Tag Archive | Books/Documents

Object: Indulgence

Materials: Paper/Paint

Dante between Purgatory and Florence by Domenico di Michelino, 1465. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

This object is a plenary indulgence, which is a religious document used by the Catholic church. Indulgences are used to grant the forgiveness of sins without having to do penance for them or be punished by spending time in purgatory. In the Catholic belief system, purgatory is where a person’s soul goes after death to be cleansed of its sins and prepared to enter heaven. This cleansing process is usually thought to involve being punished for any sins the person committed while alive. The most famous description of purgatory was written by Dante in his Divine Comedy. Dante described it as an island mountain, and divided it into three sections, Ante-purgatory, Purgatory proper, and the Earthly Paradise. Ante-purgatory was located on the lower slopes of the mountain, and was essentially a waiting area for souls who have yet to enter the punishment area of purgatory. The upper part of the mountain consists of seven terraces, each of which corresponds to one of the seven capital sins (popularly known today as the “seven deadly sins”). Eden, Dante’s Earthly Paradise is found at the very top of the mountain.

A Peasant Girl buying an Indulgence by François Marius Granet, 1825. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

There are two types of indulgences. These are partial or plenary, meaning complete or absolute. The difference between these two forms is in how much punishment in purgatory they forgave you for. These were given by bishops and church officials starting in the 11th and 12th centuries. These documents have a long history and have a large importance for the church and it’s members.

Indulgences have stirred controversy in the past however. Some felt that the church needed to reform and indulgences were at the top of the list. In the Ninety Five Theses, Martin Luther criticized catholic doctrine of the time, and in particular, the way indulgences were used. These criticisms would add fuel to a fire that had been strengthening for centuries. While the Protestant Reformation happens soon after Luther’s theses were published, earlier events show that the desire for reform in the Catholic church was not a new concept. The religious movements among the Waldensians, Hussites, as well as the Lollards were all challenges to the Catholic system long before Luther. [Ryan Farrell, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Carson, Herbert M. 1965. Roman Catholicism today. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Cassone, Alberto, and Carla Marchese. “The Economics of Religious Indulgences.” Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE) / Zeitschrift Für Die Gesamte Staatswissenschaft 155, no. 3 (1999): 429-42.

Hardon, John A. 1975. The Catholic catechism. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

Hillerbrand, Hans Joachim. 2009. The Protestant Reformation. New York: Harper Perennial.

Wengert, Timothy J. 2015. Martin luther’s ninety-five theses: With introduction, commentary, and study guide. Augsburg Fortress Publishers.


Exhibit floor highlight


Object: Drawing


“Mary Crownover Rabb Churning”
Michael Waters
20th century
Materials: Paper and ink

This object is a pen and ink drawing titled “Mary Crownover Rabb Churning” by Michael Waters. Mary Crownover Rabb wrote one of the first accounts of early life on the Texas frontier. Mary penned her story of life on the frontier for her children and grandchildren to read. Originally born in North Carolina in 1805, Mary met and married John Rabb in 1821 and in 1823 their family moved to Stephen F. Austin’s colony in Texas. Over the course of their life in Texas, the Rabb family moved several times, establishing temporary homes along the Brazos and Colorado rivers. Mary’s life was not without hardship. When John was away on business, she would try to ease the children’s fear of the nearby Karankawa and Tonkawa Indians. The family lost one of their homes to flooding. Later, when Texans fled their homes in 1836 in fear of Santa Anna’s forces known as the Runaway Scrape, one of Mary’s children died. Her description of those first few years in Texas was published under the title Travels and Adventures in Texas in the 1820’s.

Painting of Stephen F. Austin, 1840 via Wikimedia Commons

Painting of Stephen F. Austin, 1840 via Wikimedia Commons

Life on the Texas frontier was hard for early pioneer women. Many Anglo-American women who journeyed to Texas migrated with their families. At the time, women were expected to stay home while men went virtually everywhere else. Women managed all the child-rearing responsibilities including education and socialization. But they also helped to clear land and plant crops. They were also in charge of sewing all their families clothing. Women who were fortunate enough to be literate expressed themselves and cataloged their experience in diaries and letters. Similar to the works of notable pioneer woman Laura Ingalls Wilder, early women writers in Texas provided information on what life was like at the time.

A number of pioneer women provided early accounts of life in frontier Texas. Stephen F. Austin’s cousin, Mary Austin Holley, wrote Texas: Observations, Historical, Geographical, and Descriptive, in a Series of Letters, Written during a Visit to Austin’s Colony, with a view to a permanent settlement in that country, in the Autumn of 1831, which was published in 1833. Her family letters and diary gave a good record of life during the Texas Revolution.  She later wrote a book titled Texas which detailed the history of the state and it is one of the first known histories of  the state in English.  Jane Cazneau published Eagle Pass; or Life on the Border under the pen name Cora Montgomery in 1852. Her book detailed the years between 1840-1852 during which her husband founded a town and opened a trade depot. Teresa G. Viele wrote Following the Drum: A Glimpse of Frontier Life in 1858. The book described the years she and her husband Egbert Ludovicus Viele stayed at Fort Ringgold. It included descriptions of the landscape, food, and Comanche raiders.

Luara Ingalls Wilder

Luara Ingalls Wilder Via Wikimedia Commons

Pioneer women writers in Texas also used their literary talents to fight for the right to vote and advocate for social reform. Female writers in Texas have written everything from poetry to novels. One of the first articles dedicated to the history of female writers in Texas was a two-part article titled “Women Writers of Texas” in 1893 by Bride N. Taylor, vice president of Texas Women’s Press Association, which ran in the Galveston Daily News. It gave brief biographies of more than 70 female authors starting with Mary Austin Holley. Since frontier times, Texas has had a long, rich history of female authors who contributed to the state’s literary legacy. [Ashton Meade, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Exley, Jo Ella Powell. Texas Tears and Texas Sunshine: Voices of Frontier Women. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1985.

Holley, Mary Austin. Mary Austin Holley; The Texas Diary, 1835-1838. Austin: University of Texas, 1965.

Rabb, Mary Crownover. Travels and Adventures in Texas in the 1820’S, Being the Reminiscences of Mary Crownover Rabb. Waco: W.M. Morrison, 1962.

Schlissel, Lillian. Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey. New York: Schocken Books, 1982.

Object: Passport

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Materials: Paper/ Ink

This object is a passport that once belonged to Louis and Mary Finkel. This document helped allow the Finkel family to move from Russian controlled Lithuania to the United Kingdom in the early 1900s. They lived there for 16 years before finally immigrating to the United States and settling in Luling, Texas. Passports have been around for hundreds of years, and are important documents required for international travel. In the United States the first passports were issued around the time of the American Revolution. The passports were used to the people going to France with Benjamin Franklin.

U.S. Passport Cover

U.S. Passport Cover

In order to travel abroad United States citizens, are required to have a passport. Passports are needed for international travel by air, sea, or land. Today there are two different kinds of passports. Today there is the traditional passport book and a passport card. However, there have been many different types of passports over the years. While a passport book can be used for all types of international travel by air and by sea. The passport card is used for travel between the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry. This card is not valid for international travel by air. A passport card is a good alternative for people living on the border and don’t want to spend the money on a passport book. A passport’s main objective is to identify a traveler as a citizen with a right to protection while abroad and a right to return to the country of his citizenship.

Max and Goldye Finkel

Max and Goldye Finkel

Louis Finkel, immigrated to the United States to join his brother Max in Luling, TX where he opened a dry goods store. Louis ran the store with his sons Harry and Larry Finkel, who later took over the business on their own, operating it through the 1960s. Lulling held a large Jewish population, but slowly the families moved away. The Finkels were one of the last remaining Jewish families in Luling. Today the dry goods store building is no longer exists, after being destroyed in a fire in the year 2000. The lot however, is now used as the location for the watermelon seed spitting contest in the annual Watermelon Thump Festival.

For information about attaining a U.S. passport, the Finkel family and Luling, Texas visit the links below. [Rebecca Gonzales, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Sources:

Bridges, Anne C. Huff. Do You Remember?: Early Days in Luling Texas. [Luling? Tex.]: [publisher not identified], 1967.



Parsons, Chuck. Luling. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Pub, 2009.

Robertson, Craig. The Passport in America The History of a Document. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 


Object: Passport

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United Kingdom
Materials: Paper

With the United States often being called the ‘Melting Pot’ of the world, Texas could certainly be called the ‘Melting Pot’ of the United States! For years people from all over the world have immigrated to Texas in search of a better life, granting Texas a regional and state-wide diversity one would be hard to find anywhere else.

Map via: World Easy Guides

Map via: World Easy Guides

Once people made the choice to get to the United States, how would they do so? Traveling from one country to another wasn’t always as easy as it is today, but international traveler’s need for a passport has effectively remained the same for over one hundred years. This passport in the Institute of Texan Culture’s collection is a British passport that once belonged to a young 15-year old boy from Manchester, England named Harry Finkel.

What is a passport?

By definition, a passport is a government document that identifies the citizenship of the holder and allows the holder to travel to foreign countries with the continued protection of the country that issued it. For instance, if you hold a passport from the United States of America, you are globally recognized as a U.S. citizen and allowed to travel to any country that allows U.S. citizens to visit. If you were to get into trouble, you could call a U.S. Embassy that would work on your behalf to assist you as an American citizen. This artifact was issued by Great Britain in 1920 to Harry Finkel, and because of that Harry was allowed to travel to the United States as a recognized citizen of Great Britain.

What do passports look like?

Depending on the country, passports vary in color and design. Sometimes, the design and color of a passport can change as years go by! For example, this English passport from 1920 has a dark blue cover with the British Coat of Arms in gold front and center. Today in 2015, passports from the United Kingdom (which contains England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) have a red color with a much different seal than the one from 1920.

Passports are important because they serve as an important source of international identification. As a sign of this importance a passport a person’s full name, address, birth date, age and picture are shown so that countries know who is traveling in or out of said countries. Some countries even give a short description of the passport holder. Passports also have many pages that allow for other countries to stamp, which often shows when a person entered or left the country.

Does a passport mean you can go live in a country that you’re visiting?

Unfortunately in the United States and other parts of the world, in order to travel to a country with the intent to live there a person would need more than just their passport.

When a passport is stamped, the country that stamped the passport is allowing a person to visit—not to stay permanently. When Harry Finkel and his family moved to Texas in 1923, they needed separate documents issued by the United States that allowed them to stay long enough to pursue American citizenship. Usually this is granted through a visa or a permanent resident card (also now known as a Green Card in the US because today, it’s green!)

Did Harry Finkel and his family immigrate to Texas permanently?

2014_3_16bThey sure did! Even though Harry Finkel was born in England, his mother and father were Lithuanian and Russian Jewish immigrants who had moved to England in search of a better life. In 1923, Harry Finkel and his family decided to move to the town of Luling, Texas (not far from San Antonio!) and opened up a dry goods store. Although the store closed in the 1960’s, Harry Finkel’s family greatly contributed to the prosperity and culture of a small Texas town.

If you’d like to learn more about the Finkel family in Luling, Texas, the Institute of Southern Jewish Life talks about them and their community here.

How can I get a passport?

If you’re interested in getting a passport, the U.S. Department of State has information on how you can apply here.[Caira Spenrath, edited by Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Bridges, Anne C. Huff. Do You Remember?: Early Days in Luling Texas. [Luling? Tex.]: [publisher not identified], 1967.

Kaplan, Inc. Becoming a US Citizen: Understanding the Naturalization Process. New York: Kaplan Pub, 2006.

Leavitt, Amie Jane. US Laws of Citizenship. 2014.

Ornish, Natalie, and Sara Alpern. Pioneer Jewish Texans. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2011.

Schulte, Jörg, Olga Tabachnikova, and Peter Wagstaff. The Russian Jewish Diaspora and European Culture, 1917-1937. Leiden: BRILL, 2012.

University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio. The Jewish Texans. San Antonio, Tex: University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio, 1996.

Object: Ketubah

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Marriage Certificate (Ketubah)
Materials: Animal Parchment, Ink

In many cultures around the world, marriage is a major life event that celebrates the legal and/or spiritual union of two people. Marriage ceremonies have been around since ancient times, but today weddings have increasingly become large themed parties with elaborate decorations, formal dresses, and a gathering of friends and family. However, if you are the one getting married, a key component of the wedding day would be having your marriage certificate signed. For people of Jewish faith, this marriage certificate or ketubah (keh-too-buh) is not just an essential part of the wedding day, but an important object throughout their marriage.

What is a ketubah?

Photo of rabbi reading a katubah by Jenna Leigh Weddings, via http://thebigfatjewishwedding.com

A ketubah is a key component of a Jewish wedding ceremony, similar to a certificate of marriage used for legally documenting the union with the government. However, in Judaism the ketubah is more than that— by definition, the ketubah is a binding religious document that outlines and details the husband’s marital obligations to his wife. Usually written in Aramaic (an ancient language very closely related to Hebrew), the ketubah is read out loud by a scholar of the Torah such as a rabbi during the marriage ceremony, after the exchanging of rings. After the ketubah is read, it is handed to the groom who presents it to the bride. The ketubah is placed in a safe place and is regarded as an integral part of the couple’s married life.

What are the groom’s obligations?

The ketubah usually states what the groom must provide for his bride for the duration of their lives together: things like food, shelter, protection, and love. Some ketubahs also state the groom’s intentions of fidelity. Another key component of a ketubah is the amount of money that the wife is to receive if the couple separate or the groom passes away. In ancient times, the ketubah was a legal contract that was strictly enforced. Today, in some countries such as Israel, the ketubah is still a legally-binding contract. In places such as Europe or North America however, a ketubah is more of a symbolic document. Even though the ketubah is not always considered a legal document in modern times, for Jewish couples who observe this tradition, the ketubah is a beautifully decorated reminder of their commitment to each other.

 What does a ketubah look like?

Ketuba from Yeman. Taken from The Ketubot Collection of the National Library of Israel San’a, Yemen, 1794

Traditional ketubah are usually written in ink on materials made of parchment paper or rolled animal hides. Today ketubah are made out of many types of materials, even stained glass!

Kehtubah also can be written in a number of languages. In ketubah that are produced today, there is often an ornate front written in Aramaic or Hebrew with a less decorative back, often in the couple’s native language. Ketubah also have spaces where the date, couple’s names and the signatures of witnesses are to be written. This particular ketubah at the Institute of Texan Cultures is very ornate, with printed floral elements and grand columns. Today, ketubah can be manufactured or created by hand—in both cases, the intricate designs and symbolism behind those designs become a work of art. Popular images include biblical scenes and images of nature, and geometric patterns. Some modern ketubah are even created with a variety of art media—photographs, watercolors, and lace! [Caira Spenrath, edited by Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Davidovitch, David. The Ketuba: Jewish Marriage Contracts Through the Ages. New York, N.Y.: Adama Books, 1985.

Eis, Ruth. Ketubah: An Exhibition of Illuminated Jewish Marriage Contracts, Rings, Amulets & Bridal Gifts from Oriental and European Communities. Berkeley, Calif: Judah L. Magnes Memorial Museum, 1969.

Hamline University. The Ketuba. An Exhibition of Jewish Marriage Contracts. St. Paul, Minnesota: Hamline University, 1975.

Monger, George. Marriage Customs of the World An Encyclopedia of Dating Customs and Wedding Traditions. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2013.

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