Friday, March 5, 2010

He Never Promised Me A Rose Garden

He lived his life in the papers.


Thank God.

In the 1920's, San Antonio, Texas experienced a housing boom, and since the Great Depression was slow in coming to Texas for a number of reasons, the prosperity of the 1920's lasted a little longer than in other states.  In the 1930's public housing was on the rise as slums were cleared out, and then in the 1940's another housing boom occurred.

And apparently my grandfather, Joseph Marshall [a.k.a. Big Paw Paw], was in the middle of it all.  If you believe what you read in the newspapers, that is.

When I first started researching my grandfather, I didn't really know much about him, other than he wasn't a nice man.  In fact, if I recall correctly, the word, "mean" has been used to describe him a few times.  Turns out he had a lot of secrets, and maybe - just maybe - if he hadn't been so secretive - you know, kept everything inside- he would've been nicer.  Or at least remembered in a lot nicer way.  And maybe I wouldn't have been so nosy about his life.  

However, he was secretive and I am nosy.

One of the things I did know when I started researching my grandfather [who died 3 years before I was born] was that he had several lumber yards in San Antonio and he'd been involved in demolition throughout the city.  And both of these are true because I've verified them through land records, newspapers, and city directories.  However, that wasn't really the whole story.  There was a fourteen year difference between my grandfather's and grandmother's ages, and by the time "Big Paw Paw" married my grandmother, he'd already lived another life.  Literally.  A life that he kept to himself.

But if he thought that he took his secrets with him to the grave, he was sadly mistaken.  I have some of his genes in me [Goodness, I hope not the bad ones.], and I can be a little tenacious when properly motivated.

And my grandfather's story really motivates me.

If he had wanted to "fly underneath the radar," then he should've stayed out of the papers, but lucky for me, he didn't.  With the combination of census records, city directories, historical newspapers, and historical land records, I've pieced together some of my grandfather's work & business history, and here's what I found:

According to the 1910 census, Big Paw Paw and his younger sister, Mary, were living with one of their older married sisters in Galveston, Texas.  [Another Mary ~rolling eyes heavenward~  This is the Mary that married a Harry who owned a dairy.  I swear it.  I couldn't make this stuff up.] Anywho, "Big Paw Paw" was a fisherman with his brother-in-law at the time.  He must've mentioned being a fisherman to my dad once, because on one of our many fishing trips on the Laguna Madre Bay, my dad shared with me that his dad had been a fisherman in Galveston.  [I've pointed out on the map below where the Laguna Madre is, but to get an idea of where it is in relationship to Galveston, San Antonio, and Texas, click on the link for the bigger map below and "zoom out."

View Texas Coast in a larger map

Big Paw Paw married his sister-in-law, Emma Rosin in San Antonio, Texas in 1917, which was just before he went off to fight in World War I.  [His sister Jane had previously married Emma's older brother, Otto Rosin.]  When he came back, he and Emma were living in San Antonio, Texas, and his listed occupation was a tree surgeon in the 1920 census.

As I shared this week in my Wordless Wednesday post, he must've had a green thumb.  In a San Antonio Express newspaper article dated 12 Nov 1922, Big Paw Paw is pictured with a rose that had a 63-inch stem that he had grown.  I wonder if my dad knew this about his father.  Growing up, I remember countless times working in the yard with my dad, including our rose garden.  He loved it so much that he bought and we ran a plant nursery for a while.  And If you've been reading my stories, you can probably guess my dad was quite the entrepreneur (i.e., truck & trailer business, pet shop, plant nursery, etc.).  Kinda like Big Paw Paw.

Three years later in a newspaper ad on 20 Dec 1925, he's listed as a "Consulting, Developing Landscape Engineer" for the San Pedro Arms apartment building which was touted in the San Antonio Express newspaper as "San Antonio's Newest and Most Modern Apartment Building."  And his business address is listed as well, which made identifying him a lot easier.  [How lucky can I get, right?]  I'm inclined to think this building development may have been where he added real estate to his list of business activities.  Just a guess, though.

Emma is listed as Big Paw Paw's wife until 1923 in historical land records that I have found on the County Clerk's website for Bexar County.  [All of them digitized & available for free. ~ "God love 'em," as my Gran and mom used to say.]  The twelve-page listing of his land records [Yes, I said, "TWELVE."] is a veritable goldmine of information on my grandfather's business transactions, at least, the ones involving land.  He didn't just have a house and building wrecking company and lumber yards.  He purchased real estate, wrecked [if necessary] homes, built homes, sold and/or rented homes.  It's apparent to me from these records that Big Paw Paw liked to be involved in all aspects of the real estate process.  My dad always said he had a home & building wrecking company, but he also told me his dad had taught him to be a carpenter.  I have several photos of my dad when he was little on the work-site with Big Paw Paw.  It seems that Big Paw Paw believed in learning how to work hard from an early age, and that's probably where my dad got that silly idea from and why I began working for my dad at the age of 8.   Additionally, after my dad graduated from college there are land transactions that he executed on my grandfather's behalf, which coincides with what my dad told me about him working for Big Paw Paw early on in his and my mother's marriage.  It makes me wonder why the "home & building wrecking company" memory was bigger to my dad than the rest of the business that Big Paw Paw did.  

Maybe Big Paw Paw didn't talk much about his business activities.  I'm guessing Big Paw Paw wasn't much of a talker.  Period.  Well, it does seem, though, that he was a big talker with the women.  

[For what it's worth, I think he was pretty good lookin', and apparently I'm not alone in my thinkin'.]

Speaking of Big Paw Paw's women, I haven't found Emma on any transactions after 1923, nor have I found a death certificate for her.  She just vanishes into thin air, or she got the hell outta Dodge.  However, Big Paw Paw's land transactions continue consistently, and amongst them is an affidavit dated 5 Dec 1927 [but filed 19 Mar 1928] where he's talking about how he had purchased a particular piece of property before his marriage to his wife Oveta Marshall who had left him 6 months ago, and that she had no interest in this particular property.  Now, I know some of what goes on with Oveta and this property, especially what identifies this Joseph Marshall as Big Paw Paw, but I don't know the whole story.  Like, who the heck is Oveta?  Is this Emma?  However, their divorce story is waiting for me.  In another land transaction in 1928 that pertains to this property, to Oveta, and to Big Paw Paw, everyone was kind enough to leave me the cause number and judicial district court that the divorce was filed in.  [Thank you.]  

Anyhow, I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of Big Paw Paw and his wives and women.  And since Big Paw Paw apparently left really nice paper trails, I suspect I'll be finding a lot more about them.  At this point, it seems that the women that dealt with Big Paw Paw warrant a story and post of their own [and quite possibly a medal, in my humble opinion.  *rolling eyes heavenward*]

While Oveta Marshall never appears in any land transactions, if indeed Oveta is not Emma, Big Paw Paw has a ton more of land transactions through right after he died in 1968.  These last transactions were carried out by the executrix of his will, who interestingly wasn't my grandmother.  [But I'll leave that to his wives' and women's post.]  His land purchases, like so many others at the time, made the newspapers.  [Thank God.]  Big Paw Paw also used the classified section to sell and/or rent his homes.  All of these write-ups and ads in the newspapers usually included his address.  Below is an example of 2 of his many purchases.  It's from a write-up in 5 Apr 1936 in the San Antonio Express "Real Estate and Classified" section where he purchased 2 properties from a Mr. Wm. F. Schutz in San Antonio.  What's so neat about this one is there are articles on the same page describing the rapid growth of San Antonio, how it was starting to drive-up the prices of real estate, and they were encouraging buyers to buy now before the prices went up.  It appears to me that Big Paw Paw was right in the middle of all this real estate hullabaloo, better known as the San Antonio housing boom that started in the 1920's.  Of course, buying houses at the time would turn out to be a big mistake for most people as the Great Depression was right around the corner, and many of these same people who bought homes would be losing them.  However, the enterprising person that he was, Big Paw Paw was right there to rent them a house.

Additionally, I found in the 4 May 1935 issue of the San Antonio Express where he'd made a formal complaint of "theft of residence" against a Mr. Ben Nathan of the Loan & Wrecking Company.  Apparently they were squabbling over who actually owned a particular house and property and Mr. Nathan had already taken the house apart and reused the lumber in several new houses.  Big Paw Paw claimed he had owned the property and that Mr. Nathan had stolen it from him.  No outcome was printed in the paper, so I'll have to go down to the courthouse for that one.  I have a feeling that they're gonna know me at the courthouse almost as much as they knew my Big Paw Paw.  [Snort.]

Some of Big Paw Paw's personal life can be gleaned from the newspapers as well.  [Thank God.]  In the San Antonio Light on 3 Jul 1937, I found where he'd filed a lawsuit in the 45th District Court against his older sister Jane Rosin over a title and for damages.  Now because of the date, I have an inkling as to what this was about, but I need those records to know for sure.  [And I'm SO gonna get my hands on those records. ]

Likewise, Big Paw Paw filed for divorce [again?] from an Ola Mae Marshall and the notice was listed in the San Antonio Light newspaper on 28 May 1936.  I have some suspicions about this marriage and divorce, and when I get my little hands on those records and figure out all his wives and women, I'll let you know. [rolling eyes heavenward]

Additionally, I had some more luck in the city directories for Big Paw Paw and my grandmother that yielded me not only addresses, but the name of his company, Burnet Wrecking Company.  I'm guessing that he named his company after Burnet Street located in San Antonio, which is named after David G. Burnet who was the first provisional President of the Republic of Texas.  Just a guess though.

Also, Big Paw Paw was not afraid, apparently, to do business outside his comfort zone because there are several classified ads where he was selling some horses and some puppies in the San Antonio Light newspaper.  Basically, I think Big Paw Paw found opportunities to make a buck and wasn't afraid to capitalize on them.

The old-fashioned way.

The American way.

How else and where else could the youngest son of a Prussian immigrant farmer go from being a fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico to a wheelin' and dealin' businessman in San Antonio, Texas?

As I mentioned before, I never knew my Big Paw Paw, and he certainly never promised me a "rose garden," but he certainly gave me the "fertilizer" and "green thumb" in order to grow one.  And you can bet your bottom dollar that I'll be sharing more of his "rose gardens" with you.  

In the meantime, go see if some of your ancestors lived their lives in the papers.

The newspapers, that is.

You never know.  They may have been married to my Big Paw Paw, or maybe he sued them.  [Snort.] 

Sources and Credits:

Handbook of Texas Online, s.v. "," (accessed 4 Mar 2010).

The San Antonio Housing Authority: The Evolution of Public Housing. (accessed 4 Mar 2010).

"1910 United States Census," database,, ( : accessed Jan 2007), entry for Joseph Marschall (age 17), p.4A, Galveston, Texas; citing "NA film no. T624-1554."

"1920 United States Census," database,, ( : accessed Jan 2007), entry for Joseph Marshall (age 27), p.4A, San Antonio, Texas; citing "NA film no. T625-1779."

Ann M. Tolley, Archives Technician, National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis Missouri, to Caroline Pointer, letter, 18 Oct 2007, summation of military personnel records of Joseph Marshall; Marshall Family, Caroline Pointer's Research Files; privately held by Caroline Pointer, Conroe, Texas.

"The San Pedro Arms," San Antonio Express, 20 Dec 1925, p.A5; digital image, ( : accessed 28 Feb 2010), Historical Newspaper Collection.

"Business Leasing New Sites Here," San Antonio Express, 5 Apr 1936, Real Estate & Classified section, col.4; digital image, ( : accessed 28 Feb 2010), Historical Newspaper Collection. 

"Theft of Residence Charged in Complaint," San Antonio Express, 4 May 1935, p.16, col.2; digital image, ( : 28 Feb 2010, Historical Newspaper Collection.

"Courts: New Suits Filed in 45th District Court, Judge S.G. Taylor," San Antonio Light, 3 Jul 1937, p.12B, col.1; digital image, ( : 28 Feb 2010), Historical Newspaper Collection.

"Courts: New Suits Filed in 37th District Court, Judge Harry L. Howard," San Antonio Light, 28 May 1936, p.12B, col.7; digital image, ( : 28 Feb 2010), Historical Newspaper Collection.

John F. Worley Directory Co, Worley's San Antonio City Directory, 1938-1939 (John F. Worley Co., 1939), 848; digital image, ( : 28 Feb 2010), U.S. City Directories.

John F. Worley Directory Co, Worley's San Antonio City Directory, 1938-1939 (John F. Worley Co., 1939), 170; digital image, ( : 28 Feb 2010), U.S. City Directories.

John F. Worley Directory Co, Worley's San Antonio City Directory, 1948 (John F. Worley Co., 1948), 679; digital image, ( : 28 Feb 2010), U.S. City Directories.

"Bexar County, 1837-1963 Historical Records," Bexar County Clerk's Office, Bexar County, Texas - County Clerk ( : Mar 2007), database and digital images, "Deed, Emma Marshall Grantee and Joseph Marshall Grantor, 21 May 1923," bk 724, p.203.

"Bexar County, 1837-1963 Historical Records," Bexar County Clerk's Office, Bexar County, Texas - County Clerk ( : Mar 2007), database and digital images, "Affidavit, Joseph Marshall, Filed 7 Mar 1928," bk 1019, p.3.

"Bexar County, 1837-1963 Historical Records," Bexar County Clerk's Office, Bexar County, Texas - County Clerk ( : Mar 2007), database and digital images, "Transfer, Joseph Marshall, Jr., Grantor and B.J. Cater, Grantee, 17 Jan 1962," bk.555, p.551.

"Bexar County, 1837-1963 Historical Records," Bexar County Clerk's Office, Bexar County, Texas - County Clerk ( : Mar 2007), database and digital images, "Deed of Trust, John & Josephine Marschall, Jr. Grantor and Farm and Home Savings and Loan Grantee, 17 Mar 1928," bk.1052, p.159.


  1. Oh, this looks like fun. I'll be reading eagerly.

  2. Interesting story, Caroline. Isn't it fun digging and then coming up with gems like this? I always enjoy reading your blog.

  3. What a fun and interesting story. Can't wait to hear about all the women. :) Love your writing style! Your posts are always a joy to read!

  4. What more can I say? I love it too!

    Keep these ancestor stories coming!

    Bill ;-)
    Author of "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories"

  5. Well, I was about to say "Caroline, your writing style makes for such a fun read," but now I can't, 'cause everyone will just think I copied off of Mavis. Sheesh. I can't have that! I must say something completely original! So I'm goin' with "Ditto what Mavis said!"

  6. Oh me three what Mavis and T.K. said!

    Don't you just love newspapers? It is one of the first places I look when researching.

  7. That is a GREAT presentation! Excellent job and beautiful....citations! ;)


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