawacki was already in Easthampton, working in the mills, and paving the way for him. He traveled on the steam ship Kroonland from Antwerp. His sister-in-law was his travelling companion. Five months later, he sent for his wife and young son. Two more of the Zawacki brothers also immigrated. Witold later returned to Poland with a son who was born here and, therefore, an American citizens.  Sound familiar? These days the term "chain migration" is used pejoratively to describe families who reunite in the United States. It can take years, and sometimes decades to receive permission to resettle family members. This is not a vague concept; this is a reality that people I know well are dealing with.

Our Irish ancestors also left the dirt-poor "shithole" of western Mayo. My maternal great-grandparents, Dominick Meeneghan and Ellen Broderick, married in Wheeling, West Virginia in 1887. The Irish census of 1911 describes a family whom I believe to be Dominick's parents still living with 4 adult children in a single room home. That is what they left behind. I have yet to definitively make the connection between  Ellen and a likely older sister, Margaret, in Ohio, and the link between Dominick and his cousin in Springfield, New York. Dominick and Ellen settled in Springfield soon after their marriage. Within 5 years they were able to buy a home on an acre and a half of land where they raised eight children. They had land and education for their children that they could never have aspired to in Ireland. Ellen's sister also came to Springfield and lived across the street from them. Dominick's sister, Sarah, also lived nearby.

Meeneghan Wedding at their Home in Springfield, 1919

We all came from somewhere, and likely some of our ancestors had reasons for not looking back. What they found in the US was hope, if they could overcome prejudices and language barriers. They had family support and they worked hard. Not much has changed.