Janice Williams Loves Austin And sometimes I write about it.

August 2, 2015

Close Cousins

Filed under: Cemeteries,Family,Genealogy,Taphophilia — Janice @ 10:15 pm

You know you never know when you are standing next to a cousin. Even I don’t know–as much as I try to!

I remember several years ago being at a show on the patio at Hill’s Café in Austin. I frequently tell anyone who will listen that I am related to Pinky Wilson who wrote the Aggie War Hymn for Texas A&M. I usually bring this up when someone has on one of those big gold rings they wear or an Aggie t-shirt, for instance. I ran into a friend who had heard that story before and he said, “Oh, you need to meet this guy.” He dragged me over to meet a guy that was a descendant of Pinky Wilson, so we were third cousins, I think. Pinky Wilson was his grandfather  and Pinky and my grandmother were first cousins. I know my first cousins really well and I know all of their grandchildren pretty well. But the chances of my grandchildren knowing their grandchildren well are pretty slim (well, in my case they are nil since I have NONE).

Tonight I found a picture of me and another cousin when I didn’t know her.

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I’m standing there in the Newburg cemetery a few years ago at a ceremony to honor our Texas Rangers. I’m talking to the legendary Comanche librarian, Margaret. She and I are distant cousins… fourth cousins once removed, maybe. This was a few years back, but last year she told me about a cousin I needed to meet that is also from the same family. I finally got to meet Cindy in person last March and we had so much in common. She has become a great friend and genealogy buddy. This weekend I am going to stay at her house when I am up there for my family reunion.

Cindy had told me she was at this ceremony years ago. In fact, it was her only trip ever to my favorite cemetery. This weekend I plan on taking her there and giving her the full tour and showing her EVERY SINGLE ONE of my relatives there. Ha. Even I don’t know every single one that is related. But I know a bunch.

But, as you have probably gotten ahead of me already, that is Cindy in the left of the picture. There were many folks there and I had no idea.

Of course, I found where my own grandparents were third cousins and they had both lived in the same community all their lives and you’d think they would know that they were related. But, if they did, they never told any of us about it.

May 14, 2013

Columbus’ City Cemetery

Filed under: Cemeteries,Genealogy,Taphophilia — Janice @ 2:14 pm

I’m going to put more of my cemetery adventures into my blog for safekeeping until I get around to creating another place for them. I need a place for the NARRATIVE of my cemetery visits. If there were a transcript of all my thoughts as I walk through a cemetery it would be a multivolume set. I don’t think, “Oh, that’s a pretty tombstone.” It’s more like, “Hey, that’s a Kuyper, didn’t I see a Kuyper on the other side of the cemetery? Is that a German name? Did this community have a lot of Germans? I don’t see any other names that are German. And she was born in 1810. I bet she came here when it was a Republic, I’m going to have to look that up. Oh, she had 3 children die in infancy, how sad is that? But she had a long life and there’s at least two of her children buried nearby so that’s good…” and it goes on and on and on. Then, if I have any chance at all to investigate further, it gets bigger and more all encompassing. Let’s take the City Cemetery of Columbus, Texas, as an example.

I won’t even go into why I was in Columbus on Friday, but I was and I took a spin through the little Southern town and spied an old-fashioned hamburger stand. They didn’t have car hops, but they did have a drive-through so I decided that was excuse enough for a chocolate malt. In the world I live in, sitting in a car for hours negates all calories from chocolate malts. I circled the block to get back to the malt shop, but didn’t go far enough so I drove up the main road and was going to make a U-turn somewhere. Cars turned into the post office and I started to follow them, but it kind of looked like a bottleneck so I went on up to the next drive/street and turned in, ready to turn right around and come back. And what did I see?


Yes, I think it is a gift I have to stumble upon old cemeteries. There were even beautiful wildflowers, lots of birds and butterflies, and cute birdhouses out front:


Columbus is a really old town, one of the oldest in Texas, and there were some unique, beautiful old graves. Maybe I’ll get back to them someday. These are the ones I’ll concentrate on today:


I noticed them because of this one:


I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a military headstone for a woman outside of a military cemetery. And I also assume that this woman was in the military in World War II since she would have been in her 20s in the 1940s. That seemed unusual and rare, too. It doesn’t specify what she did or when she served.  I went over and saw that it was a family plot so I took pictures all the way down the row of the Woods family.

At home today, I went to one of my favorite sites, Find a Grave, and looked these graves up and was surprised to see there was no photos of these gravestones there. It seems that almost every cemetery has been photographed over and over except maybe for the newest graves, but not this cemetery. It looks like I’m going to have to put every picture I just snapped “for fun” up as a record. I wish I had looked up the site while I was there and I would have been more serious and organized about it all. All of the Woods family graves were accounted for (listed and had information, just no picture) except Mary, so I have added her to Find a Grave now. I couldn’t find any more information on the web about her service or her marriage. It leaves me with questions.

But I learned a lot about her family. These are her parents and they were buried beside her:

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French and Bertha. He worked as a car washer at a dealership in 1930 and she was a laundress at their home, raising at least 4 children.  By 1940 he was working as a truck driver for a gas station, which I would think would have been a pretty good job.  Bertha was working now as a maid in a private home. Mary Lee was an “under clerk” for the “N.Y.A.” now that she was 18 and was no longer in school. She had completed high school (I believe) where her parents had only completed 6th and 7th grade, so the family was progressing.  Oh, yes, and this family is African-American and French’s parents were born as slaves and couldn’t read or write:

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They were born in North Carolina (Jials – or Giles) and Tennessee (Julia). I wish I knew how they came to know one another, to get married, how they felt as teenagers to learn about the Emancipation Proclamation and what differences it made to their families.  I think he was married once before he married Julia. I won’t go into all the details about why that might be. The item I was most happy to find on the internet was the record that he was registered to vote in Colorado County, Texas, in 1867. How great is that that a man that was born a slave was on the voter’s rolls so soon after the Civil War? Then I read how the KKK forced many blacks to register and to vote Democrat, so maybe it wasn’t as rare or great as I think, I don’t know. I also thought it was interesting that his grave says “He was a member of  Methodist church.” I don’t know that I’ve ever seen an inscription like that on a gravestone.


He had a sad ending to his life. According to a story on Find a Grave, when Jials was in his early 70s in 1914, he was working for a farm east of town and it was after dark and he thought he was walking away from the Colorado River, but he walked toward it, fell in and drowned. Now, of course, I wonder how the writer of this news story knew what a dead man was thinking minutes before he died? Is there more to the story? We’ll never know.

In addition to Mary, her parents, and her grandparents, there is another Woods grave:


It looks like poor Fannie was the oldest of Jials and Julia’s children and she was living at home in her early 20s when he drown. She lived the rest of her life with her mother and never married. A devoted daughter.

Of course, off of these stats and details were pulled from internet sources (though most of them legitimate and actual photos of the real census, WWI draft registration, voter’s rolls, etc), but I’ve also drawn some conclusions. And that’s why I like genealogy and cemeteries, its creating those stories for these people and wondering what their life was like.

May 5, 2013

Too Many Stories

Filed under: Bluebonnets,Cemeteries,Family,Taphophilia,Travel — Janice @ 9:43 pm

I have too many stories rattling around in my head. Every time I think about putting one down, another crowds in and says, “What about me???? You were going to tell about me a year ago. Surely my story is of more import to your thousands of readers and the generations to come than THAT one.” And as soon as I start to consider that and move my thoughts that direction, another demanding, irritating story comes begging in an even more sniveling whiney tone and before long I shut the whole process down and eat chocolate.

I call it my “artistic process.”

Trouble is, time passes and the weight increases, but there are no blogs in the pipeline, no pages piled by the typewriter, no checks in the mail from New York publishers.

So let me tell a story. ANY story. The first story that comes to mind, the closest at hand, the freshest. All those stories of my ancestors can wait a day or 10. Or until I run out of chocolate.

Mark and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary on April 24th. We are both a little bit gobsmacked (I am not certain that is the word, but it feels right) that we have achieved such a momentous occasion. Him more so than me because I always believed I would get to a 20th anniversary. Since he had had some rough starts and do-overs, he is especially pleased to prove that he could do it. Do it he did. The 20 years flew by and we are still happily doing lots of the things we were doing when we fell in love and started this adventure.

On the weekend after our anniversary we did some of those fun things. On our honeymoon trip we went in search of antiques and bluebonnets and small towns and cemeteries. We did that again.

Our main goal on the first trip was to go to Pontotoc and see the Union Band Cemetery. Mark had discovered it online somehow and had seen a beautiful picture of it in the bluebonnets.  Last year we stopped in Pontotoc on our way to Santa Fe and Taos. It is an interesting small Texas town because it has ruins like few towns have. There are walls and window sills of an abandoned academy that operated there in the 1870s and 1880s. Across the road is another brick building, empty and abandoned. The academy stopped operating in the 1880s when a typhoid fever epidemic wiped out lots of people in the town. In the 1940s, a fire destroyed most of the buildings in the town. The town never recovered and the ruins are still there and are incredibly picturesque.

Sadly, a little abandoned cemetery lies just north of the town. And when I say abandoned, I really mean abandoned. There is no sign or indication that it is a cemetery, only the fact that you can see some graves there. It did look like someone had cleared some mesquite and prickly pear at one time, but they are really fighting a losing battle.


Most of the graves were like this… rock enclosures with no markings or identification. Some were upright and in place like the one on the left, but most were tumbledown. Mark noticed that the death dates all seemed to be about 1888. When I got home I looked up the cemetery and read that the typhoid epidemic was about that time and a local doctor was worried that the cemetery was too close to the water supply and the city established a new cemetery on the other side of town. Another account said that the first cemetery got full and they had to start the second. We went to it, too, and it is the “new” cemetery and was founded in 1885. So I don’t know the full story of the change in cemeteries. The new one was very nice and grass and a few bluebonnets. It was a mix of old graves and new.


I always feel sorry for gravestones that are totally crowded out by trees.

And we did make it to the Union Band Cemetery, which had more bluebonnets than any, but they were going to seed. Notice that this grave has a Texas Ranger marker to the right. Ranger Miller would have been a ranger in the early part of the 20th Century. I’ll have to look him up. He may have been on the border watching out for Pancho Villa.


We didn’t JUST visit cemeteries with strangers in them. We went through Llano on the way out (and, yes, ate at Cooper’s Barbecue) and I had Mark swing through the huge Llano City Cemetery. I had looked up the location of an aunt and uncle, but didn’t know if I would be able to locate them. Having a location and looking at it on Google or a map is a whole different experience than finding it on the ground, I have discovered. But we got to the area and Mark spotted the Hallford grave right off the bat. He has the pictures with that grave so I can’t post it yet. It is the grave of my great-grandfather’s brother Johnny. I have a transcript of a diary or a life story that his wife, Mattie Phillips Hallford wrote about her young life and their courtship and marriage. It is the sweetest document. I was glad to get to see her grave.

So that was just a small portion of one day of our long weekend celebrating our 20th year of marriage.  I guess I’ll steal Mark’s Facebook photo he took of us in Pontotoc. This is the ruins of the Academy that we’ve watched deteriorate over the years. I guess it could same the same about us.



January 29, 2013

Part I of my Super Saturday

Filed under: Cemeteries,Taphophilia,Travel — Janice @ 8:53 am

A few months ago an old friend sent a message saying that she knew I loved old cemeteries and she did, too. She suggested I come to San Antonio and tour a beautiful cemetery at a convent with her and maybe some others she knew about. I thought that was a great idea, but I am not much of a “doer.” But, though I am calendar-challenged, I put a recurring not on my Google calendar to keep reminding me about this offer because I wanted to take her up on it. When Mark gave me the dates of his trip to California I thought that that might be the perfect weekend to plan to go so San Antonio. It all worked out perfectly with Cathy, too, and she was free to show me around.

I had not seen Cathy in about 30 years. We were in college at the same time, but she was already a professional in Amarillo radio by the time I was just getting started so we weren’t close friends. We knew the same people and had lots in common and knew one another, but we didn’t keep in touch after college except that I would see her doing TV news and I assume she heard me on the radio. She moved away and I did, too. We did both end up in Austin at one time and we emailed back and forth and said we should get together, but that didn’t happen. One super nice thing about Facebook is that you can reconnect with people that maybe you didn’t know well and learn more about them. She saw my interest in cemeteries and here we are.

Her beautiful home was my first stop, but I haven’t “developed” the pictures of it yet (I like using archaic terms). It is a SWEET bungalow in a historic district in the western parts of HUGE San Antonio. I have never driven in San Antonio where I didn’t get lost or off on the wrong freeway. Yes, I did briefly on this trip, too, as I came home, but fortunately there was a second exit that did the same thing as the exit I missed.

Let’s jump right on to the cemetery. This is just Part 1 because I counted something like 29 cemeteries that we saw on Saturday. Hard to fathom that you can go to that many cemeteries in one day and in Part II I will explain how that it possible. But first we went to the University of the Incarnate Word.  It is a beautiful university with a long history. Cathy wanted to show me the chapel there, but it was locked. She says it is beautiful. Cathy is Catholic so she would have been able to stop me from doing something totally stupid in the cathedral, which I am likely to do. I told her how I am the ultimate cafeteria Catholic, as my friend Beth calls me, and my attendance on St. Blaise Day, which is coming up this weekend, by the way.

The University was founded by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, an order begun by a Bishop from France that came to Texas and saw the need just after the Civil War and brought 3 nuns over to begin a hospital in Galveston. They have done some amazing things.

Their cemetery was small, spare, and very peaceful. I posted a picture yesterday. Here are some more:

This is the entrance to the cemetery with roses and a guardian angel and a child. The nuns ran an orphanage that had a terrible fire in the 1910s. Cathy knew so many stories about the nuns, the convent, the orphanage, and all of San Antonio. She was a great tour guide.


Like a military cemetery, the graves were (mostly) alike and lined up so neatly. On all of these older graves, there were death dates, but no birth dates. On flat gravestones that were newer (and I didn’t take pictures), they did have both birth and death.


This is the grave of one of the first 3 nuns that came to start this order in Texas. I wonder how old she was when she came? Can you imagine the sacrifices she had already made in her life to become a nun and then to leave the relative modern life of France in the 1860s to come to war-torn Texas with only 2 other nuns to begin hospitals and schools? Amazing. You see she did die in France, so she did get to return at some point, but then her body was returned here.


Looking toward the rear of the cemetery and a statue of the Jesus with the “flaming heart” that you see in Mexican culture so often. Another picture of that beautiful oak tree coming up. To the left of the tree is an altar.


This is the altar up close. I really would not have noticed it and thought of it as an altar if Cathy hadn’t pointed that out to me. I have not been to Catholic cemeteries enough or haven’t been observant enough to realize that is what they are there for. She said the tradition of the altar at the cemetery had been going away, but is coming back again.


And the final picture, this beautiful oak tree, which really was the most outstanding focal point of the cemetery. It was easy to imagine the founders of the cemetery choosing this spot because of the spreading arms of the oak, because I am sure they were not much smaller when the cemetery was begun over 100 years ago.  Imagine it without the fence, the parking lot, the cars, and envision this area away from the city center and a peaceful convent cloistered from the city and the world, as the nuns and a priest buried the first sister of their order.


That was just stop ONE of our day and we hadn’t even had lunch yet. I could have been satisfied with just this one beautiful cemetery, but there was a lot more to come. And we’ll get to that eventually in Part II.

January 4, 2013

Musical Deaths in 2012

Filed under: Music,My Job,Radio stuff,Taphophilia — Janice @ 12:03 am

When I went through my diary for 2012 I made note of which celebrities made it into the diary. Sure, I made note of ALL of them in my Obit Club on Facebook and emailed about them with my friends. If I were still in radio I would have been spinning the songs from the people that were musical. But only a few were famous enough to be remembered ALL the way until I went to bed and thought about them that night. I  may have missed one, but the celebrities that were famous enough for my diary in 2012 were:  Whitney Houston, Davy Jones, Dick Clark, Kitty Wells, and Nora Ephron.  A disc jockey/TV personality, 3 musicians/singers, and a writer.

I saw a good video today from the New York Times that had the musical deaths of 2012 and short clips of their music. It’s here for you. Short commercial at the beginning. Etta James is the very first one. Mark worked with her a couple of times over the last few years. This week he was framing up some pictures he took of her and also a cool poster he took down from a telephone pole in Dallas from a concert. It looks like a poster from the 1950s, but it was a concert in the 1990s or so. When he worked with her at the Paramount Theater he had her autograph it for him. He is framing it up for display now. It’s a good one.

Mark’s been framing a lot of the pictures of artists he has worked with and had the opportunity to photograph. For Christmas he gave a photo of B.B. King to one nephew and a photo of Tony Bennett to the other. It’s nice to be able to tell them each good stories about how nice these legends are in person and what a joy it is to work with them, around them, for them. I suppose Mark has lots of pictures in his computer of artists that were jerks to him, but they never make it to print and certainly don’t get framed.

Post Script: When I think of musical deaths, I think of two more recent ones. I was in my current job as a contractor when Michael Jackson died. I was in a small office and my boss was working across the hall in her office. I had seen some new flashes about Michael Jackson being in the hospital, but certainly didn’t expect it to be The End. Suddenly, my boss shouts from her office, loud enough for us all, up and down the hall, to hear, “Holy Shit, Michael Jackson is dead.” There was still some speculation that it wasn’t true, but confirmation wasn’t long in coming on that one. The other memory was in the same job, but just this year when Whitney Houston died. She died on a weekend and I don’t remember how I heard, probably like everyone, from the computer (and my ever-ready Obit Club), and there were tributes on TV and news stories about her all weekend long. On Monday afternoon – afternoon—at work we were at our cubicles all working away (new building, new arrangement) and a co-worker that is still living in a technological void pipes up with “Whitney Houston is dead!” We all said, Yes, we knew. And added under our breath that we had the Internet, a TV, and friends.

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