• The decline and fall of San Antonio’s East Side

    A powerful story by Gilbert Garcia and video by Vianna Davila explore the rich history and slow decline of San Antonio’s East Side.

    The decline and fall of San Antonio s East Side   John TedescoThe video is different from your typical TV news broadcast. You don’t see Vianna talking into a microphone and interjecting herself into the scene. Instead, the video has a documentary-style feel to it. Vianna patiently let images and sound tell the story. Awesome.

  • How much did it cost to save the Alamo?

    The Alamo at Night

    One of the cool features of Bexar County’s digital archive is that you can do crazy keyword searches for people like “David Crockett” and other historic figures in San Antonio to discover deeds and other public records filed in their name. Some of these records document important events in the city’s history.

    Out of curiosity, I ran a search for “Daughters of the Republic of Texas” and sorted the results by date to look for deeds filed in 1905, when the nonprofit group became the custodians of the Alamo.

    I found this deed describing how the Daughters, with the financial help of Texas lawmakers and wealthy benefactor Clara Driscoll, had paid $75,000 to the merchants who owned the Long Barrack on the Alamo grounds. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $1.8 million in today’s dollars.

    The deed says the Daughters were incorporated for “the patriotic purpose of acquiring historic ground and perpetuating the memory and spirit of the men and women who achieved and maintained the independence of Texas and cherishing and preserving the unity of Texas.” The deed describes how the Daughters released the property to the state of Texas. The state owns the Alamo; the Daughters take care of it.

    If you’re a history buff, you could enjoy hours of nerdy fun finding these kinds of primary documents.

    Notice how this record is just a piece of the story. Clara Driscoll helped save the Alamo’s Long Barrack by opening her pocketbook, so her name is in the deed. But there’s no mention of Adina De Zavala, who persuaded Driscoll to join the cause of preserving the Alamo, and later famously clashed with Driscoll about what to do with it.

    For tips about looking up historical records on the county’s Web site, there’s a FAQ page that offers search tips, and I blogged here about some pointers.

  • How to research a property’s history using Bexar County’s free records search

    I got some great feedback about the history of my 85-year-old house. Brian Chasnoff told me he spent an hour looking up records for his own house. But Brian and another blog visitor who e-mailed me said they had trouble using Bexar County’s Web page set up by County Clerk Gerry Rickhoff to look up public records. Here are a few tips to get started.

    When you visit the site, you have to register for free. Once that’s done you can log in and you’ll see this intro page:

    Bexar County Deed Search

  • Women and property in the 1920s: The not so good-old days

    John's HouseThis weekend my cousin and I used Bexar County’s amazing Web site of historical documents to research the history of my stucco house near Woodlawn Lake, which was built in 1924. I blogged yesterday about the racial restrictions that were written in the first deed for my home. The deed prohibited the homeowner from selling or leasing the property to black people.

    But the revelations about my house didn’t end there. We also found a notation in another record that shows what it was like to be a woman in the old days.

    My house at 1714 W. Summit was originally sold to G.A. Wiegand in December 1925. A year later, for reasons that aren’t explained, Wiegand sold the property to his wife, Hortanz, according to this 1926 deed.

    Here’s the interesting part: Check out the disclaimer by the notary at the top of the page:

    … Hortanz Wiegand, having been examined by me privily and apart from her said husband … acknowledged such instrument to be her act and deed … and she did not wish to retract it.

    In other words: Are you sure you know what you’re doing, little lady?

    It’s interesting how the dry, legalistic wording of the public documents for my house are a window to a different time. They offer a glimpse at how some people ranked higher than others in society.

    The Handbook of Texas offers a broad look at the evolving legal rights of women in Texas. In 1926, women had only recently been allowed to vote in the United States.

    Update: Just found this old law dictionary on Google’s book search and it explains how married women in Texas who wanted to buy or sell property had to be “privily examined” apart from their husbands, in order to make sure the women really wanted to do the transaction, and to make sure they understood it.