The Life and Times: Diaries As Research Tools

Worrying about the health of family members? Fretting over school and work? If you are, you may write about these concerns in a diary. People have kept diaries, and have written about the same kinds of subjects, for a long time. Diaries are special that way—they are records of daily life. For researchers, they contain a wealth of information about a person, their activities, social interactions, community and private affairs.

Box of diariesSo when we began working with the Baines Family Collection, we were pleased to find—in addition to correspondence and literary materials—a bevy of diaries. 47, to be exact.

George Washington Baines Jr. was the son of George Washington Baines, Sr., Baylor University’s third president (1861-63) and great grandfather to Lyndon Baines Johnson. George Jr. was born in Louisiana in 1848, and soon moved to Texas and attended Baylor University in Independence, Texas, where he graduated in 1875.

He became a fourth-generation Baptist minister and served at several churches in Texas. Baines was also a missionary to El Paso, establishing the First Baptist Church in El Paso, was Dean of the Bible Department at the San Marcos Baptist Academy, and was on the Baptist Education Commission of Texas.

Baines’ diaries span 1861-1912, but not consecutively. They contain small diaries and notebooks—some no bigger than a deck of cards—full of entries, pastor notes, sermons, diaries of churches where he preached, and places he visited.

For example, Baines’ 1890 diary, the marbled one on the top row of the photo below, contains a wealth of information, from Baines’ life to insight into the times. Diaries detailThe beginning of this diary contains information similar to what we find in day planners today, but with some twists: a calendar, train time tables, interest tables, pages with the value of foreign coins, dates for eclipses, wind direction and velocity signals, and territorial statistics.

Later entries recount daily thoughts and activities. In the 1890 diary, Baines expresses concern about his schoolwork at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky:

Was examined in Homiletics today. Sat from 9am to 5:30pm. Ate no dinner. Hard work, and it came near to flooring me. Tonight I feel nervous. Head feels like a balloon. I can’t stand much of this. Fear my paper will be a poor one.

Another entry from the same diary reads:

At home all day. Janet had high fever this afternoon. We feel quite anxious about her. William is about well, so is George. But Janet’s condition is very serious.

Both of these entries could be seen in a modern seminary student’s diary! However, the collection also contains diaries dedicated to specific events. The “journal of a buffalo hunt in December, 1871,” for example, might be quite interesting indeed.

Open diaryThough sometimes hard to read (old-fashioned handwriting trips up everybody), diaries and journals help us understand the lives and circumstances of people in other times, and valuable information on that day and age. Diaries can inform, inspire and delight. They can contain affirmation, negativity, and anything imaginable. As research tools they are very valuable. Come see us at The Texas Collection to research or if you just have an interest in diaries.  We will be more than happy to show you our treasures.

Photos by Ann Payne

Introducing Research Ready

Processing archival collections is one of our central activities at The Texas Collection. In archivist lingo, “processing” means to enhance access to our records through arrangement and description. Archives are different from books—they usually don’t have a title page, table of contents, or an index to tell you about the contents.  And they’re often messy.

enfranchisement document
The Fred Bell papers: An 1867 enfranchisement oath.

Sometimes collections come to us in good order, with everything beautifully organized. However, it’s probably more common that we receive records that appear to have been boxed up with no particular order. In these cases, it’s our job to discern and implement an organizing principle, then to describe the arrangement and the records in what we call a finding aid. That way researchers have a good idea of what they might expect to find in an archives and can plan their projects accordingly.

The Texas Collection’s finding aids are posted on our website by subject and alphabetically. We’re in the process of upgrading our arrangement and description procedures to comply with Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS), and we’re working with catalogers at Baylor’s Moody Library to get our finding aids into BearCat (Baylor’s central catalog) too.

All this to say, we want you to know about our most recently processed collections! So we’re adding “Research Ready” as a monthly feature of “Blogging about Texas.” Each month, we will post a processing update to notify our readers about the latest collections that have finding aids online and are primed for research. Here’s the scoop for May:

  • Olga Fallen Papers: The Olga Fallen Collection contains material accumulated during her years at Baylor University as women’s athletic coordinator, basketball and softball coach, and professor. The items include correspondence, financial, photographic, and organizational material. The bulk of the collection relates to basketball. (See our blog post for more detail.)

    James Warren Smith, Texas Ranger
    The James Warren Smith Sr. papers provide insight into the Texas Rangers' activities along the Mexican border in the early 1900s.
  • James Warren Smith Sr. Papers: The James Warren Smith Sr. Papers consist of a diary, scrapbooks, and literary productions. The scrapbooks contain many photographs. Smith was a Texas Ranger in the early 1900s.
  • Fred Bell Papers: The Fred Bell Papers consist of one manuscript, an enfranchisement oath for African-American Fred Bell, living in Travis County, Texas.

You can see how wide and varied The Texas Collection’s holdings are! These records—and the finding aids we have online—are just a small representation of the thousands of collections we preserve for future researchers. We’re working hard to make our collections more visible and hope that one of them will spark your interest!

Location, Location, Location: Navigating the 1940 Census

On April 24, 2012, the 1940 census records were released online—the National Archives’ first-ever online U.S. census release. The National Archive website had approximately 22 million hits in four hours, and additional servers had to be added to meet the demand. Did we mention it was a long awaited event? After 72 years, any person interested in accessing these records can do so online for free.

Waco, TX search yields 47 reportsThis census took place at a pivotal time in America’s history—the country was pulling its way out of the Great Depression and striving to regain economic stability through Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. The 1940 census contains more in-depth information than previous census records about wages, occupation, previous residences, and grade levels achieved—all helpful when working on a family history.

Finding people will take time and effort, because there is not a name index—yet. The National Archives is crowdsourcing that process, meaning they’ve invited anyone who is interested to help with identifying and indexing names. You can learn more about volunteering at https://the1940census.com/.

Pat Neff's census recordIn the meantime, we wanted to walk you through the process of finding someone in the census using the current search tools. As an example, we chose former Texas governor and past president of Baylor, Pat M. Neff. First, navigate to www.1940census.archives.gov. Start your search by entering as much information as you know: state, county, city and physical address for the individual, or the enumeration district for the person you seek.

For Pat Neff, we knew the state, county, and city. Searching these options gave us 47 enumeration district reports, which are anywhere from one to 60 pages. You would have to search each page for the name.

Enumeration district maps viewLuckily, the Waco city directories we have at The Texas Collection contained the address for Neff in 1940. By entering the street name in the last search field, we cut the results down to 8 districts. We further limited our search by choosing the Maps tab. This option brought up a map of Waco from 1940 which listed street names and enumeration districts. When you find the street you need, the enumeration district will be marked close to that section of the map in the form of a three number set followed by a two number set. Neff’s district was 155-20.

Enumeration district 155-20Returning to “Start Your Search” where you entered state, county, city and street information, you also have the option to search by enumeration district. We entered the number 155-20 for Pat Neff, and it returned one file.

Enumeration search optionClicking on the ED 155-20 file, we saw that it contains 40 pages—sounds like a lot, but it’s not too bad to skim through. On the last page of the file, we found Pat Neff and learned, among other things, that he made $8,400 that year and is listed as being 67 years old.

Again, this takes time, and the more information you know, the quicker a successful search. Consult city directories and phonebooks. If unavailable, try courthouse records or church records for help. Your local library may have these helpful genealogical resources and advice. The Texas Collection has city directories and many other sources to help you search for individuals—we’d love to see you!  And we’d like to hear from you—please let us know in the comment section below how your searches went and what you found. Happy hunting!

By Benna Vaughan, Manuscripts Archivist

A Homegrown Vision: Robert L. Smith and the Farmers Improvement Society

In the late 1800s, Robert Lloyd Smith came to Texas. Smith, a highly educated man and an advocate of Booker T. Washington’s  philosophy of education and economic improvement for African-Americans,  called himself a “practical sociologist.”  He was also an educator and a businessman.  In 1890 Smith founded the Farmers’ Home Improvement Society in Colorado County.

Smith created the F.I.S. as a self-improvement society to help tenant farmers out of a cycle of debt and poverty. The Society provided life insurance, financed a bank in Waco, operated an agricultural boarding school, and provided a social life in a religious and fraternal setting for African-Americans across Texas. At its high point in 1911, the Farmers’ Improvement Society claimed 12,000 members in 800 branches across Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.  Smith’s wife, Ruby Cobb of Waco, was instrumental in helping him run the F.I.S. 

A Homegrown Vision: Robert L. Smith and the Farmers Improvement Society was curated by Paul Fisher and Ann Payne and is made possible through the generous gift of materials from the Smith-Cobb family of Waco.

Stop by The Texas Collection from February 1 – March 20, 2012 to view the exhibit.

 

Click on images to enlarge.

Texas Trailers


The Texas Collection staff decided to have a bit of fun over the summer and created video trailers to introduce you to some of our favorite collections.  Our Texas Trailers are up on YouTube for your viewing pleasure.  We’ve put together short movies about western pulp fiction, panoramic photographs, promotional literature, the Adams-Blakley collection, and Jules Bledsoe archival materials. We hope you’ll enjoy this look into the stacks and vaults here at Carroll Library.  Leave your comments below!

Pawnee Bill’s Historic Wild West and Great Far East

 

The stories we tell ourselves about our past become as much a part of our identity as the truth of our history.  The mythological American West–the Wild West–with its stories of rugged individualism, resourcefulness, and courage, began to take hold in the public imagination decades before the Civil War. Prior to the turn of the century, some people began to think that the settling of the frontier had formed our national character; that what is essentially American about the United States can be found in western frontier, not eastern culture.

The idea that “All Americans are Cowboys at heart” has great worldwide appeal.  In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, romanticized tales of cowboys and Indians, outlaws and lawmen could be found in dime novels and popular music, but it was the Wild West  Show that brought the drama of the Old West right to your home town. Popular before the advent of radio or movies with sound, the Wild West Show was part circus, part vaudeville, part rodeo, and all spectacle–under the guise of historical accuracy. Wild West Shows celebrated a vanishing culture while allowing easterners and Europeans to experience the excitement of the legendary frontier.

The most famous of the Wild West shows was, of course, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West which ran from 1883 to 1913. However, an enterprising Oklahoman, Gordon W. Lillie, “Pawnee Bill,” was also quite famous in his day. Pawnee Bill was an astute businessman whose traveling shows (Pawnee Bill’s Historic Wild West and Great Far East) thrilled audiences with demonstrations of horsemanship and marksmanship, including that of his wife, May Manning Lillie, “Champion Girl Horseback Shot of the West.”  His exhibitions featured reenactments of historical events, showing stagecoach attacks, daring rescues, and battles with Indians. The Great Far East show included the “spectacle of the war between the Russians and the Japanese” which enlisted “the services of over five hundred people and horses.” Among his ever-changing troupe were Arab jugglers, Mexican cowboys, Cossacks, Japanese, and Pawnee.   And, while celebrating the astonishing equestrian accomplishments of the world’s peoples, Pawnee Bill always championed the American Cowboy–“the perfect embodiment of natural chivalry.”  A program from the show describes cowboys as

the most daring, most skillful, most graceful, and most useful horsemen in the world. They fulfill the metaphor of the fabled centaur, believed to have been a demi-god, half horse, half man, only that the cowboy excels the centaur in being an independent man who controlled the best points of the quadruped and made “man’s best friend” subservient to his needs, his pleasures and his pastimes. Without the cowboy, civilization would have been hemmed in, and the fair States and Territories of the glorious West would have remained a howling wilderness to date.

Show business has always been an up-and-down experience financially. In 1908, Gordon Lillie invested in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show, which was deeply in debt. The “Two Bills” show was successful for a time, especially during its run as Buffalo Bill’s farewell tour, but eventually the enterprise failed when Cody’s creditors foreclosed in 1913.

After that, Pawnee Bill and May Lillie settled down on their buffalo ranch on Blue Hawk Peak, near Pawnee, OK.  Lillie continued as a businessman and invested in banking, oil, and real estate. Still interested in the entertainment industry, but looking to the future, he started a movie production company on his ranch.  In 1935, May died as a result of injuries suffered in a car accident.  Pawnee Bill died in his sleep in 1942.

If you ever find yourself looking for excitement, you can learn more about Pawnee Bill and the American West right here at The Texas Collection.  The Adams-Blakley Collection contains several souvenir items from The Historic Wild West and Great Far East Shows, and The Texas Collection has a significant number of Dime Novels. Don’t expect it all to be true, but it is great fun.

(Click on the center of any image in the slideshow to see it full-sized.)

Many thanks to Michael Toon for assistance with Dime novels at The Texas Collection.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: a collection of characters from the Adams-Blakley Collection

If you love real-life stories of the cowboys and outlaws, lawmen and showmen of the American West, now is the time for you to visit The Texas Collection. Currently on display are some choice titles from the Adams-Blakley Collection–an amazing group of books assembled by Ramon F. Adams, the Western bibliographer, lexicographer, and author, for William A. Blakley, a U.S. Senator from Texas.  The collection, which was given to Baylor University in 1971 by William Blakley, contains books capturing the excitement and the struggle of Westward Expansion and telling the story of the larger-than-life characters who made it happen. The collection includes close to 3000 works of history, biography, fiction, ranching and branding, promotional literature, poetry, art and folksong, and works on hunting, trapping, and roping. Many of these are rare titles and first editions, often beautifully bound, and signed by their authors. Stop by the Texas Collection to enjoy this exhibit which runs through June 30, 2011.

Click here to listen to a field recording of cowboy songs and poetry from the Adams-Blakley Collection.

Special thanks to Chuck “Drag” Treadwell for sharing his musical and interpretive talents and to Ian Campbell for production assistance. As always, thanks to Lance Grigsby for his support and enthusiasm for new ventures.

Catch ‘Em Alive Jack

One of my fellow librarians at The Texas Collection tells me that if I get through a day without learning something new, I’m not doing my job. Well, yesterday I learned about a larger-than-life Texas cowboy: John “Catch-Em Alive Jack” Abernathy.

I was cataloging some items from the Adams-Blakley Collection–a fabulous group of books assembled by Ramon F. Adams, the Western bibliographer, lexicographer, and author, for William A. Blakley, a U.S. Senator from Texas.   In that collection I came upon A Son of the Frontier by John Abernathy, and I saw a picture of Abernathy, a wolf, and Theodore Roosevelt. I had to find out more, and here’s the story.

Jack Abernathy was born in 1876, in Bosque County, Texas not too far from Waco. He worked as a cowboy, a farmer, and a piano and organ salesman, but became famous for catching over a thousand wolves alive with his bare hands.  It seems that Abernathy once accidentally discovered that by thrusting his hand into an attacking wolf’s mouth and holding the lower jaw to keep it from closing, he could capture the animal without losing the hand. Teddy Roosevelt heard about his unique skill, and arranged to join Abernathy in Oklahoma for six days of wolf-coursing. They say that the president wanted to try Abernathy’s technique himself, but the Secret Service talked him out of it.  A wise decision, for in his book Abernathy notes,

“Men whom I have tried to teach the art of wolf catching have failed to accomplish the feat. I have tried to teach a large number, but when the savage animal would clamp down on the hand, the student would become frightened and quit. Consequently, the wolf would ruin the hand.” (p.20)

Roosevelt was quite taken with “Catch “˜Em Alive Jack” and appointed him the youngest U.S. Marshal in history. As U.S. Marshal for Oklahoma, Abernathy “captured hundreds of outlaws single-handed and alone, and placed seven hundred and eighty-two men in the penitentiary.” (p.1)

One final note: Abernathy’s sons Louie (Bud) and Temple became famous in their own right. In 1910, at the age of 10 and 6, they rode alone on horseback from their home in Frederick, Oklahoma to New York City to greet President Roosevelt upon his return from a trip to Europe and Africa. Several years later they set out for further adventures on an Indian motorcycle. Temple tells about their journeys in Bud and Me: the True Adventures of the Abernathy Boys.

Jack Abernathy’s story is only one of the many great titles that make up the Adams-Blakley Collection.  There are outlaws and lawmen, pioneers and entrepreneurs. Someday, we’ll have to sit a spell and I’ll tell you more.

Abernathy kids  (LOC)

Blogging about Texas

Welcome to the newly created Texas Collection Blog! The Texas Collection is steeped in tradition and history. There’s so much to share and show that we thought it was time to communicate more directly and informally with you–sharing highlights from our collections and projects, and providing a venue for your comments. We also want to learn from you because The Texas Collection houses a few mysteries that we’re hoping you can help us solve.

We’ll be updating this site regularly, so check back often to hear about our latest discoveries or read about what’s new. There’s always something exciting happening in Texas.

Sincerely,

John S. Wilson

Interim Director. The Texas Collection