Oops! A Lesson Learned

As someone who prides himself on his genealogical research, I got a lesson in fact-checking a few years ago.

All my life, my parents and grandparents had told me that my ancestor Lorenzo Van Cleve had done much of the carpentry and cabinetwork in the Texas capitol, which the State Preservation Board describes as “an extraordinary example of late 19th century public architecture … widely recognized as one of the nation’s most distinguished state capitols.”

As a young boy, I was always proud to say my great-great-granddaddy built the capitol in Austin. When I had children of my own, I took them to the capitol and pointed with pride at the work our ancestor had done.

In 1988, the state of Texas held a Centennial celebration on the capitol grounds to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the dedication of building in 1888. When I realized for the first time that the capitol was built in 1888, I knew I had a problem. My second great grandfather – Lorenzo Van Cleve who was supposed to have done much of the carpentry and cabinetwork in the building – died in 1858!

Then I did the research I should have done long before. I found a receipt made out to Lorenzo Van Cleve and signed by Mirabeau Lamar, President of the Republic of Texas, for work done at the capitol – the original capitol building in Austin that was described by one Austin visitor as “without any pretensions to architectural beauty.” It was a small, plain, one-story building of approximately 800 square feet located several blocks away from today’s capitol building. Lorenzo Van Cleve had done minor repairs on an existing building.

I learned, however, that he did build a platform for a ceremony at noon on February 19, 1846, when the last President of the Republic of Texas, Anson Jones, lowered the flag of the Republic of Texas for the last time, saying, “The Republic of Texas is no more.” Then James Pickney Henderson, the first governor of the state of Texas, raised the same flag again – this time as the state flag of the 28th state in the United States.

Though I tried to correct the error with as many people as possible, who knows how many childhood schoolmates, family friends … even strangers were misled because I failed to follow the most basic rule of genealogy: research and document everything!

[tags] genealogy, research, Texas Capitol, Lorenzo Van Cleve[/tags]

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