Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I've Moved...Please stop by to visit!

I have moved my blog to Wordpress
to better integrate with some other projects
I am working on.

Please visit me at:

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Beads for Elizabeth

     Having escaped from an abusive marriage to an alcoholic husband, Elizabeth Percival started a new life with her two step-daughters Florence and Jessie. She opened a restaurant serving the English dishes from her childhood and gained a loyal following of customers and friends.

     In March of 1881, Elizabeth and her daughters invited their friends to join them at their restaurant, which was right on Galveston's Mardi Gras parade route, for a night of fun and fellowship.

     They had no way of knowing the night of revelry would end in tragedy.

     Elizabeth's ex-husband hid among the floats and marchers in the parade. As he passed the restaurant, he took aim and shot Elizabeth in front of all who loved her. Her step-daughters, who she had rescued from their natural father, were grief-stricken.

     I stopped by the cemetery yesterday to leave beads for Elizabeth. While the island of Galveston is in the middle of Mardi Gras season, I did not want her to be forgotten.

     I hope you'll enjoy more of Elizabeth's story, along with other amazing history behind the stones in Galveston in my upcoming book, "Galveston's Broadway Cemeteries," due out in July from Arcadia Publishing. Available on

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Luck of the Irishman

     Standing in the Old Catholic Cemetery on Broadway in Galveston is the lovely white tombstone of Jeremiah Buckley, who was born across the ocean.

     An immigrant from Larka, County Cork, Ireland, Buckley was a resourceful merchant whose obituary tells the story of a respected man who worked hard for his success.

Galveston Daily News, March 13, 1881, page 4

Death of Jeremiah Buckley

     "On March 1, 1881, at Fort Bend. In this State, Jeremiah Buckley breathed his last, aged fifty-five years. He was born in Cork, Ireland, in the year 1826 and came to the United States in 1849. After a residence of five years in Mobile, Alabama he removed to Galveston, were he laid the basis for a career of prosperity, which was only checked by the war of the States. Prior to its breaking out, Mr. Buckley had sailed for Europe to lay in a stock of foreign goods, suitable for the Southern market, intending on his return to supplement this stock with selections from Northern and Eastern marts of trade. But the cloud of war, at first no bigger than a man’s hand, spread over the whole country; ports were blockaded; commerce crushed; and Mr. Buckley’s assets were buried in the general ruin. 
With the recuperative faculties natural to his countrymen, he emerged from these financial misfortunes and re-established his business in Galveston, which he conducted successfully until 1873, when he became attracted by the pastoral life, and purchased a large farm in fort Bend County, where, as stated, his eventful life ended in the presence of his wife and other friends on the 1st instant. He had no children. His brother, to which he was much devoted, resides at Corpus Christi and is known as one of the largest wool-buyers in Western Texas, being also a large owner of sheep and lands in that section of the Empire State. Deceased, though right and exacting in business, had a warm, generous nature. His friendships, slowly made, were lasting. If the tide of adversity swept over any one to whom he felt kindly, his purse-strings at once flew open and material help was ungrudgingly and freely given, without solicitation. He was a many of marked individuality, and won his position in the battle of life by a fair but ferocious fight. His death is deeply regretted by the community in which he was so widely known and his remains were laid away by gentle hands and sorrowing hearts, which throbbed in unison with his during life. He has passed from earth to put on a purer, finer mold."

     It's a thoughtfully written, beautiful obituary.

     I haven't found the name of his widow, and with no children I wonder how long his name was remembered in the community. At least his beautiful marker certainly keeps his name alive to whomever wanders the rows of the Broadway cemeteries.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Casket vs. Coffin: What's the Difference?

     While I was at a museum the other day, one of the archivists asked me a question that I hear often: "What is the difference between a coffin and a casket…or is there one?"

     I was glad I had the answer to share with her.

     Yes, there is a difference although we tend to use the two terms interchangeably.


     Wooden coffins, which came into use around the early part of the 16th century in the western world, typically have six sides, and the lid lifts off completely. Once the deceased was placed inside, the lid was nailed shut. Think about the classic Halloween decoration or old black-and-white vampire movies, and you have the idea.

     The silhouette is wider at the shoulders and narrows toward the feet. The only handles, if any at all, would have been functional loops of rope to carry it to the graveyard.


     You may be surprised that this was a term originally used for jewelry boxes. When the Victorian sensibilities of proper mourning and tribute came into fashion, the word "casket" began being used for the burial receptacles as well. It makes sense I suppose, since it would hold something precious and certainly sound kinder to the ears of those left behind.

     The casket is different in shape as well, being elongated and four-sided.

     Some caskets feature a split lid to allow for easier viewing of the deceased. This would have been impractical with wooden coffins. The lid of a casket is also hinged, so it is hover entirely detached from the lower portion.

     Lined with metal on the interior, unlike coffins, caskets also usually feature six metal handles for pallbearers. 

Bits of Related Trivia:

     The Greek word "kophinos," meaning basket, refers to the fact that wicker baskets were used in days gone by. There is a new interest in utilizing them for "green burials."

     Ancient Greeks often buried their dead in a sitting position in clay pottery.

     "Fittings" or "coffin furniture" were/are external details such as crucifixes, handles and name plates. The local mortician would often offer "rental" of such adornments which would then be removed immediately before burial. 

     "Trim" was a term used to refer to fabric used to line the interior of coffins.

     When a coffin is used to transport a deceased person it is called a "pall," hence the term "pallbearer" for those that carry it. The word can also refer to a cloth used to drape over the coffin.

     I hope that you found this posting interesting…and not too morbid.

     What bit of trivia do you have to share about the subject?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Saving a Crumbling History

     There are many facets to saving the history held within cemeteries; not all of them chiseled in stone.

     During a cemetery workday when volunteers were busily cleaning gravestones and picking up trash, I went into one of the old buildings on site to ask a question of one of the men in charge. A new friend greeted me with a handful of crumbling papers and a horrified look on his face. "Look at this! They're everywhere."

     Sure enough, the original sexton records for the cemetery were scattered across the floor and heaped in a corner. Unfortunately, they had obviously been there through hurricane flood waters, insect and rodent feeding frenzies, and currently had paint cans and scrap wood laying on them. The disintegrating bits of paper had seen better days.

     Most of the scraps were smaller than a fingernail with only a letter or two visible. I carefully lifted the partial and mostly full pages and stacked them for removal. The heartbreaking realization was that only a few could be retrieved. And yes, even those that I picked up were extremely fragile, and covered in feces. But they HAD to be saved!

     It will take quite a while, even with the little stack rescued, to gently separate and scan the papers, transcribe the information, and store the originals in an archival manner.

     The exciting thing that I have noticed about the few that I have looked closely at, is that there seems to be no other record of the burial.

     The set of cemeteries these records are from is quite unique. I am very familiar with them because I am currently writing a book about them called "Galveston's Broadway Cemeteries" for Arcadia Press. It is due out in February 2015, so I am still finalizing research.

     Appearing as one large, two-city-block cemetery, it is actually seven distinct cemetery that have been through a number of grade raisings…therefore losing the location many of the burials.

     Using a variety of records, including transcriptions over the years, old photos, plot maps from different sextons and additional "treasures" of information like these slips of paper, we can more fully understand the history of our cemeteries and reconstruct who is at rest there. 

     PLEASE NOTE: I AM WORKING WITH THE CITY, WHO OWNS THE CEMETERY, TO RESTORE RECORDS. If you are not working directly with the owner of the cemetery, please notify the correct authorities of your discovery for permission to remove (even temporarily) any paperwork from a cemetery.

     So while transcribing the grave markers in graveyards and cemeteries is vital to saving there history, there are other sources I hope you'll consider including in your research…and OF COURSE share the results with others!

     Let me know what surprises you have found in cemetery research!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Tragedy on the Homefront

The United States Navy regrets to inform you…
     When we see military markers and the date of death falls within a specific war, we often assume that the serviceman or woman died in battle. Albert Andy Holmans is one of the exceptions that prove that isn't always the case.
    18-year-old Albert was an aviation radioman, third class in the United States Naval Air Force. He was one of five officers and enlisted men killed in a PBY Catalina bomber that crashed and burned as it attempted to take off near San Diego Bay. Six other members of the crew were rescued.

     The Catalina PBY is the most famous Navy long-range patrol 
bomber, reconnaissance and rescue boat of World War II.

     When searching through old newspapers within a two week period of this crash, I was shocked to find numerous accounts of bomber crashes on home soil. It's heartbreaking to think that the families of these victims probably felt relatively secure abut their loved ones safety since they had not departed for "action."What a shock it must have been. 

    Albert was the youngest son of Charles Albert Holmans and Marion Palmer. His father died from appendicitis when Andy was only three years old.

     According to a family member, his mother was unable to financially care for the children, so they were split up. Douglas, Pearl and James traveled by train to Fort Worth to live at the Masonic Home and School of Texas. The two older brothers, Charles and William (Bill) were "too old" to live at the Masonic home, so they "made it on their own."
Masonic School & Home, Fort Worth, Texas
     Because he was so small, Albert was sent to live with his widowed, maternal grandmother  Marion Moore, and his uncle John Palmer. 

     All five boys served in the armed forces during World War II.

    Albert was survived by his mother, Mrs. James McBride of Houston; his grandmother, Mrs M. More of Dickinson; a sister, Mrs Pearl Dement of Columbus Ohio; four brothers (Charles, William, Douglas and James) and his uncle John Palmer of Dickinson and other aunts and uncles.

     Of the family of six children, the surviving five went on to live productive lives and have families of their own. Quite impressive considering the rough start the endured.
     Albert rests in the serene Fairview Cemetery of League City, Texas. His poignant epitaph reads, "My loves goes with you and my soul awaits to join you." 

     One wonders if his mother, who missed precious years with her youngest child, chose the inscription.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Mystery Solved!

     In our last blog visit to the cemetery, we were pondering whether Elizabeth Israel's husband was ever laid to rest beside her or if he had been interred away from his beloved wife.

     I am happy to report that I received a reply to my question from a genealogist whose husband is related to the Israel couple. 

     She shared that they had been told that Alexander died while visiting his sister in St. Louis, but that they had discovered a receipt for his burial next to Elizabeth. The receipt had the payments broken into monthly payments, so it may be assumed that the engraving was too expensive for the family to undertake at the time.

     I am so grateful to know that the couple is together. I don't know about you, but these situations can make me grieve a bit for those involved, even if they are no relation to me. Yes, people interred in cemeteries are "real" people who led very real lives. I would rather find out about them than read a fictional account of someone who never actually existed.

     I've added Alexander's name and information to the Findagrave database for anyone who has the same question in the future.

     I was also glad to be able to share a bit of fun information about Alexander with our informant, as well. Although her family knew that he had a registered patent for a washing machine, they had not yet seen a picture of it. Here it is:

     Alexander was quite ingenious, and surely his blacksmithing skills came into play with the design. 
The description of the machine is in Alexanders own words, so it gives an insight into his engineering skills.
     "…the clothes are thoroughly washed or scoured and boiled at the same time. The clothes are thoroughly cleaned without danger of injuring or tearing the same, and the machine is adapted for washing the finest fabrics - lace curtains and the like. The water is kept constantly boiling by the heater and s continuously circulated throughout he revolving drum an brought into contact with the clothes contained therein. The clothes are constantly carried upward and dripped by means of the radially-disposed ribs and are at the same time subjected to the scoring or rubbing action of the rotary washboard."

     It actually sound quite like our washing machines today!

     Thanks to Jan for solving our mystery.