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Finding the Derry Family

November 25, 2019

UTSA Special Collections recently acquired a photo album of a San Antonio African-American family. Prior to researching the family, I only had the descriptions provided on some of the photographs in the album to tell me about this family. Some photos have a full name for their subjects while others only have a first name. Some photos provide the address pictured, others provide the city, but still others are completely blank.

I began by recording all of the descriptions, focusing on names and places. One photo in particular was key to my research. This photo identified Charles H. Derry as well as his residential address.

The Derry home.

Once I had Derry’s name and address, I dug into our Worley’s San Antonio city directories to see if he was listed. Indeed, in the 1921 directory, he was listed at the address on the photograph and alongside his name was his workplace. Later directories added further information to Derry’s story, including his job title, his wife’s name, job title, and workplace, as well as those of their son and daughter.

At this point, I had enough information about the Derry family to move on to other resources. My next stop was the HeritageQuest database. Many academic and public libraries have access to this database, which collects genealogical sources like local and family histories as well as U.S. Federal Census records up to 1940 and much more. Census records provided me with the family member’s approximate birth years, birthplaces, and their educational experience.  I also visited one of the San Antonio Public Library branches to access their onsite databases Ancestry Library and Fold3, which yielded death certificates and draft cards.

From there I searched both UTSA’s Digital Collections as well as The Portal to Texas History for each family member. The materials in these collections provided additional information on the family, including obituaries, funeral programs, and some of their social involvement. In UTSA’s Digital Collections, we have digitized our holdings of SNAP Magazine, a weekly San Antonio publication dedicated to reporting news from an African-American perspective. In The Portal to Texas History, users can search UTSA’s digitized issues of the San Antonio Register, the city’s second weekly newspaper focused on the local African-American community.

Based on all of this research, I have been able to put together the following narrative about the Derry family:

Charles Harry Derry, Jr. was born into a farming family in Flatonia, a town in Fayette County, Texas in 1883. His parents were Charles Sr. and Mattie (née Brooks) Derry, both of whom were born in Texas in 1864. Over in Gonzales County, a teamster named Allan A. and his wife Francis “Frankie” Smith gave birth to their second daughter, Mattie K. Smith. Allan had been born in Louisiana in 1855 and Frankie was a native Texan born in 1860. Mattie K.’s family eventually moved to San Antonio where she graduated from Riverside School on Rincon Street and went on to earn a bachelor of science degree from Prairie View State College and also attended the University of Southern California. 

Charles H. Derry, Jr. driving at the U.S. Arsenal.

By 1920, Charles Jr. was living in San Antonio with his wife Mattie K. and their son Elmore “Elmo” Vernon and daughter Johnnie Marvel. Charles was working as a chauffeur and then a foreman at the San Antonio U.S. Arsenal. Mattie K. was a teacher for 30 years, most of which were spent at Norris Wright Cuney Elementary School on Iowa Street. Their son, Elmo was a teacher at multiple schools, including Frederick Douglass Junior High School, Dunbar Junior High School, and Phillis Wheatley High School. Their daughter, Johnnie also taught early in her adulthood, but worked most of her life as a maid at the Karotkin Furniture Company.

The Derrys were active in the San Antonio community, especially in social organizations and church. Charles Jr. was an active member of the Utopia Culture Club and was a pallbearer at multiple funerals. Mattie K. was a member of numerous organizations, including the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority, the Order of Eastern Star, the Order of Calanthe, and the Worthy Counselors Council. She was also an active member of the St. Paul Methodist Church since childhood. Elmo was active in school groups, the Alamo Social Club, and the El Feyes Club. Johnnie, like her mom, was also a faithful member of St. Paul United Methodist Church.

The Derry family with their horse and carriage.

Both Elmo and Johnnie were college educated. While I have not yet found Elmo’s alma mater, Johnnie did attend Prairie View College. Both children married, but neither had children. It appears that Johnnie’s husband Clayborn Blevins died in World War II and Elmo’s wife Mattie (née DuBois) succumbed to a month-long illness in 1949. After his wife’s death, Elmo moved back in with his parents, where he would stay for the rest of his life.

Mattie K. was the first member of this nuclear family to pass in 1962. She was followed by her husband in 1970, her son in 1977, and her daughter in 2003. While their line ended 16 years ago, UTSA Special Collections keeps their stories alive by protecting materials that document their lives. We are honored to preserve their memories in perpetude.

Processing the Diana Kennedy Papers

October 28, 2019

Ealier this year, UTSA Special Collections was honored when renowned cookbook author Diana Kennedy chose us as the home for her archival papers and personal library. Since then, the books have been placed in our rare books vault and are currently being cataloged. As for Diana’s personal papers, yours truly (the Manuscripts Archivist) has been hard at work getting things ready for researchers to use. In the archives world, we call this “processing.” When archivists initially receive collections, we often don’t know the full extent of what we’ve been given. It’s also common for materials to present preservation problems. Processing typically involves identifying and resolving preservation concerns, and rehousing materials in to archival grade acid-free folders and boxes. It also involves organizing the papers in a way that is logical, and creating an inventory (called a finding aid), which is published online for researchers to see.

The Diana Kennedy papers are not yet open for research, but will be made available as soon as processing is complete. It is often very difficult to gauge the length of time it will take to process a collection; quantity of records, formats present in the collection, and condition of the materials all play a role. Until then, here’s an update on the work that has been done with the collection thus far.

The materials arrived packed in an assortment of luggage, but were immediately re-boxed into archival boxes upon receipt.

35 mm Slide photographs in labeled slide boxes.
Research files, notebooks, and a VHS tape.
Manila envelopes and Ziploc bags containing correspondence and research notes inside an archival box.

After the materials had been reboxed, I began surveying the collection and conducting background research on Diana Kennedy and her career. I made detailed notes about the contents of the collection. Here’s a quick summary of what I found:

  • Dates: 1949-2017 (bulk 1970s-1990s)
  • Numerous slide and print photographs, mostly of her land, work, travels, and friends.
  • Draft pages, outline notes, research files, and contracts for her cookbooks.
  • Correspondence, including letters with other renowned chefs and letters from fans.
  • Four large scrapbooks dating 1969-1986 which document her early career, including her receipt of the Order of the Aztec Eagle award.
  • Press clippings from magazines, news articles, etc.
  • A journal from when she moved into her home in Zitacuaro
  • Photos and handwritten research notes from her visits all over Mexico, organized by Mexican state. The bulk of recipes are located in these folders since she collected these recipes from locals throughout her travels.
  • A visitor’s sign-in book for her home.
  • Materials documenting the visit of HRH Prince Charles, including two signed letters and a telegram from Prince Charles, and a menu she created for him.
  • Project documentation for “Documentation of the Biodiversity of Mexican Gastronomy: Rescue of the Culinary Archives of Diana Kennedy” (in Spanish). This is a project which UNAM folks did for CONABIO, and there is a detailed photographic catalog of all the plants on Diana’s estate, (especially indigenous plants), as well as reports that analyze the recipes in her books, breaking them down by ingredients and identifying the source of the ingredients, noting whether ingredients are indigenous or not. Fascinating!

As I surveyed the collection, I looked for patterns and themes that would allow a logical organization of the materials to emerge. Eventually I was able to establish the arrangement of materials and began to place things in order.

Putting everything in order: it may look like a mess, but each one of those piles means something!
Research notes are being filed into archival folders, which are hand-labeled in pencil with the collection name, folder title, and date. Diana’s original folders are being kept inside the archival folders so that researchers can see how she organized her research. Folders containing materials in need of preservation work are temporarily flagged with post-its. After the organization and refoldering is complete, we’ll tackle this additional preservation work.
Slide photographs, previously stored in plastic boxes, are being rehoused in archival grade slide sheets. This will allow for greater protection of the slides while also allowing researchers to easily see several slides at once.

Stay tuned for further updates as we continue working with this collection! Access to the collection is currently closed while processing is ongoing, but Special Collections will make an announcement as soon as the collection is open for research. If you would like to be notified directly when the collection becomes available, please let us know:

Creepy Creatures and Other Cucuys: artwork from the Xavier Garza Papers

October 14, 2019

Xavier Garza was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley. He is an author, artist, and storyteller whose work focuses primarily on his experiences growing up in the small border town of Rio Grande City. Garza has exhibited his art and performed his stories in venues throughout Texas, Arizona and the state of Washington. Garza lives in San Antonio, Texas. His first book Creepy Creatures and Other Cucuys was published in 2004.

Artwork of creatures in different stages gives one a glimpse into the creative process of the artist and writer. Garza introduces the reader to supernatural characters plucked out of Mexican folklore, stories passed down across generations.

Garza has many young fans who are both charmed and scared by his creatures and stories.

The Xavier Garza Papers consist of typescript manuscripts, pencil and ink sketches, acrylic paintings and newspaper and magazine articles related to Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask , Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid, and Zulema and the Witch Owl. There are materials concerning Creepy Creatures and Other Cucuys and Kid Cyclone Fights the Devil and Other Stories. For more information, consult the online guide to the Xavier Garza Papers.

Special Collections Participates in Castroville Founders’ Day

September 30, 2019

On September 14th Castroville (The Little Alsace of Texas) celebrated the 175th anniversary of its founding.  Among the features at the day-long event were food, crafts, performances, tours, historical displays and reenactments.  At the invitation of the Landmark Inn State Historic Site, we displayed our photographs of Castroville in the millhouse at the historic property.

The nucleus of our sizable collection of Castroville images was assembled for the French exhibit at the Institute of Texan Cultures (Texas Pavilion) at HemisFair’68.  Subsequently, numerous local families shared their photos through loans or by participating at several photographic copy clinics conducted in Medina County in the 1990s.  In addition to those from private collections, our San Antonio Light Collection contains photographs taken for feature stories on Castroville.


Juli Favor, Special Collections volunteer, describes the photo collections at the display in the 1854 Haass-Quintle Mill.





















(Left to right) Les Tschirhart, Patricia Haass Tschirhart, and Olin Karm, descendants of Castroville pioneers, provide additional information for our catalog records.


Lacy Hans Bishop discovers a photograph of her great-grandfather, Harry Hans, in his butcher shop in Castroville.


Kathleen Wood, from Rio Medina, holds a photo of the wagon train that passed through Castroville on the way to San Antonio for the world premiere of “The Last Command,” in 1955. The photo brought back memories of that day when one of the movie stars asked Kathleen, then in elementary school, to sit beside him in one of the wagons.


Next to the photo display, Frank Marasco, a UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures volunteer interpreter, explains corn shucking, shelling, and milling.


Birds of a… leaf?

September 23, 2019

This post is written by archives student assistant, Jessica Mitchell.

As an archives student assistant working with our University Archivist, Kristin Law, I got to spend this summer immersing myself in UTSA’s rich history. During the course of completing a research assignment, I came across an interesting Roadrunner newsletter article entitled “Fowl Play?” which reported the mysterious toppling of a Rowdy topiary that used to be located on the Student Union’s southeast lawn. I had never heard of the topiary, but I love a good mystery, so I decided to investigate.

In 1996, ten years after the opening of the first portion of the Student Union (then called the University Center), a sizeable expansion was built to triple its size. This expansion, sometimes called University Center II, is probably the most iconic part of the Student Union today. Its unique facade has come to be the symbol of the Student Union as a whole. When the structure was complete, a topiary was placed on the lawn to decorate the space. A topiary is a decorative figure made of a metal frame covered in plant material and in this case, it was a figure of Rowdy. Rowdy can be seen just after installation in a Paisano photograph.

Paisano picture of roadrunner topiary from September 24, 1996

Rowdy topiary photographed by Stephanie Dubick for a September 24, 1996 issue of the Paisano. (UTSA Student Publications Collection, UA 01.05)

All was well for the plant-covered bird until December 1997, when Rowdy was found lying on the grass. According to the newsletter, suspicions were split between an accident and an act of vandalism, but there was very little evidence to go by. Rowdy was moved to the greenhouse for repairs.

Cartoon version of Rowdy from the 1990s

An older version of the Rowdy logo, from before the 2008 redesign. The topiary’s shape was based on this illustration. Courtesy UTSA Communications.

This is where the formal record ends. It is also readily obvious that no topiary exists on the Student Union lawn today. I began to wonder about the outcome of the toppling incident, and whether Rowdy was ever restored to its spot near the Window Lounge. Since caring for Rowdy was a groundskeeping responsibility, I decided to talk to them first.

Quick research revealed that campus plants are in the care of the Facilities department. I contacted a Facilities employee who was around at the time of the 1997 incident. She was happy to field my questions, but, unfortunately, she wasn’t able to answer many of them. Rowdy’s former caretaker retired several years ago, taking firsthand knowledge of the toppling’s aftermath with her. Rowdy’s removal date is also unknown, but I learned that it was removed due to rust.

I contacted the campus police next. Since there had been a suspicion of vandalism, I hoped to get my hands on a copy of the police report filed. This turned out to be impossible as well; the police archives do not go back far enough. The officer I spoke to was able to give me a crucial piece of the puzzle, however. In speaking to some of his colleagues who were on the force during the incident, he learned that it was not thought to be vandalism in the end.

Having exhausted other resources, I shifted my search to photographs. One day near the HEB Student Union ballroom, I spotted a familiar character in the wedding portrait of two alumni who married on campus in 2009. Standing on the grass behind them is a haggard Rowdy! This discovery was my cue to look for more photographs, and I found a few good ones. Photographs of the topiary from the years 1996 to 2010 exist, and by 2014 it seems to have disappeared for good. The jewels of my search are closeups taken in 2007 by the UTSA Communications and Marketing department. Rowdy’s foliage is artificial in these pictures, rather than the natural vines which were originally used.

Rowdy topiary on the Student Union lawn, 2007

Rowdy topiary on the Student Union lawn, 2007. Photograph by UTSA Communications and Marketing department. (UTSA University Communications Photographs, UA 16.01.01)

Most specific details have been lost to time, but I can assemble a plausible “life history” for the Rowdy topiary based on my findings. My imagined timeline is as follows: roughly the first year of its existence, from its 1996 installation to the fall semester of 1997, was uneventful. After it toppled over in December of 1997, it was removed for repairs. All of the plant material was stripped so the frame could be welded back together. Fake leaves may have replaced real leaves at this time, or maybe later. In either case, Rowdy was placed back on the lawn once repairs were complete. Things were quiet and uneventful again for its remaining years. Its covering of artificial vine was replaced as needed until maintenance became an uphill battle. Artificial plants don’t last long in our local climate and the topiary’s iron frame gradually rusted over the decade-and-a-half it stood in place. Rowdy was eventually removed for good.

Today, the Rowdy topiary is largely forgotten. Its base is still on the Student Union lawn, empty and easy to overlook. Sometimes Rowdy can be spotted in UTSA Today news articles which use old photos, such as the article announcing the opening of the Dreamers Center. Beyond this, it only exists as an obscure piece of campus history trivia.

Topiary base and detached foot as they appear in 2019

Topiary base and detached foot as they appear in 2019. Photograph by Jessica Mitchell.

Celebrate Mexican Independence Day with Chiles en Nogada!

September 13, 2019
Margarita Carrillo Arronte, Mexico : the Cookbook (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2014), 397. [TX716.M4 C37 2014]

As you are preparing for your family’s Mexican Independence Day dinner this Monday evening, consider making one of these chiles en nogada recipes. Chiles en nogada, or chiles in walnut sauce, is one of the more patriotic dishes you can make, with all of the colors of the Mexican flag represented without any alterations to the dish. Not only does this dish look patriotic, it was also created around the same time Mexico became an independent nation. As Palazuelos and Tausend note in their book México the Beautiful Cookbook,

This dish…was created by the imaginative Augustine nuns of Puebla for a visit by Mexico’s very own emperor, Don Agustín de Iturbide, who, after the War of Independence, lasted a mere eleven months in office.

Susanna Palazuelos, Marilyn Tausend, and Laurie Gruenbeck, México the Beautiful Cookbook : Authentic Recipes from the Regions of Mexico (San Francisco: Collins Publishers, 1991), 214. [TX716 .M4 P35 1991]
Susanna Palazuelos, Marilyn Tausend, and Laurie Gruenbeck, México the Beautiful Cookbook : Authentic Recipes from the Regions of Mexico (San Francisco: Collins Publishers, 1991), 215. [TX716 .M4 P35 1991]

In addition to being patriotic, chiles en nogada is also seasonally-appropriate as it is often served in August and September when walnuts are at their ripest. If you are wanting to produce a more traditional dish, you may want to soak the walnuts overnight in milk, which would require you to start your preparations on Sunday. The recipes provided here will give you options for more traditional preparation, faster prep, and a vegetarian option as well. The vegetarian recipe comes from El Cocinero Vegetariano, which was written in Spanish, so our Student Clerk, Carla Burgos, kindly translated it for those who need an English translation. Vegans can use an egg replacer and sub vegan cream cheese and milk for this recipe. Click on the links below to download the recipes transcribed by Carla:

Not feeling like chiles en nogada? Our now-defunct blog La Cocina Histórica featured several patriotic dishes from Josefina Velázquez de León’s book Los 365 Menus del Año in a 2015 post about Mexican Independence Day. See all the recipes here:

If you try one of these recipes, let us know in the comments how it turned out!

Introducing our new Special Collections Librarian, Stephanie Noell

September 4, 2019

Greetings, Top Shelfers! I am delighted to join UTSA Special Collections as the new Special Collections Librarian and continue the work of my predecessor, Agnes Czeblakow. My responsibilities include promoting Special Collections through collaborations with faculty on integrating Special Collections materials in their classes and through outreach and fundraising activities. In addition to promoting Special Collections, I will be acquiring, maintaining, and preserving rare books for the Rare Books Collection. My previous professional positions and academic programs have prepared me well for my duties here.

Before moving to San Antonio, I lived in Savannah, GA and worked as a Research and Instruction Librarian at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). This position required me to work closely with students and faculty on research instruction and learn a little about a lot of very different creative fields. I also worked closely with the Archives and Special Collections Librarian to promote Special Collections materials like fashion periodicals, animation archives, and artists’ books. My experience at SCAD strengthened my instruction skills and opened up the world of artists’ books to me, so I am excited to combine both of these interests in the growing artists’ books holdings of Special Collections as well as the expanding Special Collections instruction program here at UTSA.

Prior to working at SCAD, I was a Librarian at Mountain View College (MVC) in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas where I worked with many first generation, nontraditional, and other underserved student populations. My liaison responsibilities with humanities, social sciences, and technical skills departments at MVC required me to collect materials in support of our programs and of interest to our students. Since many of our programs focused on Texas, Mexican-American, and African-American history and culture, I collected titles for the library to further student knowledge in these areas. My experience with underserved student populations will help me bridge gaps for some of UTSA’s first generation students who may not be familiar with archival collections. And collecting materials for more specific subject areas will aid me in identifying rare books that would be a good fit for UTSA’s Rare Books Collection. I am especially excited to continue growing the Mexican Cookbook Collection!

While I am new to San Antonio, UTSA is not the first UT campus I have worked at, nor is it my first Special Collections Librarian position. Prior to MVC, I was the Special Collections Librarian over the Texas Labor Archives and Texas Political History Collection at UT Arlington. In my role at UTA, I loved making connections with researchers, activists, and political leaders through Special Collections visits, exhibit openings, and community events, so I am looking forward to doing outreach to promote UTSA’s amazing Special Collections materials.

The impetus for my original (2007) move to Texas was graduate school. I received my MS in Library and Information Science as well as a MA in Environmental Philosophy from UNT in 2011. My philosophy program focused heavily on Latin American environmental philosophy, so I did a lot of background research in Latin American history and culture as a result. This focus formed a thread that has woven its way throughout my career thus far and I am looking forward to continuing this professional tapestry at UTSA. So watch this space, Top Shelfers, for future highlights of the gems of UTSA’s Rare Books Collection!

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