Monday, May 9, 2011

Matrilineal Mystery Monday: License in Houston, Ceremony in Bremond - Why?

Charles and Elizabeth Guokas, early 1900s
I've spent much of the past few weeks trying unsuccessfully to find out more about my maternal great-grandparents, Charles Peter and Elizabeth Bonewitz/Boenewitch/Bovits/Banavich (I've seen it spelled all these ways) Guokas. More specifically, trying to find out just which last name is correct for Elizabeth's maiden name, and just when and how the two came to Texas from Lithuania.

Charles supposedly came to the United States in 1880, 1882, or 1890 (three different dates on three different censuses).  My mom wanted me to check's Russians to America, 1850-1896 Passenger and Immigration Lists CD-ROM, which I obtained through interlibrary loan. I'm not having much luck with it, though, perhaps because it only covers the ports of Baltimore, Boston, New Orleans, New York, and Philadelphia, and my great-grandparents perhaps came in through Galveston.

I do have a copy of their marriage license from Harris County, Texas, issued January 19, 1900:
It indicates that the marriage was solemnized on January 21 by Rev. Peter Litwora, Roman Catholic priest in Bremond, Texas, Robertson County. Which brought up the question: Why Bremond? Why not marry in Houston?

I don't have the answers, but I have a theory.

Bremond was founded in 1869 with a right-of-way through it to the Houston and Texas Central Railway Company.  One of the latter's investors included William Marsh Rice, namesake of Rice University in Houston, whose first wife was the daughter of Paul Bremond, a railroad executive for whom the town was named.  The first settlers were railway workmen and merchants who had followed the construction from Houston.  Charles was a locomotive fireman (at least according to the 1910, 1920, and 1930 census - can't find him on 1900 yet).

I do know that he was in Texas by 1892.  St. Mary's Catholic Church has a record of his marriage to Stefanie Jasielonis on January 10 of that year.  Church records also show the births of three children.  JoAnne was born and died in February, 1893, in nearby Hearne (also on the Houston and Texas Central Railway), and is buried at St. Mary's Cemetery.  Mary was baptized in February, 1895 - her godmother was Stefanie's sister Anna, who died at age 23 and was buried at St. Mary's Cemetery the following year.

Charles' and Stefanie's third daughter Anna Marie was born in January 1899, and Stefanie had died by August of that year.  Church records also record the marriage of Charles and Elizabeth in January 1900, after (family stories say) Charles advertised for a new wife back in the old country.  Charles' younger brother Joseph obtained a marriage license the same day as Charles  in Houston to marry Policina "Pauline" Cuniowskuna/Cylcernok (another one whose last name is spelled different ways in different documents).

It's not clear where the family was when daughter Elizabeth was born in 1901, but by August 1902, the family was definitely in Houston, as their home at 1314 Railroad Street is where second child Justice died.

St. Mary's Catholic Church, Bremond, TX, circa 1879-1908

St. Mary's Catholic Church in Bremond was founded by Polish immigrants.  One of their leaders, Joseph Bartula, kept a diary, and wrote a brief history of that community in 1894.  I found it interesting that St. Mary's had a Lithuanian priest, Casimir (Kazmierz) Polujanski, from November 1879 through mid-1887.  If my great-grandfather immigrated in 1880 or 1882, as some records indicate, he may have met this priest from his homeland, and perhaps felt comfortable at this otherwise-mostly-Polish church.

Bartula clearly did not like Father Polujanski, saying he "could not read or write" (probably not in Polish), and describing him as a "laggard," adding:
He was not a good priest but rather a cheater....He was only good in collecting dollars everwhere [sic]. Over a period of five years he collected several thousand dollars and then he left for Baltimore. There he brought a soloon [sic] from which he had a living.
Interestingly, when I did a search on Father Polujanski, I pulled up records from the Archives of Maryland Polonia at the University of Baltimore.  Polujanski is recorded as serving as a missionary to a couple of parishes in Pennsylvania in 1900.  There is also an interesting letter dated January 7, 1911, from a priest with Assumption Church in Keyser, WV, questioning the Baltimore archdiocese about Polujanski's status as a priest.

© Amanda Pape - 2011 - click here to e-mail me.

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