A Bit About the Bayou City: Houston, Texas

This isn’t a full-blown essay about Houston . . .but the city has come to mind several times over the past few weeks.  And that gave me an insight into genealogical research.

Houston is home to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (“Mission Control”) and the renowned M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and The University of Texas Health Science Center At Houston, among its many great institutions and companies.

My familial ties to Houston: Both sides of my family have connections to Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city.   My late father, Harold V. Manson (1932-2013), spent much of his childhood in Houston, where his mother, Jesse Beatrice Bowie (1909-1973), worked as a domestic.  Her brother, my dad’s uncle, Herman A. Walker (1906-2002), was an accomplished chef who worked at several of the Bayou City’s popular restaurants.    Uncle Herman worked as the chef for many years at an establishment called Ye Olde College Inn, within walking distance of Rice University. It’s been said that he invented a dish known as Oysters Herman, but I have reason doubt the veracity of that story.

Grace Gines Wedlaw (1916-2002) was my mother’s older sister.  Aunt Grace lived in Houston, having moved there from Shreveport where she was raised.  My mother grew up in Kansas City, having been born after my grandfather William Edward Gines (1898-1955) relocated there in 1920.   My mother adored her sister and visited Grace in Houston when the occasion arose.

Such an occasion arose in the summer of 1951.  My father had graduated from Houston’s Phillis Wheatley High School and was headed to Lincoln University in Jefferson City. As luck would have it, my mother had been at Lincoln for two years.  And serendipitously, she had been asked by the Lincoln admissions office to go to Houston and meet with incoming freshmen from that city.

In 1953, my parents were married in Houston.

My dad was an Army officer.  The Army required its members to state a “home of record,” a permanent domicile to which the member would intend to return at the end of the member’s service.  The first address I knew by heart was 3011 Truxillo Street, Houston, Texas.  That was Uncle Herman’s house and Dad’s home of record.  The law at the time imputed the father’s home of record to his wife and children.   So for the first 17 years of my life, I was legally a Texan. I had been there exactly twice, both visits before I was ten years old.

My first visit to  Houston came when I was three years old.  We had been living at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis when Dad got orders to Germany.  Before we embarked on that journey, we went to Kansas City and visited my mother’s family and then to our “legal” home, Houston.

I am told that I was so excited about all of our travel that I told multiple adults that we were going to drive along Chocolate Bayou Road all the way to Germany!

My second visit to Houston came when I was eight years old and I’ve written about that trip  here.

Recently I discovered the University of Houston publishes a magazine called Houston History. I subscribed right away after hearing about it. The subscription is only $15, a real bargain for what you get about the history of Houston. And if that were not fun enough, I stumbled upon the University of Houston’s digital collection. What a joy that is going to be as I explore it!

Then I found the video below about Houston after dark.  The sound is lousy, and the pictures sometimes difficult, but it is fascinating nonetheless. It’s called Expedition Houston! The Dark Hours (At about 4:28, there’s a shot of Ye Olde College Inn.) It was produced by Houston television station KTRK and now appears on J.R. Gonzales’ blog Bayou City History (originally posted August  4, 2011)

The deepened insight I had was just how important historical context is to genealogical research.  A researcher should seek out sources such as books and film about the times and places that were extant during one’s ancestors lives.  One probably won’t (but may be some will) find names and dates for specific family members, but of what significance are those names and dates without context? So don’t overlook contextual source materials!

Craig and Uncle Herman Walker, Houston, Texas, 1962

Craig and Uncle Herman Walker, Houston, Texas, 1962





April 2013
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