Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Putting the Clues Together- Research with David J Webb

As I teased in my last post, David Webb does an amazing job documenting old postcards of the Houston area. I asked him to describe his process because I thought it would be instructive in genealogy as well.  (David did his own family’s genealogy for years) The way he came to this project is interesting. In 2000, he began taking photography classes at the local museum school. As his skills grew, he moved own to his own curriculum, inspired by the photography of Bernice Abbott. David says, “I was intrigued by the power of these images to make history come alive.” And, after all, isn’t that what we do as genealogists? He had seen an exhibit of 1930’s images taken by Abbott and contemporary images of the same places. It started a small fire in his imagination.

At the time this began, David was a regular visitor to Galveston where he became infatuated with the Eaton Chapel adjacent to Trinity Episcopal Church. These are some of the oldest buildings in Galveston, having even survived the 1900 storm. David began taking photographs.

He was already collecting old postcards of Bisbee, Arizona, the place where he was born. Now he began purchasing old Galveston postcards as well. It was then that the project that became Houston Time Portal began to form.

Here is the story of Eaton chapel in David’s own words.

“Among the treasures of Galveston was Eaton Chapel adjacent to Trinity Episcopal Church. The chapel was built in 1879 by Nicholas Clayton as an act of philanthropy by Henry Rosenberg to honor Reverend Benjamin Eaton, first rector of Texas’ oldest Episcopal parish [well described in Galveston Architecture Guidebook, by Ellen Beasley and Stephen Fox, Rice University Press, 1996…… For a small building, Eaton Capel  has a commanding presence… The first floor of the building is devoted to classrooms, and the second floor is a lofty auditorium.
Eventually, I obtained several other postcards of Eaton Chapel, ones that  had been mailed and teased at a hidden history that begged to be riddled out. The most intriguing one was written by “K E K” to Miss Henrietta Morgan, Taylor, TX on 22 February 1908. The author revealed a lot of personality in his message, which he scrawled across the face of the card in blatant disregard for the image. Certain details promised a portal into the history of the man even though he used only his initials. “
David's photo of Eaton Chapel
Invariably this is how David proceeds. He will find the history of the building first, combing through old guidebooks and city histories. But being a genealogist at heart, he is equally intrigued by the messages on the cards. Who were these people? What connection did they have to this place?
Front and back of the card David purchased.

David continues by giving us the message on the card, 

Society sure is doing in Taylor. You had better be glad that you are a society lady instead of a student who has to study Instead of running around having a good time. Exams are only two weeks off now and I have to get busy if I expect to pass them I know you will have a good time in Georgetown Danse one or two for me at the Mask Dance Tell Miss Stella hello for me. K. E. K. This is where I go Sunday? Mrs. Patric Campbell is billed to show here during exams isnt that a shame I think I will go see her in spite of the fact. Might never have the chance to see her again.”

So he looks carefully at the card for the clues to both the writer and the receiver….
And comes to a few conclusions about KEK. David says, 
Most importantly, he mentions that “Exams are only two weeks off,” and since he posted the card from Galveston, it seemed likely that he was a student. He seems a bit flirty with his correspondent, Miss Henrietta calling her a “society lady,” and contrasting himself as “a student who has to study.” He urges Henrietta to “Tell Miss Stella hello for me,” and speaks of “Georgetown Danse,” all of which suggests he is a college student, and not a secondary school pupil.”

Now David has a dilemma. As a college student, how can he find this KEK? David’s solution is to turn to a city directory.
As a student, he would be more transient than a resident might be, so a search within a narrow time range is essential. Galveston published a city directory for 1908, so an examination of the alphabetical K-section might turn up a student at the Galveston Medical School.  There are 11 pages of entries with about 80 persons per page, so only 880 possibilities to examine. K E K is probably male, nonetheless, females should also be noted: 
Kelly, Kate, Miss h 1414 Postoffice 
Killeen, Kate J. Miss r 2002 L. 
Kovocavich, Kirto, lab Mrs 3827 B’dway 
Krivokopich, Krist, r 1909 Mechanic 4. 
Krug, Kenny E. pharmacy student Mrs 828 Market 

The last seemed such a likely candidate that I looked no further, and focused on Kenny. The name was quite adequate now for a census search, but that might be only circumstantial, even if compelling.”
I might mention, at this point, that David has a research science background. He’s all about evidence and conclusive proof. So the next thing he looked for, given the time period, was a World War I draft card. There would be a signature. Can you see where this is going?

The strongest confirmation of his identity would be a comparison of his signature, and since K E K left a good record of his handwriting, another document with his signature might be definitive. He wrote another card to Henrietta on April 20, 1908, this one of Trinity Episcopal Church, similarly scrawled across the front, which I purchased in the same lot as the same as the first, and this he also signed, K E K. 
Kruger's draft card
When WWI started for Americans in 1917, all males of a certain age were required to register, and that document bears their signature. Although the cards were written nine years earlier, the signature should be fairly stable. “Kenneth Edwin Krug” of Brenham is described as medium height and weight with blue eyes and brown hair. His date of birth is 2 December 1887 and is 29 years old on June 6, 1917 in Brenham, Washington County, TX. He is a druggist with a wife and child, “crippled” from meningitis. The signature is a very good match, so with this handwriting comparison in addition to the biographical details, it is not likely that K E is a different person.”

Comparing the signatures

“Supporting this identification is all the usual genealogical records. In 1900 he is “Kenny Krug” an only child living with his father Adolph, a District Clerk, and mother E. D. in Brenham. Next door is C. J. Jensen, a druggist. In 1906 Kenny is listed on U. S. College Student Lists database, a druggist with Theo Schirmader, member of the Elks, living at 608 W. Alamo at Main in Brenham. The small family is there in 1910 also, at 608 West Alamo. In 1912 he married Myra Barnett, and had two sons, Kenneth Edwin, Jr. (1916), and Marion Estor (1919). He stayed in Brenham through the 1940’s at the same house. His son Kenny, Jr. was a Lieutenant in the Army Air Force in WWII, and died in service overseas on 29 February 1944. “

How did David do all this? Patience and a combination of the Federal Census, City directories, and draft information. Isn’t it amazing how this becomes a really accurate narrative of a person’s life?
Now David moves on to Henrietta. Again, a patient examination of census records, old directories and other public documents fleshes out her life. And he speculates on how they met, much as I did in the post about my great-grandparents.

How Kenneth met Henrietta Morgan is suggested by the postcard messages. Henrietta was the eldest child of Sally Leda Pennington and Henry Julius Morgan, manager of a cotton compress in Temple, Bell County, TX. Brenham and Temple are medium sized towns in Central Texas about 93 miles apart. When Kenny wrote the postcards he was 20 years old. Henrietta was born 25 November 1890, so she was 17 when she received the cards. In February Kenneth mentions Georgetown Danse, which he says he will miss. Georgetown Is another mid-sized city in Central Texa, a college town about 40 miles south of Temple. From Brenham to Temple is only about 90 miles, and since trains then traveled mostly under 40 miles per hour, it was still only a couple of hours away. Of course, but carriage it was quite a trip, but that mode of transportation was mostly for local trips. Both seem to have been Episcopal, and they may have met through church groups, maybe especially those involving chaperoned dancing.   

Henrietta married Eugene Cecil Seaman in 31 January 1912 and settled into the routine of the wife of an Episcopal Minister. Eugene was the son of Sophie Seaman, a widow running a boarding house in Galveston to support her four sons in 1900 at 2002 Church Street. Eugene was a graduate of Sewanee, University of the South, and in due course became Bishop of North Texas in Amarillo, Potter County, TX.  

Kenny Krug died in 1950 of pulmonary embolus and was laid to rest in Prairie Lee Cemetery in Brenham. Three years later Myra died and is buried beside him; also in Prairie Lee are his father and mother, and son Kenny, Jr.. Henrietta Morgan Seaman became a widow in 1950 with the death of her husband; she died 21 years later in Phoenix and she and her husband are buried in Llano Cemetery in Amarillo, as is their 5-year old son, Eugene Cecil Seaman, Jr. (1913-1918) and her father, Henry Julius Morgan (1863-1929). “
 David concludes, 
In addition to the black and white rephotograph of Eaton Chapel, I returned to Galveston on March 22-23 2019 and photographed Eaton Chapel again. 
The 14 years between the two rephotograph shows considerable growth of the palm trees, but no alterations of the chapel itself. “

So you can see what I mean about David’s amazing process. Simple genealogy for most of us, but he weaves a compelling narrative. David has meticulously purchased old postcards, many of Houston, gone to the spot where the building once stood(or may still stand), and rephotographed standing as nearly on the same spot as he can manage. Each pair has this same level of research.

You can find the Eaton Chapel pair here.

For those of you Houston history fans or anyone who just loves history, this is a true rabbithole. Enjoy!  
So now comes the challenge to all of you. What kind of narration can you weave using the documents you have collected?  It’s “history come to life” that draws in the next generation of family genealogists. Get busy!

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