by Bob Brooke
On a recent trip to Texas, I visited the Institute of Texan Cultures. It seemed that "everyone and their brother" immigrated to that great state at some time during the 19th and early 20th ceutury. And because of this, and the fact that many of the ethnic groups there have kept excellent records, Texas, especially South Texas, offers a wealth of genealogical possibilities.
The State of Texas has one of the most diverse collections of ancestors from both Native American, European, Asian, and Hispanic descent. Visitors to the Institute quickly learn that everyone who came to Texas did not become a cowboy!
Originally opening as the Texas exhibit at HemisFair, the World's Fair held in San Antonio, Texas, in 1968, the Institute has grown to become part of the University of Texas at San Antonio, maintaining over 50,000 square feet of exhibits and a vast research library focusing on ethnic and cultural history with a photographic collection of over three million images.
This vast photographic archive includes images from the San Antonio Express-News and the San Antonio Light, featuring news photos from the early 1920s to the early 1990s. The General Photo Collection contains images of Texas life dating from the 19th century to the present. The Zintgraff Collection documents San Antonio life from the 1930s through 1987. A unique project of the Institute is Photo Heritage Days, held in towns throughout Texas, at which citizens can document and preserve historical photos. Photos collected are added to the archives.
The Institute Library is a major resource for Texas culture and history. In addition to the usual books and periodicals, the library contains oral histories, personal papers, microfilm documents and organizational records focused on ethnic heritage. The Library is open Monday through Friday, Noon-5:00 P.M. (Appointments are encouraged).
It's also a museum of artifacts from all the cultures that inhabited or immigrated to Texas. While New York City may be a melting pot for current immigration, the Institute of Texan Cultures is more than an a museum featuring exhibits of the 27 ethnic and cultural groups that settled the state. It's legislatively mandated as the state's center for the interpretation of the history and cultures of Texas.
The large building is divided into Four Corners, representing Native Americans, German (German , Polish and Czech), Tejano (Hispanic), and Others (Swiss, French, Dutch, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Ireland, Belgian, French, Greek, Lebanese, etc.) In all, 26 ethnic groups that can trace their ancestry to various parts of the world.
Since Mexico, which controlled Texas in the early 19th century, wanted more Catholics, 300 Irish families from the Southern states were transported to the region, totally changing the ethnic make-up of Texas forever. These immigrants formed St. Patrick's City, Corpus Christi.
When Texas won its independence from Mexico and became a republic, German, Polish and Czech families immigrated through Indianola, near Galveston. The first Polish settlement in the U.S., Pana Maria, was established in Texas. The Czechs brought more Catholics but also Moravians. The Wendish from East Germany brought Lutheranism with them.
By far, the largest group to immigrate to Texas was the Germans. One of the original German settlements, New Braunfels, lies up in the Texas Hill country, home to Lyndon Baines Johnson. The first tax-supported public school was established there.
After the Civil War and the emancipation of the slaves, hundreds of former slaves traveled west to Texas to become sharecroppers.
A 30-minute multi-media presentation, Faces and Places of Texas, in the museum's central dome shows the genealogical diversity that is Texas. While behind the Institute, in the Back 40 living history area, visitors can experience the life of early Texans in historical settings.
The Institute of Texan Cultures explores the Texas' diversity to learn more about the people behind the story–who they were, where they came from, how they lived. Visitors can touch a buffalo-hide teepee, grind corn in a Mexican jacal, examine the contents of a Lebanese peddler's pack. People come here to research